Summer's the best time to plant a wall of green
Ah, it feels so good to have the rains arrive, and right on time. You've heard me say that June is the hardest month to garden because humidity is nonexistent, the sun is hot and plants have been leaf-scorched by the wind. Then July arrives. Much like spring, because of its seasonal rains, July is the start of another growing season. With the increased humidity and afternoon rains, plants will take off and really grow when planted in our warm soils. This is an ideal time to plant additional trees, shrubs and summer blooming perennials.
There is nothing better for the landscape than a good afternoon rain. There are three main benefits from rainwater. First, lightning releases nitrogen that plants absorb through their foliage and root systems so you'll see plants green up immediately. Second, there are no hard mineral deposits in rainwater, and, third, the pH is perfectly balanced.
I highly recommend feeding your entire landscape now so that that luscious rainwater will wash the nutrients in. If you fertilize now with Start-N-Grow plant food you will find almost instant growth emerge from the entire landscape. When fed now, plants will shoot up new flowers of intense color. This is especially true for summer bloomers like Russian sage, butterfly bush, desert willow and all the other flowers that push blooms at this time.
Weeds are annoying proof that this is a good time to plant. The increased humidity and rain will cause weeds to germinate and take over your lawn and garden if you're not careful. If you have not taken precautions to keep, weeds at bay knee-high invaders that cause extra work to keep your landscaped areas looking well tended soon will overwhelm you. I also recommend an application of weed and grass preventer right away.
Weed and Grass Preventer is spread just like a fertilizer. Rain or irrigation releases the product that effectively kills unwanted seeds as they begin to germinate. Any garden center will carry several types of preventers. The best I've used is Weed & Grass Preventer made by Hi-Yield, one bag of which will cover about 5000 sq. ft. Whichever brand you use; it needs to be put on before weeds germinate.
This is the best time to plant those large evergreens typically used to screen ugly neighboring views, create windbreaks or simply create more privacy. Let me tell you about a few of my favorites that have performed well for me.
The first variety is what many refer to as a Christmas tree or tall cone shape. The deodar cedar, Cedrus Deodara, is by far the largest of the screening plants, growing to over 80 feet tall and 18 feet wide with long swooping branches of Arizona blue. This is also one of the fastest-growing of the screeners, growing some 2-3 feet per year. As with most upright evergreens this cedar can thrive on low water use, drought conditions and drip irrigation.
The next fastest-growing evergreen tree is the fir, which grows wild throughout the mountains of Arizona. Timing is most important when planting these majestic beauties. They need time to root out before the arrival of winter; so for best success, plant them now. My favorite variety is the Nordman fir, Abies nordmanniana. Its deep forest green needles are so soft that you just want to give this tree a big hug. This fir grows to over 70 feet tall and 12-15 feet wide and naturalizes when large enough.
Spruces are the slowest growers, but few evergreens produce a color so blue it can almost look silver. The mountain classic Colorado spruce, like other evergreen trees, doesn't like to be over watered so it's important that the planting holes drain well.
Now for those evergreen screens that look like our native juniper and cypress. My favorite is the Arizona cypress. It is like a large alligator juniper in size and color, but grows faster and fills in better than junipers. Growing to over 20 feet tall and 12 feet wide in just a few years, you can see why this is the number one planted screen at this altitude. If you prefer a cypress in dark green instead of an Arizona blue color, go for the Leyland cypress. Both trees grow to the same size and have the same water and soil needs.
Finally, let's look at the juniper family. Hillspire, blue point and Wichita are on the extensive list of junipers available at garden centers now. Juniper forests surround us, so we know that junipers are naturals to grow locally. Whichever color and height you like, they will all grow well here.
Ask me for the Preferred Plant List the next time you visit my garden center. A super guide for any gardener, it offers more info about the best privacy screen plants.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.
Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.