Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nesting with trees

Nesting, or preparing a home for the arrival of a child, takes many forms. In our case, it's accelerating the outdoor projects we originally planned to do later this Spring / Summer.  When you buy a house, you really need to live there for a year, through all the seasons, and pay attention to the micro-climates around the home, before making long-term planting decisions, like trees. Sick or mis-planted trees make me very sad, and the leaf-curl on the espaliered peach tree influenced our choice of this house. M and I both felt sorry for it, silly as that sounds. But anyway, we've been involved with the house since March of last year, and I've been observing the patterns of light and temperature and water-flow, so I'm fairly comfortable making planting choices now.

We have a large patio area on the east side of the house that gets really good east-west sun along the fence-line for most of the day. There is a peach tree and a bottle brush tree planted there already, and then a big empty air-space above the fence through which we can see onto our neighbor's front stoop. We discussed planting something there, and M really wanted an almond tree, but I explained that almonds are drupes (like peaches) and can be rather messy for patios. They also lose their leaves in the winter like peaches, which means such a tree won't provide the privacy screening we desire.

I'm a big fan of trees that provide edibles, and being a native Californian, I know that citrus trees are in-leaf year-round, and have flowers and/or fruit for most of the year. M doesn't care for citrus fruits because they're too sour and have so many seeds, but mandarins / satsumas are an exception since they are sweet and seedless. When I told him that I wanted to plant a mandarin and why, he readily agreed. For some reason he didn't think they could grow here in the Bay Area, so from that point it was a matter of waiting for planting season.

Yesterday afternoon I got a call from the garden center a few blocks away that the Owari Mandarin trees were in, and there were two 10-gallon pots to choose from (as well as numerous 5-gallon pots). Since he was working from home and getting antsy anyway, M and I walked over (yes, walked!) and inspected the trees. I liked what I saw. Good growth, proper pruning, dark, glossy leaves, and fruit still on the trees. I preferred the one with the most fruit on it because I felt that it was an indicator that the tree would keep fruit longer. M picked it because he likes satsumas, and more fruit on the tree means more fruit he can eat :)

We then walked back home and drove my GMC to the garden center to pick up the tree. Once we got it home we tackled the next step: locating exactly where and how to plant it. M admits to very little experience with growing things, never mind planting them, so with my background in plant biology, he usually defers to my judgement.

We measured. We visualized. We placed it and moved it. And then, when M felt certain that the tree, once grown, would provide the visual screening we desire, we dug. Most people don't realize that when you're planting something like a tree, that you don't dig a deep hole. You dig a wide one, twice as wide as the pot. A wide hole encourages lateral root growth, which better supports the tree, and prevents a tree from getting root-bound. Many trees fail because the root system never branches out, it just knots in on itself, strangling the tree.

We've got great soil for citrus trees, and I know that because I can see twenty of them just walking around the block. Sandy and well-draining, with just the right amount of humus (decomposed plant matter). The digging was very easy. Even digging a foot down took very little effort. We dug a trench about a foot deep and 30 inches wide, placed the tree, mixed some commercial garden soil in with the soil from the hole, and back-filled around the tree, tamping the soil fairly lightly. We soaked the soil, which drained as quickly as expected, and later this morning I'll tamp more soil in and build a little earth ring around the tree to make watering easier.

Yesterday we actually ended up picking up three other trees. Two white double-flowering weeping cherries, and one pink single-flowering tree with the same weeping habit. I was very excited to find a Prunus pendula rosaea (pink single-flowering cherry), and to find one that was 6 feet tall was a real score. None of them are flowering yet, so we can't be absolutely certain that the trees we bought are as-marked, but they're beautiful and healthy and already producing buds. We'll plant them out in front of the house once the landscaping is done in a few weeks, but in the meantime they're sitting on the patio basking in the sun, and I'll give M some lessons on the care and pruning of top-grafted trees, which is what all three cherries are.

Looking out the patio windows, I can see bluebirds and hummingbirds flitting around. The sunlight is catching on a new web some enterprising spider built on the trellis we moved in order to plant the tree. The branches of the weeping cherries are moving ever so slightly in the morning breeze. Everything is quiet and peaceful, for now. I am savoring moments like this as often and as long as I can, because I know that in four months everything will change.

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