Tag Archives: Plant Care

Why Your Yard Needs Mycorrhizal Fungi

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A mycorrhizal fungi is a symbiotic relationship between a plant and a fungi. This network of mycorrhiza can span miles and miles within one small cubic foot of soil.

Why Does This Matter?

This symbiotic relationship allows plants to draw nutrients and water that the root system itself would be incapable of. It also allows for the plant to resist disease and toxins. Mycorrhizal fungi can also be a great factor in drought tolerance, yield of fruit or flowers, prevention of soil compaction, ability to withstand the sowing process for seeds or transplantation, and overall microbial activity in the soil.

How Do I Encourage Mycorrhizal Relationships?

Here is a list of things that harm mycorrhizal relationships:

  • Erosion
  • Road and Home Construction
  • Leaving Soil Bare
  • Tillage
  • Fertilization
  • Fumigation
  • Chemical Treatment of Soil
  • Removal of Topsoil

These things can completely eliminate the mycorrhizal relationship in your soil.  This can leave plants in your landscape with a significant need for maintenance and upkeep.

You can add mycorrhizal fungi to your soil by using organic fertilizers that contain the correct fungi, or you can use a mycorrhizal inoculant such as those found at www.mycoapply.com .

Continued practices of not using chemicals, covering the bare ground that you can with mulch or other plants, and not tilling or leaving the soil to erode will keep the mycorrhizal fungi at home and not disturbed.

Having mycorrhizal fungi in your soil is the cure to a problem you didn’t know you had. These little guys will be personal caretakers for your plants so you can direct all your energy somewhere else.

 

How To Prune Fruit Trees

Some people choose not to prune their fruit trees. If you do choose to do so the main benefit is easier harvesting. There are two main things to address when pruning fruit trees: pruning for structure, and pruning to remove potential problems.

Structural pruning in fruit trees leads to 3 generally accepted systems: Central Leader, Open Center, and Modified Leader. I recommend using both the central leader and open center layouts for almost all fruit. Occasionally the modified leader can be necessary for very heavily branched fruit trees. I’ll focus on the Central Leader and Open Center methods.

Central Leader: This method allows for a strong central trunk and branches that grow horizontally off the trunk. This is great for apples and pears as they have heavy fruit.

Things to look for when pruning: Not having two branches near each other on the same side of the trunk. You’d ideally want a branch on the right, left, then back/front as you progress up the tree. This allows for balance of the tree.

Open Center: This is also known as the vase method. No central trunk is formed here. Instead you have several large branches the shoot out away from the center which allows for and airy center with plenty of space for sunlight to penetrate. This is recommended for: quinces, crabapples, plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots.

Things to look for when pruning: Making sure there is an even distribution so that the tree isn’t too heavy on one side. Keep any vertical growing branches short as they are very vigorous.

Dead and Diseased: The next major reason to prune is to remove dead, diseased, suckers, weak, or overly strong branches. Below I have a series of photos with branches that are either crossing, rubbing each other, growing towards the center, or diseased. Other branches that are growing directly vertical (also known as ‘water sprouts’) or with a very acute angle from the branch it emerges from (less than 45°) need to be removed as well.

If you choose not to prune your fruit trees regularly, dead and diseased branches should still be removed immediately. Suckers as well should be removed from the graft union at the bottom of the tree.

If you have more questions about pruning fruit trees leave a comment below and I’d love to help coach you through the pruning process.

California Juniper Yamadori Collection

Last year I tried collecting a California Juniper and failed at the post collection care part. This dig went much better. I was able to be better about the transferring to the pot without losing any additional soil.

This was a close up of the trunk of the tree I dug. For some reason I didn’t get a backed out shot of the whole thing, oh well :/
Here it is a bit more zoomed out. The best I got.

