Sunday, June 29, 2014

Up Against The Wall

Working these last 10 years or so at a nursery has made me appreciate many things. Everybody has plants that they either love or just absolutely hate. I have learned there are quite a few plants that I just am not fond of. Each and every one of them has a place in the landscape, and that I appreciate. I still don't like them.
Want an example?
Crepe Myrtles. Yes, they are pretty when flowering, kind of.
Why do I not like them?
In my yard, they are the last tree/plant to leaf out. The flowers make an absolute mess. The bark peels and exfoliates, which to some people is a plus.
They are the first tree/plant to lose their leaves in the fall. I am just not excited about them.
Want another example?
Espaliered  trees.
Yes, I know, they do have some good uses to them. Even though I think they are about as ugly a thing as you can do to a plant or tree, they do actually make sense to some degree.
This is the topic for today. I had somebody ask me if I knew anything about them, is it possible to do it with a Citrus tree, and would I write something about it. The answer is YES to all three.
Historians note that fruit trees in the 16th century were trained in France to grow next to walls to take advantage of the extra warmth of the wall. If you have heard me speak or read any of my Citrus articles, you know this is right up that plants alley. Especially in borderline climates.
By the mid-18th century, espaliers were a major feature of European formal gardens, they can still be  seen at Versailles and Fontainebleau. The colonists brought the method to America, where even today it can be seen at George Washington's estate in Mt. Vernon. There it was done with Apples and other fruit, not Citrus.
The formal definition of espaliered is: 1. a plant (as a fruit tree) trained to grow flat against a support (as a wall). 2. : a railing or trellis on which fruit trees or shrubs are trained to grow flat.
I am sure you have probably seen one, not necessarily Citrus, but just in case, here is what one looks like:

Photo courtesy of Ian Barker Gardens

There are as many ways to espalier a tree as there are imaginations. There are several espalier designs, many with fancy names, including the single vertical cordon, the single horizontal cordon, oblique palmette with fixed limbs, Baldassari Palmette, the Belgian fence, lepage espalier with three branches, the U double, the verrier candelabra and the drapeau marchand. Don't let these fancy names scare you, they are all basically the same. You will need to determine your situation and what you want the tree to do. 
There are some basic points and techniques that are common to all forms.
A word of caution here, patience is A MUST!! This whole process can take anywhere from 5-10 years to complete. Again, I am not wanting you to be scared of this, just don't expect to have it happen overnight.
 Espaliers do best along sunny exposures, with loamy, well-drained soil. Find a spot near a brick or stone wall, wooden fence or trellis, allowing 6 inches of space between the tree and wall.
 The tree must be in its first year or two of growth in order to be espaliered. Older trees are more difficult to train, as bending mature branches can take one to three years, and usually end up breaking when you try to form them in a different direction than they want to grow.
There will be work to do on the espalier all year, but a good bit of the training will be done in the spring, when growth is soft and subtle. 
I stumbled across this picture from It is exactly the main gist of what you want to accomplish:

Of course the more elaborate your fence, trellis or wall is, the more you will need to prune.
Speaking of pruning. As new branches come out at you, you have a choice, you can leave them and have a full frontal tree with a flat back, or you can keep them pruned back to give you more room and a neater appearance.
This article is mainly on Citrus, because that is my thing. I really can not think of a cultivar of Citrus that this would not work with. You can do this to pretty much any tree too, like other fruits, Magnolias, Camellias, etc. One major thing you have to keep in mind, if you are just trying to cover a wall or create some other kind of look, you may not want to use a deciduous tree, one that loses its leaves in the winter. You will be back to looking at the wall, with wires and bare branches running along it.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is not my cup of tea on how to train a tree, but I will list some of the benefits to this style of gardening.
  • Espalier is efficient—it casts little or no shade on surrounding plants.
  • Espalier is beautiful—it softens the appearance of walls and can be a focal point of garden designs and views while it displays the finer details of plants: stems, bark texture and color, leaf shapes, flower, and fruit.
  • There is a year-round design effect.
  • A quick, living fence can be established of espaliers as a privacy screen or as a backdrop for other plants.
There are all kinds of websites, youtube videos and even many garden books have sections on espaliered trees. I encourage you to seek some of them out and do what suits you and your situation.
As I was doing some research on this subject, I always try to make sure I am giving out the most accurate info, I came across some interesting espaliers that others have done. Maybe some of these will give you inspiration to try something just as interesting or in some cases, crazy.

