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I have a love affair with trees.


It’s true.  I love their beautiful branch architecture, foliage and the dappled shade that they provide.  Living in the desert Southwest, shade is a valuable commodity with the relief it offers from the intense sun and cool temperatures it offers.



For all these reasons and more, I can’t fathom why people would prune their trees like this, stripping them of all their beauty and much of their function.


The phrase that comes to mind when seeing something like this is badly pruned trees or how ‘not’ to prune trees.

Unfortunately, this is just one of many trees in this parking lot that have fallen prey to terrible pruning practices.

As a certified arborist, I see many bad examples of pruning, but I can honestly say that the trees in this parking lot are the worst.

Years ago, my husband and I used to live next to the area in Scottsdale and the appalling pruning that was done to the trees was well known by me.  

 On this lovely day, the kids and I were on our way home from the Desert Botanical Garden when we drove past this shopping plaza.  I quickly made a detour to see if anything had changed.  

Sadly, they hadn’t.  So, I took out my camera and started taking photos.

See if you can guess what each badly tree is:


#1


#2


#3


#4

Feel free to leave your answers in the comments section.  After guessing, click here for the answers with examples of what the trees should look like when properly maintained.  

Needless to say, you don’t need to know what type of trees they are to realize that they have been ‘butchered’.

I recently shared some examples of ‘butchered’ trees and asked you to try to identify what each tree was.  You can take the quiz here, if you like before seeing the answers, below.


As promised, here the photos of badly pruned trees and what they should look like:


#1 – Desert Fern (Lysiloma watsonii)



#2 Shoestring Acacia (Acacia stenophylla)



#3 Chilean Mesquite (Prosopis chilensis)



#4 Palo Brea (Parkinsonia praecox)

‘Topping’ of trees is not only unsightly, it is also unhealthy – leaving trees susceptible to biological and environmental stresses and actually makes them grow faster and use more water.

For more information on why ‘topping’ is bad for trees, click here.

Are you experiencing drought where you live?


You may be surprised to find that it is not only the West that is dealing with below average rainfall and its effects.


If you take a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor’s most recent drought map, you’ll see a lot of dark reds scattered about, particularly in California.


But, if you take a closer look, you can also see ares in the Northwest, Southeast and Northeast showing signs of drought as well.

Last month, I did a series of radio interviews on drought tolerant gardening.  Of course, you’d expect that one of the radio stations would be in California and it was.  But, other interviews were for radio stations in other areas that may not immediately come to mind when it comes to drought or abnormally dry conditions – Alabama, Oregon and Texas.

As a child growing up in California, I remember other times when drought was affecting this beautiful state.

On my most recent trip to California, I was struck by the brown hills with scattered trees that were showing the effects of drought.  

In a neighborhood setting, you could see some houses where the residents let their lawn die due either to strict water restrictions or voluntarily letting their lush green lawn turn brown.  Some landscape companies are now offering lawn painting services where they will come out and paint your brown lawn, green.

I decided to drive through my old neighborhood to see the house where I spent my teenage years.  I do this every few years whenever I am in town.  As I drove down the street, I saw three different examples of how the residents were dealing with the drought conditions.

I’d like to show you each of these examples and let you in on a secret – I grew up in one of these houses.

See if you can guess which one was my house…

Example 1:

When I was growing up in this neighborhood, everyone had a lawn.

However, the owners of this home ripped out their lawn in favor of a contemporary, drought tolerant landscape filled with succulents, ornamental grasses and a few arid adapted shrubs.  

I like the step stones leading up to the entry, don’t you?

The entire landscape had a layer of mulch to help conserve water and in this climate could survive on very little supplemental water.

Example 2:


This house with the ‘thirsty landscape’ is located just a few houses down from the drought tolerant landscape.  As you can see, the owners have kept their high water use landscape without any regard for the severe drought conditions present.

Large areas of lawn (including the parking strip), along with high-water use shrubs seemingly mock those who are trying their best to save water.

I sometimes wish that I had a parking strip.  I’d plant some beautiful, drought tolerant plants.  Maybe I should send the homeowners the book, “Hellstrip Gardening”?

Example 3:


This landscape is certainly not drought tolerant, but there are reduced lawn areas and even though the planting beds are not filled with drought tolerant plants – they do take less water than if they were taken up by a lawn.

I must admit solely on looks alone, that I prefer this landscape over the other two as long as rainfall amounts are normal.  But, in times of drought, I’d remove all of the lawn, add mulch and some drought tolerant ground covers like bush morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum) or trailing lantana.

So, have you been able to guess which of these homes that I grew up in?


The home with the ‘thirsty landscape’!

The landscape has not changed from what it looked like throughout the 80’s.  

This was a great house to grow up in with its 6 bedrooms and large backyard filled with blackberry bushes, citrus trees, a large pine tree and two palm trees.

If you look carefully, you can see three maple trees in the middle of the backyard, just peeking above the roofline of the house.  My brother, sisters and I planted those trees in 1978.

