Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.


Shove and Rake Trellis

When walking through most suburban gardens I notice an alarming pattern; flatness. My eye is forced to stay firmly on the ground with no upward interest for the vertical. It feels like my eyeballs are in a straitjacket. No movement allowed and whatever you do, do not look up! Vertical gardening and upward placement of garden accessories allows your eye that rest and movement it needs while building more appealing interest for the garden visitor. Better yet, it enables you to save planting space and is suitable to an urban environment.

Want to learn how to build some upward interest? Below are three quick tips that will help inspire you to move-it-on-up in the garden.

Shawna Coronado's Vertical Side Garden

3 Quick Tips

Trellis Creativity – Trellis’s and vines are the easiest ways to grow your way up an unattractive wall. Have a tight budget? No problem. Try something beautifully unique like painting your old shovels and rakes and drilling them on to a fence (photo above). Plant beans, morning glories, or clematis and you have a gorgeous vertical solution.

Balcony Love – Do you have a balcony on your house? Why not attach the ground with the balcony by building upward interest? Below you see containers sitting on top of the balcony, small containers drilled into the bottom edge of the balcony, and several types of clematis climbing up the wall. Your eye is instantly lifted to new heights.

Hang It From A Tree – Trees are an active part of our garden and hanging a mass of matching garden accessories from one tree creates a focal point in the garden. In the bottom photo you see the creative idea one gardener came up with – hanging a birdhouse collection all in the same tree. Most people walking by this urban display are captivated for long minutes and stop to enjoy the uppity view.

Vertical Whimsy In The Garden Birdhouse Tree

Want to take the vertical garden idea even farther? Vertical Vegetable Gardening by Chris McLaughlinTry thinking outside the box and grow a vertical vegetable garden to help feed your family or community. A great book to reference is Vertical Vegetable Gardening by Chris McLaughlin. It teaches you how to discover the benefits of growing your fruit and vegetables up instead of out in order to save space.

Think creatively and build your own garden focused on different views and vertical opportunities which saves planting space and adds interest and whimsy to your garden plan.

According the FTC, I need to let you know that I received the book in this story at no cost in exchange for reviewing it.

Scarlet Brandywine crabapple

Today is a very important day with long-lasting consequences. And I’m not talking about the royal wedding. It’s national Arbor Day.

While individual states often encourage tree planting on other dates, the last Friday in April is set aside nationally as a time to better the environment by planting a tree. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for a flowering tree, a conifer, a small tree, or a specific type of tree, such as Japanese maple or flowering crabapple. Determine what type of tree is best for your site depending on what interests you, the space available, Hardiness Zone, and environmental adaptability of the tree, and get planting!

Black gum is also known as tupelo.

I learned a lesson in my own yard about choosing the right tree for the right place. Six years ago when I moved into a new home, I planted hundreds of trees, shrubs, and perennials within a couple of weeks. (At last count I have 40 trees on my half-acre lot.) I could determine sun and shade patterns in the yard pretty easily, but it took me some time to learn about variations in soil conditions on the lot. As it turns out, I planted a ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) in an area with poor drainage. In that spot, the subsoil is blue clay, so moisture won’t sink in, even though there is a slope. I planted a black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) in a section of the yard that is well-drained with a tendency to become quite dry in late summer because of competition from nearby established pine trees. After five years of observing poor growth on these trees, last year I decided it was time to switch the trees’ locations, so I transplanted them. Black gum is native to swampy areas, while ginkgo is an upland tree that requires good drainage. This year I expect both trees to put on good growth because they’ll be better suited to the microclimate in which they’re planted. Perhaps in a few years they’ll catch up with the red maple which was planted at the same time, and has already grown to more than 25 feet tall.

Ginkgo tree

Remove branches by pruning just outside the swollen branch collar at the base of the branch, where it attaches to the main stem.

Remove branches by pruning just outside the swollen branch collar at the base of the branch, where it attaches to the main stem.

Late winter is a great time to catch up on pruning deciduous trees. With leaves off the tree, it’s easier to see the branching structure. And pruning now minimizes disease problems because pruning cuts will seal before most diseases become active. (There’s no need to apply pruning paint to the wound.)

