Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Plant of the Month (November) : Japanese Crabapple – Malus floribunda

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda): Mother Nature's Montrose Garden

We mostly feature native plants from the Western U.S. on this blog.  But we’ll occasionally highlight non-native plants with good garden characteristics.  Some of these are legacy plants in Mother Nature’s Montrose Garden; plants chosen by the previous gardener.  One such plant, which attracts lots of fruit-eating birds in fall, is the Japanese Crabapple, Malus floribunda. The scientific name is pronounces MAL (or MAYL)-us  flor-ih-BUN-duh.

Malus is the genus name for the apples, some of which are native to the U.S.  But the vast majority of species are native to Asia.  Japanese Crabapple is native to Japan, which is one of the reasons it appealed to the previous gardener.  It may be a wild species, or may be a hybrid between two other apple species: Malus sieboldii and M. baccata. It belongs to the family Rosaceae (the Rose family). 

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda): growth form

Malus floribunda is a large shrub or small tree. It has a somewhat open form, with arching branches.  It commonly grows to 15-25 ft. tall (4.5 to7.5 m.) and 20-30 ft. (6-9 m.) wide.  Its smaller size makes it a good choice for smaller yards.  It combines many good attributes in a modest-sized package: summer shade, spring flowers and edible fruits.

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda): foliage

The foliage of Japanese Crabapple is fairly typical for the apple species. The leaves are medium to dark green, slender ovate, with serrate edges.   The species is winter deciduous, losing its leaves after the first few good frosts.  The leaf color is not particularly showy (golden), but the red-brown young bark and fruits are moderately so, particularly after leaves are gone.

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda):
attractive in winter

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda): white flowers

The flowers are a major reason why this is a popular garden crabapple. The buds are pink; the flowers begin pale pink and mature to white.  The plant is literally covered with flowers. The species name floribunda means ‘many-flowered’, which well describes this species.

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda):
 typical apple flowers

The flowers themselves are typical for the Rose family: five simple petals and many prominent stamens (above).  The flowers are sweetly scented and attract a range of pollinators, including bees and butterflies. The flowers are among the best in the Malus; this and the interesting growth form earned it the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda): maturing fruits

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda): edible fruits

The fruits of Japanese Crabapple are small, yellow or red crabapples, about 1/3 inch (1 cm) in diameter.  The fruits are showy only after leaves fall. The fruits remain hard until after a good frost, when they become soft and sweet.  The fruits are small but definitely edible (we often include some in mixed-fruit jellies).  And the fruits are a popular treat for fruit-eating birds like robins and cedar waxwings. Our little tree has been stripped by flocks of hungry migrants in a matter of a few days!   If you want to provide food for hungry birds, Japanese Crabapple is a good addition to your garden.

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda):
 fruit-eating birds love the fruits

Malus floribunda is relatively easy to grow. It tolerates some cold, and is recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 4 – 8.  It likes full sun and regular water, but is not fussy about soil texture.  It tolerates moderately acidic to moderately alkali soils (pH up to at least 8).

Japanese Crabapple is more resistant than other Malus to the pests and diseases common to the genus.  In fact, it has been used as breeding stock in the development of disease-resistant cultivars [1].   That being said, it is an apple, and subject to some of the usual challenges to apple health.  New foliage attracts foliage-eating insects such as aphids.  Scale insects and mites are also potential problems; these can usually be controlled with horticultural oil.  In areas where they are common, tent caterpillars can also be a problem.

Japanese Crabapple is slightly susceptible to apple scab, leaf spot and powdery mildew and has some susceptibility to fireblight.  For more on pests and diseases, and their control, see ref. 2 (below).

Malus floribunda is often used as a small tree in home gardens. In fact, it was first imported to the U.S. in the 1860’s, and has been used in gardens ever since.  It does well as a street tree, as long as fruits don’t fall on passersby.  It makes a pretty specimen, as both its form and flowers contrast well with surrounding trees and shrubs.