 NOT for somebody with OCD

I think of a triton when I see this

WAY too much work involved here

I know you should never say never, so I will say this, if there ever comes a time that I HAVE to espalier trees, this will be the closest I come to it.
Happy Growing!

Espaliers do best along sunny exposures, with loamy, well-drained soil. Find a spot near a brick or stone wall, wooden fence or trellis, allowing 6 inches of space between the tree and wall.

Read more :
Espaliers do best along sunny exposures, with loamy, well-drained soil. Find a spot near a brick or stone wall, wooden fence or trellis, allowing 6 inches of space between the tree and wall.

Read more :
Espaliers do best along sunny exposures, with loamy, well-drained soil. Find a spot near a brick or stone wall, wooden fence or trellis, allowing 6 inches of space between the tree and wall.

Read more :

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Spit it out!

A few days ago I was walking around my yard, checking on how things were doing. I have been working many, many hours as of late, so it is a real pleasure to be able to tour the yard. Seeing all the new growth, fruit being produced, and things just thriving, really makes me feel good. I am trying to ignore the fact that deer ALSO apparently have been touring the yard and enjoying the fruits of my labor! That is another story.
Of course, I have some of the same normal problems that any other gardener has, the aphids, some scale, even a small case of dieback on one of my camellias. Nothing new that I can't easily take care of. The blessed deer however!! Sorry, I digress.
I did spot a problem that I had not seen in quite some time, and if you don't know what it is at first, it may gross you out.

Ever come across this in your yard?
No, the neighborhood kids probably did not come by and hock a loogey on your plant, though in some neighborhoods you never know.
Nope, this is caused by one of several species of Spittlebugs or Froghoppers.
Spittlebugs occur throughout the United States. About 850 species of spittlebugs are known worldwide, and 23 species are distributed throughout North America. They can, at least occasionally, be found on almost any plant. They are closely related to aphids.The adults are usually inconspicuous, often greenish or brownish insects, depending on the species. Immature spittlebugs are recognized by the frothy white mass that the nymphs surround themselves with on plant tissue where they feed.
Like aphids, spittlebugs suck plant juices. Heavy infestations distort plant tissue and slow plant growth. Light infestations usually have little effect on established woody plants. On your more herbaceous plants, they can suck the life right out of them. If ever there was a list of pests that are wasteful, spittlebugs would be at the top, because they feed in a rather unique way. Nymphs will huddle up close to one another and using their piercing mouthparts, puncture the plant stem on which they are feeding. Plant sap is then pumped out and through their bodies at an amazing rate. This pumping action extracts a lot of sap which then accumulates around the group of spittlebugs as they feed. Since the sap is thick and gooey, it clings to the spittlebugs and forms a type of sap or "spittle mass" in which the nymphs thrive. This moist, sap membrane is both a food supply and a place of safe harborage for the nymphs. Predatory birds are more likely to overlook nymphs encased in the spittle; the mass provides a damp environment for the young vulnerable bugs so they can easily endure even the hottest of days. 

The good news is, they are very easy to control. A strong spray of water from your hose will usually do the trick. Remember I said the froth protects them? Wash it away and there goes their protection.
The life cycle is rather simple,  Females lay small eggs in rows in hidden parts of the plant, such as the sheath between leaves and stems. Nymphs undergo about five molts, and may be orange, yellow, or green. There are many nymphs to be found in a spittle mass.
The most common spittlebug found around here is the  'Prosapia bicincta' or the Two-lined spittlebug. They look like this:

 As I mentioned above there are other species out there. The Native Meadow Spittlebug, Native Pine Spittlebug and the Dogwood Spittlebug, just to name a few. 
This is one of those pests that can do some damage, small infestations are not much of a problem, and they are easy to control. If you want to know what kind of spittlebug you have, first figure out what they are on, there is probably a spittle for that.
Hopefully this has been a fun little read on a pest that is actually a disgusting habit that many people have. 
If you have any comments, questions or something from any of my articles that you would like some more info on, my e-mail is:
Just spit it out already!
Happy Growing!