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Bristlecone pines, the world’s oldest trees
As someone who has spent thousands of hours growing, observing, and researching plants, I feel entitled to say a few words about them.
Other than G-d, nothing is as ever-present as plants. Wherever you go, you see them. Even swimming in the ocean, seaweed is there. What most people don’t know is that the vast majority of the atmosphere’s oxygen comes from ocean phytoplankton, not terrestrial plants or rain forests.
Other than G-d, nothing is as sustaining as plants. Plants provide our food, shelter, clothing and, of course, the oxygen we breathe. Even computers depend on plants. Beeswax, used in honeycomb construction, is secreted by worker bees, whose two food sources, pollen and nectar, come from flowers. Beeswax, harvested from honeycombs, is used to insulate computers’ electronic components.
Plants are incredibly resilient. They can grow up through asphalt and sprout in the tiniest cracks of a stone wall. Some can live without water for years and viability of seeds can last for millennia. Seeds discovered in the Arctic Circle, determined through carbon dating to be more than 30,000 years old, germinated successfully and grew into robust plants. A clonal colony of quaking aspens that covers 100 acres in Utah has a root system that is 80,000 years old.
The oldest individual plant in the world lives in conditions that are generally hostile to plants. This ancient specimen is a bristlecone pine tree, living at an elevation of 9,000 feet in the White Mountains above Death Valley. It is over 5,000 years old and, from fears that it would be vandalized, its location is known to only a few select botanists just as the location of another ancient bristlecone pine, previously thought to be the oldest, and dubbed Methuselah, is not publicly known.
The most important consideration when planting is sun exposure. Some plants love the sun, some need sun protection.
A properly sited plant can overcome adverse soil conditions and a less than ideal water supply.
By the same token, plants that are sited imperfectly in terms of sun exposure may still thrive if they are planted in good soil and are properly mulched.
Mulch is any material, layered on the soil surface, that minimizes evaporative moisture loss, keeping the moisture level of the soil constant. Mulch should be kept at a two to three inch depth but not allowed to touch tree trunks or stems of shrubs or roses angling up from the ground since such contact can lead to fungus problems.
Classic and easily available mulch consists of ground up wood, bark, and leaves produced by the chipper of a tree trimmer, who will gladly empty a truckload of this material on your property at no cost since you save him the expense of taking it to the dump. You can also use compost, partially or completely decomposed, as mulch. Compost — which means mixture — is made from lawn grass, fallen leaves, annual weeds, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, corn cobs, apple cores, and shredded newspapers. Or you can make it exclusively from yard waste: grass, leaves, weeds, and hedge prunings. You can also use straw or pine needles for mulch.
Plants have a love-hate relationship with water. While plants cannot survive without it, too much of it is lethal, especially in the root zone. Good soil drainage is essential to healthy roots. Where it is lacking, soil pores fill with water and anaerobic conditions develop, activating soil fungi that enter roots and plug water-conducting vessels, causing plants to wilt and die. Before planting, you want to build a soft, fast-draining soil. Spread a two-inch layer of compost, homemade or available by the bag at any plant nursery, on the soil surface and incorporate it into the earth with the help of a spading fork. With especially heavy or poorly draining soil, you may need to add more compost.
A plant is as healthy as its roots and will produce abundant flowers or fruit at full capacity only when its roots are taken into account throughout a plant’s development and growth. That’s why raised beds — whose soil is enriched and made porous from the compost added to it — and planter boxes, where designer soil is brought in, are the best guarantee for growing plants with robust root systems and overall health.
There is a lesson for us here. Only those who value their roots — their heritage and their traditions — reach their full potential.
When planting annuals or vegetables from containers, mix Dr. Earth fertilizer with Osmocote slow release fertilizer pellets into each hole. Spread Osmocote over the soil surface as well. When planting perennials, shrubs, or trees, let the backfill contain 1/3 compost and 2/3 native soil. However, shrubs or trees planted from 15-gallon size or larger containers acclimate better when the backfill does not contain compost.
A planting hole should resemble a satellite dish. The depth of the hole should equal the depth of the container in which the plant grew, while the diameter of the hole at the top should be four times the container diameter.
There is a misconception that deep roots are essential to plant health when the opposite is true. The most important roots on any plant are in the top two inches of soil. These are the roots that absorb most of the water and minerals that plants, including the tallest trees, require. Deep roots are vital for plant support and will mine for water when plants are under water stress but, on a daily basis and especially under cultivated conditions, roots in the top two inches of soil are your concern. This is why mulch is so vital, since it protects these roots, keeping them insulated from heat and cold.
When planting a garden, start slow. Grow a few plants well. Sit back and enjoy them before moving on to bolder and bigger schemes. Remember that the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow and, generally speaking, the more you watch your plants — since, in watching, you will be sure to provide them what they need — the better they grow.
Besides, you are always a beginner in the garden. Each foray into the garden is an experiment and sometimes the experiment fails. Don’t be discouraged. Failure is part of the process just as compost, which consists of dead plant debris, engenders life.
If anyone has a general question about gardening or a specific plant they would like to know more about, especially concerning its garden worthiness, message me for assistance.