I took a trenching shovel to dig the initial trench instead of a drain spade. It had recently rained which helped, but using a thinner shovel really helped to get down quicker and find the thick roots that I needed to cut.
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Here are some photos of the trenches I dug before widening the trench to get underneath the root ball. Here I began to wide the trench to be able to dig under the root ball to get to the taproot. 
Once I completed the circle the tree literally just leaned over. For a minute I thought there might not be a taproot on this tree. 
However, I was incorrect. There definitely was a taproot. While trying to reduce the root ball to a size that was conceivably moveable, I lost big chunks of dirt that took a bit of fine roots with them.

The taproot with my hand for size. 
When I lifted the tree out of the hole, I lost a huge chunk off of one side that didn’t feel the need to come with me back to the house.
I set the tree into the bag and secured it with an extra roll of electrical tape I found laying around.

Now for the slow and careful drive back home. I paid attention to the potholes on the way out to know where to look on the way home.

How To Properly Plant A Tree

Properly planting your tree is critical to maintaining a healthy tree for years to come. Incorrectly performing one or more steps can set your trees growth back years and might eventually lead to its death.

  • To start you’ll want to make sure you aren’t digging into any utility lines beneath the soil.
  • Follow that up by checking for mature tree size and make sure to give it enough room to grow vertically and horizontally without any interference.
  • Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and 2 to 3 times img_3237as wide as the root ball. 
  • Check the drainage to ensure this is a good planting site. If necessary modify the hole for better drainage or change the planting site.
  • Remove the tree from the container and place the tree on the ground.
  • Remove soil from the top of the root ball until the top of the main root system is visible. You should see several pencil thick roots emerging from the trunk. You may have to remove up to 4 inches of soil.
  • Remove any small roots above this point and any roots that circle around main roots as they can cause significant damage in the future.
  • Backfill the hole to this new soil line with the root ball placed inside with 50% native soil and 50% soil amendment.
  • Assure that the root ball is not covered with soil above the top of the root ball.
  • In the High Desert be sure to stake the tree.
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There can be several inches worth of soil before finding the root flare.

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This is after removal of the fine roots above this final soil line.

 

Removing the soil is a critical step to providing your tree with the highest chance of survival years down the road. Failure to do so can result in roots choking each other out when the tree ages like the tree below.

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Misleading High Desert "Hardiness Zones"

In the High Desert we can range anywhere from USDA zone 8a to zone 9b. The 2012 Sunset Western Garden book currently places us at Sunset Zone 11, though we had previously been placed at zone 10 in the 2001 version. This leads to plenty of confusion when choosing plants to beautify our landscapes. I hope to demystify this widespread confusion.

USDA Hardiness Zone Southern California

What does “hardiness zone” mean?

A hardiness zone is an estimated amount of days that a location experiences a certain level of cold temperature. A plant with a hardiness zone of 7 means that it will survive the cold winters of areas that have been estimated as zone 7.

What “hardiness zone” does NOT mean

Hardiness zones do not take into account the high temperatures that the zones might experience. This is where the High Desert is an anomaly. We experience high temperatures like any other desert, but we also experience freezing temperatures in the winter. This makes for difficult interpretation of plants ability to survive.

AHS Heat Zone Map

The American Horticultural Society has begun the implementation of a heat zone map to indicate a plant’s ability to handle a certain amount of days over 84° F. While not currently available, this will be the indicator that makes plant selection more accurate for us. You may see this mentioned on a few selection of plants sold by Monrovia Gardens at big box stores.

Microclimates and what to consider when growing “borderline” plants

If a plant is in USDA hardiness zones 3-8, you can deduce that they can get very cold, but heat might be an issue for us in the High Desert. This might not be a fantastic plant to place in the middle of your dirt lot with no protection from the afternoon sun or the harsh wind. This would be a plant that would benefit from afternoon shade from a building or larger tree.

On the flip side, if you have a plant that is great for USDA hardiness zones 9-12, you can deduce that heat and sun shouldn’t be a worry, however cold tolerance may be an issue. This can be handled by planting it near a building that retains heat. South facing walls, retaining walls, bricks, asphalt, etc. can retain a significant amount of heat that will help nearby plants to deal with the cold nights. Mulching the plants can help as well. As a last resort, covering or protecting plants on nights that might drop below the prescribed cold tolerance can help the plant to make it through the colder nights throughout the winter.

