Last month as I was leaving from a landscape consultation, I took some time to drive by a few of the landscapes in the neighborhood.  

I immediately noticed that quite a few people had Olive trees growing in their front yards.

Olive tree

Olive tree

There was a large difference in how some of the homeowners pruned their Olive trees…

Olive tree

Believe it or not, both of the trees pictured above are the same type of Olive tree.

Some people like to formally prune their Olive trees while others like theirs to grow naturally.

Which one would you prefer?

Olive tree

OR

Olive tree

I know which look I prefer and it is much healthier for the tree and much less maintenance.

How about you?

Which style of pruning do you like – formal or natural?

Last Saturday was a day that we had long prepared for.

My husband and I had spent countless hours sitting alongside my youngest daughter, Gracie, helping her practice for her piano recital.

She was nervous, but looked so cute in her new dress and shoes.  

 my youngest daughter, Gracie

The recital was held at the Mesa Arts Center and Gracie was playing along with her entire class.

As we were waiting for our turn to go inside, I saw something rather unusual in the distance.

The Mesquite trees looked rather colorful.  So, I walked a bit closer….    

 knit scarves

No, my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  These trees had knit scarves covering parts of their trunks.

Knit Scarves for Trees

Now, I like to knit scarves for loved ones – but this was the first time that I had ever seen them on trees.

Knit Scarves for Trees

Even the Pine trees had colorful, knit scarves.

I couldn’t imagine why anyone would spend so much time knitting scarves and then ‘sewing’ them around tree trunks.

The trees don’t need protection from the cold.

I needed some answers, because I was pretty sure that they didn’t cover this in my Trees class in college or when I took my Certified Arborist exam.

I spotted a security guard walking nearby and asked him why the trees had knit scarves.  He explained that the trees were the focus of a group to beautify the urban landscape.

What they did is referred to as ‘Yarn Bombing‘, which is described as “The Art of Knit Graffiti.”

‘Yarn Bombing’ is occurring in urban areas throughout North America in an effort to add beauty to urban areas.

Well, I must admit that I thought the trees looked quite nice.

Knit Scarves for Trees

But, I think they might get a bit ‘warm’ as the temperatures begin to rise ๐Ÿ˜‰

They will soon be taken down, so if you live nearby – stop by before the ‘knit graffiti’ is taken down.

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While we were at the recital, we got our first phone call from my daughter, Rachele, who is away at basic training for the Navy.

It was so good to hear her voice!

She is homesick and is trying hard not to be discouraged.  She has finished one week of basic training and is learning how to do things “the Navy way”.

Rachele joined up with a division that had already been there a week before and needed a few more recruits.  So, she has less time to learn how to do things.

Learning how to make their beds and folding clothes a certain way is hard and they come around with a ruler and if you are 1 cm off, you get in trouble.

I can see why this would be hard for her, since most of her clothes never made it into her dresser at home ๐Ÿ˜‰

It has been cold there (outside Chicago) and they have three different jackets and knit caps that they wear when they have to march from building to building (2 miles).

She was given good advice before she left by her then boss, who is a retired Army colonel.  He said to do your best to blend in and don’t volunteer for anything.  It just makes basic training that much harder.

So far so good, she said.  Her RTC doesn’t know her name, which is supposed to be good.

She has passed her swimming test along with many of her other physical tests – so that is good news.

The recruits aren’t allowed to talk to each other.  But, some try to talk to each other at night after lights are out.  However, some get caught and have to do extra exercise.

We are doubling up on our letters to keep her spirits up.

From what we hear, everything she is experiencing is normal, including the homesickness.  It is supposed to get better around week 4, once they start to get used things.

As for me, I was a weepy mess after I spoke to her.  I do miss her so much.  But, I believe that she will make a wonderful sailor ๐Ÿ™‚  

Some of you may recall me telling you about a young tree that had suffered terrible frost damage during the winter of 2011.

