Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shade and Food All in One - Making your Land Work for You

     The sun is shining, the sky a clear blue and it is actually not cold today.  That makes it an inviting day to do spring planting.  Although it is still a bit early for your tender plants, it is still a good time to begin planning your planting.  It is a perfectly fine time to plant shrubs and trees and you still have time to do the last of that winter pruning that you should have done in January but put off for a warmer day.  In other words, there are outlets for that pull of the great outdoors to do springtime activities.
     While you are thinking about changes to your property, consider making your land work for you.  Whether you have a small urban lot or a large tract of land, you can add edibles to your site.  The yard does not need to be merely ornamental; although your edibles can also be aesthetically pleasing.
     Do you need shade trees?  Why not plant trees that provide shade and produce nuts? There are a number of trees to choose from and they each have their unique shapes and assets.
     If you live in the South, a couple of pecan trees can be really lovely.  They have an open vase shape and large compound leaves that give them an interesting summer texture.  Flowers are long 'string of pearls' catkins that come out in the mid-spring.  The trees are native to North America and were a major source of food for the American Indians.  In their native environment, they grow in river valleys and are found in soils with relatively high water contents.
The lovely open shape of a grove of mature pecan trees
     For your site, plant them in well drained, deep soils and in places where they will not be subjected to extensive amount of frost.  Try to avoid really low spots where cold tends to settle, especially at night.  Consider these trees to be a long term planting.  It will take at least ten years before you can expect to see any nuts on your trees and they will not reach maturity until they are about twenty years old.  They will live to be 200 to 300 years old, though.  Because of the timing of the male and female flowering, you should plant at least two to three trees on your site and it is preferable to have each one be a different variety.  This will ensure a better fruiting from each tree.
     Closely related to the pecan and also a great choice for a tree planting is the hickory.  A number of varieties of hickory are also native to North America.  Like pecan trees, you will need to plant at least two to three trees to get good pollination, and they will prefer similar conditions to those for pecans.  Hickories are a bit hardier though and will definitely thrive and bear fruit at much colder temperatures and in areas with much shorter growing seasons.  They have a more pyramidal shape than pecan trees and they also have the large compound leave of the rest or their genus.
     The other nut tree that makes a great addition to any property is the walnut.  There are a number of different walnut varieties available, and of them the black walnut is actually native to North America.  In good conditions, walnut trees will also live 200 years or more.  They require deep, fertile, moist but well drained soil.  They can take periodic flooding and actually grow along stream banks, but they cannot take long term flooding or flooding that occurs frequently during the production season.  Walnuts have a wider range than the other two trees.  They can be found growing naturally as far north as Minnesota and as far south as the Florida pan handle and mid Texas. 
     Walnuts have a broad spreading crown and large compound leaves.  Like pecans and hickory, they need a minimum of two to three trees to be planted within close proximity in order to ensure good fruiting.  It is also important to note that walnuts produce a chemical that they release into the soil around their root system that suppresses competing plant growth; so plan to have them in a bedded area.
     Though most people do not usually think of nut production when they are planning on planting shade trees, they can have both.  Plant nut trees for shade trees and make your land work for you in more than just an aesthetic way.

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