Microclimates in the High Desert that kill borderline plants

The High Desert has plenty of climate issues that keep plants from growing that might otherwise thrive. Here is a list of things you might want to think about protecting your plants from:

  • Wind

  • Afternoon Sun and Heat

  • Cold Nighttime Temperatures

  • Alkaline Soil

Wind can be dealt with by sheltering plants with a windbreak (plants, fences, walls, buildings, etc.)

Sun and heat can be dealt with by planting under trees, balconies, overhang on house, pergolas, etc.

Temperatures can be dealt with through planting near buildings, south facing walls, asphalt, brick, retaining walls, and porches.

Alkaline soil can be handled by amending the soil at planting time with peat moss and acidic fertilizer, and by fertilizing regularly with acidic fertilizer throughout the growing seasons.

Specific Plants and Their Needs

Japanese, Silver, Autumn Blaze, Trident and Red Maples all need wind protection and if possible some sun protection

Azalea, Hydrangea, Camelia, Japanese Maples, and many more need acidic soil and sometimes sun, wind, and cold protection.

Plants that break the hardiness zones

Here is a list of plants that supposedly do not grow here based upon hardiness zones. I have witnessed all of these trees growing in the ground in Apple Valley, CA in several locations.

The High Desert zones as stated by USDA Hardiness Zone Map and Sunset Western Garden Book:

USDA Zone: 8b – 9a

Sunset Zone: 11 (previously listed as 10)

California Pepper Tree

  • USDA zones: 8-11

  • Sunset zones: 8, 9, 12-24

Coast Redwood

  • USDA zones: 7-9

  • Sunset zones: 4-9, 14-24

Deodar Cedar

  • USDA zones: 7-9

  • Sunset zones: 3B-10, 14-24

Crape Myrtle

  • USDA zones: 7-10

  • Sunset zones: 2-10, 12-24

Colorado Blue Spruce

  • USDA zones: 2-7

  • Sunset zones: 1-10, 14-17

Lantana

  • USDA zones: 8-11

  • Sunset zones: 8-10, 12-24

Pineapple Guava

  • USDA zones: 8-10

  • Sunset zones: 6-9, 12-24

Lily of the Nile – Agapanthus

  • USDA zones: 8-10

  • Sunset zones: 4-9, 12-24

American Arborvitae

  • USDA zones: 3-7

  • Sunset zones: 1-9, 15-17

Sadly the hardiness zones are not much of a help for us High Desert folks. The hardiness zones cause more confusion than competence. This requires a higher understanding of our plants to have success in growing plants that are more than capable of growing here.

Fundamentals of Bonsai: Fall

Fall is an important time in bonsai. This is where we direct our trees to do as we please. Fertilization, future cold hardiness, and girth in branches and trunks all come during this time.

Vascular Growth

Vascular growth is what the tree focuses on in the Fall. This means that producing leaves is not the priority since we aren’t going to be photosynthesizing much in Winter. All energy accumulated from the photosynthetic process go to storage in the trees cells. This energy accumulation is what drives the Spring flush of growth. Different species store their energy in different places. Pines are typically in the roots, Junipers are in the foliage, and Deciduous trees are evenly spread in the roots, trunk, and branches.

Cold Hardiness

There is also an important nugget of information about cold hardiness. In bonsai we love the highly ramified branches. In order to get those twiggy branches we reduce the cold hardiness of that branch. The more sugars and starches we have inside the branch of a tree, the lower the freezing temperature is. Therefore, highly ramified branches are highly susceptible to cold damage even though the tree as a whole might be able to withstand a much colder temperature.

Energy Management

Energy management is of supreme importance in the Fall. The more you fertilize the more energy the tree stores. When a tree has a lot of energy it produces long internodes, large leaves, and coarse thick branching. When a tree has a small amount of energy it produces short internodes, smaller leaves, and fine twiggy branching.

