Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Pine trees, with occasional grapes

So, remember those grape cuttings I got a while back? I'm happy to report that after almost a month in pots, I'm getting healthy growth from the majority. The Valhallah grapes are even trying to set flowers this year, see?

That's kind of nuts for a cutting that's just barely rooted, but the cutting doesn't know that. I'll pinch the flower bunches off soon, so it puts more of its energy into producing roots and vegetation. Next year I'll let it make some grapes so I can judge their quality. Valhallah is by far the most precocious of the cuttings I've received, and the easiest to root as well. The next-most vigorous is Elvicand, which makes sense, since Valhallah is a hybrid with Elvicand in its ancestry. After that, we get Ben Hur, which is pushing out buds but not growing anywhere near the rate of the first two. I'm curious about Ben Hur, as T.V. Munson, the breeder who created the type back in the late 1800s, described it as similar to Black Spanish (aka Lenoir) in most respects for use in winemaking, but had far higher disease resistance. The one that's disappointed thus far is Wapanuka, a white table grape type. It's not sprouted. Its buds aren't even swelling. Of the four varieties, only it showed little sign of callusing before I potted it up. Fortunately, the cuttings haven't taken on that sickly gray color of dead wood. It's still brown, with thin strips of papery bark peeling away. I'll wait a few weeks before slicing into the bark to see if there's still green tissue underneath, but at this point I don't know if it'll root or not. Patience is going to be my companion on this one.

My big effort this weekend involved planting a pine forest. It's not actually a forest, but I can pretend, can't I? See, pine trees don't grow well here on the edge of the Hill Country. The soil is to alkaline. But I ordered 25 piñon pine seedlings from West Texas Nursery, and they came in a few weeks ago. These grow out in West Texas where what little soil there is is alkaline and rain is sparse. Comal County is at the easternmost edge of its listed growing range, so they may or may not survive for me. I initially wanted the Texas piñon (aka Remote Piñon pine) but they're rare in the nursery trade. This is the closely-related species, Pinus edulis, which isn't as good a match for my area, but we'll see what happens.

The reason I did not plant them right away is because the space in the back corner of our yard where they were to go had been overrun with more of that damn Carolina jasmine. I spent Saturday attacking the overgrown mass with pruning shears, a hedge trimmer and chainsaw. This is what I cleared out:

In the landscaped areas in the backyard, the previous owners thought that covering the ground with stone would be a good idea. It's whitish stuff, marble or limestone maybe, and a huge pain in the ass. It doesn't suppress weed or grass growth at all, does little to retain moisture and is difficult to dig through or move around. To make matters worse, at some point they decided new landscape fabric was necessary to control weeds, so instead of pulling up the old stuff they simply laid a new layer on top--with about six inches of soil between the two. Talk about headache-inducing! In this section, though, it appears there is only one layer of landscape fabric (probably because of that monstrous jasmine). I used the trusty hoe to move the rocks and accumulated dirt/roots/mulch to expose the fabric.

Then I used my utility knife to slice a hole maybe a foot across in the fabric, and a sharpshooter shovel to finish the hole.

Here's where it gets interesting. The seedling pines arrived in conical planting containers. I've never seen anything like this before. The trees are not terribly easy to extract from these, especially without damaging the roots.

But the roots! Oh, my, they are packed in tightly! Some are even potentially girdling the young tree. This will never do.

Although the planting instructions on the West Texas Nursery site seem to recommend planting as-is, I felt it prudent to separate the roots. These were so small I just used my fingers to break up the soil and knotted roots, and after a short bit had a nice, frizzy cluster of roots.

Everything after that was pretty straightforward. I planted the seedlings in the holes then refilled with soil. In some instances large rocks came out of the hole, so there wasn't enough soil to go back in, in which case I filled a bucket with alluvial soil/clay from the drainage out front and used that to supplement the hole. Afterwards, I replaced the landscape fabric, covered with stone and mulch, then watered each tree with a gallon or so of water.

All in all, I planted 10 trees here, roughly 2.5-3 feet apart. This is closer than the recommended spacing, but I expect a fairly high mortality rate. In any event, it'll be years before they're big enough to worry about crowding, and even then they're relatively small trees. If I'm lucky, by then they'll be producing edible nuts. I've still got 15 seedlings left, and I plan to put some out in the front yard and pot up others to hold in reserve as insurance in case I have a big die off. The pine forest might not look like much now, but give it 10 years and you might even be able to tell there are trees planted there.

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Complete Roost Recordings
Chicken Ranch Central

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