Monday, February 28, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Navajo Yucca (Yucca baileyi)Yuccas are native to the western United States as well as parts of Central and South America, and were often used by Native Americans for various purposes including food and soap. Intentionally placing them in the landscape for their aesthetic qualities is a modern day use for yuccas. Yuccas can be quite attractive in the landscape if used properly, but personally, I have been skeptical of using them ornamentally, until I saw the Navajo yucca. Unlike many yuccas, its sword-shaped leaves are much more narrow and stiff than the more common varieties. The one in our garden has flowered one year in the ten we have had it, last year, but it put on quite a show. Large clusters of creamy white flowers were very striking. I’m sure there are many who like any yucca, but for me, this is the one to plant.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How to Prune - Part 2

Pruning Trees

Sometime in late-February to early-March, I officially can’t stand it anymore and have to get out pruning. Although I usually wait for a particularly warm spell, pruning can be done any time during late-winter to early-spring. There are a lot of different sources that will detail the best time to prune for each tree species you have, but I have found it best to keep it simple and do all the trees at the same time. Late-February through April is a good time and is usually easiest on the trees.

The hardest part to pruning is when you have your gear all together and are standing looking up at the tree to try to decipher where to begin. Remember that pruning is part art and part science. Make decisions based on what looks good and what will keep the tree healthy. Here is how I decide what to prune:

1. I start by removing any branches that are dead or broken. These are obvious choices and will effect what you do with the rest of the tree. If a branch looks dead, but you aren’t sure, make a small scrape on the bark to expose the underlying tissue. If it is bright green, it is still alive.

2. My next step is to look for branches that are problems. Problem branches include ones that cross another branch, rub together, growing vigorously straight up, growing inward instead of outward, and branches that are growing at a narrow angle, especially if the bark at the crotch is growing inwardly.

3. Finally, make some cuts to thin the tree out and give it a desirable shape. Think about how you want the tree to grow in the future and remove branches that are competing with the ones you want to promote. Each tree species has a different preferred habit. A quick internet search should show you if they prefer a central leader or if they are more vase-shaped by nature.

Next week we will discuss the do’s and don’ts of pruning.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioica)
As suggested by the common name, the seeds of the Kentucky coffee tree were used as a substitute for coffee by early settlers of the Midwestern United States. The seeds are quite toxic, so preparation was key in using it to make the pseudo-coffee, and lacking caffeine, the practice was abandoned as soon as actual coffee became available.

The leaves of the Kentucky coffee emerge late in the spring and are one of the first to fall in autumn, after turning a brilliant yellow. Its large leaves are composed of many leaflets and long, twiggy stems that leave the branches looking sparse and stumpy once they have fallen. Some people wrongly assume the worst when the Kentucky coffee tree doesn’t wake up early in the spring, but it likes to bide its time, awaiting the opportune moment to make its appearance. One of the best large trees for drought and poor soils, this tree is also long-lived and deserves a place in Utah landscapes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to Prune – Part 1

Getting the Right Tools for the Job
Around mid-February as temperatures begin to warm, I start to get antsy to be out working in the yard. This may be a little early for most, but for those of you who, like me, can’t wait to get out in the yard again, pruning your trees is a good activity for late-winter. I know it’s time for me to get out when I start spending too much time staring up into the canopies of my trees, mentally taking note of the branches that need to go. I have to be careful because my neighbors act funny if I stare at them too long, especially if my mental note-taking involves talking to myself.
To take that first step toward pruning your trees, you need to round up your tools. Those of us who own pruning tools will probably need to go scavenging through sheds and garages until you have found where they were stashed from the last time you went pruning. They will need to be sharpened and oiled to get them in good working condition for this year.

For those of you who don’t yet own pruning tools, now is a good time to get the right tools for the job. There are many tools out there that look good hanging in their flashy wrapping in those big box stores, but not all pruning tools are equal. I have been the unfortunate user of many sub-par tools that inevitably go dull after only minimal use. You know that your tools are poorly made if they can’t cut branches without leaving torn wood, or if cutting a branch involves slamming handles together several times with all the force you can muster in order to actually cut a branch off. Poorly made or badly designed tools are not only difficult to use, but can be dangerous. Do your homework before you buy pruning tools. There are many excellent brands out there, but in the Garden, we have had a lot of luck with Felco, Bahco and Corona brands.
The following tools are essential for any serious pruner: a handsaw for larger branches, loppers for branches in the 1 inch diameter range, and hand pruners for small branches and twigs. If you are removing branches larger than 4 inches in diameter, you will need a large saw or chainsaw.
By the time I finish pruning, I am usually too tired to want to maintain my tools. However, your equipment will last longer and be safer to use if they are sharpened, cleaned and oiled after each use. Quality tools usually have replacement blades that can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of new tools.
Next week we’ll discuss how to get started pruning your tree, so get those tools ready!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Curl-Leaf Mountain Mahogany (Cercocarpus ledifolius)
A Utah native, mountain mahoganies can be seen in many forms and situations in nature. I have seen some stunted to wiry little bushes and others grown tall enough to form a canopy. The beauty of this large-shrub is in its versatility. It will survive in the most difficult climates and thrive on only natural precipitation. On the other hand, it will grow well in fertile soil and with regular amounts of water. Its grayish branches grow upright with small, slightly curling leaves. It is semi-evergreen, which means that it will keep its leaves until they become a liability. In times of extreme drought, it will drop its leaves and hibernate until it has enough water to replace them again. Although its flowers don’t provide much to look at, its seeds have long, tufted tails.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Education Center- Sneak Peek!

