12-27-2009

     All three of us on the KWKC Green Team hope that each of you had a good Christmas and we wish you all of the best for the New Year.

     A Western Observer reader asks, “You talked the other day about planting a good tree next to a tree that you want to cut down like a Mulberry and planting an Oak close to it so you are (not) completely without trees while the Oak grows.  How close can you plant trees together without the roots getting tangled or messed up”?

     That’s a very good question. As trees are very visible plants we tend to forget that a large part of a tree is underground and how well that underground part does is vital to the overall life of the entire plant. Because of the hidden nature of roots, they are difficult to accurately study. It’s very hard to excavate around roots to view them without doing damage and/or changing the growing environment which often makes the results of this kind of study questionable.

     Did you know that some trees are grown only for their hardy root systems? Many commonly planted trees are actually cultivars that are grafted onto root stock from trees that were grown only for the desirable qualities of their roots. If you have a peach tree or an ornamental pear (Bradford) you have one of these grafted trees.

     Anyway, as a tree person, I have a lot of interest in roots. I read extensively about them, check out things we dig up, and attend classes and workshops on the subject every chance I get. In fact, I find nearly anything about plants in general and trees specifically interesting, but I realize that some subjects, such as roots, can be pretty dry material for most people.

     When dealing with plants, which are living, growing, dynamic organisms, there is no perfect cut and dried answer for any given situation. There are always many factors that need to be taken into consideration to give a specific answer for a specific circumstance. Happily though, the answer to the question above about how close can you plant one tree to another is greatly simplified by the fact that the tree that we are planting next to is scheduled for future removal in this situation.

     Since the new tree will be planted in the structural root zone of the older plant, there won’t be as much competition for water and nutrients as there would be if the new planting was out in the area where the feeder roots for the older tree are mostly located. If the trees are of different species, the only real problem would be if some of the structural roots are actually large enough in the soil to form a barrier to the roots of the younger plant. That isn’t going to happen often enough to really be a concern when you are planting. As I said in the previous article, if you run into roots from the old tree that are in the way, chop through them and plant the new tree. Don’t worry too much about the health of the existing plant. The tree to worry about is the one you are planting. That’s the one that you want sited properly and in good health because that’s the one that will be the single tree in that spot later.

     If you are planting a new tree that is the same species as the old tree, then there is a possibility that the new one and the old one will root graft. This sometimes happens when the roots from trees of the same species meet underground and fuse together. This is better understood in oaks simply because there has been a lot of research into oak wilt being spread in this manner. This fusing only becomes important if the old tree is dying of some kind of bacterial or fungal disease. If this is the case, the new tree could be infected with the same problem. In this instance, I would recommend the new tree be something that is not subject to what is taking out the existing tree. Just as an example, if you have a red oak that is infected with bacterial leaf scorch and you are replacing it, another red oak would not be the tree to put in that spot, but something like a chinese pistache would work there. Also, some diseases are spread by insect and a tree that is subject to these diseases should not be planted next to another tree that is already infected.

     When trying to dig around a root system with a shovel, it seems that the ground around trees is completely taken up with roots. However; there is actually a lot of space around roots and the new planting will take advantage of that space and establish itself right through the roots from the existing tree. Roots are amazingly good about finding their way around minor obstacles. Also after the old tree is removed and the roots from it decay, this decay will contribute lots of biological activity to the soil that the new tree will put to good use. In forests, trees establish themselves very close together and what generally determines the winners and losers is which one gets the most sunlight, not the root systems.

     There are going to be a few times when planting right next to the tree you want to replace is going to be a problem. For the most part though, you can plant as close to a tree that you are going to remove later as you want, and the few times that there are limiting issues, these can be overcome with a little bit of thought and planning.

     The KWKC Green Team invites you to attend their Saturday January 9th winter pruning and maintenance workshop at 2 P.M. at Greenbelt Gardens 1820 South Treadaway in Abilene.

     If you have any landscaping, landscape maintenance, or tree questions you would like answered in this column, submit them care of .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

           The KWKC Green Team is made up of Bruce Kreitler (Broken Willow Tree Service 325 675 6794 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) Adam Andrews (Willow Creek Design and Landscape 325 673 2329) and Stephen Myers (Steele Myers Landscaping 325 673 7478). Catch them on KWKC 1340 Saturdays at noon.

12-4-2009

     Since I spend a lot of time on my soapbox (every opportunity that I get) this time of year preaching that now is the best time to plant trees, I thought I probably should go into some detail about how to successfully plant trees.

     There are a lot of misconceptions about tree planting, and one of them is that there is  a perfect, or “best” way to handle trees that are grown somewhere else and then transported to another property and planted. The best way to grow and handle trees that will later be moved doesn’t exist. There are several different ways to bring living trees to a landscape where they were not initially grown and install them but none of them are the “best” way. I will touch on the most common methods, but they each have advantages and disadvantages. One of the systems may fit best with a particular job at hand, depending on the conditions and requirements of that situation, but overall, no one way to handle living trees for planting is better than the others for all situations.