The tree was located at Double S Farms, which is where my mother, my sister and her family live.

terrible frost damage

This Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo) tree had turned brown and ‘crispy’.  We waited until June to see if there would be any green growth to show us that it was alive.

The entire tree died, except for a little ‘sucker’ that started growing up from the base.

I wrote about this back then in, “Second Chance for a Frost-Damaged Tree”.

My brother-in-law and I cut off the dead tree (the entire part we are holding in our hands in the photo above) and staked up the tiny sucker, hoping that it would grow…

terrible frost damage

And now, just 14 months after we removed the frost-damaged tree, this is what the single sucker has grown up too…

Posing by the tree with my sister's new 3-legged dog, Johnny

Posing by the tree with my sister’s new 3-legged dog, Johnny.

It is hard to believe that just over a year ago, there was nothing but a single tiny branch growing from the base of the tree that had been killed by frost.

The majority of the time, people simply dig up their frost-damaged tree and start over with a new tree.

I recommend waiting a few months to see if there is any part of the tree that is still alive.  Often, they will grow a few small branches from the base, even if the rest of the tree is totally dead.

Select a single small branch and remove the dead tree and the other small branches – you want to concentrate your energy on a single branch (sucker) to grow into a new tree.

You may be wondering, isn’t it easier to just start over and plant a new tree?

The answer is “no” for a few reasons:

1. It is wasting your money buying a new tree that you may not need.

2. Save yourself the extra labor of having to dig up your old tree and plant a new one.

3. Your little branch (sucker) will grow faster then a new tree will.  The reason for this is that it already has a large established root system from the original tree. A new tree does not have a large root system and has to spend a lot of time to grow roots.  Until a tree has a good root system, the top will not grow as quickly as a tree that already has established roots.

**And so, next winter (I realize it is hard to think of winter in the middle of August), if your tree is unfortunate enough to suffer extensive frost damage – don’t remove it right away.

You may be able to save it and have a beautiful “new” tree in its place.

Last winter, we suffered a severe cold snap.  Okay, for those of you who live in more northerly climates, it wouldn’t seem all that cold to you perhaps.  But, we had temps that ranged in the low 20’s for three days in a row, which is definitely below normal for us.

As a result, many trees and plants that normally stay green in the winter, suffered severe frost damage.  That included my mother’s young Sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo).

frost damage

Frost damage

I wrote about her tree and how the top died back to the ground.  However, there were some new growth coming up from the bottom.  So instead of taking out the tree, we opted to cut off the dead portion and let one the new growth take over.

frost damage

We re-staked the little tree and waited to see how it would do.

That was in the beginning of June.

Now, just 4 1/2 months later, look at it now…

Sissoo tree

Doesn’t it look so much bigger?

That’s because it is.

Why has it grown so quickly?  Well, that is because it had a great root system – actually the root system of a grown tree, so it had many resources to help it to grow quickly.

Sissoo tree

It is still hard to believe how quickly it grew.  But, we are so happy with the decision to give it a chance instead of buying a new tree.

Sissoo tree

If we had planted a new tree, it would never have grown so quickly.

So, next time you have a frost-damaged tree, wait a few months to see if there is any re-growth – even if it is on the bottom.

You never know, it might end up with a fast-growing tree and save yourself some money at the same time ๐Ÿ™‚  

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5 days and counting until my daughter’s due date.  We had a ‘false alarm’ on Monday.  But, I guess our little granddaughter wasn’t ready to come yet ๐Ÿ˜‰

I must admit that I have been contemplating this post for quite some time. To be honest, I have been hesitant about it because of people’s overwhelming affection for ficus trees (Ficus nitida).

At first, the benefits of planting a ficus tree are obvious. They are lush, beautiful and provide dense shade, which is sometimes scarce in the desert.

So what’s the problem with having a ficus tree?

Well there are a couple of things that you should be aware of before you plant a ficus tree.

First, is the fact that they do suffer frost damage in the low desert when temperatures dip below freezing. It can be worse when consecutive days of freezing temperatures occur.