Above: Building view from gardens.
Below: Plaza view of building.

Front Entry
The as-yet-unamed new education center at Conservation Garden Park is currently under construction. Crews expect to complete the building sometime in June/July of 2011. The Education Building will be the first LEED Platinum building in Salt Lake County that is openly accessible to the public.

The US Green Building Council has established sytems and standards for "green" construction. LEED stands for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design". It seems only fitting that an Environmental Education Center would employ environmental technologies to increase the efficiency of the structure. Details regarding the various environmental systems will be forthcoming in future posts.

For now, we're just excited by the progress being made on the site and all the new teaching opportunities and partnerships with similar organizations that will be open to us as a result of the new facility!

Interior view of the Resource Center

View of classroom space. This space will divide into 3 separate classroom areas. Along the back wall, the striated 'rock' formation is the rammed earth wall, one of the environmental features of the building.

The breezeway area will be made primarily of glass and will contain glass roll-up doors which will make for a seamless transition between the interior and exterior of the building.

Weekly Plant Spotlight

Baby Blue Eyes Blue Spruce (Picea pungens ‘Baby Blueeyes’)
Despite the large number of blue spruces found in residential landscapes, there are many people that consider this plant unfit for landscapes. Yes, it does have an appealing color and the symmetrical form is quite pleasing. However, it has a very prickly personality and it gets so BIG. Most blue spruces have out grown their welcome and become a nuisance. People eventually grow tired of brushing against its abrasive foliage and usually cut the branches high on the trunk, ruining the beauty of the tree altogether. Baby Blue Eyes is the answer for this problem. It is still quite prickly, but it is much smaller and a better fit for the landscape. Eventually growing to 10-15 feet tall, it takes much less room and still has the beautiful color and shape of blue spruces.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Give Neither Counsel Nor Salt Till You Are Asked

I grew up in southeastern Washington State, where almost any amount of snowfall resulted in cities being shut down for the day. I have fond memories of early mornings waiting anxiously with my brothers by the radio with crossed fingers hoping for another school cancellation. Invariably, a snowfall of 2 or more inches would result in a free day filled with snowball fights in the yard which my brother always won (he was a good shot and always aimed for your face).

Upon moving to Utah, we quickly learned that the world would have to end before school would be cancelled due to bad weather. One especially cold and stormy morning, the usual one hour bus ride lasted a bit longer when the diesel lines on the bus froze. We waited for quite some time in the cold dark bus on a lonely country road while the bus driver tried to thaw the lines with a blow torch.
In a climate where we are constantly risking our lives, sliding to work in raging storms, salt has become a major tool in combating icy roads. If you are lucky enough to get to work free of incidents, your car is layered with a corrosive film of salt that has to be washed off. Upon reaching your destination, worried maintenance crews have generously spread salt along the sidewalks which gets tracked into buildings where the melted salt leaves crusty white patches in the entryways.

Salt is useful to melt ice, when the temperatures are right, and to eliminate slippery areas that could result in law suits. Excessive salt also means death to many plants. Often, our excessive use of salt builds up in soils and can cause long term plant health problems.

Here are some tips for using salt on walkways and sidewalks.

1) Use salt sparingly, focusing only on areas that are actually icy.

2) Spread the salt evenly, avoiding large piles that are not only wasteful, but can get swept into flower beds.

3) Clean snow off of sidewalks and cement before walking or driving on it. This reduces the ice buildup and, once the sun comes out, sidewalks that are wet will dry quickly, even in below freezing temperatures.

4) Try other products, such as sand, that don't have the same negative landscape effects.

5) Wear appropriate footwear to avoid slipping on icy surfaces.

6) In areas that are expected to get more salt than others, select plants that are tolerant of saline conditions, such as Four-Wing Saltbrush, a Utah native.

Salt is useful, in some situations, but is often overused. Being selective about how much we apply will not only save money but increase the overall health of your landscape.