» Archive for December, 2012

A Statuesque Evergreen

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • There’s still time to plant spring-flowering bulbs, but don’t delay. Daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are still available.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Clean up rose bushes by removing spent flowers and raking up old leaves, but wait until February for heavy pruning.
    • Feed the birds this winter and enjoy the pleasure of their company. Bird feeders come in many styles and make wonderful gifts.

Incense Cedar

One of the finest conifers for large gardens is our grand, native California evergreen, the Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens). Its rich green foliage is aromatic with scale-like leaves that grow on pendulous branches. In the fall, it is ornamented with miniature, urn-shaped, reddish-brown cones that make a subtle contrast to the green leaves.

Another striking feature, particularly noticeable on mature trees, is the soft-textured, shredding, cinnamon-colored bark on their wide, tapering trunks. People sometimes mistake the Incense Cedar for a redwood tree because of the similarity of shredding bark.

Frequently seen as a single tree or in small groves in the Coast Range, this evergreen will grow anywhere from sea-level to 8,000 feet. Mature trees vary from 75 to 100 feet tall with trunks from 2 to 4 feet in diameter.

Since they are so slow growing, Incense Cedars can be used in the landscape. Young trees are very decorative, with a dense, narrow, columnar form. They make a handsome screen or hedge and are an attractive background for mixed borders. Older specimens make a beautiful evergreen background for small flowering trees such as redbuds and dogwoods.

Incense Cedar can also be planted near walls since it has a well-behaved root system. With foliage that extends down to the ground, it is good for hiding areas that are unattractive, or for a windbreak. In the landscape it typically grows 30 to 50 feet tall and 8 to 10 feet wide.

This tree is tolerant of a wide range of conditions. Shade tolerant when young, it thrives in full sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. It is drought tolerant when established and will tolerate marginal soils.

For best results, but trees in 5-gallon pots. Mulch newly planted trees with a deep, organic mulch of compost or bark. Water them regularly through the dry weather until established.

Once established, water trees deeply and infrequently – 3 to 5 times per summer. Incense cedars are practically pest free, and need no fertilizer or pruning.

These trees will attract many birds to your property as they provide good food and shelter for sparrows, hermit thrushes, siskins, flickers, nuthatches and others.

John Muir found the Incense cedar particularly beautiful. He said, “no waving fern-frond in shady dell is more unreservedly beautiful in form and texture, or half so inspiring in color and spicy fragrance.”

This fine tree is attractive year-round and will add beauty and stature to your landscape or property.

It’s Transplanting Time

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs! It’s time to plant tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and many other flower bulbs for beautiful blooms next spring.
    • Plant Paperwhite Narcissus in pots for sweet-smelling Christmas gifts.
    • Dress up your interior landscape with some new houseplants for the holidays ahead.
    • Rake and destroy leaves from fruit trees that were diseased this year.
    • Clean up dead foliage on perennials like peonies, daylilies and balloon flower and cut back dead flower stems on Echinacea, blanket flower and penstemon.

It’s Transplanting Time

November is the best month of the year for rearranging plants in your garden. Sometimes, as the landscape becomes more shaded over time, a plant may fail to thrive and need to be moved to a sunnier spot. Or perhaps it has outgrown its designated space but you have a better location where you would like to have it.

If you need to dig up a plant and move it, this is the time to do that, before all of the leaves have fallen from deciduous trees. When a plant is dug up, it loses most of its roots and must replace them. Fall is a good time for it to grow new roots without needing to support new top growth as well. This is also the best time to transplant native shrubs and small trees.

To move a plant, first dig the new hole before you dig up the tree or shrub. Once you dig up the plant, the longer its roots go without a home, the lower your chances for a successful transplanting. The new hole should be twice as wide as the rootball but the same depth.

When you dig up the tree or shrub, start digging at least a foot away from the trunk, and dig a little trench in a circle around the plant. Then dig underneath it and loosen the plant’s grip on the soil below. Spread a tarp on the ground nearby, and gently move the plant onto the tarp keeping as much of the rootball intact as possible.

Drag the plant over to the new location and gently slide it into the hole. Make sure that it is no deeper than it was planted before. Straighten the plant and shovel the native soil back into the hole. Tamp this soil down firmly and water it as you go to eliminate air pockets.

We are frequently asked about amending soil when planting. In the case of a tree or shrub planted alone, use no more than 25% amendment added to the native soil as backfill. That means one scoop of compost to three scoops of native soil. The plant will need to grow into the native soil in order to survive, and putting too much amendment into a relatively small hole will only encourage it to remain in the amended soil and not grow out into the native soil.

Stake trees to give them support while their roots are developing. Use two stakes, placing each one 6 inches from the trunk, and loop soft ties around the stakes and trunk so it can move a little. A tree that sways somewhat in the wind will establish more anchor roots and add more trunk girth than one that is tied firmly to a stake.

Don’t stop thinking about the garden just because the leaves are falling. Instead, use the wonderful autumn season to rearrange plants and add new specimens to your garden.

Backyard Composting

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Japanese maples and snowball bushes are some of the most colorful shrubs in the fall. Plant them now and give them a head start on spring.
    • Check houseplants for insects. Spray leaves with insecticidal soap and wipe them off to leave them clean and insect-free.
    • King Alfred daffodils, those big, showy, golden, trumpet-flowered daffodils, can be planted now from bulbs for glorious spring flowers.
    • Broadcast wildflower seeds and annual ryegrass on hillsides to stop erosion and give you lots of flowers next spring.
    • Transplant shrubs that need to be moved this month. It’s also a good time to transplant natives.

Backyard Composting

Composting is a process that takes place naturally on the forest floor, in your own backyard, or in your refrigerator. When you walk through a lush forest, stop and examine the forest floor. You’ll see that the top layers are recognizable as leaves, twigs and needles. But below these are last season’s leaves, which have been transformed into rich crumbly soil. This is the process of decomposition.

When we pile up vegetation so that it can decompose all in one spot, we call it composting. Leaves, grass, manures, food scraps, paper towels and other organic materials are digested by worms, insects and bacteria to create rich compost. All they need is air, water and plant materials to do their work. The end product is a natural fertilizer which will make your plants lush and healthy.

With cool autumn days and leaves filling your yard, it’s a perfect time to begin composting. Composting provides a useful and environmentally conscious alternative to bagging up your leaves and sending them away as waste.

There are as many different ways to build a compost pile as there are gardeners. And they all make usable, soil-enriching compost.

You can compost in any kind of a bin, which keeps things neat and tidy, or you can make a heap directly on the ground. Either way, the pile will start shrinking immediately, and will be about half its original size a week after you build it.

Leaves, grass, weeds, herbs and flowers are all ideal for your compost bin and will break down rapidly. Fruit and vegetable food scraps are also ideal. Leftovers from canning or making fresh juice are a great addition to your pile.

A good compost pile contains a balance between green materials and brown ones. The green ones provide nitrogen and heat up the pile, while the brown ones provide necessary carbon. Green materials include fresh plant material, grass clippings and food scraps. The browns include dry leaves and straw or wood shavings. Using up to one-half green material and the rest brown material will create a good hot pile that will decompose quickly.

You can also just make a pile out of the leaves you rake off the lawn. Your leaf pile should be four to 10 feet around and three to five feet high. A correct pile size ensures proper temperature and air flow needed for composting. Keep your pile moist and by next spring you should have some dark and crumbly, earthy-smelling compost to dig into your soil.

Composting is Nature’s way of recycling. No matter what you do, you can’t stop compost from happening.