Frost-Damaged Ficus nitida

Photo: Frost-Damaged Ficus nitida

This past winter, we had temperatures in the low 20’s for three days in a row and the damage to the local ficus trees was noticeable. I could drive through any neighborhood street and tell from a distance who had Ficus trees and who didn’t by simply noting the ‘brown’ trees.

Once the warmer temperatures came back, there were quite a few ‘short’ ficus trees seen around the neighborhood due to the frost-damage branches being removed.

Ficus tree that had frost damaged branches removed.

Photo:Ficus tree that had frost damaged branches removed.

The second problem that sometimes occur when people don’t research how large ficus trees will become.

Young Ficus Tree

Photo: Young Ficus Tree

They are soon caught unprepared when the pretty, shade tree that they planted soon grows so large that it almost seems like it is ‘eating’ up the house….

Mature Ficus Tree

Photo: Mature Ficus Tree

So, what should you do if you absolutely love ficus trees and want one in your garden?

By all means, buy one. Just know that you will have some winters where it will suffer frost damage and will look unsightly until new branches grow in.

Grab my FREE guide for Fuss-Free Plants that thrive in a hot, dry climate!

Also, be careful where you plant it.  Allow enough room for it to grow so that it doesn’t ‘eat’ your house.  In addition, keep it away from patios and pools or its roots can become a problem with shallow watering.  It can grow 30 – 50 feet high and 40 feet wide.

Some people look to sissoo trees as an alternative to ficus – BUT, this isn’t advisable either.

Sissoo Tree

Photo: Sissoo Tree

The sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo) is similar in appearance to the ficus tree, but they do have greater tolerance to frost.

Like ficus trees, sissoo trees do grow quite large but I no longer recommend them forย average size residential landscapes. The photo of the tree above was taken four years after it was planted from a 15-gallon container and it rapidly grew even larger.ย  This tree made it’s debut in the Phoenix area about 15 years ago and rapidly became quite popular for its lush green beauty.

However, as sissoo trees have been grown in the southwest landscape for several years, problems have begun to crop up. They have invasive root systems that cause problems with sidewalks, patio decks, pools, and block walls. In addition, their mature size is so big that they dwarf the landscapes they have been planted in. 

Sissoo Trees

Photo: 3 Sissoo Trees

Sissoo trees are a better choice than ficus trees when used in large outdoor areas such as parks as they have greater tolerance to frost.

Okay, I must begin this by admitting that I have no idea what to post about today….

Maybe I shouldn’t admit this to you, but there are times when I have nothing.  I think it may be because there is so much going on in my life. 

hot Southwest summer

– My three youngest kids start school on Monday (we have a modified year-round school calendar).  My daughter Ruthie, begins Jr. High and is understandably nervous.  We went shopping yesterday for some new clothes and shoes.

– We have guests arriving tomorrow from Kansas City who we will be entertaining for the weekend.  There is a very special story behind these people and my daughter Ruthie.  I can’t wait to share it with you later ๐Ÿ™‚

– I just finished writing 4 gardening articles and have one more left to go.

– We are busy helping my in-laws each week with miscellaneous tasks around their home.  My father-in-law is continuing to suffer more debilitating effects from ALS.

However, with all of this going on, my garden is thriving.  I thought that I would share with you some summer things that you should do in your garden.  

It is from an article that I wrote earlier this month for a local community newsletter.  I hope you enjoy it ๐Ÿ™‚

hot Southwest summer

Thankfully, there is not a lot of things to be done in the garden during the hot Southwest summer, but there are some tasks that are important this time of year.  

