Role of Landscaping as Catalyst for Urban Development
Dr. Mario A. Villarino, County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources
Urban Horticulture includes all of the various ways in which horticulture is used in an urban environment. In Sociohorticulture the term Urban Horticulture is applied to the use of horticulture as a tool in neighborhood development and rejuvenation. Garden programs can be used as catalysts to stimulate redevelopment of declining neighborhoods. The benefits of these garden programs can include production of fresh produce, beautification of the neighborhood, increased socialization within the neighborhood, reduction in litter and some types of crime, improved opinion of the neighborhood by the residents, increased self esteem, improvements to homes in the neighborhoods, return of small businesses to the neighborhood and empowerment of the residents to bring about further improvements to their neighborhood. Beautiful gardens create beautiful cities. Our communities benefit from gardens because the gardens increase the awareness of our surroundings. One of the most important limiting factors in creating beautiful gardens is of not knowing how to make the proper selections of plants, vegetables or trees for the landscapes. Previous failures or negative experiences can cost the landowner time and money. I have seen many homeowners trying to improve their lawn and landscapes and expressed to me the importance of learning the proper plant selections and how to care for the plants. There is great disappointment when over ground weeds take flower beds and lawns. One good alternative to reduce weed competition is the use of containers to grow and maintain plants in the landscape. One of the best examples of this is the use of miniature trees in pots as part of the renewed landscape. A good example of a miniature tree is the japanese maple tree. Refering to the Japanese Maple tree, Keith Hansen, CEA-Horticulture, Smith County wrote “East Texas has great conditions for growing these Asian beauties – much more favorable than the rest of the State. Our normally sufficient rainfall, acidic soils, and definite 4 seasons combine to provide great conditions for growing one of the most exotic groups of ornamental trees”. The term Japanese maple refers to a very large group of plants belonging mainly to Acer palmatum and Acer japonicum, although there are other species with similar characteristics. These have been bred and selected for hundreds of years in Japan, and selections from the USA and Europe are also available. They tend to easily mutate, and observant gardeners have been selecting and propagating these new forms for centuries. Hundreds of named varieties are in existence, though usually only a handful, at best, will be available through a local nursery outlet. However, there are specialty mail order nurseries that carry an extensive inventory of the less common types for the maple connoisseur and bonsai enthusiast.
Japanese maples are popular for their architectural form, and their lacy and delicate foliage, along with dramatic foliage colors both in spring and fall, thus making them excellent choices landscape accents and as specimen plants. One of the more popular forms of Japanese maples are the dissectum, or lace-leaf varieties with deeply divided and dissected leaves. These typically grow less than 15 feet tall, and have weeping and/or twisted branching, resulting in very picturesque plants, especially after the leaves have fallen. The upright forms can grow taller, but rarely get over 30 feet tall. Then there are the dwarf types that are better considered as shrubs, and although not tall, the need room to spread horizontally, All grow slowly, but patience pays off after a few years with a plant that only gets better with age. All named varieties, or cultivars, are grafted (they can be rooted from cuttings, though growth may not be as vigorous). Seedlings from named varieties, though different from their parents, often have good qualities of their own, and may revert back to a more simple form. Seedlings tend to be more vigorous and tolerant of adverse conditions. Japanese maples do best, in general, in partial sun, preferably with an eastern sunny exposure to promote leaf coloration, with protection from the western sun. Avoid full sun and sites with reflected heat. When grown in mostly shaded sites, they will not have as intense fall coloration as those receiving more sun. Green-foliaged varieties will tolerate almost full sun, while variegated varieties need even more shade. Maples must have good drainage. If soil is poorly drained, it should be amended with compost, aged bark, or other organic material to improve drainage, and the soil mounded up above grade at least 3 to 6 inches. This will insure that the crown of the tree will not be in soggy soil. The crown (where the roots and the trunk of the tree meet) should never be below grade.Frequent, regular watering will get your maple off to a good start. Maples do quite well with regular lawn watering and an occasional deep watering during extended dry times. The University of California did a study indicating that frequent watering in the first year of transplant is the single most effective thing you can do to increase your chance of success in new landscape plantings. Maples are not deep-rooted trees, but rather have a shallow, fine root system. A layer of mulch 3 or so inches deep of bark or shredded leaves over the soil will help keep the soil temperature moderated and conserve moisture. Be sure to pull the mulch away from the trunk slightly to prevent crown rot and insect damage. First and second year trees frequently show scorching on the leaf margins, especially the dissectum types. Usually the more exposed they are to the sun, the more marginal burning will be seen. This is not unusual and should cease once the plant is well-established, though some varieties may continue to develop scorched leaf margins in the late summer. Young trees planted in sunny exposures should have their trunks wrapped the first couple of years with tree wrap. This may also help deter squirrels from stripping bark. For more information in this or other agricultural topics please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.