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SPRUCING UP

Q I am trying to include some variety of evergreens in my landscapes instead of the same old spruces and junipers. Any suggestions to help me out? — Ann Arbor, Mich.

A Evergreens are the backbone of our landscapes, especially during the winter. As an undergraduate taking a “plant materials” class in the South, there were many to choose from; but in other climates, many plants fall off the list, either due to stress from wind, from heat, from cold, or it's just too dry or too wet for them. Luckily, there are researchers continually scouting harsh environments the world over in a quest to more completely fill out our plant palette. Michigan State University has developed a list of firs (Abies spp.) that may be suitable for colder climates. They have rated 12 species for cold hardiness, drought tolerance, soil pH preference and late budbreak (necessary in cold climates that also have fluctuating winter temperatures). For high pH soils (greater than 6.0), Abies balsamea, A. lasiocarpa, A. nephrolepis and A. veitchii are worth a try. For low pH soils (less than 5.0), they recommend Abies amabilis, A. fraseri, A. homolepis, A. nephrolepis, A. procera, A. sachalinensis, A. sibirica and A. veitchii. Plant a few of each that are unfamiliar to you and see how they perform. You can try them out in a less-visible location first, just be sure to choose somewhere with similar conditions as that area where you want to ultimately plant them (i.e. shade vs. sun, exposed vs. protected).

RECLAIM RESEARCH

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Q We keep hearing about how well turfgrasses handle irrigation with gray water. Is anyone researching gray water effects on ornamental plants? — via the internet.

A There is a wide variety of research taking place at universities and water departments as well as by end users, such as golf courses and landscapers. Various groups are testing water recycled from water fountains and irrigation systems; treated water; and various mixes of recycled water plus fresh water. Many grounds managers are performing their own studies. Results are varied, in that some species do well with water applied to the soil, others tolerate overhead irrigation and many grow more vigorously with reclaimed water compared to fresh water. The extra nitrogen, phosphorus and micronutrients can be beneficial. To perform your own research or begin utilizing reuse water, you should check with local and state water regulatory agencies. They may need to know the source, quality, quantity and use of reuse water. You may need to submit an operations and management plan, determine if you have water rights and be able to prove separation of the two sources of water: potable versus reclaimed.

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