The Amazing Resilience of Trees

Happy New Year! It has been a while, but since I did a general business update last time, I think I will talk about something else today. There is not much exciting to report about December’s big freeze, as we weathered it without much damage; unless you call the major expense of heating three large greenhouses for a week “damage” which I just may. (Did I mention that this is a great time to order more plants?)

Of all the blog posts I have written here, the one that continues to get the most hits is this post about how to prune your leyland cypress. At the risk of stating the obvious, this tells me that a lot of folks are searching the internet for useful information about how to prune them. And they may be disappointed to find that I basically say not to bother planting them to start with if they are going to need pruning constantly. But I’ll stick by that statement because it still makes plenty of sense if you stop to think about it. Perhaps it also tells me that way too many people are planting leyland cypress.

But if you’re determined to keep your leyland, and really want to know how to prune it; well, I’ll tell you. You’re best off shearing them annually at minimum, preferably right before new growth starts in spring; and it’s best if you don’t cut into old wood. You don’t have to shear; individual pruning cuts will also work, but doing it that way may take longer, depending on your methods, equipment and the height of your plant(s). That is about all there is to it, I think.

I wanted to revisit those trees at Independent Bible Church because of a dire prediction I made; which was basically that, since someone cut way too much green material off of them, they would mostly be dead or in otherwise sorry shape by now. Well fortunately I am not always right about everything, and in this case the trees have proven exceptionally resilient. Mind you they have a lot going for them: they are in the perfect climate and they are on an irrigation system. I have to admit some of these trees actually look great and are now making a shapely screen just like they are supposed to. I took these pictures in September.

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Now some of the ones that were really chopped up still look ratty and probably always will. Because for most conifers, including these, you still can’t cut into old huge limbs and expect new growth to come out. The remarkable thing though is that none of these trees has actually died (except, of course, for the ones they removed entirely). Some of them probably lost 90% of their foliage but are still hanging on and trying to grow out of it. I have to admit I didn’t expect that.

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So there you go. No matter how much abuse trees are subjected to, they still do everything they can hang on. Aren’t trees amazing?

While we’re on the subject, I thought I’d revisit the trees at Carrie Blake Park, which I rather ungraciously dubbed as “hell for plants” in this blog post a couple years ago. I think I had good reason to be irked at the time, but things are looking much better there now.

If this is of interest to you, you may wish to go back and read the post I am referencing before going on. If I were really ambitious it would be nice to produce a side-by-side before and after comparison, but I did not always take the same pictures of the same trees, and certainly not from the same angle. Let’s go through some pictures I took last August.

Remember those sad garry oaks that had way too many of their lower branches pruned off of them? They actually look pretty nice now, for the most part.

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You can see where some of them did some serious resprouting along the trunk where branches had been removed.

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In some cases this was pruned off yet again, but at least they didn’t limb the trees up any farther. Also the maintenance folk seem to have missed a few of them. (Captions are below the photos from here on out.)

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Remember the oak that was pruned to just two branches? Here it is now, hanging on and looking better.

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The amur maples generally look pretty good; it seems they ought to be fine.

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The European birch, mysteriously enough, continues to hang on; and doesn’t look half bad.

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Here’s what became of that arborvitae hedge. It’s hard not to feel bad for whoever paid for all those arborvitaes. At least the ones that survived look decent now.

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I guess this thing is our native Ribes sanguineum. Eek. Perhaps not a total failure, but this doesn’t exactly get one excited about the beauty of native plants. There are better choices.

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Arctostaphylos x media, actually well adapted to the site, continues to flourish.

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Vaccinium ovatum continues to look about as dead as it always has. Sorry, I think it’s a bit too late for fresh mulch (and anyway bark isn’t the best).

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Likewise, kinnikkinnik continues to have problems at this site (though there is a decent patch or two, such as around the Vaccinium pictured above). OK, someone can remove this now.

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This site really has a lot of potential. Maybe I’ll have the chance to be involved here sometime.

This may (or may not – ha) lead me to a future blog post about the challenges municipalities face maintaining such landscapes or gardens, and a possible solution.

I’ll also provide an update on the low-impact garden at Carrie Blake Park this summer. I really doubt Agave ‘Blue Glow’ endured the drop to the upper teens that we had last December, but I haven’t gotten out there to check on it yet.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. RandyGA
    Jan 14, 2014 @ 17:50:16

    Ian, Interesting about the Leyland cypress………why would anyone want to prune them except for possibly size control anyway? They are common as dirt here in Georgia, seems nearly everyone has them and Bradford pears…..which are fast becoming invasive thanks to pea-sized pears that birds poop out everywhere. Haven`t really noticed much pruning going on. Speaking of freezes, just came off a extremely cold snap with high winds, one night low 5-6F, high next day barely above freezing…. the coldest since about 1996 or thereabouts. Many plants damaged, a few may be killed, only time will tell. My large agave Americana is virtually mush. Agave gentryi “Jaws” , ovatifolia, harvardiana, lophantha seem unscathed. Some damage may show up later. My yucca rostratas are fine….starting to show trunks from seeds purchased from you and planted in 2006 I think. Sunny and 60F today exactly one week later. Plants really have a hard time with such wide swings in temperature, am thankful it doesn`t happen like this very often. You are right trees are quite resilient. Do you think dry summer killed part of the arborvitae hedge? Could not help but notice the lavender looks really great. Spanish lavender (stoechas) is the only lavender that does well in our humid heat. I feel we take or oaks for granted here in Georgia, a lot of native species, some get really huge with time. Not uncommon to see several large oaks left after the house they once shaded is long rotted away. Speaking of oak……have a fire going right now in my fireplace guess which species of tree? Keep growing!! RandyGA

    Reply

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