Japanese Crabapple (Malus floribunda):
 provides a contrasting form

Japanese Crabapple can be used as a screen or tall hedge plant.  It is amenable to espalier, and can even be used as a specimen for bonsai.  It has a nice natural form, however, and needs little pruning (unless desired).   We’d rate it fairly high as a habitat plant.  It provides pollen and nectar for the pollinators, and cover, nesting sites and food for the birds.  In short, Malus floribunda is worthy of consideration for Colorado gardens (unless you have a natural aversion to apple trees!).



We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: monaturesmontrosegarden@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Creating Your Colorado-friendly Garden: 3 – Assessing Your Family’s Needs (Functional Analysis)

If you’ve followed this series from the beginning (June 2019), you’ve come a long way towards designing your Colorado-friendly Garden.  You know your garden site quite well; you’ve drawn a site map (map of the area) and determined the characteristics that make your site unique. This basic preparation work – which takes some time – is worth the effort in the long run.    If you haven’t seen the previous postings, we suggest you begin with the June posting (see ‘Pages’, to right) 

At this point the real fun begins – you start thinking about what your garden will actually look like.  The first step is to imagine the activities and functions that you’d like to take place in your new garden.  This is important: you want a garden that supports the outdoor activities you enjoy.  Another important aspect is defining the water goals for your garden.   Once your goals are clear you can design a garden that’s water-wise, life-friendly, functional and beautiful.

If you like to sit in the shade, your plans
 might iniclude a gazebo

Garden Functions/Goals

What is a Landscape Functional Analysis?

The landscape plan for your Colorado-friendly Garden should reflect the types of activities you need and want to do in your garden.   The first step is to list the types of functions you’d like your garden to serve.  Some functions will be purely practical – for example, a place to put the trash cans, the clothesline or a compost bin.  Other functions will reflect your family’s recreation and leisure time activities – e. g. a play place for the children, a quiet meditation area or a place for outdoor dining.   The time to think about these functions is now – before you design your Landscape Plan.   That way you’ll be sure to include a place for important activities in your design.  

Shady seating is often a priority in Western gardens

Developing your ‘Needs & Dreams List’

A good way to start is by listing all the possible functions your garden might serve.  At this stage we suggest that you put down every function you might want to include; you will prioritize and ‘prune’ your list later.  Just take a blank sheet of paper and start listing. 

Be sure to get everyone in the household involved in the planning. You might have each person draw up their own list as a starting point.  We suggest that you work on your list over several weeks.  It’s important to list everything you might want to include in your plan, and new ideas may occur over time. 

Plan for summer entertaining needs

Think about all the features you’ve wished you had in your current garden. What activities are difficult to do in your current garden?  Consider home and public  gardens you’ve visited and liked.  What activities were possible in these gardens?  Were there specific features that ‘made’ the garden – for example a fountain with nearby seating for summer relaxation?   A ‘functional area’ that included trash bins, clothesline, potting bench and similar functions?  An attractive entry way with tasteful plants and statues leading to the front door? Garden art?  Did the garden have a place for growing vegetables or fruits? 

Some gardens include small orchards

Each family's needs and wants will vary depending on their outdoor activities; be sure that everyone in the family has input to the list.  A few things to consider when developing your ‘Needs & Dreams List’ include:

Use areas for family pets, such as open lawn, dog run, etc.

Outdoor needs for cooking, sun bathing, lounging, reading.

What size and types of outdoor entertaining areas are needed?

What types of recreation areas are needed (pool; croquette; etc.)?

What are the outdoor storage needs for equipment, firewood, vehicles or boats?  For off-season garden furniture and equipment?

Do you need a potting bench or other features to make garden tasks easier?

How about a studio, office, guest quarters or she-shed?

Do you want to include water features like ponds, streams, fountains?

Where do you need pathways/walkways?   Will they be for walking only, or will you need to move equipment (like trash barrels) over them?

Do you wish to devote specific areas of the garden to habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife?

Do you need to provide shade in some areas?

Do you need visual screens to block unattractive vistas?

Would your yard benefit from a windbreak?

Do you need a ‘fire retardant zone’ around buildings?

Would you like a quiet sitting or meditation area?

Vegetable garden?  Fruit orchard?

Are there special requirements/needs associated with public areas (parking strip; front yard)

?Driveway(s) & roadways

etc., etc.

