Friday, January 25, 2013

Accents That Work

February 2011 helped some in my area to be more sensible with zone-pushing, even teaching some of the HOG about what microclimates are and are not! It was unusual, but such events happen about every 20 years.

Most will notice the differences and potential.
#1 - a foursome of dead Mexican Fan Palm / Washingtonia robusta in west El Paso. El Paso isn't Phoenix.

It's ironic that many of the same people who push zones to make Albuquerque in the image of Des Moines or Aspen, actually push the other way when they design in El Paso. Some in our "creative class" do, since I know many of them and their works. A big oops with taxpayer money; at least this was a private misstep. And so much for warm, west-facing microclimates.

Now, one block away.
I posted this recently. See what unscathed skyline accents do, as opposed to the palms that aren't hardy? Those are the popular tree-form Palm or Faxon Yucca / Yucca faxoniana and Thompson Yucca / Y. thompsoniana. They didn't skip a beat, even up in colder Albuquerque and our coldest spots. Green accents that are growing to reach for the sky, likely to outlive 20 years.

ADDENDUM - many near the mountain in El Paso, after the monsoon season of 2006, added large rock to hold down soil from erosion along street curb edges, since many areas saw 4" of rain in an hour and a few over 10" in 24 hours. Like this - here.

You can search my blog or online to see how big our native tree yuccas get in the SW - and if seed-grown and rooted before sale and planting, they often add 12" or more per year, with deep, infrequent irrigation once established.

(not all palms are non-hardy in my region, especially in warmer El Paso...but one must select more carefully)

And now, right across the street!
#2 - that 2/12 uber-freeze was really something. Wind, about 70 straight hours <32F, plus
1-2 lows of -5F to 0F. And it hit late, right before spring, so plants hardier than the previous
fan palms still died in some areas. The same didn't get hit as hard at similar temperatures
250 miles north in Albuquerque, where the growing season begins about a month later.

Drought was likely a factor in many cases, without regular irrigation suitable to such
species translated from the wetter Mediterranean basin into the Chihuahuan Desert.

Many Aleppo Pine / Pinus halepensis front and Italian Cypress / Cupressus sempervirens
died, taking up to a year to show. This is expensive to remove, even if it's a few trees.

Unlike the palms, one cannot plan for this as easily by choosing species more carefully.

The live oaks didn't skip a beat in 2/11. Nor did the foreground tree yuccas (noted above),
or the tougher background California or Desert Fan Palm / Washingtonia filifera. I like this
view...lush yet spiky and xeric. I could enjoy cocktails and hors d'oeuvres on that porch!

Which green would you choose for the high desert?

Some day, those further east or west may be happy for choosing for their own places,
when their turn comes to tie or set some records...

14 comments:

  1. February 2011 was a wake-up call for many in New Mexico. This state has a lot of folks in it who do not realize just how cold or hot it can get.

    We also had a big oops all across southeastern New Mexico during that record cold event. Lots of palm trees and other non-native plants had been planted over the years...and the cold killed most of them. Lots of tax payer money lost because someone apparently didn't research our local climate records very well.

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    1. It really was - I wonder why most of my peers rely on perception over climate record? I never noticed the palm craze in SE NM like El Paso or Las Cruces. Yet the latter, after 2010-11 killed countless Desert Museum Paloverde trees at their city hall and convention center, the city replanted all at the former place!

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  2. I was shocked when I saw those washingtonia robusta trunks. Why would anyone try anything but filifera in the cooler desert regions? It's kind of sad. And you're right about the yuccas being superb and over time being stand ins for things like the palms. I imagine even brahea armata would be hardier than robusta - still too marginal I bet for that area. But chamaerops and trachycarpus could be candidates as well.

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    1. More trunk statues of dead W. robusta in El Paso and Las Cruces than live trees! You are right, as each you mention thrive there and were all fine that following spring! Maybe a hardy palm post for the high desert? Abg can do several, El Paso and Las Cruces at least double us.

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  3. That year was a record breaker for the duration of freezing temps. The previous year we had lower temps but for a shorter time and lost fewer plants than in the longer but warmer freeze the following year. I think the homeowners enjoyed those palms for quite a few years and now they need to be taken down.

    Certainly those choosing for public installations should consider the extremes. Like many local homeowners, I often choose to go with borderline plants knowing they may need to be replaced eventually.

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    1. Yes - though the homeowners could still be having enjoyment with the other, tougher species of palms or non-palm skyline accents....now they have a removal bill. To me, trees should outlive people who plant them - 20 yrs OK for small plants, though. Zone pushing better on smaller plants.

      Have recently had some great dialogue with a NWS meteorologist, a hort person, and a blog in Phoenix on this duration vs. extreme topic. Really helpful point!

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  4. Let me just say.....this is the second winter of uber freeze here in Tucson. I remember that nasty freeze a couple years ago as if it were yesterday AND then another one hits 2 weeks ago! Luckily it wasn't as severe....but still cold enough to threaten recently recovered plants from the last freeze! Our cactus colonies took another hit as they turned into popsicles again and collapsed all over the ground....but the difference was that they didn't completely freeze and destroy the pads. I was wondering how ALB made out with that nasty weather system.

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    1. Yes - that duration thing. Sad that hit you AGAIN so soon. But Tucson is mostly USDA Z 9a, right? (Las Vegas NV is, but colder overall than you) That's 20-30 winters averaging out a low of 20-25F...you like us, are getting the cold side of average 2/3 recent years. Hope we warm back up a bit!

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  5. As a zone pusher I love to push plants out of their comfort zone. But as a tax payer I can see your point.
    W. filiferas would have been a much better choice and look as good there as they do in their natural range, but there is so many awesome natives for puplic plantings.

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    1. I think your balance is correct - smaller plants are easier to push than tall palms and trees meant for shade. Even large cacti like Cows Tongue are dicey when iffy. Always learning what is a push and not, but hopefully wiser!

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  6. I choose yuccas all the way baby!

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    1. I agree, though a Brahea armata or two get no objection from me!

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  7. I'm sure many people are zone pushers of this sort to a certain extent. I zone push all the time, a few tropicals outdoors but mostly with small plants that like a real winter instead of what I can offer them. When zone pushing failures happen with big, architectural statements, then we all really take notice! I never thought I'd feel sympathy towards a Mexican fan palm (they're rampant here) but the frozen ones are pretty sad...

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    1. True - I don't take sympathy with those fan palms, including the multitudes of them replanted to replace the dead ones. Maybe if used better, I would be more bummed? Definitely not bummed the Phoenix-pushers I noted losing their's, except for the trees' sake, however...

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