This is why following blanket statements about fertilization can be so dangerous. If you just fertilize every 4 weeks with a full dose every year, you’re never going to be creating a tree with highly ramified branching and small leaves.

Wire Bite

If your tree is wired, this season must be a watchful one for you. Wire bite on the branching of trees most commonly happens in the Fall due to the trees focus on vascular growth. Checking the branches frequently allows you to stay ahead of the trees growth and remove wires before it damages the branch.

Fundamentals of Bonsai – Spring

Spring is when the tree wakes up from its dormancy in Winter. The daylight length and temperatures increase and this signals to the tree that it is time to wake up. The tree then begins a cycle that it follows through Spring.

Juniper Chinensis Bonsai Shohin

  • Buds begin to swell

  • Leaves emerge and the tree goes into an energy deficit.

  • The first flush of growth hardens off and tree goes into energy positive

The perfect time to repot is while the buds are swelling. While the timing cannot always be perfectly right before the buds break, the closer to bud break (without repotting AFTER the bud break) the better.

When leaves emerge the tree spends some of the saved up energy from Fall to produce foliage with the possibility to generate more sugars and starches. When this happens the energy “bank” so to speak, goes negative. The new leaves are like an investment. Until those leaves harden off and form a cuticle, they do not photosynthesize. Until this happens this investment is a negative overall.

Pruning too much at the wrong time, defoliating, a hard freeze that kills foliage, pest issues that grow out of control, and even missing a day or two of watering can do a significant amount of damage to your tree’s health. While it doesn’t always end in a dead tree immediately, you need to consider this in the long term. You might have a hard freeze one year, prune a little off at the wrong time each season, defoliate in the Summer, and then after a few years you find your tree dead for what appears to be no specific reason.

Cotoneaster Repot Bonsai

This guy died from a late freeze after the first push of growth. I had recently repotted it and it was weak due to that. It never made it out 😦

A better way to understand this is to think of investing a significant portion of your savings into a stock hoping for a consistent return of maybe 7%. Instead of return, your stock plummets and becomes worthless. To be able to do anything with your money you’re going to need an amount of time to recoup the money you lost. If you continue as if you hadn’t lost all of your money in the investment and then spend with the intention to withdraw your invested money, you’ll be negative because you don’t actually have that money. If you have a tree that loses leaves from a freeze and then pushes out new leaves, the tree will have less energy in the bank. If you proceed by delofiating it to get a smaller push of leaves, you’ll find that it doesn’t have enough energy and will possibly die.

The vigor of the growth, length of internodes, size of leaves, and amount of leaves all depends on what you’ve previously done.

Fertilizing frequency and strength play a large part in Spring growth. If you’ve been fertilizing heavily and at the maximum frequency, you’re bound to have a large amount of energy. This will result in a lot of leaves, larger leaves, and longer internodes. The pot size also has an effect. If you fertilize lightly and infrequently, but you have your tree in a large training pot, you will not see small internodes or small leaves. Restricting the area for the roots to grow creates less vigorous growth.

If you’ve repotted a deciduous tree and pruned a large amount of roots, you’ll only see the amount of leaves that the roots can support. For a photo of this see this blog post about the difference.

Let’s go over what we’ve learned:

  • Daylight length and temperature determine when a tree breaks dormancy

  • Fertilizing strength and frequency (are not the only factors, but major factors) correlate with internode length, leaf size, and leaf quantity.

  • A deciduous tree will only push out growth that it can support with its root system.

  • Fertilizing can be throttled with frequency and strength.

  • Energy for Spring growth is stored by the tree in Fall

  • Repotting is best done before the buds break at the beginning of Spring.

  • New leaves take energy to produce and then produce energy when they harden off.

  • Common bonsai techniques (repotting, pruning, defoliation, watering, etc.) performed at the wrong time or late freezes can damage your tree’s health.

Japanese Maple Leaves