I still have a few Irises blooming around our property. Their appearance is like a good friend or relative that only gets to visit once a year, one you enjoy spending some time with. I guess for the analogy to work, the friend or relative shows up in a ruffled, colorful ballgown and they only stay about a week. Walking through an old iris bed this morning that was once full of stunning bearded irises that I paid a pretty penny for, I realized it was a mistake to add the common dark purple and light purple variety to the bed. After a few years, the common version has outcompeted and overtaken the fancy varieties. That gave me an idea for my last column, a few lessons learned after twenty or so years of gardening in this valley. For instance, maybe I shouldn’t have planted bamboo by the front door. It’s still growing there, by the way, making the entrance to my house seem like an overgrown jungle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sure beautiful, but bring your machete.
When Kevin and I chatted about lessons learned last night we both agreed, first and foremost - plant trees now! It is difficult to put a price on shade, especially with the number of summer days we surpass 100 degrees increasing. It takes years for them to grow in and get established, Kevin often reminds me of “tree time.” The big old beauties grow in at their own pace. Our maples, after ten or so years, are just really getting good. I encourage you to choose hardwood varieties to withstand our winds. No matter how much I complain about the gusts and gales, they are a part of living in this climate. As I mentioned maples do well here with some work initially and in the same family, sycamore is a good choice too. Ash is also as well as hardy evergreens. We’ve had success with almost every juniper we’ve planted, Scots pines, and pinions. Crabapples and late blooming fruit trees like quince can be extra successful here. One expensive lesson learned here on our farm regarding trees is, to skip the box tree size. I had many a tree guru tell me that a smaller 5 or 15-gallon tree will acclimate better, catch up and quickly surpass the 25-plus gallon trees in growth within a few years. But I just had to touch the hot stove for myself, I fell for the big beauties a few times. Skip the instant impact of the bigger tree, younger trees have less transplant shock, establish root systems faster, and have an enhanced growth rate, plus you can find much more variety in the smaller sizes, and you have a significantly smaller hole to dig. That being said, a reminder to dig a hundred-dollar hole for a fifty-dollar tree. Amendments are a good thing with our challenging, sometimes deficient soils. When in doubt, get a soil test. Visit the Extension Office for more info. You can also check out the International Society of Arboriculture if you want to dive into the research further.
I can say I also would have skipped over dogwoods, Japanese maples, redbuds, gingkoes, hydrangeas, and magnolias. Not because I don’t adore those plants, believe me, I am head over heels for all of them. I just would have spent my time and money on plants that want to grow here without the fuss. Full disclosure, they absolutely can grow here. However, it’s no secret the west is experiencing some serious drought. If we were ever to be faced with the drought mitigation issues some of our neighbors are facing (all my fingers and toes crossed that never happens) those types of plants would suffer. A reminder, give your trees long deep soaks vs short sprinkling to get those roots down deep.
In parting, I know it’s cliche but take time to smell the roses. If gardening stresses you out, you’re doing it wrong. Celebrate your successes, share plants and cuttings with friends, save your seeds and shop local when you can. Big thank you for the opportunity to rant, it has been an absolute privilege.
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