Location Location Location

Acer palmatum--unknown variety of Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum–unknown variety of Japanese Maple

This stunning Japanese Maple at the Bob Prittie Library (Burnaby) looks better right now than almost any other time of the year. Yes, the fringe of red leaves and the lake underneath contribute. But even more than that is the blackness of the bark and the structure of the tree–now visible without leaves.

Key to appreciating this beauty is LOCATION–I know, surprise! Besides being alone in an expanse of lawn, what you can’t see is that the tree is right beside the library’s entrance path. Visitors to the library–those who approach on foot anyway–have to go by it. Will they stop to admire?

It’s exposed on all sides with nothing to obscure it–no building walls, no large or even small shrubs, and even many smaller, lower branches have been regularly pruned to reveal the architecture of the trunk and primary branches.


Japanese maple at Metrotown library

I’ve talked about locating plants to catch the morning or evening sun, and this is a variant on that. When you buy or otherwise acquire a young tree, it doesn’t look like much, usually. So think ahead five or ten years to when it’s becoming a little more mature. Will it be something that draws you out to take a picture, as this did for me? I wouldn’t have even noticed this tree if it were one of many, or surrounded by other plant material, or if the gardeners hadn’t done such a lovely job of enhancing its beauty.

Thanks gardeners!

Is Your Pine Loosing Needles?

It worries me to see this:

Pinus strobus 'Pendula'

Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’

Those are dead needles, and on an “evergreen”, one thinks “dying tree”.

But no need to worry after all. Even evergreens lose “expired” needles or leaves. Everything that’s living and growing will eventually discard dead cells, and that’s what’s happening here. The “joint” where the needle or leaf meets the branch develops what’s called the “abscision layer”, where cell activity and enzymes create a weakness, hence leaf- or needle-drop.

Pinus strobus 'Pendula'

Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’

You can see that the dead needles are all higher up the branch, while the branch tips are all still green. This is a good thing!

Different species will keep their needles for more or fewer years–the Pinus strobus (White PIne) above only keeps its needles for a year, so there’s constant change happening. I’ll look forward to watching its development.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Fernspray Gold'

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’

This Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’ is losing three- or four-year-old foliage. Meanwhile, the green current growth will be turning a wonderful coppery colour pretty soon (hence the name ‘Fernspray Gold‘), before turning green again next late spring.

Your broadleaf evergreens will be doing the same (leaf drop), but may not look so dramatic.



This rhodo is losing three-year-old leaves. You can see that the leaves at the top of the picture are current year’s leaves, then follow the stems down to find last year’s leaves, and finally the third year leaves that are yellowing. But you can see it’s a very healthy specimen–probably the happiest rhodo in the garden.

So as long as the foliage that’s falling isn’t this year’s foliage, you can probably not fret too much about it. If you want to find out how many years your own tree/shrub holds its leaves, U of Nebraska has a page you might find useful. For a little more in-depth reading, inthegarden offers this article.

My Favourite Tree–Japanese Persimmon

Current Favourite Tree

Trees are wonderful! Yes, I know, redundant comment, but truth is, sometimes it’s hard to persuade people to plant a tree in their small urban garden, because they imagine permanent shade, especially in our sun-challenged Wet Coast.

Ta-dah! That’s why breeders have focused on developing smaller and narrower cultivars of otherwise giant trees. And of course besides new cultivars, there are lots of naturally smaller trees that preform perfectly in city gardens.

Which leads me to this pictorial paean to my current favourite, the Fuyu Persimmon (Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’).

May 15

May 15

First of all, the habit is very civilized, it grows with a nice rounded canopy. This Persimmon was planted in 2009, it was already a 10′ tree (maybe a three-year-old tree?), and not very beautiful, so I pruned the leader and some of the branches that made it lean over to one side.

Fabulous chartreuse leaves stay this colour almost until Fall.

Fabulous chartreuse on dark branches; leaves stay this colour through summer, then gradually darken a bit.

One of the best features is its wonderful chartreuse foliage. Not only the colour, but the texture as well–it’s almost leathery, and definitely shiny.

