Best Autumn-Red Tree

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

Autumn tree colors are here!    Sadly, most properties don’t have many trees.  You actually can count on one hand the number of trees in the average landscape.  In any landscape, trees stand out like anchors that bring together the foundation of a good plan.  Also, don’t forget that trees increase the value of a landscape more than spas and grills ever do.

If you are thinking of a new tree, don’t waste money by cutting corners. Trees are where the landscape value is and their purchase is no place to pinch pennies.  Buy the best-looking tree you can find, the bigger the better.  The good-looking trees at the garden center turn into big, bold specimens as they mature.  An ugly tree stays ugly for most of its adult life.  Save landscape dollars on shrubs, flowers, and hedges so your budget can afford a few specimen-sized trees to enhance your outdoor areas.

The high country of Arizona is famous for growing nice maples.  If you plant the right

Close up of Matador Maple Leaf in red
Close up of Matador Maple Leaf in red

variety it can require less care, with fewer problems, than the same tree in the New England states.  The “Matador Red Maple”  is so at home in our area that I refer to it as the ‘Prescott Maple’.  Just going into autumn color now, its leaves glow like embers in a blazing hot fire. This maple grows fast, loves our soil, the area’s extreme weather conditions, and stands up to our wind better than other maple varieties. It is perfect for patios, hot sunny walls, driveways, and anyplace shade is needed.  October is the ideal month to plant a large maple specimen.  Get it rooted now and this tree will burst into vibrant life in spring.

The most important plant feeding of the year is in October. Plants are like bears getting ready for their winter hibernation; for sustenance they store up food in their roots like bears store up body fat. Plants use this food to create next spring’s flower and leaf buds. In addition, this feeding is especially important for conifers to fend off pinion pine scale and bark beetle damage.

Many native evergreens are under attack by scale, bark beetles, borers, aphids, and grubs.  Many trees actually look stressed right now. Make sure to include natives when feeding your landscape, as they will use this food to combat their natural enemies.  The “All Purpose Plant Food” 7-4-4 was intended for landscape ornamentals, but it works just as effectively on the natives in our yards.

Deodar Cedar, Cypress, and Pine are notorious for losing their green color and becoming pale, dry, and yellow in mid-winter.  The secret to keeping evergreens green is the right plant food.  October feeding of conifers is critical to prevent damage this winter and promote better growth in the coming year.  Evergreens respond amazingly well to my specially formulated 7-4-4 “All Purpose Plant Food”.

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If your irrigation system’s water volume was the same in September as it was in June, you need to change the timer settings. The length of time a tree needs to be watered in June is the same length of time that it should be watered in cool weather.  What needs to be changed isn’t the length of time water runs, but the frequency of watering at each station. Irrigation cycles must water deeply to ensure that adequate water is delivered to the entire root system; it just needs it less often.  The amount of water increases only as a plant’s size noticeably increases.

When programming an irrigation clock you should be modifying how often each station cycles.  Personally, I like using the station interval button. Instead of telling the clock which ‘Day of the Week’ to turn on my irrigation system, I can dictate the frequency it waters.  It doesn’t matter which day the clock runs, what matters is when the clock ran last and when it will come on again.  I just changed my landscape trees and shrubs from a seven-day watering interval to every nine days.  This results in a 23% savings of water consumption.  Also, I changed my lawn from water every fourth day to being watered every five days.

Landscaping companies like an every other day watering schedule for newly planted yards.  If your landscape is still on this heavy water cycle, this is a good time to change that frequency.  Just be sure to maintain the same amount of water to encourage a deep root system.  If you need help determining the right frequency for your landscape, ask for help from any of us on Watters’ staff.  I created a convenient mini watering guide that fits inside the covers of most irrigation clocks. It is free for the asking.