I recommend going out into your garden during the early morning hours to do these tasks, as I do, or at dusk, once the sun begins to set to avoid the extremely hot period of the day. So, put on your hat, sunscreen, gloves and sunglasses and letโ€™s get started.

hot Southwest summer

Hot Southwest summer

Succulents: Cacti, agave, yucca and other succulent plants can suffer from both the extreme heat and sun of summer, especially on the side of the plant that points toward the southwest. Signs of heat damage include a yellowing of your succulents. If your succulents are not connected to your irrigation, they need to be watered to a depth of one to two feet. Larger succulents such as saguaro, ocotillo and yuccas need to be watered to three feet deep. Do this once this month and again in August. 

This can be easily done by simply placing your hose next to the plant and barely turning the water on so that the water trickles out slowly. Leave the water on for at least an hour and then check to see if you need to leave the water on for longer.

Shrubs: Make sure that your shrubs are receiving enough water. They should be watered to a depth of 2 feet each time you water. Avoid fertilizing this time of year since this creates more stress for your plants, which are struggling to handle the heat of summer. You can deadhead spent flowers from your shrubs to promote additional bloom, but avoid pruning away any foliage at this time of year. Spider mites can become a problem this time of year. Look for any tiny webs, which are a sign of these tiny mites. Controlling them is easy since they like to hide in the dust, so spray your plants every few days with water to help keep the mites from becoming established.

hot Southwest summer

Hot Southwest summer

Trees: Avoid planting any trees this month, except for palms. Mature, established trees require deep watering this time of year, especially if they are not connected to your irrigation system. This should be done once a month in summer, watering to a depth of 3 feet. Using a hose, allow water to slowly trickle out around the drip line of the tree (where the branches end, not against the trunk) which is where the roots are located. You may need to move the hose so that you water around the entire tree. You can skip one watering if you receive 1 inch of rainfall, which replaces a single irrigation. 

As the increased humidity, (25 – 33% humidity is considered high in the desert), makes it more uncomfortable for us to go outside, it helps to keep in mind that plants just love the extra moisture even if it is only in the air around them.

**I hope you find this helpful.  I wanted to also tell you about a fabulous sight that I saw on our vacation.  I blogged about it on my Birds & Blooms blog.  

Earlier this week, we were enjoying our weekly dinner at Double S Farms, where my mother, sister and her family live.  I must admit that I always look forward to these nights.  I get to enjoy being with my family, plus I don’t have to cook dinner ๐Ÿ˜‰

Usually after dinner, we take a stroll out in the back garden and check out what is going on in the vegetable garden – cucumbers, corn and tomatoes this week.  The fruit trees are heavily laden with fruit – apple and plum trees will soon be ready pick.  

What drew my attention this week was the young Sissoo (Dalbergia sissoo) tree that had suffered frost-damage from our severe cold snap last winter.  The entire top of the tree had died.

Frost damage tree

Frost damage tree

For a few months, my brother-in-law and mother had waited to see if the tree was still alive and if any new growth would occur.

Well, the entire tree above the ground, was killed by the frost.

However, at the soil surface, by the tree trunk, there was new growth.  There was vibrant new growth occurring.

So, I recommended that they keep the tree and remove the dead part of the tree.  This was easily done using a pruning saw.

There were numerous new branches growing from the base and we selected the strongest one to keep and pruned off the others. 

Frost damage tree

We kept the stakes and simply readjusted downward to help hold up the new growth, which will help to train it upright.

young Sissoo

Of course, the other option was to remove the entire tree and start over with a new one.  However, there is a well-established root system already in place.  So why not take advantage of that?  When you first plant any type of plant, there is transplant shock and then it takes time for the roots to establish themselves.

By simply selecting the new growth, we have a huge head start.  Yes, it is short, but with an established root system, it will grow very quickly.

Plus, just think of the $ saved – I just love a good bargain ๐Ÿ™‚

Ficus Treesโ€ฆ.Too Much Hassle?

Suffered Frost Damage

Suffered Frost Damage

Here in the Southwest, we were hit with a deep freeze this past winter.  Temps in my garden fell to 20 degrees F.  Now we aren’t strangers to occasional freezes each winter.  But what made this one different was that we had 4 successive days of extreme cold.

