Selecting Dwarf Apple Trees for Small City Landscapes

Dwarf Apple Tree (Liberty ) with fruit in Cedar Hills Portland Landscape Design

Dwarf Liberty Apple Tree after pruning with fruit

Selecting Dwarf Apple Trees for Small City Landscapes

Recently I specified apple trees for a client with a small yard. I chose ‘Liberty’ for disease resistance and flavor and ‘Akane’.  Along with the name of the apple I wanted, I also specified which dwarfing root stock.  Why should we care about what root stock my apple tree is grafted on?  The first step to success in selecting dwarf apple trees for small city landscapes is picking the right root stock.  I define success as planting fruit trees that stay small but produce lots of fruit and are easy to care for. I picked an EMLA 26 for the ‘Liberty’ and an EMLA27 for the ‘Akane’ which we put into a container.

Dwarf Apple Tree Selection Tip

Please do not buy an apple tree with a tag that only says dwarf.  If the tag does not identify the specific root stock you have no idea how big the tree will be.  Given the small yards most people have these days….not knowing the size your tree will grow to is a mistake that will cause you grief literally as you remove a tree that you cannot manage just when it’s finally producing lots of fruit.

Why Plant Dwarf Apple Trees?

There are many excellent reasons to plant a dwarf apple tree grown on specialized root stock.

  1. Dwarf trees are compact.  If you are a beginner, you probably are in love with having a garden and want everything, all at once. Dwarf trees give you more room for “everything;” because they don’t use much room in the back yard.  Semi dwarf can be 18′ feet tall or more……..that is not small.
  2. Portland area landscape design with Dwarf Liberty Apple Tree pruned in Cedar Hills Oregon.

    Liberty Apple Tree pruned by homeowner

    Smaller trees make picking and thinning the fruit easier.  Dwarf trees produce lots of easy-to-reach fruit. This is very important, especially during the first few years, when you thin (pick off) half or more of the immature fruit so your tree can develop the strong wood it needs for a long and fruitful life. Some apple varieties require you pick all the flowers off for a couple of years which would be hard to do on a ladder.

  3. Spraying is easier, too.  When you learn how to spray the tree with a dormant oil, it will be so easy to completely coat the stems and the areas where the buds will break because you will be able to reach them. Check out this Spring Spraying of fruit tree coating a [watch video] tree with a dormant oil spray.
  4. Modern dwarf fruit tree rootstocks help you avoid common problems.  Please, please, please, don’t buy a tree with a label that just says “dwarf apple” or “mini pear” on the label.  The impulsive buy may cause you to miss all the fruits of recent horticultural progress.  Some root stocks in addition to dwarfing the size of the tree, allow your tree to thrive in heavy clay, you won’t get that from a non-specified root stock.  Instead, make sure that it tells you which specific rootstock the tree is grafted to. For example the label could say something like “EMLA 27 creates a 4-to-6-foot tall and wide tree, grows well in containers, tolerates clay soils and is resistant to rot and other diseases.”
  5. Espaliered apple tree in Milwaukie Oregon landscape design.Pruning a smaller tree is physically less work. You won’t even need a ladder.  Brainy Garden has a video on pruning dwarf fruit trees.  Pruning is not a no brainer.  Many sources conflict with each other on how much you should prune…..so best is a class from a local nursery or through the Home Orchard Society.  Not pruning promises that your little trees will rip and tear their branches from the weight of too many apples, so get some help.

Resources for Dwarf Apple Trees

This list of modern rootstocks and their characteristics gives you an idea of  how critical (and cool) it is to select the right root stock for your fruit tree.  I could come up with some more reasons, but you can see how dwarf fruit trees are perfect for how most of us live and garden—in smaller yards with less time but no less plant lust.   RainTree Nursery, One Green World or Burnt Ridge Nursery are three sources for special rootstock apple trees and more.

Landscape design includes dwarf apple trees 'Sentinel' take little space planted against the south wall in NE Portland.

Sentinel Apple Trees take little room in this south facing garden.

Don’t want to figure out which rootstock?

Talk to an expert at one of these specialty growers:   RainTree Nursery, One Green World or Burnt Ridge Nursery or The Home Orchard Society.  Portland Nursery (503-231-5050) has a specialist on staff who orders their fruit trees and they will be knowledgeable about root stocks.   Call ahead to be sure their expert is in.

