Friday, August 28, 2009

November Showers Bring May Flowers

Although it runs contrary to our ingrained understanding of the seasons, spring and summer are not really the best time to plant in California. While spring generally marks the beginning of longer days, more light and warmer temperatures (conditions that encourage above-ground plant growth) those warmer temperatures can be extreme in California and the rest of the Southwest.

In the nursery, even drought-tolerant plants receive significant amounts of water to maintain growth. Often, plants are fed heavily to encourage bloom and faster growth, making them more appealing to homeowners who start shopping for garden bling early in the year.

Keep in mind that plants installed during the heat of summer will require heavy irrigation to survive. The increased heat and light cause plants to use more water as they respond to the seasonal need for growth. But, roots are not yet established and depend on your irrigation system to provide what the plant needs. In Southern California, with no summer rain and extreme heat, this can be a lot of water. Even in cooler areas along the coast, where morning fog and a higher dew point provide a source of moisture for plants, heat and wind can still dry a garden quickly.

When to Plant: The old adage 'April showers bring May flowers' is true. If you must plant in the spring, doing so before the last rainfall of the season is helpful. There is no denying that picking up a flat of Violas or other brightly blooming annual in the spring feeds a deep-seated seasonal craving. Go ahead and prepare your seasonal pots or a dooryard planting area.

But for large-scale planting of perennials, shrubs or trees, fall is the time to plant -- especially for very exposed areas. The weather cools, the days shorten, and the rains (eventually) come. It is these November showers that can lower water bills next summer. Under these optimum conditions, plants aren't doing much growing above ground but can afford to send roots deeper in search of damper soil. Establishing a deeper root system ensures plants will survive with less supplemental irrigation when the temperatures shoot up again.

For trees and shrubs, this deep root system is very important. Trees trained to depend on surface-level irrigation often don't send roots very deep, so aren't well anchored and could topple. A good way to provide for deep healthy roots is to install deep watering irrigation along with new trees.

Meanwhile, to satisfy the craving for summer puttering in the garden, nurture seasonally planted pots. And, nurture your dreams. Summer is a great time to design a landscape. Garden tours are plentiful and are an inspiring way to visit the established gardens of other great gardeners. Take note of what you see as a starting point for discussion with a landscape designer. Working out design plans through the summer means you'll be ready for installation in the fall, when the time is right. Fall planting, along with the use of drip and deep watering irrigation, and a plant palette that harmonizes with your site's specific environmental factors, are the ingredients for a healthy garden.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

The Magical Power of Street Trees

Perhaps you've seen me driving in your neighborhood, slowly weaving down the tree-lined block, breezing through stop signs with Magoo-like bravado. If so, you've surely assumed my cellphone distracts me but, actually, it's the trees.

Street trees engross me. Old trees lining the sidewalk with grandeur let me share the vision of planners working over 60 years ago, and newly planted trees tell me that someone somewhere, be it resident or community council, has a vision for the next fifty years. I'm interested in which species have been planted, how they are taking the sun or wind exposure, if they are healthy or afflicted, if they fit their new home or show signs of becoming a neighborhood nuisance...

It's often the trees that set the tone of a neighborhood, adding to the character and identity of the place. Chances are you don't actually notice them unless they are dramatic in some way -- reaching for eachother's branch tips far above the center of the street, creating a shower of blossoms in spring, standing tall above all other trees to mark a neighborhood from a distance or, unfortunately, lifting the sidewalk with needy roots. But the right tree in the right place, providing seasonal shade and clean air, color and living presence, not the mention the all important design element of scale, is truly priceless to a neighborhood and its residents.

That's precisely why, had you been passing through my neighborhood three evenings ago, you might have seen me jumping for absolute joy right there on the sidewalk in front of four young street trees newly planted less than a block from my own home. Blessed with a large, prominent corner lot in our modest neighborhood, my Now-Favorite-Neighbors recently dug the dried grass from their sidewalk strip and contacted the City of Los Angeles to plant street trees. Not just any street tree, mind you, but the incredibly gorgeous and coveted Jacaranda (see photo above). And not just one weak little 15 gallon tree, but four healthy, well-spaced, well-staked boxed trees complete with sizeable watering wells! I am deliriously happy!

Jacaranda mimosifolia. The lacy, airy, royal princess of flowering Southern California street trees. Yes, some find the blossom drop a drag. But, casting their delicate purple cloud over the block each spring, I'm certain these trees will be so enchanting that no one will think to complain. In fact, I predict a seasonal spike in neighborliness, an increase in 'Hello' and 'Nice Day We're Having', more 'Here Let Me' and less 'Hey What The?!' Inspired, others along the block might plant trees. Homegrown fruit might be traded over walls. Gates left open to invite casual visitors... loud dogs hushed and stray cats fed... Doubtful? It could happen. Plant one for yourself and see. Such is the magical power of street trees...

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