     The three main ways to handle and move trees are, balled and burlapped (B&B), in nursery containers, (usually sold by bucket size), and bare root. There are variations of these different methods, and several ways that are combinations of one or more of them, but these are the main three ways that most trees are going to be handled.

     Some of the advantages of the B&B method are that larger trees can be moved for less money than the same size trees grown in buckets, if you get them from an area tree farm they are probably growing in a soil that is not different enough from yours to be a problem, and if you are getting a quantity of them, you can actually go to the tree farm and pick them out yourself. Some of the disadvantages of the B&B method are that the failure rate is higher than bucketed trees, the trees are very sensitive to the time of year when they are dug, the root balls are much heavier, and they are less forgiving of errors in planting. This is a good way to get large trees installed in your landscape but B&B trees should only be purchased from people that are reputable and stand behind their work. If you are planting B&B trees yourself, make sure and remove any twine, rope, or other material that was used to tie the root ball together. If the tie material is left on and it is wrapped around the trunk, there is a good chance that it will kill the tree later as the tree grows and trunk diameter increases. Also remove the burlap at the top of the root ball and if the wire sticks up above the top of the ball it should be cut off or folded back. The burlap that the ball is wrapped in is supposed to be untreated burlap and should decay quickly in the ground. It would be nice to remove all of the wire, but that usually just isn’t practical.

     Container grown, or “bucketed” trees are a good way for the average homeowner to install new trees in the landscape. They are usually healthy, the material in the bucket is normally potting soil, not dirt, which makes them much lighter and easier to handle, they are available year round, and unlike B&B and bare root trees, the entire root system comes with the tree which makes for much less chance of “planting shock”. If these trees are grown by a reputable grower, the largest drawback of this type is going to be cost. Properly grown in the buckets, they will have to be tended on an almost daily basis as long as they are at the growers or in the nursery and this is the main reason that they are more expensive. If they are not correctly cared for and/or put in larger buckets often enough as they grow, they tend to develop root problems that may not become apparent until many years after they have been planted. These trees are the ones most likely to need stakes or braces to hold them upright until they establish themselves.

     The third option for purchasing trees is bare root. This method is most common for trees and other woody plants that are purchased by mail. Fruit trees for orchard use are also often transported in this manner. One of the large advantages of this method is that these plants weigh very little and are much easier to ship and handle because of the lack of any kind of soil or growth medium. For the most part though, this method is for people that know exactly what they are doing. Bare root plants have to be handled and kept under certain conditions, and if they are mishandled, or allowed to dry out, the plants usually won’t survive. One other drawback of bare rooting is that this process is for smaller trees. Even though there have been many experiments over the years in bare rooting larger trees, nobody has come up with a dependable way to handle large landscape trees as bare root stock. Like B&B this method is also restricted to a certain time of year.

      Whatever type of tree you get, there are a few more things that are important to good success in planting new trees.

     Don’t fertilize new plantings for the first year, root stimulator applied according to the label is fine, but fertilizer can cause problems for plants that are trying to establish themselves.

     Don’t plant too deep, the part of the tree where the trunk flares out just at or just above the roots (called the root flare) should be visible. Any extra dirt on top of the root flare should be removed. Even if it came from the grower that way, the extra dirt should be raked off and the tree planted with the flare above the level of the surrounding ground. This part of the tree being covered will cause a lot of trouble later in its life.

     Don’t add a lot of soil amendments to the planting hole. Your new tree needs to grow in the existing soil, so use the ground you dug out for the back fill and be sure to not leave any air pockets around the roots. We like to wash dirt in with water to be sure and get the soil packed in like it should be.

     I could write lots more about planting trees and certainly many books have been printed on the subject, but if you are putting your trees in the ground and they are growing, you are a successful planter.

     If you have any landscaping, landscape maintenance, or tree questions you would like answered in this column, submit them care of .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

           The KWKC Green Team is made up of Bruce Kreitler (Broken Willow Tree Service 325 675 6794 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) Adam Andrews (Willow Creek Design and Landscape 325 673 2329) and Stephen Myers (Steele Myers Landscaping 325 673 7478). Catch them on KWKC 1340 Saturdays at noon.

 

    

    

    

 

 

12-17-2009

     A Western Observer reader asks, "I have been planting several different flowers, and plants in my yard, but nothing seems to live very long.  I have not lived at the house, but a few years, but the only thing that seems to grow is milk weeds.  What am I doing wrong?"

      First things first, before we get into the milkweed issue, We would like to wish each and every one of you a merry Christmas, We hope that you are able to spend the holidays with your family, and if you are traveling, that you and yours have a pleasant safe trip.

     Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a problematic weed best controlled by roundup (glyphosphate) in spring or early summer while the plant is in either the budded or flowering stage. As the plant becomes more mature later in the summer and fall, it will become difficult to control with chemicals. As it happens, this is a characteristic shared by many weeds. Milkweed can be found in both sandy and clay soils which pretty much means the whole Big Country. It is a perennial and spreads by roots as well as seed which makes controlling it that much more difficult. If you have been having problems with this plant for some time, I bet you already know that it’s going to take a little more than a couple of shots of roundup to get rid of it. The best way to permanently remove the plants is going to be a combination of chemical, mechanical removal, and amending the soil in the areas that you are having trouble with. Permanent removal of the milkweed is really going to boil down to staying on top of them as soon as they start growing. If you make it a habit to get them out before they can grow, sooner or later, you will have permanently removed the milkweeds.

     By the way, even milkweeds have a good side, monarch butterflies love milkweed, and they may have been placed in your yard on purpose for this very reason.

     The deeper issue here is why you aren’t having success with your other plantings. Hopefully, the fact that you do have some plants growing indicates that you don’t have some large chemical problem with your soil.
     The first step is a soil test. It would be good to know if there is some problem in the soil that is causing your other plantings to fail. It’s always helpful to know the history of the area you are planting in, but if you’ve only had the house a few years, you will probably have to rely on whatever the neighbors can tell you about your property, and a soil test. Soil samples are not difficult to take and your county extension agent will have soil test kits and can guide you in the right direction. The extension agents are also very good at interpreting the results of soil tests and recommending the right minerals and nutrients for your soil based on that information.

     Once you know what to add to your planting areas, combine those materials with compost to a depth of two to four inches and turn all of this together into the soil. You can repeat this process once a year until the soil becomes naturally more friable, loose, and darker with organic material. The looser the soil, the better it drains and the easier roots can expand and make their way through it. The more organic material distributed throughout your soil, the more organic activity in your soil, which is very good for your plants.

     The trick is to turn the organic material into the soil not just spread it on top. Prepare the area a few weeks ahead of planting time, which allows any weeds to germinate before you plant. That way you can pull them up, spray them, or dig them out before the desirable plants are in the way.

     Adjusting soil ph is not practical but adding flake sulfur, gypsum or aluminum sulfate with organic material will neutralize our alkaline soils making it easier for plants to absorb minerals in the soil necessary for healthy growth. That all sounds very complicated, but actually all of these things are readily available at the store you get your fertilizer at and have good directions for use on the labels.

     Before you decide what to plant, look at the site and think about the environmental factors such as shade, wind, reflected heat, how much moisture, how little moisture, or anything else that will have an effect on your plants. For example, I wouldn’t put a Texas mountain laurel or oleander on an exposed North side, but I’d put it in that same spot if there was some protection in front of the plant. Neither would I put a desert willow in a high traffic area because the branches are delicate and easily broken, but I’d put that same tree in a less accessible area very close to foot traffic. Basically, pick the right plant for the right spot and you have eliminated a lot of potential trouble.

     Also, get your plants from a reputable grower or nursery. If you are already having trouble successfully growing and planting things, make sure that you aren’t bringing part of the problem home with you. I recommend buying from a local nursery, as they know what grows in the area and they know where the plants they sell come from. For instance if you are buying red oaks from someone that is growing them in acid soil, that’s going to be a real problem that is not detectable by you when you purchase your tree.

     Finally, add good wood mulch to your beds, properly applied mulch does a lot of things in flower beds and they are all good. I could go into a lot of detail about how beneficial mulch is, but that would be a column by itself.

      If you have any landscaping, landscape maintenance, or tree questions you would like answered in this column, submit them care of .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

           The KWKC Green Team is made up of Bruce Kreitler (Broken Willow Tree Service 325 675 6794 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) Adam Andrews (Willow Creek Design and Landscape 325 673 2329) and Stephen Myers (Steele Myers Landscaping 325 673 7478). Catch them on KWKC 1340 Saturdays at noon.

 

11-27-2009

     The very best time to prune trees is when they are as close to dormant as they get. Trees are never totally dormant, but the middle of the winter is when our trees are at their least active. If this were the only consideration that we need to take in to account, scheduling tree work would be easy. We would do all pruning between the 1st of November and the 1st of February and take the rest of the year off. But, as you can imagine, there are other factors involved in pruning trees besides the biological activity of the tree. For example, when trimming oak trees in counties with oak wilt, the activity level of a particular type of insect (nitidulid beetles) is actually much more important than whether or not the oak trees are active. I won’t go into any detail about these beetles except that if you are working with oak trees in an oak wilt area, you should know about these beetles and what there cycle of activity is.

