» Archive for September, 2008

Ancient Oak Trees

Saturday, September 20th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Replace tired petunias with bright pansies, snapdragons, calendulas and stock for garden color this fall and winter.
    • It’s time to divide overgrown perennials that bloomed in the spring or early summer. It’s also a good time to choose and plant some new varieties.
    • Bearded iris are now available for fall planting. Their large flowers come in a dazzling array of colors.
    • When blackberry vines are done fruiting, prune back the canes which bore fruit this summer. Twine young canes around the fence or trellis.
    • Fall vegetable starts are still available for your late fall garden.

Living with Oak Trees

Native oak trees are a valuable asset to any piece of property. Their beauty is irreplaceable, and the shade and wildlife habitat that they afford are invaluable.

Oak woodlands and forests also sequester large quantities of atmospheric carbon, thereby contributing greatly to our health and well-being. In Mendocino County, we have large numbers of Oregon oaks, black oaks and canyon oaks. But the largest acreage by far is in tan oaks which sequester over 25 million metric tons of carbon in this county alone.

Oak trees can prosper in close proximity to our homes if care is taken to preserve the basic elements of the natural oak environment. But sometimes living under oak trees presents some conflicts.

Mature native oaks will not tolerate summer watering. They have been living for hundreds of years with the natural cycle of winter rains and summer drought. They are subject to root problems if moisture levels change significantly, since warm-moist conditions can favor harmful diseases. It is particularly critical that the trunks of oak trees remain dry.

However, if the winter season is unusually dry, then a supplemental irrigation in the early spring can complement natural rainfall. Water deeply, to one to two feet, in the outer two-thirds of the root zone.

Lawns or other ground covers are inappropriate under oaks, not only because of their water requirements, but also because their thick root mats inhibit the fine root development of the oak trees. Do not irrigate, plant or disturb the soil within 10 feet of the trunk. Organic mulches, however, are very beneficial in this area.

Beyond 10 feet from the trunk, drought tolerant shrubs can be planted. There are many attractive native plants that are well suited to this environment which will provide beautiful, low-maintenance landscaping. Rhododendrons and camellias require too much water to be compatible with oaks. Flowering currants, Daphne, Carpenteria, Nandina, and Oregon grape can be grown in this zone.

Disturbing the soil around old established oak trees can be a real threat to them. Changes in grade caused by mounding up soil or excavating it will destroy surface roots, and often result in the death of mature trees.

Minimize grading, digging, trenching, covering the ground with asphalt or concrete, landscape planting, excessive foot traffic, or vehicle parking well beyond the drip line of the tree. The area extending 6 feet from the trunk is the most vulnerable and should always be left undisturbed and uncovered.

Changes in drainage around an oak can keep the root area moist in the summer when it should be dry. Soil compaction can suffocate the roots and so can paving. Trenching in the root zone can kill a major portion of a tree’s roots and cause death of the tree. Disturbances beyond the dripline of the tree are usually tolerable to oak tree.

Take care of your oaks and they will give you shade, beauty and clean air for many long years.

Landscaping in a Mediterranean Climate

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Pansies, snapdragons, stock, calendulas and primroses can be planted now to replace summer annuals.
    • First-year fruit trees need to be well-watered through the dry weather. If they are neglected the first year, they may never be strong, productive trees.
    • Trim foliage on grape vines to allow more sun to reach the fruit and ripen the grapes.
    • California fuchsia is a native plant that blooms now with bright orange flowers that attract hummingbirds.
    • Cool season vegetables should be planted right away to insure good crops this fall.

Our Mediterranean Climate

Our California climate is sometimes referred to as a Mediterranean climate because it has mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Areas with this climate occupy 3% of the land area of the world and include the Mediterranean Basin, California, Central Chile, Cape Region of South Africa, Southwestern and Southern Australia.

These areas lie within 30°- 40° of latitude north and south of the equator and between oceans with cold currents and arid deserts. The largest area with a mediterranean climate is the Mediterranean Basin, which has given the climate its name.

Mediterranean climates can be divided into maritime climates, in coastal areas, and continental climates, which are inland. We are located in a Continental Mediterranean Climate, which is characterized by cold winters and hot summers, a large daily temperature range, large seasonal temperature range, and low relative humidities.

It is also known for irregularity of the rainfall, which can vary considerably from year to year. Areas with this climate receive almost all of their yearly rainfall during the winter season, and may go anywhere from 2-5 months during the summer without having any significant precipitation.

Variability of temperatures in this climate mean the 50-degree fluctuation between day and night that Willits often experiences is typical, though more dramatic than most areas.

Because we share the “mediterranean climate” with four other regions, we have also borrowed many plants from them. Some of them are so common that we give little thought to their place of origin.

South Africa’s Pelargoniums, in particular, have contributed greatly to gardens all over the world. Also from South Africa come Agapanthus, Gladiolus, red-hot pokers, pink breath-of-heaven, African daisies, Gazania and Gerbera or Transvaal daisy.

Australia has given us many unusual plants. Grevillea, with its “spider flowers”, Eucalyptus, Acacias, Pittosporum, and Callistemon (bottlebrush shrubs).

Alstroemeria, called Peruvian lily, is native to Chile, as are the common Nasturtium, Fuchsia magellanica, Podocarpus, and Escallonia.

We are most familiar with plants from the Mediterranean region like lavenders, rosemary, rockroses, sunroses, oleander, garden sage, Santolina and snapdragons. Grapes, olives, figs, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, pomegranates, persimmons, apricots and citrus have been cultivated there since early times.

Of course, California natives are uniquely adapted to this area, especially those from inland areas. Ceanothus, manzanitas, incense cedar, flannel bush, evergreen currant, California fuchsia and Oregon grape are excellent landscape plants that need little or no water once established.

This is just a small listing of plants native to these regions, but it includes most of those that are hardy enough to endure Willits winters. If you landscape mainly with these hardy, drought-tolerant plants, you’ll find that they are much easier on your water bill and will survive our dry summers with little or no watering.