Healthy Beginnings

Marley’s Ghost

“A Rough Patch”

Beth came out for coffee early one frosty morning, back in December.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t have even a slice of fruit cake to go with it. I’m feeling a bit like Scrooge this year, and I haven’t gotten the Christmas baking spirit yet.”

“Well, get ready for it,” she said. “I think I saw the Ghost of Christmas Past out in your yard. But in this frosty fog, it might have been my headlights on that crabapple tree you planted last summer. I’m surprised at how big it is.”

“Crabapples grow pretty fast,” I reminded her.

“For most people they do,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to ask; have you been keeping up with your winter watering schedule?”

“Have some more coffee,” I said.

Beth was talking about one of the trees I’d gotten from the plant sale one of the 4-H clubs holds in conjunction with the county extension office here. The plants they sell are designed to withstand conditions in the West.

Caragana (also called Siberian pea shrub), Austrian pine, Russian olive, and some species of juniper, elm, cottonwood and crabapple take heat, cold, drought and often even poor soil. These are good trees for those of us who practice laissez faire gardening.

Some species of cottonwood and juniper are native to the Western United States, and do well here because they’ve evolved here. But many of the species of trees and shrubs that thrive in our area come from northeastern Asia, which is why they have “Russian” or “Siberian” somewhere on the plant tag.

I’ve noticed that some of the catalogs geared to the West offer an increasing number of plants from that part of the world. Next year, I’ll be planting some of them, including goumi. Its scientific name, elaeagnus multiflora, indicates that it’s related to Russian olive (elaeagnus angustifolia), and our native buffalo berry is a more distant relative. The catalog says that the fruit tastes like pie cherries. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

I’ve had good luck with the Russian trees I planted last spring. One of them was the Siberian crabapple which scared Beth. I also planted some Russian olives farther out, in the hopes that they’d grow into a windbreak. When I planted them, I watered them well. A week or two later, I put in a drip system, and I watered them once a week or so, but I didn’t pay them much attention other than that.

A month and a half later, I noticed that one of the Russian olives was yellowing. Investigating further, I noticed that I hadn’t hooked the drip system to that tree. It’s stunted, but it’s still alive.

Despite their tough nature, even these trees will appreciate a bit of winter moisture, and that could be the factor that allows more civilized trees to survive in this country. Especially in dry winters, trees need to be watered at least once a month if there’s no moisture.

Water early in the day, particularly if it’s going to be cold, since if the water freezes, it can damage the roots. Trees should be watered so that the soil is moist to a depth of about twelve inches. If it’s really a dry year, it wouldn’t hurt to water more deeply once in a while.

Which reminds me, I’d better hydrate my trees right now. Otherwise, that cute little Siberian crabapple might be a real ghost next Christmas.

When Teresa Howell is not neglecting her trees, she teaches English at Great Basin College.