Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Effortless Beauty

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

Effortless Beauty

Article excerpt

A key to growing low-maintenance trees is performing the critical preplanning work of assessing the site's limitations and selecting plant material accordingly. Matching a tree species' strengths and tolerances to the site conditions, especially on sites with extreme conditions, can mean the difference between the plants languishing and flourishing. While some species can adapt to a variety of growing conditions, it often is necessary to search out a "specialist" to fill the position when extreme growing conditions or multiple plant-stress factors exist. This is especially true if you want aesthetic appeal in addition to mere survival.

Some trees are generally adaptable, while others specialized in some extreme condition, such as an unusually high or low pH or soil moisture. In many instances, breeders select cultivars for specific combinations of aesthetic and stress tolerance traits. Because of their superior performance, these cultivars generally are worth the additional cost and effort required to locate them.

Maintenance Factors

Trees may possess other qualities, independent of their suitability for specific sites, which qualify them as low-maintenance species. Five principal criteria dictate the level of maintenance you will need to produce a healthy, attractive specimen over the course of main years.

* Most importantly, the tree should not be susceptible to disease or insect pests that can endanger or disfigure it if you leave them untreated.

* The tree must not require annual pruning, such as the removal of water of basal sprouts, to retain the desired shape.

* The tree should not produced excessive fruit. Like most plants, trees must flower to perpetuate themselves, but: excessive litter is offensive and increases maintenance costs.

* The tree should be strong-wooded and have strong branching patterns that do not require cabling support or substantial pruning to remain solid, even when mature.

* The tree should tolerate climatic conditions sufficiently that it does not depend on neighboring vegetation or structures to provide wind protection, shade, or other micro-environments for success.

Every recommended tree list should apply a specific geographic region and its general climatic and soil conditions. In this case, my recommendations apply to the North Central states. In this region, erratic rainfall and alkaline soils combine with cold winters and hot summers to make life difficult for woody plants. Consult with a state agricultural extension or a local garden center to learn more about the soil and climatic conditions in your area. Wherever you are located, the efforts you make (through properly planting and care during the tree's establishment period) to moderate the conditions existing on the site will reward you with healthy young trees that require minimal long-term care.

Low Maintenance Species

The three-flowered maple is an excellent choice if you are looking for a smaller tree with outstanding fall color and tolerance of drier sites. Its rounded canopy ultimately reaches to 30 feet with equal spread. Leaves reliably turn orange, often with a blush of red. The three-flowered maple is hardier (to USDA Zone 4) and tolerates heavier, more alkaline soil than its kin, the Lacebark maple. Another common name for the species, the shaggy-bark maple, describes another attractive feature - grayish tan bark that exfoliates on branches three years old or older.

This species is often difficult to find because it is hard to propagate and grows more slowly than many maples. However, as domestic seed orchards begin to bear, this problem should ease.

The Freeman maple fills a key role at the other end of the moisture gradient. This hybrid of the red and silver maple is one of the best choices for sites that periodically flood or drain poorly. The Freeman maple also tolerates alkaline soil, but like the red maple has good fall color and moderate growth. …

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