Fruit calyx.

Flower/Fruit calyx. You can see the leaves looking  leathery, shiny.

The year after planting (2010) I was surprised to see it fruiting already. But alas, no pollination, no fruits. And to my great disappointment, nothing happened –not even blossoms– for the next three years. I was encouraged to wait longer since some fruit trees take up to 7 years to fruit, but I didn’t really need persuading since even without fruit, I was beginning to love my little persimmon.

Finally this year, having never seen the blossoms, fruits appeared!

Fuyu persimmons

Fuyu persimmons

The leaves stayed green (you can just see them beginning to turn in the picture above) while all the other deciduous trees were losing theirs already, but when she started to turn she did it fast.

First week November

First week November. You can see the mulch steaming away!

Second week November. Appreciate the colour while you can--it won't last long...

Second week November. Appreciate the colour while you can–it won’t last long…

Third week November. But now I can count how many fruits I've got.

Third week November. And can you believe we’ve had over two weeks of frosty sunny weather! But now I can see how many fruits I’ve got. Can you count them?


TWELVE! Doesn’t sound like many, but after  5 years of waiting, it’s exciting to me.

So go ahead and plant an almost care-free Persimmon. If you can find one to buy! Mine came from a little seasonal nursery down the road (only open April to October), while right now, none of the big local suppliers have them  on their availability lists.

On another note, Fall/Winter is the time to engage your friendly landscape designer so you’re ready to go come Spring. Review the Client Site Analysis page. And if you’re in Metro Vancouver, submit the form and I’ll contact you.




5 Tips for Tree Planting

More About Trees

Since I posted a few days ago about planting trees this year, I’m reminded about how easy it is to plant a tree badly (and how easy to not do the wrong things and do the right things instead!). I’ve written about this before, and another here, but from a slightly different viewpoint, so here I’ll give you 5 easy-to-follow tips.

1. Containerized TreesContainer_grown_trees_5

When you take the tree out of the container, look for circling roots (pretty obvious–if you’re not sure, they’re not circling). If they are circling, take a knife and score down the height of the root ball right through all those roots. The severed ends will begin to make new roots, just like a plant will make new stems when the ends are cut off. You don’t have to cut deeply–half inch will be fine. And cut at 3, 6, 9, and 12 o’clock. If there’s also a lot of dense roots at the bottom of the rootball, that whole bottom (say an inch or so) can be sliced right off.

2. Balled and Burlapped (B&B) Trees

If your tree came from a tree farm that grew it in the ground, it will have been dug up with a “digger” that produced a  standard sized root ball. It was then wrapped in burlap and tied with a nylon cord. When planting, remove the nylon cord completely, and cut away most of the burlap so it doesn’t remain above ground and act like a wick. (When it was dug out of the ground, a lot of roots were lost, so your tree will need frequent watering through the first season.)

Now have a good look at the base of the trunk. If it looks like a pole stuck into the ground, it means that too much soil was piled into the burlap bag when it was wrapped up. Begin to gently dig away soil from the top, until you find roots coming out of the trunk. This is the root flare, and constitutes the real beginning of the root ball. The soil should be no higher than this point.

3. Bare Root Trees

This in some ways is the easiest, because there’s no pre-existing damage to overcome. Bare root trees and shrubs are dug up and washed of soil before being shipped to to where they’re going. Because they are dormant–this is only done in late fall or winter–they aren’t transporting any nutrients, and little water, which is why it’s safe to leave them for a short time without soil.   The roots should be kept damp from the moment you acquire the tree, until it gets into the ground. I usually put it in a bucket of water until my planting hole is ready. Cut off any roots that look damaged or dead, of if there are any that are longer than all the rest or trying to circle the trunk.

bare root planting

This picture of the bare root tree incidentally demonstrates a root right at the top pointing to the right that is at risk for girdling the tree. Roots should pretty nuch come out perpendicular to the trunk. It should be cut off. Photo Credit. I don’t recommend you follow the instructions in the link!

