Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Featured Plant of The Day: Fraser Fir

Abies fraseri
    Fraser Fir,  Southern Balsam Fir

Type    Tree, woody plant
Hardy range    4A to 7A
Height    30' to 50' / 9.20m to 15.20m
Spread    15' to 20' / 4.60m to 6.00m
Growth rate    Slow
Form    Pyramidal
Exposure    Partial shade or partial sun to full sun
Persistence    Evergreen

Bloom Color    Red
Bloom Time    Spring

EnvironmentThis plant tolerates occasional wetness and salt well.
This plant will grow in occasionally wet soil.
Suitable soil is well-drained/loamy, sandy or clay.
The pH preference is an acidic to neutral (less than 6.8 to 7.2) soil.

 Leaf Color    Green
Fall Color    No change in fall color

 Native Habitat
Only fir endemic to the southern Appalachian Mountains in eastern North America. Native habitat receives 75 to 100 inches of annual precipitation on upper slopes. Average summer temperatures rarely exceed 60 degrees F and fog is a common occurrence. Soils are often rocky and thin with a pH 3.5 to 4.2. Found mostly above 5500 feet but can grow down to 4500 on northern slopes.

 Landscape Uses
-    Screen
-    Specimen

 Attributes and Features
-    Christmas tree
-    Inconspicuous blooms
-    Inconspicuous fruit
-    Fruit attracts animals

Culture Notes
Best for moist to wet soils in the mountains near its native habitat, but adapts to dry sites as well. Firs like an organic soil or organic matter incorporated into the potential root zone. Makes one of the nicest Christmas trees and is very popular.  Annual fertilization in the Christmas tree farm has been found to increase the retail value by 20%.

This is a tree best saved for planting in the mountains and not brought to the landscapes on the piedmont and coastal planes. Roots of firs are usually shallow and grow straight out from the trunk. Needles are less fragrant than A. balsamea. Red squirrels love the terminal buds and seeds.  This plant is considered mostly allergy free and causes little or no allergy problems in most people.

Maintain adequate mulch area

Be sure to clear all turf away from beneath the branches and mulch to the drip line (the edge of the branches), especially on young trees, to reduce competition with turf and weeds.  This will allow roots to become well established and keep plants healthier.  Locate the tree properly, taking into account the ultimate size, since the tree looks best if it is not pruned to control size.  The tree can enhance any landscape with its delightful spring flush of foliage.  It can be the centerpiece of your landscape if properly located.

Tree establishment specifications

Choose good quality trees for planting. The most common cause of young tree failure is planting too deep.  In most instances, the point where the top-most root in the root ball originates from the trunk (referred to as the root flare zone or root collar) should be located just above the soil surface.  You may have to dig into the root ball to find the root flare. If there is nursery soil over this area, scrape it off. Never place ANY soil over the root ball. The planting hole should be at least twice the width of the root ball, preferably wider because roots grow best in loose soil.  In all but exceptional circumstances where the soil is very poor, extensive research clearly shows that there is no need to incorporate any amendments into the backfill soil. Simply use the loosened soil that came out of the planting hole. Simply planting with the topmost portion of the root ball slightly higher than the surrounding soil might still install the tree too deep - be sure to locate the root flare.

Weed suppression during establishment is essential.  Apply a 3-inch thick layer of mulch to at least a six-foot diameter circle around the tree. This area should be at least two feet in diameter for each inch of tree trunk diameter and maintained during the establishment period.  Apply a thinner layer of mulch directly over the root ball but keep it at least 10 inches from the trunk. This allows rainwater, irrigation and air to easily enter the root ball and keeps the trunk dry.  Placing mulch against the trunk and applying too thick a layer above the root ball can kill the plant by oxygen starvation, death of bark, stem and root diseases, prevention of hardening off for winter, vole and other rodent damage to the trunk, keeping soil too wet, or repelling water.

Regular irrigation after planting encourages rapid root growth that is essential for tree establishment.  Trees provided with regular irrigation through the first growing season after transplanting require about 3 months (hardiness zones 9-11), 6 months (hardiness zones 7-8), or one year or more (hardiness zones 2-6) per inch of trunk diameter to fully establish roots in the landscape soil. Trees in desert climates may take longer to establish.  Trees that are under-irrigated during this establishment period (and most trees are) often require additional time to establish because roots grow more slowly.   Be prepared to irrigate through the entire establishment period, especially during periods of drought.

Irrigation also helps maintain and encourage the desirable dominant leader in the tree canopy on large-maturing trees.  Instead of a dominant leader, trees that are under-irrigated during the establishment period often develop undesirable, low, co-dominant stems and double leaders that can split from the tree later.

Unlike established plants, which do best with deep, infrequent irrigation, research clearly shows that recently transplanted trees and shrubs establish quickest with light, frequent irrigation.  For trees planted in spring or summer, provide one (cooler hardiness zones) to three irrigations (warmer hardiness zones) each week during the first few months after planting.  Daily irrigation in the warmest hardiness zones provides the quickest establishment.  Following the initial few months of frequent irrigation, provide weekly irrigation until plants are fully established.  With every irrigation, apply one (cool climates) to two (warm climates) gallons of water per inch trunk diameter (e.g. 2 to 4 gallons for a 2-inch tree) over the root ball only.  In most landscapes that receive more than 30 inches of rain or irrigation annually, if the mulch area is maintained weed-free, irrigation does not need to be applied outside of the root ball.  Never add water if the root ball is saturated.

In cooler hardiness zones, in all but the driest years, irrigation of spring- and summer-planted trees usually can be discontinued once fall color has begun. Irrigation of fall planted trees, however, should be continued until foliage has dropped from the deciduous trees in the region.  In warmer climates, irrigate fall-and winter-planted trees as described for the spring- and summer-planted trees.

In drier, desert climates there is benefit to be gained from applying additional irrigation outside of the root ball area. This is best done by making a large diameter berm four to six inches high, then filling it with water so it percolates into the soil.  For the first two years, irrigate twice each week through the spring, once per week in summer provided monsoons arrive, and twice each week again in fall if it remains warm.  Taper off watering to once or twice each month in winter and resume twice weekly next spring.  For years three to five, water twice per month in spring, summer, and fall and once or twice per month in winter.  During years five through seven, water once every three weeks in warm weather and once every six weeks in winter.  After this, the drought-tolerant desert trees should be able to survive on natural rainfall.

Trees with good, strong structure need no pruning at planting, except to remove broken twigs.  Do not remove branches to compensate for root loss - research has shown that this can be detrimental to establishment.