As I drive down the streets in my neighborhood, I see trees that look much like the Lysiloma tree above.  Do you have trees that suffered frost damage too?  Ficus trees seem to have been most heavily affected by frost damage.  But I also see some Jacaranda trees that look much the same.

Why are the upper branches more affected then the lower?

Well, the upper branches were the most exposed to the cold and they protected the lower branches from the cold.

With the arrival of warm weather, some of the ugly, brown branches are beginning to be covered with green again.  The leaves start appearing towards the bottom of the tree canopy and work their way upward.

As a result, you see lush, green growth below and brown up above.  So the question that many people have is when do you prune back the brown branches?

I recommend waiting at least 3- 4 more weeks (mid-May) to see if any leaves begin to appear.  If they do not, then it is usually a sign that the upper branches are dead and can be pruned back.  You can also bend the smaller branches to see if they break off easily – this is a sign that the branch is dead.  If the branch is still flexible, then there is still live wood inside.

Suffered Frost Damage

Because your tree has lost much its leaves to frost, it often produces a huge flush of new growth like the Lysiloma tree, above.

Now you may be tempted to remove some of the excess growth because it looks ‘messy’.  But, please DON’T.

Leaves are what make ‘food’ for your tree and it needs all the leaves it can get right now until it has produced enough new growth to compensate for the leaves lost.  I would recommend waiting as long as possible before removing any excess leaves.

Suffered Frost Damage

Rest assured, before you know it, your tree will soon recover and look beautiful once again.

I would like to thank Becky who sent me these photos of her tree and suggested the topic for this post ๐Ÿ™‚

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So, I am spending the day starting to pack for my upcoming road trip.  It is so much easier when all you have to do is pack yourself and not 3 kids as well.

I am traveling with my mother.  It is very strange to be traveling without my husband and kids, but I know we will have a fabulous time.

So, where are we going?

I’ll tell you next time….

improper planting

 Some of you may be surprised to find that many trees are not planted correctly.  As a Certified Arborist, I have seen countless trees that are suffering from problems that are caused by improper planting.  The damage can actually take years to show up in some cases.

As a young horticulturist working for a 36-hole golf course, I had hundreds of trees that I was in charge of.  At that time, there was we were planting quite a few more trees around the golf courses. During I was fortunate to work with a Consulting Arborist whose company we would hire annually to prune the very tall trees that my crew could not reach.

I learned so much from him and he inspired me to obtain my Certified Arborist certification.

Growing beautiful and healthy trees is not very difficult, especially if you start them out right.  So over the next few posts, we will cover how to prepare the hole, how to plant trees, stake and water them.

Okay, so you have your tree all picked out and you are ready to plant.  Before you dig your hole, you need to do one thing first if your tree is a box tree or in a container.

Gently scrape the top layer of soil until you reach the part of the tree trunk where it begins to flare out.

Many trees from nurseries and even those that have been boxed, often have an extra layer of soil.  This layer can smother the roots if it is too thick.  Roots need oxygen and if there is too much soil, that decreases the amount of oxygen that is available to them.

Okay, now we are ready to dig ‘the hole’.

improper planting

Now if you are like me, I love it when someone else is digging the hole ๐Ÿ˜‰

So at this point, may you are just quickly reading through this post, which is fine with me. BUT, if you will only remember a little bit of this post, this is the most important piece of information:

Make a hole at least 3X as wide as the root ball of the tree and just as deep as the root ball (once you have scraped off any excess soil from the top).

There, that wasn’t so bad was it?

You want the hole wider then the root ball so that the roots can grow easily outwards.

The hole should be no deeper then the root ball because the roots can be easily smothered.

Now if you live in an area with poor drainage, you will need to check the drainage in your hole.  To do this, simply fill the hole with water and let it drain (this may take a while).  Then fill it up again and if it does not drain out within 24 hours – you have a drainage problem.

