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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer



The seasoned gardener


published in The Union in Grass Valley CA


More information on soil preparation and mulching is detailed in Deer in My Garden, Vol.1: Perennials & Subshrubs and Deer in My Garden, Vol.2: Groundcovers & Edgers!

Acer griseumThe Legacy of Trees
Planning and planting for the future

by Carolyn Singer
September 25, 2010

Fall color is inspiring in our region, with deciduous trees dominating the autumn landscape. Appreciated for the shade they provide in the summer months, their beauty deepens as they change with the approach of winter dormancy. Seed pods and cones hold the promise of future generations and add more beauty to the seasonal transitions.

In the Sierra foothills, planting a tree in fall makes much more sense than planting on Arbor Day in the spring. In the next few weeks, the soil is warm and growth is slowing. With the addition of aged compost, organic phosphorus for strong roots, and oyster shell to balance the soil pH, a tree planted in native soil in fall will have a much larger root system by spring.

Before you select a tree in a local nursery, take time to study the site where will grow for many generations. How tall and how wide can it get with maturity? Are there utility wires to consider? Is it possible that walkways or driveways might be damaged by shallow roots? Will the tree be receiving regular irrigation when it might prefer to be dry once established? How much sun (or shade) does it have now, and in ten years or more?

In the nursery, you can provide the information needed to make the best selection for your site, and there is usually more than one perfect choice for your particular elevation and microclimate. Remember that leaves may show stress at the end of the season, but the buds for next year's growth are what you should be examining. If they are plump, not withered, the tree is ready for its next season of growth and is a good choice for your garden.

As always, the best trees for the foothills are the natives, which will need irrigation to establish (3-5 years), and will then usually do well with natural rainfall. However, it's hard to resist the spring and summer bloom or fall color of the many other trees suited to our climate. Some of these need little or no summer irrigation as they mature. Mulching always helps retain soil moisture during our periods of little or no rainfall.

Avoid nitrogen fertilization, including adjacent lawn areas if the tree is in the affected zone. It is not uncommon for leaves to burn or the tree to be killed if it receives nitrogen (including organic forms) intended for nearby grass.

Vitex agnus-castusI love the crape myrtles that bloom so vibrantly in late summer, but at my site on the east side of Sonntag Hill in the Peardale area, winters are too cold for this lovely small tree (15-20 feet) to survive. Discovering this, my favorite late summer bloomer of a similar size has become the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus, photo, left) with its blue flowers and attractive foliage. It also has a nice winter form and attractive bark. The most important attribute is that it is deer-resistant. It may be damaged or even killed with a severe spring frost. Do not overwater!

Acer griseumAnother deer-resistant tree that does well at my 2600-foot elevation is the paperbark maple (Acer griseum, photos above & right). It has deep roots and can be grown next to a walkway if young branches have an upright habit. Of all the small maples, this particular one needs less water. Mine is watered once a month during the summer. Bark, seed pods, and long-lasting fall color make this tree striking year-round. My twenty-year-old specimen is now a mature 30 feet.

Tilia cordataThe linden (Tilia cordata, photos left & below, right) is a large tree, to 60 feet or more in height with a 40-foot spread. The tree's lower branches will be browsed by the deer, but those may be pruned to keep the foliage out of reach without compromising the tree's shape. Linden tolerates regular irrigation and provides shade fairly quickly. In late May and early June, small white flowers are intensely fragrant when you are close. I have a favorite place to sit nearby.

Tilia cordataIn Nevada City, a beautiful old linden graces Broad Street outside the Ott mansion, and more than one local resident has asked me what the early summer fragrance is in that neighborhood. Remember that you are planting not only for your own enjoyment, but for generations to come.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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