     Most tree pruning is done as a reaction to tree growth. What I mean by this is that the tree has grown and intruded into a space or the branches have become a nuisance in some way. The natural reaction to this is to prune away the problem. This type of work certainly accounts for the majority of tree trimming work. Cutting away the offending branches is not always the best answer though, if a large branch is brushing the roof of a house, the removal of the whole limb will also remove the shade that it puts on the roof. Instead, if the branch structure itself can be pruned so that contact with the roof is eliminated and its growth path can be changed to extend over the roof without future contact, the benefit of the shade will be saved and leafy area will not be unnecessarily removed from the tree.

     The leaves are the food factories of trees and when live branches are being removed from trees, these little food factories are going with them. This is another important factor that should be part of the thought process before deciding on which branches to remove. In the arborist community, it is a general rule of thumb that no more than 20-30% of leafy canopy of a young tree should be removed at one time. That’s the thought on young vigorous trees, but larger trees that are mature or approaching maturity, have very different rules and differ so much in what pruning they will or won’t stand, that there is no good rule of thumb for the bigger ones, and these larger trees should be evaluated on an individual basis. All of these rules don’t mean that you will automatically kill a tree by removing too much canopy, after all, you could probably cut a pecan tree in half and  have it “survive” but it sure wouldn’t be much of a tree after that.

     The ultimate goal of pruning trees isn’t to just make sure you don’t kill the tree, the idea is to do what needs to be accomplished, removing as little leafy area as practical, and keep the tree as healthy as possible, both for the present and potential future growth. Healthy trees are much more resistant to insects, fungus, and bacteria than trees that are under stress from over pruning. Tree health is something that is much easier to maintain than it is to restore.

     Trees always benefit from removal of dead branches. Dead wood that is still attached to a tree is a pathway for decay, insects, and bacteria into the living growing part of the tree. Proper removal of these branches will give the tree a better look and the opportunity to contain any decay before it can spread to uninfected parts of the plant. Dead branches in your trees can be caused by many factors. Some trees reach maturity and then start failing from the top down, other trees will kill off entire branches due to stress such as lack of water. Sometimes the normal growth of a tree will cause the interior of the canopy to become more shaded as the tree successfully grows and the resulting shade will cause the interior branches to die. Whatever the cause of dead wood, removal of the dead branches is a step in the right direction for the tree.

     When you throw in some of the factors that go into tree pruning, such as age, size, type of tree, location, level of care, customer’s desires, time of year, city ordinances, previous prunings, and etc., tree trimming becomes more of an art than a science. The best pruning jobs are when the tree looks great, but nobody realizes that it’s been pruned.

     There is one thing that I want to mention that used to be common practice, but fortunately is being done less and less, and that is “topping” trees. Never top trees. That is a subject for another column sometime and I will give a better definition of topping when I write that column, but topping is always bad for trees and causes lots of future problems.

     If you have any landscaping, landscape maintenance, or tree questions you would like answered in this column, submit them care of .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

           The KWKC Green Team is made up of Bruce Kreitler (Broken Willow Tree Service 325 675 6794 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) Adam Andrews (Willow Creek Design and Landscape 325 673 2329) and Stephen Myers (Steele Myers Landscaping 325 673 7478). Catch them on KWKC 1340 Saturdays at noon.

11-17-2009

     A Western Observer reader asks, "I have been planting several different flowers, and plants in my yard, but nothing seems to live very long.  I have not lived at the house, but a few years, but the only thing that seems to grow is milk weeds.  What am I doing wrong?"

      First things first, before we get into the milkweed issue, We would like to wish each and every one of you a merry Christmas, We hope that you are able to spend the holidays with your family, and if you are traveling, that you and yours have a pleasant safe trip.

     Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is a problematic weed best controlled by roundup (glyphosphate) in spring or early summer while the plant is in either the budded or flowering stage. As the plant becomes more mature later in the summer and fall, it will become difficult to control with chemicals. As it happens, this is a characteristic shared by many weeds. Milkweed can be found in both sandy and clay soils which pretty much means the whole Big Country. It is a perennial and spreads by roots as well as seed which makes controlling it that much more difficult. If you have been having problems with this plant for some time, I bet you already know that it’s going to take a little more than a couple of shots of roundup to get rid of it. The best way to permanently remove the plants is going to be a combination of chemical, mechanical removal, and amending the soil in the areas that you are having trouble with. Permanent removal of the milkweed is really going to boil down to staying on top of them as soon as they start growing. If you make it a habit to get them out before they can grow, sooner or later, you will have permanently removed the milkweeds.

     By the way, even milkweeds have a good side, monarch butterflies love milkweed, and they may have been placed in your yard on purpose for this very reason.