 

Rose City Front Yard Landscaping With No Grass

Rose City residential front yard in need of child friendly landscape design.

Rose City Front Yard Landscaping With No Grass

Here is a classic Rose City Portland bungalow with a tiny front yard. My clients Julia and Bruce wanted a welcoming no lawn entry garden. They were planning to raise their family in this home so they wanted a landscape design for the long term. The front yard had difficult, near hostile growing conditions. Large trees to the south blocked sun and used up water and nutrients leaving little for other plants. Julia and Bruce had dealt with the greedy tree roots by installing raised beds for veggies in the front but then their new “Friends of Trees” street trees had grown to the point the veggies were not getting enough sun. The raised beds created a barrier, and made the walk to the front door too narrow. The raised beds had to go.

Landscape Designers Take

Our landscape design needs to solve these problems.

We need welcoming paths and walk that easily accommodate strollers and for extracting children from car seats. There was no path from the driveway to the front walk. They wanted some colorful plants and also winter interest for the front entry. They were ready to lose the raised beds and wanted to have professionals install the new front yard landscape. They wanted low maintenance in the front so they could focus their yard work efforts in the back where they have fruit trees and some edibles.

Julia and Bruce like and enjoy plants and when they have time, they like to play gardener so our planting plan needed to have spark…….but stay low maintenance in the front so they could focus their yard work efforts in the back.

Our plants need to be able to thrive in a hostile environment so the plants needed to be selected by an experienced garden designer. Our new plants will thrive in difficult light, soil full of greedy tree roots and become able to thrive with less water and little maintenance as they mature. The plants also need to be useful to birds, and insects including bees, providing food over a long period of time. Many plants will have color and interest year round and create a view from inside the house looking out the picture window. The current view was a neighbors driveway and a large number of garbage cans.

Unique Light Situation – Hot Shade

While they are not the only Portlanders who have trees blocking light, I want to point out that south facing yards with deciduous shade trees  require thoughtful planting for success. I call it hot shade. There is no morning light. The afternoon light will fall between the leaves of the neighboring trees and the plants will receive dappled light for intermittent periods of time. Late afternoon the front yard will get a blast of direct hot sun for at least an hour before the street trees leaves filter the summer sun into dapples again. The dappled light will support many kinds of plants nutritionally, (remember plants eat sunlight)  but the blast of full sun will toast deep shade plants leaves. There are not enough hours of  light to support full sun plants. Yep not fair!

In between plants for Rose City residential front yard landscape design.Solving This Dilemma

Internet authorities and plant books have lists of plants for shade and sun primarily but there is an entire universe of what I call “between plants”. For this tough little Portland front yard, I selected “shade” plants that I know will take quite a bit of sun. Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’  is one such plant. The first summer its leaves will scorch and so I always tell clients what to expect so they don’t think I’m off my rocker. The second summer there will be less leaf scorch if proper watering occurs. Not every Brunnera variety will tolerate afternoon sun dappled or not but ‘Jack Frost’ will.

Closer to the sidewalk and more sun, I selected (more “between plants'”) full sun plants that I know will tolerate some shade.  They don’t require 10 hours of direct sun to thrive.  Most black eyed Susan (rudbeckia) are listed as full sun plants but I have used them happily in part shade areas. Those dapples of light make enough food for them.  They are a perfect example of a “between plant’.

The sun was more intense and less dappled closer to the sidewalk so I placed the more sun tolerant plants there, including hens and chicks, summer flowering heather (calluna vulgaris) lavender and the strawberry tree. The strawberry tree was planted on a mound to help it thrive because it needs excellent drainage and this is a flat yard, and also to give it a head start from the big trees greedy roots. When the strawberry tree matures, the lavender will have to be removed as there will be too much shade for them at that point.

Portland hardscape path in Rose City residential front yard landscape design.Hardscape

We installed a path to the front walk from the driveway. There were a few muddy small flagstones there before. We actually walked though the motions of unloading a child from a child seat to sell ourselves on the idea of making the path even wider. When the front yard is so small it can seem wrong, or at least sad, to add more hardscape and take away room for plants; but being able to get kids and their accessories out of the car without contortion is a lovely thing.

