Caring for native trees in the garden

When faced with a new mountain or rural garden, you need to make peace with your oaks and pines. These beautiful trees can be unkempt, stickery and surrounded by brush and poison oak when you first begin to landscape and garden. Many folks wonder what can be planted under them with their dry shade and falling leaves.

Here are a few things you can do to fit your garden around these stately trees:

Protect them. First protect them from damage from any construction equipment by roping off your trees before building or having grading or digging work done. No lie, one sad homeowner in our mountain community has lost close to one hundred trees around his luxury home, by neglecting to do this.

Don’t cut through the roots to install irrigation lines. Don’t change the grade under the canopy of the tree. And don’t water within five feet all around your native oaks and pines.

Groom them. Protect yourself by grooming the branches and brush 10 feet up and ten feet around your trees. Cut poison oak off at the base and then be prepared to spray with heavy duty Roundup for several years. Mulch around your oaks with gravel, river rocks or pine chips or needles for a neat appearance. One thing I do instead of using purchased mulch, is to rake away the oak leaves completely, mix them up and reapply in a two inch depth to suppress weeds.

A word about the pine beetle. Pine beetles or drought may have killed trees in your garden space. It’s a sad loss, but the best thing to do is seek advice from an arborist and have dead trees removed for fire safety.

Plant around them. Oaks must have dry roots in summer. You might use clusters of plants arranged among accent rocks outside a 4-5 foot diameter circle all around the tree, and plant in the fall or after the first rains so you won’t need to provide extra water while the new plants establish.

These plants are recommended by the California Native Plant Society are Columbine, Low-growing manzanitas, Artemisia, Oregon grape, Coral bells (Heuchera), Monkey flower and Ferns

Sunset Magazine recommends these ‘good companions’: Autumn sage, California iris, Catmint, Ceanothus-low growing varieties, Daffodils, Rosemary, Santa Barbara daisy, Blue fescue, and St. Johnswort

Hang a bird feeder or two. Birds will make a home in your tree if you provide a hanging feeder and a small birdbath tucked away near a shrub or with some dry branches used for protective cover. Providing food, a water source and protection from predators are the main requirements in creating a wildlife habitat.

Sit under them. Enjoy the shade in all seasons with a lounge chair and a side table for your gloves, clippers and trowel. Place the seat a bit away from the trunk to prevent ants from climbing you up. Still, be prepared for a bug or two to drop down on your book. Enjoy the breeze.