     The deeper issue here is why you aren’t having success with your other plantings. Hopefully, the fact that you do have some plants growing indicates that you don’t have some large chemical problem with your soil.
     The first step is a soil test. It would be good to know if there is some problem in the soil that is causing your other plantings to fail. It’s always helpful to know the history of the area you are planting in, but if you’ve only had the house a few years, you will probably have to rely on whatever the neighbors can tell you about your property, and a soil test. Soil samples are not difficult to take and your county extension agent will have soil test kits and can guide you in the right direction. The extension agents are also very good at interpreting the results of soil tests and recommending the right minerals and nutrients for your soil based on that information.

     Once you know what to add to your planting areas, combine those materials with compost to a depth of two to four inches and turn all of this together into the soil. You can repeat this process once a year until the soil becomes naturally more friable, loose, and darker with organic material. The looser the soil, the better it drains and the easier roots can expand and make their way through it. The more organic material distributed throughout your soil, the more organic activity in your soil, which is very good for your plants.

     The trick is to turn the organic material into the soil not just spread it on top. Prepare the area a few weeks ahead of planting time, which allows any weeds to germinate before you plant. That way you can pull them up, spray them, or dig them out before the desirable plants are in the way.

     Adjusting soil ph is not practical but adding flake sulfur, gypsum or aluminum sulfate with organic material will neutralize our alkaline soils making it easier for plants to absorb minerals in the soil necessary for healthy growth. That all sounds very complicated, but actually all of these things are readily available at the store you get your fertilizer at and have good directions for use on the labels.

     Before you decide what to plant, look at the site and think about the environmental factors such as shade, wind, reflected heat, how much moisture, how little moisture, or anything else that will have an effect on your plants. For example, I wouldn’t put a Texas mountain laurel or oleander on an exposed North side, but I’d put it in that same spot if there was some protection in front of the plant. Neither would I put a desert willow in a high traffic area because the branches are delicate and easily broken, but I’d put that same tree in a less accessible area very close to foot traffic. Basically, pick the right plant for the right spot and you have eliminated a lot of potential trouble.

     Also, get your plants from a reputable grower or nursery. If you are already having trouble successfully growing and planting things, make sure that you aren’t bringing part of the problem home with you. I recommend buying from a local nursery, as they know what grows in the area and they know where the plants they sell come from. For instance if you are buying red oaks from someone that is growing them in acid soil, that’s going to be a real problem that is not detectable by you when you purchase your tree.

     Finally, add good wood mulch to your beds, properly applied mulch does a lot of things in flower beds and they are all good. I could go into a lot of detail about how beneficial mulch is, but that would be a column by itself.

      If you have any landscaping, landscape maintenance, or tree questions you would like answered in this column, submit them care of .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

           The KWKC Green Team is made up of Bruce Kreitler (Broken Willow Tree Service 325 675 6794 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) Adam Andrews (Willow Creek Design and Landscape 325 673 2329) and Stephen Myers (Steele Myers Landscaping 325 673 7478). Catch them on KWKC 1340 Saturdays at noon.

 

11-20-2009

     A Western Observer reader has asked, “What kind of fruit trees are best for this area and when is the best time to plant them”?

 

     I’m assuming that the question applies to fruit trees being planted in a yard or some other maintained area and not for orchard plantings. Trees planted in orchards for commercial production are chosen and handled much differently than they are in landscape type settings.

     Not including nut trees such as pecan, the available fruit trees include Pomegranate, Peach, Apple, Pear, Apricot, Persimmon, Plum, and Figs. There are a very few cherry trees that can grow in Texas, and probably some other fruits that don’t come immediately to mind, but I think that covers most of the fruit trees that can be successfully grown in the big country.

     As far as hardiness of the trees goes, the American persimmon (Dyospyros virginiana) tree is nearly indestructible and is actually a good shade tree. The problem is that these trees are invasive and not a lot of people like persimmons. The Texas persimmon (Dyospyros texana) is more of a small shrub type tree but it is also invasive. The Japanese persimmon is a different story, it is a small growing tree similar in shape and size to a redbud, and bears a fruit about the size of an apple that is supposed to be tasty. I’ve never tried one so I can’t offer a personal opinion on the taste, but the Japanese persimmon (Dyospyros khaki) will grow and produce in the Big Country.

     For dependability of fruit production I would go with pear trees. There are many different varieties of pear trees, such as Kieffer or Bartlett that will bear fruit in our Big Country climate and the trees themselves seem to live much longer than the apple, peach, and apricot trees. In fact, a good pear tree will bear so many pears that what to do with all of them could be a problem.

     Many varieties of peaches will grow here and produce some pretty good peaches. A couple of the favorites are Ranger and Loring.  Peach trees are generally short lived small trees, and they have a lot of insect and fungal issues. I feel the best approach with a peach tree is to not try treating all of the things that attack the tree, but instead water, prune, and fertilize the tree as needed and collect the peaches that you can before birds or insects get them. Almost all commercial growers do a lot of spraying and treating of orchards to produce their crops, but peach growers get to do a lot more of it. That’s a battle that’s just not worth fighting on the scale of a tree or two.