4. Preparing the Hole 

As deep as the real root ball, and 2-3 times as wide. Make sure the root flare is sitting at or above ground level; if your tree is bare root, because there isn’t a solid mass that sits on the bottom of the hole, you have to do a more careful job of measuring, and probably make a little firm mound for the roots to “drape” over. I’ve seen recommendations to dig the hole like a shallow bowl, with sloped sides; I’ve also seen recommendations to dig it square, with straight edges. Just dig, and maybe rough up the sides a bit.

If drainage is a problem in your yard, your best bet is to choose a tree that will thrive in wetter conditions. Possibilities include some oaks, some dogwood, witch hazel, some ash, some birches. All willows. Alternatively, plant your tree in a modified raised bed: dig your hole shallower than the depth of the root ball and mound up the soil over the roots. Still be careful to leave the root flare exposed.

Do not add fertilizer of any kind to the planting hole. Do not amend the soil that came out before backfilling. Whatever came out goes back in. Do not mound anything, neither soil not mulch, up against the trunk of the tree. (But you already know that because you read the post I referred to at the start.)

5. Then What?

Water: A lot. Often. The first year your tree will need more water than older more mature trees. Every year for two or three you can decrease the amount of added water you give, so that by the third or fourth year, you won’t have to add any extra water.

Mulch: Add 2-3″ of organic mulch (e.g. wood chips or compost) over the bare soil, leaving several inches next to the trunk uncovered.

Staking: Not every tree needs to be staked. But every tree does need to feel the effect of wind in order to develop good roots and tapering trunk. If you do stake, do it for one year or less. Any more and it may be doing more harm than good.

Pruning: Yes. Sometime. Get specific advice.

Feeding: No. Unless your tree is a fruit tree. Get specific advice.

If you follow these simple steps, you’ll have given your tree as good a start as anyone could–provided you got good stock to begin with. If you have any questions, please ask. If you succeed, I succeed.


Is This YOUR Time to Plant a Tree?

Is it time to plant a tree?

Treekeepers is a program established recently (2013) to encourage Vancouverites and locals to plant trees. And their strategy is to almost give them away ($10 each!). Go to the website for details.

According to  Steve Whysall in his column (Mar 24, 2014), the city of Vancouver planted 10,000 trees (just in Vancouver) in 2013, and the goal is 150,000 by 2020. That’s a lot of trees!

So I did my part (even tho’ I live in Burnaby) and ordered three of Treekeepers’ discounted trees.

Acer circinatum–Vine Maple. It’s a native tree, which is good for my wildlife garden, with a nice small multi-stemmed growth habit.


Bee on Vine Maple

Next up is Oxydendron arboreum, commonly called Sourwood. Also suitable for smaller city yards, this one max’s out at about 20-25′, and half as wide. Fragrant summer flowers, amazing fall colour, and berries that hang on into winter–what more can you ask for?


Fall colour Photo Credit


Summer fragrant flowers Photo Credit









And finally, I’m going to try a Ficus carica (fig) again. This will be my third try. First was in a container on my townhouse roof. It never did well, and I never knew why. It was a ‘Brown Turkey’, and my Persian friend complimented the flavour of the one fig I harvested! Next try was a rooted cutting I got at Garden Club–which apparently wasn’t actually rooted, just a stick.

This time it’s ‘Desert King’ (I could have hoped for ‘Dessert King’…), possibly the best variety for our region. Looking at the UBC garden forum, it’s definitely popular and dependable here.

Desert King fig tree. Photo Credit

Desert King fig tree. Photo Credit

Somehow I just can't imagine getting this many figs.

Somehow I just can’t imagine getting this many figs. But I’m very keen to try Fig and Ginger Jam!

So is it your turn to plant a tree? To give you shade, maybe fruit, wildlife habitat, air purification, never mind beauty!

Leave me comments with your thoughts, and definitely follow the Treekeepers link if you live in Metro Vancouver. I’ll post a up-date when I receive my trees (April 12).