How about you?

Are you experiencing drought where you live?  What do you do to save water in the landscape?
A sustainable, low-maintenance landscape is not only beautiful, it can save the use of unneeded resources such as maintenance, time and money.

To date, our series on sustainable landscaping has talked about what is a sustainable landscape.  Next, we talked about what often goes wrong in the landscape that causes us to use unneeded resources.  


In our quest toward a more sustainable landscape, we started to discuss small steps that you can take towards a more sustainable garden.  In part one, we covered plant selection and what types of plants to avoid as our journey toward a sustainable landscape progresses.

Today, we will finish up our series on sustainable landscaping with additional steps you can implement in your garden right now.


Reduce over-crowded landscapes by removing excess plants.



As you can see, there are far too many shrubs in this area, which helps to contribute to over-pruning.


To help solve this problem, simply remove the excess shrubs.  How can you tell which ones to remove?  First, find out what type of shrubs they are – in this case they are ‘Green Cloud’ Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens ‘Green Cloud’).


Then use one of the resources I gave you last time to research the plant, which would tell you that this type of shrub will grow about 6 feet high and wide.  So, the shrubs should be placed at least 6 feet apart.  


Using the photo above as an example, start out with the first shrub on the left, measure out to the next shrub that is at least 6 feet away.  Any shrubs between these two shrubs need to be taken out.  Repeat the process until the remaining shrubs are at least 6 feet apart.


Stop unnecessary pruning.




These shrubs have plenty of room to grow in the landscape, yet they are pruned every couple of months.


This type of pruning is called ‘poodle’ or ‘cupcake’ pruning.


It is really quite amazing how much more work over-pruning causes and in ways you may be surprised to discover, click here to learn more. To reduce the amount of resources (green waste, water, plant replacement, and maintenance bills) wasted on unneeded pruning.


So declare your landscape a ‘poodle’ and ‘cupcake’-free zone.  Believe me, your plants will thank you for it and your plants will look much nicer.


Allow shrubs to grow to their natural size.




When you allow enough room for plants to grow, the temptation to over-prune is greatly lessened.


Plants have a lovely shape that we frequently ruin, by making them into ‘balls’ or other unnatural shapes.  This does not only affect the health of the plant, it can also remove flowers.


Note: I am not saying that all pruning is harmful.  Pruning done properly can be beneficial for plants.


So, what if you have a landscape filled with over-pruned shrubs.  What can you do to transform them into more naturally-shaped shrubs that are more sustainable? 


The answer is relatively simple and it does involve pruning…




This over-pruned shrub is located in my neighborhood.  I cringe whenever I walk by it while walking our dogs.


It is seldom allowed to grow any leaves before the landscapers come just about every leaf off.  Frequent over-pruning has led to old, woody growth that is unproductive.  


The solution to transforming this shrub is called rejuvenation pruning, which entails pruning the shrub all the way back to 1 1/2 feet.  In most cases, this will stimulate attractive, new growth that you can allow to grow into their natural shape.


*I mention ‘in most cases’ because there is always a chance that the shrub will not recover from this type of pruning.  However when this happens, it is usually an indicator that the shrub was already declining and would not have lived long regardless of whether it was severely pruned or not.


Below, is an example from my own garden…




On the left, you can see a sage shrub that has been allowed to grow into its natural shape, which is more sustainable then over-pruning.  In addition, I also get a lot of beautiful flowers.


Every 3 years of so, when the branches become woody and unproductive, I prune it back severely (in spring) and within 4 – 6 weeks, it is already growing new branches filled with attractive foliage.


Water your plants deeply and infrequently.




Would you be surprised to discover that 80% of your water bill is used outdoors?  It’s true.


Would you also be shocked to discover that most of us over-water our plants?  In fact, more plant problems are caused by over-watering then under-watering.


So, why waste water, which is a precious resource in the western United States needlessly?


While you can have a landscape filled with desert-adapted plants that need no water, after established – your plants will look better if given some supplemental water.


For my own landscape – I water my shrubs and perennials once every 3 weeks in the winter months and it looks beautiful.


In the summer, I water every 7 – 10 days.  


The key is to water shrubs to a depth of 2 feet, perennials/groundcovers to 1 foot and trees to 3 feet.


So, how do you know how often to water?


There is excellent information available for the Phoenix metro area that you can access here.


For those of you who in other arid climates – check with your local extension office for watering guidelines.  


However, if that seems rather complicated, there is a new irrigation controller that does all the work for you.  All you have to do is enter your zip code, once the controller is installed and it will keep track of your local weather and water your plants only when they need it.  You can find out more about this Smart Irrigation Controller, here.


*For those of you who would like more information, I have written more extensively on landscape watering for desert gardens that you can access here.


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I hope you have found these posts helpful toward your goal of creating a more sustainable landscape.


Our last post will cover the last small steps that you can do to achieve a sustainable garden, so please check back.