     Plums can be a good choice for a fruit tree that is planted in the yard. The Methley variety seems to be a favorite. One of the big problems with fruit trees is the mess that the large fallen fruit makes around the tree. A plum can have some of this issue, but generally nothing like the amount of litter that can accumulate around a prolific peach, pear, or apple tree.

     Apricot is another dependable fruit tree. The apricot tree is much hardier and lives longer than the peach trees and although they have a lot of the problems that peach trees have, it is on a much smaller scale. The largest problem that I see with apricots is that they can be very fickle about bearing fruit on a regular basis. While some of them bear year after year, many others seem to produce only occasionally or not at all. The variety of apricot that I see planted the most is Royal, maybe it will turn out to be a steady producer.

     I generally recommend against apple trees. I have nothing against the trees, and I like apples a little more than the next guy, but it is difficult to get an apple tree to produce fruit in the Big Country. There are several varieties that are rated for our area, but my experience is that getting apples out of them is hit or miss.

     Pomegranates are certainly easy enough to grow and there are several varieties that will reliably produce fruit in our area. Since the plant is a large shrub instead of an actual tree, they need to be planted in an area where the spread of the plant won’t be an issue. They have a brilliant orange flower in the spring that is worth looking at and if a person likes pomegranates, this might be the way to go. I don’t eat them, so I don’t know how good the local ones are.

     Don’t plant figs with the expectation of being able to get figs off of the tree. Instead, plant figs because you like the plant and if you happen to get some figs off of it that would be nice. For the most part, if you get a variety of fig that will produce here, and there are some that will, it is extremely difficult to get ripe figs before birds and other wildlife gather them ahead of you.

     I haven’t named a lot of varieties of the different trees. The best source of information, and this is the people that I would ask first, for more varieties of these different fruit trees best suited to the area you live in is your County Extension Agent. The Extension Agents will either know the varieties for the local region or they will direct you to the best source for that information.

     As far as the best time for planting, that would be from now on through the winter, but the sooner the better, especially if you are planting bare root fruit trees. The drawback to planting now is that a lot of the trees that we have discussed are going to be hard to find in a retail setting much before spring. Retail garden centers will start stocking fruit trees after January 1st. that of course means that you probably are going to wind up planting just before spring.

     I know that this has been a long answer to a short question, but growing fruit in the Big Country isn’t as easy as growing it in say the Rio Grande Valley, and it is knotty problem when you have to decide on which one is going to work in your yard.

     The KWKC Green Team is Bruce Kreitler, Adam Andrews, and Stephen Myers. If you have questions about trees, plants, or anything to do with landscaping, ask the Green Team. Send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) You can also reach the Green Team, or the individual members through the Broken Willow Tree Service website www.BrokenWillow.com, by phone at 325 675 6794, and don’t forget to listen to them on KWKC 1340 every Saturday at noon. 

 

 

 

 

11-11-2009

     Since it’s fall and many of the trees with fall color are looking good right now, we thought that we should write about some of the colorful trees that make good landscape trees in the Big Country. In a previous article, we listed some of the trees that are showing attractive color right now, but we didn’t note too much about their other qualities. As we’ve written in this space before, the alkaline soil, low humidity, extreme summer temperatures, and high winds limit the types of trees that are available to us here. While the occasional red maple can grow here, for the most part things like red maples, dogwoods, and birches are not going to thrive or even grow at all in our region.

     Even though having trees with good color and other desirable qualities seems a little too good to be true, I guess we will just have to hold up under the burden of getting double benefit from our trees.

     A tree that is fairly new to this area is the chinese pistache (not to be confused with pistachio). This tree is rated as a Texas superstar, meaning that it should thrive anywhere it is planted in Texas. Most of the trees that will grow in all of our different geographic regions are things like mesquites, hackberries, and cedars. The pistache tree not only grows across the state, it has a fast growth rate, but a longer life span than most rapid growth trees, has excellent fall color ranging from a deep yellow to crimson red, has no real insect or fungal problems of note, and is drought tolerant. There are a lot of these trees planted in area landscapes, but not too many large ones yet as they have not been commonly available until recently.

     We are all familiar with red oaks, particularly now when they are showing the nice red fall colors. These are trees that are native to this area, have long life spans, good fall color, and get to be very large specimen size shade trees. They are often sold in clusters, but really should be planted as single trunks as usually the clusters will develop fungal and structural problems when they approach mature size. These trees are also drought tolerant, although they will definitely show a better growth rate if they have supplemental watering.