The landscape contractor, D & J Landscape Contracting, used large flagstone to create this path and it’s so exactly what my clients wanted. It’s quiet beauty and thoughtful placement of each flagstone enhances the entire entry experience.

Potted dogwood for Rose City Portland landscape design.Foundation Planting Trick – Pot up that Red Twig Dogwood

For a little winter drama we planted a red twig dogwood in an attractive pot for the entry pizzazz. There is enough sun (remember those dapples!) to allow the twigs to go a dark red in the winter and have green and cream leaves for spring through summer and a bit of fall color.  If the twigs are in too much shade, there will not be pretty red twigs in winter and that would not produce the drama we want for winter.

Too often these narrow planting beds next to a house have vine maple or other small trees planted in a 36″ wide bed. This turns out badly because soon it will have to be deeply whacked just so people can use the walkway.  This will happen with my red twig dogwood too unless we cheat.

This is one tough plant and a great performer but it is not a forever carefree solution because it will get too big. They will have to remove the shrub/small tree red twig dogwood from the pot every 3 years and whack at least 1/3rd to 1/2 of the roots off or it will crack a glazed ceramic pot. You can plant it in a plastic pot and not have to root prune it.  Then in perhaps 5 to 7 years you will have to cut the pot off the plant, root prune the plant and put it in a new pot.

Their Google Review of Landscape Design in a Day

‘Listens to what you want (bird habitat, hosting, kids play area, privacy, interior views, etc.) and then draws up plans to fit your needs. Happy to refine the plans until it fits just right.

Great knowledge of plants. Chooses ones to accentuate your favorite season and colors.

Easy to work with. Had great references for contractors and where to source materials for a self completed project.’  Bruce and Julia

Strawberry tree focal point in residential Rose City landscape design.The Plants

Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’   Dwarf Strawberry Tree will become our focal point for the front entry  and our picture window view.

This large shrub or small tree looks wonderful in winter with its red “strawberries” and yes the fruit drop can be a little messy. If you are a neat nik pass on this plant.  My clients loved the color of the bark, color of the berries and are prepared to deal with some fruit drop. Butterflies use this plant for a host so don’t be alarmed if you see a large number of one kind of caterpillar on it. Do nothing and enjoy the show. The berries don’t taste good to people but some birds will eat them if hard pressed.

This tree will have a sinuous cinnamon barked trunk and branches and will become the focal point. Because it is evergreen it will also provide my clients with a view of something other than the  driveway and garbage cans across the street from their picture window. It’s all about the shape of the small tree so I suggest either no pruning or having a pro come and visit every five years. It’s very low water needs and will tolerate the hot sun and reflected heat from the driveway and sidewalk too so it fits our site perfectly.

Plant List

Arbutus Unedo Compacta – Dwarf Strawberry Tree

Azorella Trifurcata ‘Nana’ – Dwarf Cushion Bolax

Brunnera Macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ – Siberian Bug gloss

Azorella t. 'Nana' Cushion Bolax steppable ground cover in Rose City Park landscape design.

Azorella t. ‘Nana’ Cushion Bolax steppable ground cover.

Callunla vulgaris a perfect evergreen groundcover for Portland Oregon residential landscape design.

3″ high cascading textural wonder ground cover (photo from Singing Gardens)

Calluna Vulgaris – Summer Heather

Residential Landscape Design Portland Oregon Ice Dance Carex Grass with Sky Pencil Holly

Ice Dance Carex Grass with Sky Pencil Holly

Carex Morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ – Evergreen Grass

Daphne Odora ‘Marginata’ – Variegated Winter Daphne (existing)

Erica Carnea - Early Spring Flower Color attracts honey bee. Used in Portland residential landscape design.

Erica Carnea

Erica Carnea – Spring Heather

Rudbeckia f. ‘Little Goldstar’ – Dwarf Black Eyed Susan

Sword Fern - Polystichum munitum in Portland SW Hills in residential landscape design.