I did all my tree pruning last weekend. Of course, my trees are only 6 years old, so it wasn’t much of a chore! However, just because your trees are young is no excuse to avoid pruning if they need it. In fact, it’s much better  to correct problems when the tree is young rather than to wait until it’s full grown, and pruning becomes a major operation.

Start by removing dead, damaged or crossing branches. Also prune out watersprouts (strongly upright growing shoots on side branches) and suckers (upright growing shoots from near the base of the tree). Correct structural problems evident in the branching pattern of the tree. These might be double leaders (2 branches of nearly equal size dominating as the main trunk) or branches with narrow crotch angles. Both of these conditions lead to weak branches that are likely to split later in the tree’s life.

This dead branch stub should have been removed long ago. Note the narrow crotch angle it forms with the branch to its left. This weak branch connection will eventually split apart.

This dead branch stub should have been removed long ago. Note the narrow crotch angle it forms with the branch to its left. This weak branch connection will eventually split apart.

If you have old overgrown trees in need of pruning, consider hiring a certified arborist rather than trying to tackle a job that’s too big for you. Don’t attempt to dangle from a ladder or climb a tree to prune without proper safety equipment. Leave that to trained professionals. The International Society of Arboriculture can tell you whether the arborist that you’re considering is certified or not. And whatever, you do, DON’T top your trees! Doing so weakens the tree and sets it up for failure. For more details about why to avoid topping trees, check the Plant Amnesty website.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with the International Society of Arboriculture on a really cool program they call True Professionals.

At some point, virtually all of us need tree work done — whether it’s helping choose the right tree to plant, diagnosing a tree with problems, or pruning a large, beautiful shade tree. When you need help like that, you want to be sure you find the best person for the job — and that’s where True Professionals come in. The ISA brought in a panel of folks from the tree industry and related fields to go through applications and pick the best in the business. I was honored with being one of the judges!

The 2010 winners are:

  • Dr. Bill Fountain of Lexington, KY
  • Steve Geist of Denver, CO
  • Tanja Grmovsek of Maribor, Slovenia
  • Scott Prophett of Loganville, GA
  • Mike Robinson of Jacksonville, FL

These amazing folks are the best of the best in the world of trees and tree care and serve as great role models for other arboriculturists. Congratulations to them!

A friend asked me to recommend a large tree for his backyard the other day. The first tree that came to mind is dawn redwood (Metasequoia).

It’s a great tree. Though a little off the beaten path, I think it deserves to be grown more. It even has a fun history: Dawn redwood was officially discovered in 1941 — as a fossil. Later, an unknown tree was discovered in China. A few years after that scientists connected the dots and realized the fossil was the same tree as the new species they’d found! Dawn redwood seeds were collected and sent around the world. This once rare tree is now available to just about anyone who wants to grow it in their landscapes.

So why do I like this tree so much? Dawn redwood has soft, light green feathery needles that cast a lovely shade. It grows fast, though I’ve never found it to be particularly weak. (It’s one of the few trees in my yard that hasn’t lost branches in strong winds, ice storms, etc.)

Even better? It’s deciduous and the tiny needles break down fast, so there’s no need to rake in autumn! (By the way: If you’re curious about it’s fall color, dawn redwood turns a pleasant shade of russet red.) And it’s hardy — you can grow a dawn redwood in Minnesota, Maine, or Montana.

Dawn redwood isn’t for everyone, however: It’s large (it’s capable of reaching 100 feet tall!) and has  a pyramid shape, so doesn’t look like your average maple or other more common shade tree. But if you’ve got room for it, dawn redwood makes a magnificent specimen. Just don’t try to use it as a winter windbreak…

When it comes to trees, one of the most popular questions I answer via our Garden Doctor application is recommending varieties for folks who want an easy-care tree that grows fast.

Unfortunately, these two concepts are kind of contradictory. As a general rule, the faster a tree grows, the weaker the wood is. And weak trees are the ones you often see toppled over after especially strong winds or shedding large branches after ice storms. And the fastest-growing trees tend to be first choice of disease and insect organisms.

So what’s a gardener to do? One option is to select a moderate grower instead of a fast one. Varieties like sugar maples, red maples, river birches, katsura, and black gum can put on some good size relatively quickly without being too problematic.

And by the way: If you’re looking for ideas of which trees to plant, be sure to check out our Plant Encyclopedia. If you can’t find what you need there, another great tool is the Tree Selector!

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