     Ornamental pears, commonly called Bradford pears have an attractive red color when their leaves turn. There actually are several different varieties of these trees, but most people have only heard of the Bradford variety. These make a good tree where something that is going to grow to be a large plant isn’t necessarily desirable. Another good quality of these trees is there dependable shape. The Bradford variety gets that lollipop look that fits well into a flowerbed and maintains that shape as it grows larger. Other varieties such as Aristocrat, have different forms, but they are all dependable about their size and shape. The ornamental pears do double color duty as they are very well known for their attractive spring flowers.

     There are also many trees that grow in the Big Country that have good fall color, but I would think hard about before I planted in a landscape. Two of these are chinaberries and western soapberry, both of these trees have excellent yellow color in the fall and the chinaberry has attractive purple blooms in the spring. They are however; invasive. A single tree of either species is attractive and would fit well into a landscape, the problem is keeping it to a single tree, both of these types sprout from seed or root sprouts and can be growing all through a landscape before you know it. Sumac is another one of this type, a nice low growing short lived tree with some of the best red fall color; it will spread rapidly through the area it is planted in. I like trees more than the next person, but I still don’t want to deal with invasive plants that sprout up from every part of the yard.

     One last tree that I don’t know much about but has a very pretty purple fall color is the chinese tallow tree. This tree has a very bad reputation in South Texas for spreading by water and choking up water ways and smothering out the native vegetation. I have been watching the few tallow trees that grow in this area for several years and have not noticed them spreading by root or seed. I have noticed the really good fall color and I’m thinking about planting some of these to see how they really do in the Big Country.

     These are a few of the trees that are dependable for fall color among their other qualities. There are other trees that have spring color, and some that have color through the summer, so whatever you want out of the trees in your landscape, color is not something that you will have to do without.

     The KWKC Green Team is Bruce Kreitler, Adam Andrews, and Stephen Myers. If you have questions about trees, plants, or anything to do with landscaping, ask the Green Team. Send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) You can also reach the Green Team through the Broken Willow Tree Service website www.BrokenWillow.com, or by phone at 325 675 6794, and don’t forget to listen to them on KWKC 1340 every Saturday at noon

11-4-2009

     Rather than write about any particular plants or landscaping techniques this week, I want to talk a little about landscaping itself and the perception that it’s really expensive.

      We all know somebody that spent a fortune on having their property landscaped. Since I’m in the green business, I think it would be great if everybody spent money on very large, expensive, intricate landscapes that also need lots of continuing maintenance. That would be good for the green business, but maybe not so good for the customers. The reality is that landscaping or any other kind of work should always be done with the customer’s budget, firmly in mind. Any ethical person that you hire to do work for you should always remember whose money is actually being spent. Keep in mind that the green business is highly competitive and that helps keep your contractors reasonable.

     When landscaping in general is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind  is the large jobs that totally remake big pieces of real estate, or the total new landscape that goes with a brand new home. The second thought is “that’s going to cost a lot of money”. But the term landscaping doesn’t just mean those big jobs that immediately come to mind, any more than going out to eat necessarily means driving to the most expensive restaurant in the region. If you plant a few new plants that you picked up at the garden store, or plant the living Christmas tree after Christmas is over, you are changing the yard and landscaping. A new set of walk stones from the drive to the house, a small flower bed around one of your established trees or another rose bush by the front door is also landscaping.

     If a house has any open area around it at all, it has some kind of landscaping. Even if the area is completely concreted over, or covered entirely with rock or some kind of inorganic material that doesn’t allow any plant growth, that is a type of landscaping and it still cost something to install and maintain. Any piece of property can be planted or not planted in many different ways, the difference in the designs, and the cost of the plantings, is what the property owner wants and is willing to spend on it.

     Some people focus on low maintenance and low cost, others want a lot of plants and designs. Years ago, when a new house was built, the new owners would usually put in some kind of grass for the yard, the builder would plant a few trees (mostly mulberries) and that was pretty much the landscape. Now, the original landscape including flower beds, trees, grass, walkways, and etc. is usually considered to be part of the purchase   price and is often done before or soon after move in.

     I personally think that doing a complete landscape soon after a house is built is the way to go. The sooner your planting is done, the sooner it matures and the quicker your larger plants, including trees, get up to the size you desire. But what if money is tight and doing everything all at once really isn’t an option? Do you have to do it that way? No, cost is a factor in everything we do, and if costs need to be kept down, they can be. New construction can be minimally planted to start with and slowly added to over time to keep costs manageable. Existing landscapes can be slowly reworked as money is available. The only difference in the end will be how long it takes to get the look and maturity of plants that you desire.

     So, yes doing or having landscaping done can cost a lot of money, or it can be done on a low budget. The nice thing about how much work around your house and yard will cost is that the customer should always be in control of the cost. The ultimate authority on how much is going to be spent is the customer. The job can always be changed to strike a balance between what you want and how much you are willing to spend. A reputable contractor can show you how to get what you want at a cost you can afford.

