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Create summer shade with mountain trees
The sunburst locust boasts golden foliage and low water use.
6/15/2012 10:02:00 PM
By Ken Lain
I can't think of many things that affect us as diversely as trees do. For starters, they contribute to numerous influences on our surroundings. They improve our environment by providing protection from wind and dust, by shading us from our high mountain sun, and by decreasing our households' summer energy costs. Also, because they are the most important assets of any home's landscape, trees carry significant financial value. By planting a tree, we enhance our aesthetic quality of life and improve our physical health. We need to plant more trees!
Deciduous trees are the best to shade patios, courtyards and the west- or south-facing walls of our homes. Their season leaf changes permit solar warmth in the winter and provide dense shade during the heat of summer.
My favorite deciduous trees for central Yavapai County are readily available for planting now. Although there are dozens of great trees from which to pick, I've decided to narrow the field for those of you who don't want to put in hours of research to find that perfect tree for that special spot in your landscape. I am certain any one of these trees will earn itself a place of pride in your yard.
A mountain favorite because of its classic red color in fall is the autumn blaze maple, Acer freemanii. During summer months its large leaves provide great shade that is rivaled only by the shade of a sycamore. A healthy maple tree will grow 2-3 feet per year, topping out at 40 feet. Mountain wind can tear and shred the leaves of some maples. The ability to withstand mountain winds is why the only varieties of maples that I recommend are the autumn blaze and silver queen.
The Arizona sycamore, native to the high mountain region, is a large shade tree that seems to thrive in our clay soils and heavy winds. However, the London plane sycamore, Platanus x acerifolia, does even better at this altitude. Its leaves look like maple leaves on steroids, but their leathery texture tolerates our wind and sun better than the leaves of its native cousin.
The hardiest tree requiring the least amount of water is the sunburst locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, named because its new growth and fall color are a bright sunburst gold. This tree makes up for its small foliage by the vast numbers of leaves that provide a delightful filtered shade unique to locust trees. It is really hardy in low water use landscapes.
Providing more than just great shade in summer is the flowering pear, Pyrus calleryana. It is one of the first trees to blossom each spring and is graced with bridal-white flowers that produce no fruit. In fall, this tree is the last to turn crimson red before evergreens take center stage in winter's landscape. For a deciduous tree that performs extremely well through every season at this altitude, the hands-down choice is a flowering pear.
For a yard that needs a small tree with an umbrella shape, I highly recommend the summer blooming silk tree, Mimosa pudica. This extremely low water user grows to about 18 feet and produces masses of pink tasseled flowers that cover the top of the tree. Our home's second story looks down on three of these summer beauties. They create a striking view that our family really enjoys when having dinner on that elevated deck.
My last recommendation is Fraxinus, the entire ash family of trees. There are several types grown at this altitude and all are noted for their fall color, low water use, great shade, wind tolerance and longevity. They have few bug or disease problems, and come fall the leaves are easy to clear away.
This is the time when butterfly bushes, sages, crepe myrtles, roses of Sharon and chitalpas take center stage in our landscapes. Interestingly, they are indifferent to the ups and downs of our springtime weather. These summer shiners even prefer being planted in this season's warm soils, warm days and warm nights.
One of the truly unusual specimens this season is the bluebird hibiscus. This is an amazing summer bloomer that is coming into its own right now. Considered the best true blue hibiscus for the area, the eye-popping blue flowers with a dark red eye are favorites every summer. This winter-hardy variety is good down to a crazy -20F degrees but loves the summer heat as well. Growing as tall as a gardener it makes the ideal hedge, foundation or specimen plant. It is a standout against fences and large foundation walls, or in fire wise woodland areas. This blue beauty is exciting, whether it's a lone blossom behind your ear or an entire bush admired from a distance. Pick these flowers with the assurance that 50 to 100 more buds will replace them throughout the summer season.
My summer gardening classes have begun at the garden center. They are held, free of charge, every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. They are fun-filled energetic sessions with lots of local gardening information. This week's class is "Mountain Landscapes, Perfectly Designed." Look for the entire class schedule on www.wattersonline.com under the "classes for the taking" section.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Throughout the week, Ken Lain is at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road, Prescott, and can be contacted through his website at www.wattersonline.com.
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