Sword Fern (Polystichum Munitum)

Polystichum Munitum – Native Sword Fern (existing and new plants)

Saxifraga ‘London’s Pride’ – Groundcover

Sedum ‘Cape Blanco’ – flower food for brown elfin butterfly and groundcover for landscape

Hen and Chicks in Portland residential landscape design

Remember: no mulch over your Hen and Chicks to avoid rot

Sempervirens – Hens and Chicks

Vaccinium Ovatum – Huckleberry (existing) host for brown elfin butterfly

Does this Portland residential project inspire your front yard? Contact me to see how I can help your landscape design.

 

Irvington Backyard Landscape Design Creates Haven for Entertaining

After Irvington landscape design.

Irvington Backyard Landscape Design Creates Haven for Entertaining

My clients, Dan and Patti, moved to Portland to be close to family, especially their grandchildren. The previous owner of this sweet 1920 bungalow in the Irvington neighborhood had used the backyard primarily as a place to park a large RV. The shed was located to face the driveway and a concrete pad for parking the RV was the main focus of the backyard. My new clients like to live and entertain in their back yard. Irvington property looking for help with landscape design.They would be providing childcare for a handful of grand kids several days a week so room for kids to run and play was critical but knew they didn’t want any lawn.

The collaborative style of a Landscape Design in a Day was very attractive to them. They were happy to measure and draft their existing property for me. Most clients do their own measuring. If the lot is sloped or especially difficult, we will do the measuring and drafting. We talked about their goals and possibilities of their site.  Their backyard abuts a large Portland park. They can watch movies that are played in the park from their backyard. They enjoy the sound of soccer games and kids playing. The park also provides two large shade trees near the property line that are well placed and provide cooling and privacy. As we talked we created a scope for the landscape design.

Want List

Integrate functional play space for the kids into a garden design

They didn’t want the landscape to look like a play yard

Keep the large shed (more about the shed later)

Custom sandbox in Portland Irvington area backyard. A large custom-built sandbox

(They had a construction design for a big sand box to incorporate into the design.)

Outdoor dining for large fourth of July family gatherings and summer birthdays

A lounging area for just the two of them with a heat source

Lots of flower power and foliage leaf color for Patty who loves the NW green foliage but misses the colorful exuberance of a sunny California flower garden

Designer Solutions:

Irvington backyard shed required in new landscape design.Existing Shed:  There was a large existing shed and when they said they wanted to keep it but were willing to relocate it, I breathed a sigh of relief. The sheds existing location was a roadblock to a successful use of the space. I’m happy to accommodate my clients requests unless the request conflicts with having what they want. It’s my job to know when someone’s good idea is going to be a problem so I would have gone into my best persuasive methods but happily I did not have to.

Relocating shed in Irvington backyard landscape design.The outdoor dining room: The sheds new location made a perfect wall that defined the dining room and gave us a place to hang a buffet board that would serve food and beverages for both the lounging and dining room area. It helps with screening out an unwanted view.

I added further definition to the dining room with a stone planter that also separated the large (very cool) sandbox from the dining area.

We created a large curved berm which serves 3 functions:

1. The path around the berm is great for kids running around.

2. We created a kids play area behind the berm. Their grandparents added a sun sail to protect them from the hot sun and to make it feel even more like a fort or hidey hole. The corner area is big enough for many kid activities.

3. Berming up the soil makes it a perfect place to plant Japanese Maples. They can get verticillium wilt here in Portland but rarely do when planted on a berm.

Kids corner in Irvington landscape design.The spacious lounging area is conveniently located off the back door.

In addition to using colorful plants in the backyard, the south side of the backyard has an edibles area and flowers for cutting.

They hired my favorite landscape contractor Donna Burdick to install and Donna and I worked together on various issues for a fantastic installation experience.

Patti’s Review

“We are thrilled with the designs she created for both our front and backyards, which were executed and installed by D & J Landscape Contractors (another highly recommended company).  The yards have been transformed into welcoming, beautiful spaces that we appreciate every day, whether we’re looking at our new views out the windows, or enjoying dinner outside”.Mixed materials for Irvington hardscapes in landscape design.

Hardscape Materials

We used mutual materials for the patio pavers and the paths were compacted 1/4 minus crushed rock with steel edging. The soil was prepped and irrigation was installed. The stone planter walls are mortar set basalt locally sourced.

