Thursday, May 25, 2017

FAQ: We want to cover walls with evergreen plants to hide the brick.

Q. We have an outside patio behind our house and we want to cover two of the house walls around the patio with an evergreen plant, just to hide the brick that's pretty old. Is Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) a good plant for that? Will it destroy the brick wall? Should we run some fishing nylon strings on the wall so that plants' roots attach to the nylon instead of the wall? Or would you recommend another plant altogether?  We're in New York.

A. Creeping Fig wouldn't survive the winter in your area. It is cold-hardy to USDA climate zone 8. You are in climate zone 7. When I visited Washington Irving's home - Sunnyside - in Tarrytown a few years back, I was impressed by the wisteria and trumpet creeper that had overgrown it, but I personally wouldn't recommend the wisteria. 

Photo of Trumpet Creeper roots
Trumpet creeper is a possibility. My wife insisted on planting a Campis radicans (Trumpet creeper) against a wall. It also attaches by little roots, but I've been able to pull juvenile vines off the wall without damage to the wall. Mature vines leave some of their roots attached.

Boston ivy is often used to cover walls of buildings and highway sound barriers, but it is a species of Parthenocissus which has little discs at the ends of modified roots that look like suction cups. They vines are very difficult to remove from a wall once attached (if you ever decide to remove the vine). It is deciduous.

Hedera helix (English ivy and such) produces little roots that find cracks and crannies in the wall and worm their ways into them. This can cause damage when removing the ivy.

Arctic Kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta) is a beautiful vine and produces edible fruits, but it is deciduous. Five-leaf Akebia (Akebia quinata) could be a good choice, but is deciduous. So are many of the other vines popular in your area such as hops, clematis, trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens which is evergreen in the south but probably not in the north), climbing hydrangea, Schizophragma, etc.

One option would be to plant a climber next to your wall, let it grow and don't plan on pulling it off. Growing on the wall doesn't necessarily harm it; pulling it off does. After all these years, Sunnyside is still standing. Maybe the vines are holding it up.

Now that I'm thinking about it, you might consider a shrub or tree espalier to cover the walls.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

They don't call it Prickly Pear for nothin'.

Photo of Prickly Pear cactus flower

Opuntia ficus-indica (aka Smooth Mountain Prickly Pear, Indian Fig, Mission Cactus, Tuberous Prickly Pear, Nopal) is a perennial, evergreen cactus probably native to Mexico, but is found growing in many arid, warmer climates around the world. It grows from 4 to 20 feet tall, depending on growing conditions. It forms clumps of flattened pads, which are actually modified stems. Its pads are medium to grayish green. Clusters of sharp hairs known as glochids appear on the pads. The flowers are bright yellow, lasting for only one day. Fruit is pear-shaped, fleshy, and purple when mature. The pulp is reddish-purple with tiny, brownish seeds.
Opuntia ficus-indica fruit
Opuntia likes dry, well-drained, and sandy to rocky soil. It prefers full sun, tolerates heat and some cold, and will take some light shade.

The plant is cultivated for its fruits and pads which are used for food, medicine, condiments and beverages. Foods include nopalitos, prickly pear honey, prickly pear cheese, colonche – a fermented drink. Medicinal uses are said to include tea for kidney disease, flower paste for measles, and cancer treatment.

Prickly Pear has also been used for cattle feed. Large hedge-rows have been used for fencing, marking boundaries, and discouraging intruders.

Name(s): Opuntia ficus-indica, Smooth Mountain Prickly Pear, Indian Fig, Mission Cactus, Tuberous Prickly Pear, Nopal

Flower Color: Yellow.

Bloom Time: Spring

Foliage: Succulent, paddle/pear-shaped modified stems.

Height/Spread: 4 feet to 20 feet x 5 to 10 feet.

Climate Zones: 8, 9, 10

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, pH 6.1 to 7.7

Features: Drought tolerant, sculptural form, large yellow flowers, edible fruit and foliage.

Uses: Xeriscaping, succulent gardens, edible gardens, medicinal gardens, rock gardens, home security.

Comments: When planted as a hedge, Prickly Pear makes one helluva barrier against intruders. Planted around the home they are superb for homeland security.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Ten Simple Landscaping Ideas for Home/Land Security

Homeland security is in the news every day, but the problems seem so far away. Beside, we never expect violence in our own backyards. 
Don’t think it can’t happen to you. 

According to the FBI “there were an estimated 1,579,527 burglaries in 2015. Burglaries of residential properties accounted for 71.6 percent of all burglary offenses. Victims of burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.6 billion in property losses in 2015. The average dollar loss per burglary offense was $2,316.”

Most residential burglaries happen during the day when homeowners are away. There are more break-ins during summer months. The majorities are forced entry, but unlocked windows and doors make it easier.

Top items targeted are cash, electronics, jewelry, medications, firearms, tools, liquor, documents that facilitate identity theft, cars, bikes and such.

That’s scary. But did you know there are simple landscaping steps you can take to improve your home security against intruders?

Here are ten safety precautions:
  1. Choose low-growing foundation and border shrubs.
  2. Prune foundation shrubs to 3 feet high.
  3.  Use thorny plants for hedges, near windows and entrances.
  4. Avoid planting tall shrubs near garage and other entrances.
  5. Avoid planting trees next to the house.
  6. Do not construct sturdy trellises near the house that could be climbed.
  7. Lock up ladders and tools that could be used to gain entry.
  8. Use small gravel near the foundation to make noise when stepped upon.
  9.  Make sure you provide a clear view of your house from the road.
  10. Install night lighting around your home.
Keep these ideas in mind to make your home a safer place for yourself and your family.