Garden Word of the Day
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When someone starts talking about xeriscapes most of us picture gravel and succulents. There might be a yucca plant and some big rocks, but none of that sounds very appetizing to me. So I decided to see which edible plants could be part of a xeriscape. Here’s what I found out.
What are xeriscapes?
Xeriscapes are low-maintenance landscape designs that use little or no water. Designed to reduce evaporation and runoff, they cut pollution. Xeriscapes incorporate plants best suited to the local climate. These plants have evolved to thrive without the addition of water, fertilizer, herbicides, or pesticides, hence the reduced pollution. The goal of a xeriscape is to conserve water, but they save time, too. How much extra time would you have if you didn’t need to water your garden? The only help an established xeriscape needs is occasional weeding and mulching.
These gardens also tend to promote biodiversity, but water is the key. In arid regions, such as Arizona and Nevada, as much as 75% of household water is used to water lawns. You may be surprised to learn, as I was, that xeriscapes containing trees reduced the heat island effect by nearly 5°F. Imagine how that temperature change could help save on your electric bill! But what about edible plants?
Planning your edible xeriscape
Most edible plants need far more water than would be used in a xeriscape, but not all. To start your xeriscape design, create a drawing to scale of your property. You can find a trick to doing this in my post on sun maps. Once you know where everything is, you can start your xeriscape plan:
Once plants are in place, add 2 to 4 inches of mulch around, but not touching, your plants. If you opt for stone or gravel mulch, know that it will reflect sunlight into the underside of the plants, creating more heat.
Edible plants for your xeriscape
While these plants will all need some irrigation, especially as they are getting established, they should be able to provide you with edible crops using far less water than other traditional garden crops. Also known as dryland farming, this method uses plants that have evolved to use water stored in the soil from the previous winter’s rainfall. Some of these offer the convenience and ease of being perennial, too!
Many of these plants will produce smaller-than-normal fruits when grown in a xeriscape, but the reduced water content translates into intense flavor and more sugar. You can see my post on deficit irrigation to learn more about that. Some people also grow corn, pumpkins, and even tomatoes in their xeriscape, though I’m not sure how well that would work.
Herbs are your blue-ribbon xeriscape plants. Most of them evolved in poor, rocky soil. The aromas and flavors we love them for are defense mechanisms against insect and herbivore feeding.
Caring for your xeriscape
The trick to watering a xeriscape is to do it deeply and infrequently. As plants become established, they will need little or no irrigation. Water in the pre-dawn hours or evening by laying a hose on the ground near plants that need watering to reduce evaporation. As always, groups plants by their light and water needs. And be sure to add a fallow period to your crop rotation so that you don’t deplete the groundwater or nutrients.
It may surprise you, but rain gardens are a type of xeriscape.
Do you know any other edible plants that would grow in a xeriscape?
Let us know in the comments!
Tomato sauce and bouquet garni wouldn’t be the same without bay leaves. But can we grow bay at home? Let’s find out.
Bay leaves come from the bay laurel tree. Also known as sweet bay, true laurel, and Grecian laurel, these trees are not to be confused with California bay laurel or cherry laurel. We’ll learn more about them in a minute.
Bay laurels (Laurus nobilis) are evergreen shrubs or small trees native to the Mediterranean basin. Bay forests once covered that region. As humidity levels dropped and temperatures rose, the laurel forests retreated, and more drought-tolerant species moved in.
Uses for bay laurel
Bay leaves flavor more than your favorite spaghetti sauce. Bay leaves can add flavor to stocks, stews, and other savory dishes. Dried bay laurel berries are also spices, and burning the wood creates a unique smoke flavoring. But that’s not all.
In ancient times, high-status bay laurel wreaths donned the heads of Olympic athletes and political leaders. Laurel oil was said to treat bruises, ear aches, paralysis, rheumatism, and sciatica, but I think they took things a bit far. More recently, bay leaves have been applied as an astringent to treat small wounds. The oil is popular in massage and aroma therapies. It is an ingredient in Aleppo soap. The fragrance certainly is relaxing.