Colorful Plants for Patti

Here are a few of the more colorful plants we used

Specialty hydrangeas from Joy Creek Nursery

Coreopsis ‘Big Bang’

Crocosmia  ‘Lucifer’

Echinacea ‘Kim’s Knee High’

Fuschia magellinica – Hardy fuchsia ‘Golden Gate’ and ‘Beacon Red’ and ‘Double Otto’

Locally sourced basalt mortared planters in Irvington landscape design.Heuchera – Coral Bell ‘Purple Petticoat’, ‘Lime Marmalade’, ‘Havana’, ‘Paris’ and ‘Fire Chief’ for hot foliage colors and flowers

Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ Japanese Forest Grass- stone planter

Berginia C ‘Baby Doll’ – stone planter

Hosta ‘Halcyon’ (blue foliage)

A trio of classic Peony, ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, ‘Red Charm’ and ‘Duchess de Nemours’

Dicentra ‘Goldheart’ – gold leafed bleeding heart

Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’-gold leafed mexican orange shrub

If you’re looking in the Portland area for a new landscape, contact me to see how we can work to design your property.

 

 

Water Features for Dog Friendly Landscapes

Dog friendly water feature in Willamette Heights neighborhood Portland Oregon

Jack and his water bowl

Water Features for Dog Friendly Landscapes

Lots of dogs love water.  It’s just a fact of life.

And sometimes, or maybe all of the time, when I have clients with a furry friend, the dogs “opinions” are part of the equation when designing a new landscape for the whole family.  There are many aspects of  a landscape design to consider when creating a compatible situation for two species.  Water features are one aspect.  People and dogs want to enjoy the water feature but they have different ideas about what is fun.  For people the sound of water can make a landscape feel like a garden and has a way of taking a space and turning it into a place.  Dogs have different ideas.

I started using echo chambers to create water features for my clients some 20 years ago when the echo chamber (designed by local Lew Smith) was a new thing.  They were safe for kids and easier to care for but then I saw how much the dogs loved them and that if I planned well most dogs could interact with the echo chamber water feature without harming it or themselves.

Take Jack Hofmann, a dog who knew a good thing when he saw it.

Jack and his Echo Chamber

I was hired to create a new entry design for a sweet old Portland craftsman home.  Technically the water feature was designed and placed to enhance the  new entry and to see it from inside the dining room.  Now Jack is kind of a one person dog, so he never fawned over me, much as I would have liked that. He would remember me politely when I came to check on his guardians landscape but when the water feature was installed, he claimed it immediately as his own and posed for me. He knows where his new toy came from.

I wasn’t the only one smitten by Jack’s photo. I was interviewed for an article in Houzz (check it out!) and his mug was featured in  “Protecting Your Pet From Your Yard and Your Yard From Your Pet”  a comprehensive article about dog friendly landscapes.

Jack’s “water bowl” is pottery plumbed into an Echo Chamber, which is a steel box under the pottery.  It creates an easy to care for water feature with great sound and because it has a dry return instead of a pond, it’s safer for kids.  There is no pond to worry about or a liner you need to keep safe from dog claws.  Read more about Echo Chambers in this blog post.

Water Feature for dog friendly landscape Portland, Oregon

This black lab thinks the water feature was set up to quench her thirst.

Zoey’s Spitting Frog Fountain

Some dogs specifically like to drink the water and make a game of it.  Does your dog love it when you get out the garden hose?  Your dog would love a water feature.  Zoey, a plump black lab loves water. This frog spitter fountain is an  inexpensive water feature that pleases people and the pups.  It’s safe for kids because no pond. The water pump recirculates the water through the frog and is under the round rock surface safe from doggy attention.

Remember to design access to the water for the dog and for kids too. If you plant all around it, expect those plants to be trampled.

Water Feature hydrant for dog friendly landscapeFireplug Water Feature

My client Patrick is a retired firefighter. He plumbed an old fire hydrant to use with his echo chamber.  The water feature was specifically designed for his dogs to drink out of.  The dogs loved their fire hydrant water feature and their new back yard which had two fences running parallel at the back property line.  This plant-less space between the fences was their  daily race way.

