Pruning Into Spring

For a needed break each month, I became a volunteer at the UTEP Chihuahuan Desert Gardens – blocks from home. Plus, it gave me a discount on attending a public gardens conference in a few weeks :-)

Photos from yesterday’s 40F and biting east winds, 2/27/2014 –

Mexican Plum / Prunus mexicana announces *early* spring

It includes 600+ plant species native to our Chihuahuan Desert and adjacent ecoregions, so there’s much variety to do here, short of starting over! After a 15 minute walking survey, the dwarf trees were my target.

Not even my plan, until I looked closely.

Chisos Rosewood / Vauquelinia corymbosa ssp. angustifolia – before pruning
Chisos Rosewood – after pruning

Subtle, eh? I was only 3/4 finished, but my work filled that trash can.

Pruning is about health, then aesthetics. About 1 year after planting (or establishment), with basic care, pruning a smaller tree is simple:
1) remove dead stems and branches
2) remove crossing live stems and branches
Only additional, minor pruning for form may be needed now – most of that was addressed in the first 2 steps. Limit pruning to under 30% of live growth each year, and what’s appropriate for the plant and climate.

That’s it, until the plant becomes larger than one’s skills and equipment – time for an arborist, qualifed in deed and mindset – not just by testing.

Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany / Cercocarpus montanus var. argenteus (?) – before some handiwork (or el jefe & co. misguidedly cringe)
Silverleaf Mountain Mahogany – after

Notice the Mountain Mahogany now, with the grasses and wall? Health and form. Lateral growth to grow into the walkway? Gone – function.


Are you daunted by pruning a dwarf tree or other plant? Don’t be.

Many hear someone appreciative of the natural world, yet unknowing of a need for healthy plants, in a time frame in line with typical property ownership – gardens aren’t for geologic time.

Health and beauty, wildness and order, function and form – all together, now.

Winter Campus

The El Paso version of “snowy” weather over, with decent cold for over a month, I finally made it to the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. I think of it as plant therapy, to help me through an unusual amount of work stress since about May.

Scenes from a dull, brisk day at UTEP, 1/10-12/2015:

gray and brown…did I take a wrong turn to Albuquerque?

Bugs Bunny was a little off; most turns from there are not wrong :-) This landscape looks to have been designed for the growing season, not winter. Tsk tsk… But with that a 250 day growing season, not bad.

more interest – Savia x ‘Trident’, local boulders

And what would it be without some trendy gabion structures? Biology students could have a blast on summer nights, armed with flashlights to see scorpions, vinegaroons and the like, creeping in and out of the gabions.

native Purple Threeawn / Aristida still green in protected areas
Texas Persimmon / Diospyros texanum green, about to lose some leaves
Texas Pistachio / Pistacia texana even mostly green

I agreed to do some minor volunteer work at these gardens, more garden therapy for me. Caveat – this is a plant collection, not a designed garden. We’ll see how it goes.

Texas Olive / Cordia boissieri not so happy…#NotBrownsville
Big Bend flora meets Bhutanese architecture

That Weeping Juniper / Juniperus flaccida is really a rare one to see growing in gardens, native to the tiny Chisos Mountains of the Big Bend. Birds love the berries, but no berries on this one.

patchy sun…Populus deltoides ssp. wislizenii and Washingtonia filifera both riparian, good for the lawn area
Sweet Acacia or Huisache / Acacia farnesiana still green

There must be alot of untapped genetic diversity in this acacia, given its highly variable hardiness in close distances. Worth selecting for, since the live ones are left and look great.

Boundary Epehdra / Ephedra aspera literally growing out of rock (andesite)

Wish I could buy that one.

Blackspine Prickly Pear / Opuntia macrocentra with some O. camanchica genes…also happy in a crack in the andesite bedrock (unmotivated to remove the trash)
native creosotes, yuccas, ocotillos…planted fan palm
some new work on the university’s Campus Transformation Project…by Christy Ten Eyck’s office

A healthy budget to pay for all the corten steel bridges over her “arroyas”. It really looks good and hopefully the edges aren’t a tripping hazard. The use of ‘Regal Mist’ Grass / Muhlenbergia capillaris low where water collects, and Giant Hesperaloe / H. funifera high where it’s drier, is good, but so is the mix of rock sizes from local work.

Trust me, LA’s don’t often get projects like this, where free-reign, commitment to salvage and reuse / discard of the inappropriate, and budget all meet. Bravo.

urbanite walkways connect the Geology oval to the campus walking areas
liking these new seat walls…an abstraction of the UTEP pick?

I’m curious how the natural cracking in concrete will occur, or be controlled, over time. Though these are beefy and perhaps less susceptible with TELA’s top-secret layout of rebar in the concrete?

Those of you from outside the southwest, did you know durable but blah concrete can become an appealing amenity? Yes, via some finishes and thoughtful layout. I didn’t have a clue until I moved to San Diego out of college. I’ve been happily designing it in different ways since, though we’re talking about relatively mild, dry winter climates, without the freeze-thaw of points N-E.

the sun’s back for 30 minutes

So, what was your favorite mid-winter plant or hardscape feature?

Campus: Warm Edition

We had more than a few days of near record warmth lately, almost 80F highs, and it looks to be a mild winter with decent moisture, and now an early spring. No (twisted) feelings of guilt for that at my end!

But it’s nothing like the post-monsoon season warmth and growth seen in fall. Photos from the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens at UTEP, 10/25/2015:

Centennial Museum courtyard…something signalled the Chilopsis linearis to stop flowering…something ripped the colorful umbrella
Purshia plicata / Antelope Bush…I’m used to yellow Purshia mexicana
similar leaf and fragrance, but pink
View NE-UTEP01_2014-10-25-Sml
Populus wislizenii turning, campus transformation work moving
the cactus garden, Aristida purpurea ripe with tawny seedheads
Astrophytums and other regional cactu in grasses
tough Fourwing Saltbush / Atriplex canescens with friends
saltbush seeds ripening…cannot tell if seeds have 4 wings, but the curator is sure this plant started as a male
Giant Sacaton / Sporobulus wrightii, massive and waving seedheads
delicate, silvery Boquillas Sage or Ranger / Leucophyllum candidum ‘Thunder Cloud’
that’s one amazing flower color
Giant Muhly / Muhlenbergia gigantea, a new grass to me
tall grasses waving always gets my interest
Vauquelinia corymbosa var. angustifolia…steady supplier of green
Turk’s Cap / Malvaviscus drummondii