Lisa's Landscape & Design

Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time

Trees Deserve Respect

Owning or leasing property with saplings or mature trees is not only a gift to you, it is a gift to our planet and to our children’s future. Did you know that one mature tree produces enough oxygen for two peoples lifetimes? As if that’s not impressive enough, one mature 30 to 50’ shade tree planted on the west side of your home can save you 12% a year in energy costs.

Aside from the obvious privacy, sound barrier, oxygen giving, wildlife hosting, food bearing, flower producing and shade providing, they are people too.

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Rethink the way we look at trees

One of the most erksome books I’ve ever read was “The Giving Tree”. I read it in my early 20’s because someone gave it to me thinking I’d appreciate it, but it actually peeved me off. Itwas a book about a dude who took everything the tree had, chopped it to the ground and sat on its face. Who do we think we are, exactly? What was sustainable about it?

Anacacho Orchid Tree

The first time I knew who I was going to be was in third grade. We had a substitute teacher who brought in this huge projector and played ‘The Lorax’. My whole life changed that day and I’ve made a great effort to become “Lisa the Lorax” for the rest of my years. As a little kid I wanted to be a tree when I grew up and while I did make it to almost 5’10” and have really long arms, I never reached my ultimate goal,…yet. 

More to the point however, in spite of my inability to become a tree, I am able to share their message. Trees need our help. I swear if you listen, you can almost hear them crying. Truth is, they do have a heart beat that is measurable and they use their voice to send messages to one another to let them know a disease or pest is coming. In response they can literally close themselves, vessels (xylem and phloem) and leaves off to easy access. Furthermore, some trees such as oaks, release a toxin to let other plants know to back off.

Here’s what I know trees don’t like

Trees don’t want your nails, sign posts, tire swings, chain or rope swings, and they don’t want our rock piles, tree tombstones, patios and pools built up to their root flares.

This is no bueno.

Building a tombstone of bricks is a trend I’d like to see end. This tree will eventually grow right through the enclosure if it’s lucky enough to survive the foot of dirt and mulch that’s been placed over its trunk. This tree was buried alive and already showing fungal disease. 

Mulch on mature trees should be a flat ring at ground level. The tree below has mulch applied way too high up the trunk. Over time this will promote disease and pest issues. I recommend this mulch be leveled to a flat ring that exposes the base of the tree trunk where is naturally meets the ground. Make tree rings as wide as you can to eat up lawn and allow the tree some room to grow.

Solutions

I designed this space to compliment the existing trees. Beds should be flat and look like a part of the natural landscape. 

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When our trees are buried too deeply by careless builders, landscapers or years of debris, it’s our job to remove the material and allow the trees to breathe. Remember roots can grow bark but bark cannot grow roots.

When a mature tree is built around, it is imperative to create a well that maintains the natural ground level. Too many builders just fill in the hole and this is a long term death sentence for our beautiful, mature trees. I tell my clients that we all must be the advocates for our trees and you have to insist on this protocol when building on new or established properties that need to be regraded.


It’s easy to see why the older neighborhoods in Austin are so desirable. It’s not the just the convenience of location but they are also filled with shade and established trees. These trees increase the value of our homes as well as the value of our lives. 

Diversify 

In my designs I use as many varieties as I can fit into your space at varying heights. This creates a canopy of layering trees that looks more natural and creates homes and food for wildlife. 

Aside from the obvious native and adapted tree choices like Oaks, Texas or Mexican Redbud, Mexican Sycamore, Elm, Texas Ash, Buckthorn, Bigtooth Maple and others; you might also consider the many fruit trees that do well here too. 

Edible

Fruit trees for Austin

I love fruit trees as shade and flowering specimens. Peaches  pears, plums, pomegranate, persimmon and more do very well in Central Texas. Moreover, as long as you don’t have a yard full of squirrels, you will get a really nice spring flowers and a crop each year. 

Peach Trees

Flowering

One of my favorite kinds of trees is a flowering one, and we have a lot of beautiful choices besides Crepe Myrtles. If you’re a fan of Crepes make sure to choose a disease resistant variety. Those with Native American names are a good clue. If you’re seeking more native and unusual varieties, look for Desert Willow (below), Anacacho Orchid, Chitalpa, Eves Necklace, Buckeye, Palo Verde, Mexican Plum, Smoke tree, Kidneywood Tree, Mountain Laurel, Sumac or Magnolia. 

Proper Planting

Ultimately, even with the best selections the planting technique is imperative to its success.

I always recommend additives like liquid root activator and compost which promote root production before the summer heat. Deep watering for the first couple of years is also important to the success so don’t think a tree is self sufficient after it’s planted. Tree stakes should be used on saplings and removed after the 2nd year. Be sure to keep the ties loose to avoid damage to the trunk and limbs (girdling). 

For mature trees, this is a proper view of how a circle of mulch should be applied. The root flair or bell shape at the bottom should be fully exposed as well as any roots that have bark on them. 

Feeding and Timing

Fall to spring is the best time of year to plant trees in Central Texas. It’s really important to establish our trees before the summer heat. Compost your trees with a 1/4-1/2’ top dressing every spring and winter for year long feeding, moisture retention and nutrients for the growth of Mycorrhizal fungi which are essential to all plants and trees. 

Proper Trimming

NEVER DO THIS! This is cruelest of injustices to a tree of any kind. This practice destroys the natural shape and exposes the tree to disease and weak branches that can no longer support the weight of its flowers and seed pods. 

Proper trimming is important to all trees because they have a natural bandaid which is called the tree collar. This wrinkly bit at the base of every stem is your trimming guide. Cutting close, but not too close allows the tree to heal quickly.

Improper cut

Correct technique

Wrong and right (below)…the cuts in green show the right way to trim and they are already healing. The red mark will take years to seal off and compartmentalize. The black marks are tree sealant which when used on a proper cut seals the wood immediately. Spray each cut as you go to  prevent Oakwilt and other pests and diseases from attacking before the tree compartmentalizes. The trees own defense  takes about 3 days to seal wounds on its own. 

Treatment of girdled roots. 


Get to know your trees so you recognize changes. Look for injury, pests and nutritional needs.


Timing for trimming Oaks is June through January to prevent Oakwilt and I recommend you only use certified Arbors to trim your mature trees. 

Conclusion, trees are the gentle giants of our planet; they teach us patience, strength and virtue. Give them plenty of room, sunlight and water as needed, even once established.

Mother Tree

I believe they are also great for hugging. Trees take in our negative vibes and exchange it with positive spirit. When we are stressed, sitting among the trees can invigorate and replenish our energy, clear our mind and ground us.

To plant a tree now is to have hope for the future…if you need help selecting low water trees for your landscape in and around the Austin area, contact me for an Educational Landscape Consultation at Lisalapaso @gmail.com!

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Lisa LaPaso

Lisa’s Landscape and Design 

“Saving the Planet One Yard at a Time”

 

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