     Isn’t that great? 

     The KWKC Green Team is Bruce Kreitler, Adam Andrews, and Stephen Myers. If you have questions about trees, plants, or anything to do with landscaping, ask the Green Team. Send your questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) You can also reach the Green Team, or the individual members through the Broken Willow Tree Service website www.BrokenWillow.com, by phone at 325 675 6794, and don’t forget to listen to them on KWKC 1340 every Saturday at noon.

10-24-2009

I’m frequently asked this question in one form or another, and it’s a fair question. Having professionals come do work in your landscape will be more expensive than having the neighborhood handyman or somebody that is knocking on doors do the work for you. I’ve personally never lived in a time where the cost of something wasn’t an important factor (and my children say I’m really old), but now it’s a little more important than usual to watch costs and expenditures.

 

So if it’s going to cost more to hire a professional to get work done in the trees and yard, who needs to hire the professional? The answer to this question is easy. The same person that needs to hire a professional plumber, electrician, air conditioner repair man, roofer, concrete finisher, carpenter, exterminator, mechanic, or etc.. Any of these are things that need to be done professionally and correctly the first time to avoid unnecessary damage or having to have them redone later at the same or greater expense. Your landscape is no different, there is a right way and a lot of wrong ways to install, maintain, or improve your landscape and plants. If you wouldn’t turn an unlicensed exterminator loose in your house why would you turn an untrained, unlicensed, and uninsured person loose in your yard with a sack or two of whatever is on special at the bulk store? Would you want this same person using pesticides around you and your family? Or would it be better if the pesticides, which are all poisons of one type or another, are handled by someone that is trained, licensed, and insured?

 

What about installations? Can’t homeowners do that themselves and save money? Absolutely, designing and installing your own landscaping from the smallest bed to the total yard can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. Like any other home project though, it can also turn into a lot of frustration, work, and unexpected expense that doesn’t quite end up as envisioned. A professional would meet with you to find out what your desires for your yard are. They would look the whole area over, take measurements if needed, gather any other information that would be pertinent, and most importantly, ask you a lot of questions. The most important thing in your landscape is you. Do you like colorful plants, do you like pine trees, are you going to add on to the house, do you have children or grandchildren that need to play outside, and what do think this yard should look like are just a few of the questions that need to be answered before the first part of a plan can be put together. They should also point out items that probably wouldn’t have occurred to you, such as some plants that won’t grow where you are wanting them, some that will eventually be to large for the area, or even something as unthought-of as you don’t want this plant because it attracts insects when it matures. All of these things and more are part of the service and this is what you pay them for.

 

What about liability? If somebody is digging in your yard and cuts your sewer line or water line, who pays for that? A reputable business will repair everything and go on with the job. What if they were removing a large tree and let it hit the house? Again, a reputable business is going to be insured and it will be taken care of. What if one of their workers gets injured on your property? If the business doesn’t have insurance, it’s possible for the worker to try to sue the homeowner. All of these items should be thought of, addressed, and taken care of for your protection before you even called for an estimate or the first employee sets foot on your property.

 

People that are in the business of working with the plants that grow or can grow in area landscapes should have a much greater knowledge of plants than the average homeowner. This gives them the ability to work with what already exists on your property, or suggest a much wider range of choices for new plantings or replacements. This also helps greatly in reducing the amount of money and time wasted on plants that won’t survive or do well locally. I’m often asked about planting things like azaleas and pin oaks. I have seen both of these things for sale locally at one time or another, but neither of them will survive here. They would be nothing but frustration, expense, and eventually a dead plant that will have to be replaced at more expense.

 

What if you want to grow something that normally couldn’t be grown here, but is very important to you personally and if it is at all possible, you want it in your landscape? In that case you definitely would want some professional advice. You would be surprised how much interest an experienced landscaper would have in a project like that. With proper preparation, planning, and care a lot of plants that normally wouldn’t grow well or at all here can be encouraged to thrive. Just as an example, red maples are marginal at best in the Big Country, but being prepared going in to give it the extra help it needs, this beautiful tree can be grown here.

 

A professional will have a drawn plan with plant specifications, a written cost, and a guarantee. This way there is someone to talk to if you don’t think things are going exactly the way you wish, if you have a lot of plant death, or other problems.

 

What’s on the outside of the house is important, it’s what you see and are surrounded by every time you step outside, come home, or spend any time outside relaxing or playing. Like anything else around the house, it’s much more satisfying and relaxing if it’s just like you like it. Some homeowners are very good landscapers, just as some homeowners can safely do their own electrical work. For the most part though, involving a professional in your landscape is going to result in less frustration, a quicker job, better results, and possibly, even less cost in the end to wind up with that just right landscape.