Bay laurel description
Many of us are familiar with smooth, lance-shaped bay leaves. They are shiny and dark green while fresh. Trees can grow more than 50 feet tall, but most people keep theirs pruned to heights of two to eight feet. These plants produce small, yellowish-green flowers. The fruit of bay laurel is a small, shiny purplish-black drupe
How to grow bay laurel
Bay laurel plants can be grown from seed or cuttings. The easiest way is to buy a bare-root tree. These trees are dioecious, so some are male, and some are female. Since we mostly grow them for their leaves, this isn’t a problem. If you want berries, however, you’ll need one of each to get a crop.
These shrubs lend themselves very well to the home garden in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10. You can also grow them as containerized indoor plants. A 5-gallon pot is big enough. Bay laurel prefers full sun to light shade. If grown indoors, it will need lots of bright direct sunlight.
Bay laurel prefers slightly acidic soil with good drainage. These trees benefit from wind protection, so select a site with that in mind. You can use bay laurel as a topiary, shaping and twisting it to your heart’s delight.
Bay pests and diseases
Bay laurel trees protect themselves against most pests and diseases. Soft scale (Coccus hesperidum) and jumping plant lice (Trioza alacris) are two insect exceptions. Phytophthora root rot and leaf spot and shot hole disease make also occur.
Yellowing leaves on bay laurel often mean they need more nitrogen. A lab-based soil test is a good idea.
And what about those other laurels? It is not safe to assume they are all the same. Some of them are poisonous. And others can be a real headache.
Here's a summary of those other laurels:
So, you can grow an edible bay laurel tree at home. It makes a lovely houseplant and a great addition to your dinner menu.
Tree roots may surprise you.
We used to think trees looked pretty much the same underground as they did aboveground. We once thought trees sent taproots deep into the earth to suck up water and nutrients and hold themselves upright. All of those things are true except for the first one. Now we know that most tree roots extend laterally far more than horizontally. Most tree root systems extend 4 to 7 times the diameter of the aboveground portion. The root system of a mature oak can extend up to 250 feet! We also know that they communicate and exchange nutrients with neighboring trees, but that's another discussion. Today, our garden topic is root plates.
What are root plates?
Root plates are the combined disk-shaped mass of roots and soil immediately surrounding the trunk of a tree. If you have ever seen a tree knocked over by a strong wind, you have probably seen a root plate.
These structural roots and soil form massive disks. As tree roots spread out just under the soil surface in search of water and nutrients (and possibly neighbors), they quickly taper as they grow away from the main stem. The root plate edge occurs where the roots shift from thick and stiff to somewhat thinner and more flexible.
Generally speaking, you can assume that for every inch of trunk diameter at chest height, these critical roots extend one foot in every direction. Smaller transport roots emerge from these structural roots to carry the food and water collected by fanning absorbing roots. These secondary roots help delay the symptoms of damage to the root plate. But they can’t carry the extra burden indefinitely.
Trees store approximately 2/3 of the energy they create in their root systems. If those roots are severed or damaged, those stored nutrients are lost. Eventually, there is a deficit. Symptoms of a damaged root plate may take three to seven years before symptoms appear. By then, it may be too late.
Nearly all tree roots are in the top 18 to 36 inches of soil. The combined mass of root material and soil is called a root plate. Because most tree roots are shallower than we thought, we now know that tree roots are more susceptible to our actions than we thought. But there are benefits.
The benefits of wide, shallow rooting
Trees with shallow roots spreading out in all directions have better access to the nutrients in decomposing leaf litter and other plant debris. They are also close enough to the surface for critical gas exchanges. Trees need nutrients, oxygen, and water to grow. Deep soil does not contain enough water or oxygen for trees to thrive, so they look elsewhere.
The downside of root plates
Shallow-rooted trees are more likely to fall over. A strong gust of wind can tear the root plate free from smaller roots. The entire disk of roots and soil can slip, spin, and upend a tree. We’re talking about massive force when trees break loose. And root plates are equally impressive. For example, a root plate that measures 11-feet across and 2.5 feet deep would have an average volume of more than 270 cubic feet and weigh more than 14 tons. You don't want any of that falling near your home or car.
How can we help our trees?
So, what can we do to keep our trees from falling over?
Did you know that corn, sunflowers, and wheat have root plates? I didn't either.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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