You can either locate your tree in an area with better drainage, or create a ‘chimney’ through the bottom of the hole to break through the impermeable layer, known as caliche.  This is back breaking work, but it will be worth it when your tree lives instead of dying.

improper planting

Look at the original soil level that this boxed tree had (where the shovel is) and where the trunk flare is at the bottom.  The workers actually had to dig their newly planted tree up and add more soil to the bottom of the hole so that the soil level would be where the trunk flare started.

Okay, we are almost done with preparing our hole.

Now many of you would probably think that this would be a good time to add organic matter such as compost and maybe a handful of fertilizer.

Well the answer is actually NO…..

Numerous studies have shown that when people add organic matter to enrich the soil for ornamental trees that something interesting happens…..

Imagine that you are a tree root and you have just been planted in a mixture of really rich soil.  So, you begin to grow outwards and then you reach an area where the soil is not rich…..in fact it is rather boring.  Well, at this point you decide to just stay where the soil is rich and you do not grow outwards any further.

So, just use the existing soil when planting ornamental trees, which will result in the roots growing outwards for greater distances.  

Okay, so now we have the perfect sized hole and our tree is ready.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on how to plant and stake your tree….

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Please check out my latest Birds & Blooms post

“A Hummingbird Takes a Bath”

Anyone who has spent any time with me in the garden, soon learns how much I dislike formal pruning of flowering shrubs and desert trees.  In the plant industry, we sometimes refer to this type of pruning as ‘poodle pruning’ because of the over abundance of round-shaped trees and shrubs.

I spend a lot of time with clients, teaching them how to properly prune their trees and shrubs and most of the time it does not involve the use of a hedge trimmer.  

I recommend throwing away your hedge trimmers if you are tempted to use them on your native, desert plants and use only loppers and hand pruners ๐Ÿ˜‰

Over ten years ago, the community where I was working asked me to do a consultation for the local church.  Part of the consultation involved going over the current maintenance practices.  This church had a Texas Ebony tree (Ebenopsis ebano) that had not been pruned correctly.  In fact, there were signs that the infamous hedge trimmers had been hard at work…..

Poodled or Natural

Now you may not think that this Texas Ebony tree looks all this bad.  There may even be some of you who think that most trees should be maintained this way.

Well the reasons for not pruning your trees this way are many:

– Repeated shearing blocks the sunlight from reaching the interior branches, causing their eventual death which leaves large dead areas which are unattractive.

– This same type of pruning actually increases the maintenance required, because each time you prune, the tree works hard to replace the leaves lost.  Remember, it is the leaves that make the food for the tree.

This extra growth also requires the tree to take more water, which is already a precious resource here in the Southwest.

Now if those reasons do not convince you, please look at the photo below of the same tree, which is now being maintained as I had recommended….

Poodled or Natural

You know what?  It is so incredibly rewarding to revisit a landscape when those in charge have implemented some of my suggestions.  Sadly, that doesn’t always happen ๐Ÿ˜‰

Doesn’t this Texas Ebony look beautiful?

Now, a yearly pruning using a lopper or pruning saw is all this tree requires instead of multiple visits using a hedge trimmer.

Prune any dead and/or crossing branches and any over-reaching side branches as desired.  Raise the tree canopy gradually until you reach the desired height above the ground.

Texas Ebony is a slow-growing tree with beautiful, dark green leaves.  It does have thorns, so be sure to wear gloves and keep away from high traffic areas.  Brown seed pods appear later in the year.

If the photos above have not convinced you not to prune your Texas Ebony into a ‘ball’, are some other examples of others that have been pruned to accentuate their natural shape…

Poodled or Natural
Poodled or Natural

So, which one would you rather have in your garden?

Poodled or Natural
Poodled or Natural

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I would like to thank you all for your nice comments about my new Southwest blog at BirdsandBloomsblog.com

Here is a related post about formal pruning that you can read if you like:

Flowering Shrubs Aren’t Meant to be Cupcakes, Poodles or Frisbees