The Big Rock

Standard poodles and the neighbors kids loved the big rock (Montana Mud 8′ across) water feature which was a focal point for a home in Raliegh Hills.   I would find tiny little plastic toys and tennis balls tucked here and there, evidence of neighbor kids and tennis ball obsessed poodles who played in this water feature.  My clients thought this was adorable and loved how this unusual water feature looked with their NW Natural style front yard.

Water feature for dog friendly landscape in Raliegh Hills Portland Oregon

A fun water feature for two poodles.

 

For many people, life is better with a dog and designing a happy outdoor life for two species, not just one, is what makes happiness for this designer too.

 

Mud Free Dogs-Dog Friendly Landscape Designer

Options for Dog Friendly Landscaping in Portland Oregon

In my years working with my clients designing dog friendly yards, I’ve come up with many strategies to prevent my client’s dogs from bringing the outside in.  In the summer it might be a stick which you can easily throw, and in the fall; it’s a few leaves. But here in Portland, Oregon, winter and spring means mud. And mud is not so easy to stop at the door.  So is it even possible to have a mud free dog in Portland, Oregon?  The solution starts with your  experienced dog friendly landscape designer.

Mud Free Newfoundland Dogs

Cedar chips are recommended by dog friendly landscape designer

Sweet puppy Luna napping in the cedar chips

The changes we made to the landscape for Jackie and Kurt in Tigard have saved hours of grooming and large dog bathing.  Their Newfoundlands are now clean and free of mud and can come in to the family room and hang out with their humans. This was a side benefit of their Landscape Design in a Day.

Their old house comes with huge magnificent old Douglas Fir trees and lots of shade. Where there was shade, there was mud. Prior to installing our landscape design, the dogs could not come into the house at all because they were extremely muddy. I was hired to design a new entry and garden for the front yard and to provide garden coaching for the backyard. No one was talking about having mud free dogs. They could not imagine it enough to ask for it.

It’s my job to solve landscape problems for the entire family. Kurt and Jackie used my special cedar chips to create a mud free woodland “floor” in their Douglas Fir Forest. It’s beautiful even now, ten years later, the dogs are clean and poop is easy to scoop even in the winter.

cedar chips for dog play yard in Portland, Oregon

Elana and her brother play in a cedar chip yard just for them and are mud free.

Play Yard for Rhodsesian Ridge Backs

Cedar chips also worked well for another client with two large dogs, Rhodesian ridge backs. We created an enclosed area with plenty of room to rough house, so they were very happy in their new play yard.  They didn’t track mud in the house (which made their guardian and my client happy) and other spaces around the property  now have a far more aesthetically pleasing garden design. Heads up: If you have 2 large dogs who love to wrestle and chase, the cedar chips will eventually hill up in  some areas and you will need to rake it out to keep a flat play space for the pups.

Raised Beds Create Running Paths for Poodles Back Yard

round wood edging defines cedar chip path in Portland, Oregon

The short wood edging provided enough to keep two standard poodles down the right path.

Yet another family had full sized standard poodles. Poodles are smart and they have a lot of energy.   Many times, dogs (and the landscape plants) benefit from having clear paths installed to circle around and around and around. It’s a lovely way to  play chase and get lots of exercise without the hard impact on their hips and backs that concrete or pavers do.  A simple 12 inch raised bed can often be enough to point the pups in the right direction and build their running patterns. Once the plants fill in,  most pups will stay on the paths and keep their feet mud free. In this scenario, you may need to protect your plants for the first growing season with a temporary barrier like a short wire fence or use plants that are either tough enough to handle tromping or can slightly repel the dogs because of smell.

Plant Tip:  Hardy Geranium leaves (Geranium macrorrhizzum) smells like cedar if bruised.  Dogs will play near by happily but don’t walk or lie in it because of the smell.    I would never use plants with an odor that would hurt or cause discomfort to a dogs sensitive nose.

Hardy geranium and sword fern are two of my favorite dog friendly landscape plants for Portland Oregon.

Sword fern and hardy geranium in a raised bed work well for a dog friendly planting.

Creating landscape designs for dogs and their guardians is a joy and one of the perks of my profession.  Read more ‘Protecting Your Yard from Your Pet and Your Pet from Your Yard’ on Houzz for an interview with your dog friendly landscape designer Carol Lindsay written by Gwendolyn Purdom. And make an appointment for your own dog friendly landscaping!