As you work on your ‘Needs and Dreams List’, also look at the section on Water Goals, below.  Complete the Water Goals Questionnaire.  Add any Water Goal priorities to your ‘Needs and Dreams’ list. 

Once you complete your list, it’s time to get down to reality.  We suggest that you take a good hard look at your list.   You’ll probably find that some items can be deleted; others may be redundant.  Once you’ve pared down your list, divide your needs/desires into two groups: those related to public areas and those related to private areas of the garden.  You may find it helpful to high-light the two groups with different color high-liters.

Example of Functional Clusters

Next you need to prioritize your Public and Private Space Lists.   Use the Functional Analysis Worksheet  (http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/functional-analysis-worksheet) to list up to 25 of your top priorities from each list.   Look at each list and see if any of the functions cluster together logically (for example: a vegetable garden, compost heap and grape arbor).   List your functional clusters on the Worksheet. We’ve included a sample worksheet page above.   The next step (November 2019) will be to place your functional clusters on a copy of your Base Map 2. 


Example: one families water wishes and goals

Water Goals

Those of us living in dry regions are thinking a lot about water recently.  We’ve had very little summer rain in Montrose, and last year was really dry in most of Western Colorado. You may be considering water-wise plants or other water conservation measures.  But first you need to have a plan.  Successful gardens – like any successful project – are easier to achieve if you start with a good plan.

Using water efficiently is particularly important for those living in dry Southwestern and desert climates.  The era of cheap, plentiful garden water is coming to an end for many of us.  We need to get by on less – whether by choice, rationing or cost.   Getting by on less does not mean our gardens will be drab, brown and ugly.  But it does mean that we need to prioritize and use our garden water more efficiently.   

A good first step is to determine the water goals for your garden.  We can help, but you alone can define goals best suited to your garden, your budget and your way of life.   Water goals must be acceptable to everyone in the household, so setting water goals should be a group project.   We think you’ll find it fun and useful to think creatively about your garden water budget.   With planning, you can use water in high priority areas (vegetable garden; seating area; front entry; etc) and decrease use in low priority areas.

If you don’t yet have a garden map, we suggest drawing one at this point.   Make a copy of the map to use in determining your water goals.   You’ll be indicating certain areas on the map as you define your water goals.

We’ve developed a Water Goals Questionnaire that we use in teaching water-wise garden design classes.  This gardener-tested questionnaire has helped others understand their garden water use, soil water patterns and irrigation needs.  The questionnaire will get you thinking about ways to use water more efficiently.  As you go through the questionnaire, you may also want to review posts in the series on ‘Harvesting Rain’ on our sister blog (2013 – starting with http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2013/02/harvesting-rain-gutters-downspouts-and.html ). 

We think you’ll find the Water Goals Questionnaire available at http://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/your-water-wishes-questionnaire)  useful in setting your water priorities and goals. It covers topics you might not have thought about before – like defining areas that could be left ‘summer dry’.

We suggest you fill the questionnaire out in pencil, because you may want to reconsider your answers as you go along.  Take your time filling it out.  The Water Goals Questionnaire is meant to get you thinking – and discussing – what you want your garden to look like in the future.   Add any important Water Goals to your ‘Needs & Dreams’ list.


We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: monaturesmontrosegarden@gmail.com

Monday, October 14, 2019

Gardening Tip: Mark Your Perennials

Winter-dormant perennials, like this Wild Mint, are dying back in October.

Herbaceous perennials die back (often to the ground) at some time of the year.  In hot, dry climates like S. California or Arizona, one encounters summer/drought-dormant perennials.  But cold-dormant perennials are common in climates with cold (or even cool) winters.  A cold snap often signals the end of the season for these winter-dormant perennials.

Many cold-dormant perennials (including those from bulbs) disappear entirely in winter. Unless you have a small garden – or a very good memory – it’s easy to forget the exact placement of dormant plants. This is particularly true if you’ve planted new perennials in the past year.  And you may not know what these newly-emergent perennials will look like in the spring.

The emerging stems of Dunn's Lobelia (Lobelia dunnii)
 look very different from mature foliage

In fact, emerging stems and leaves can look very different from the mature ones. An additional challenge is that perennials emerge at different times, depending on the species and weather.  To ensure you don’t mistake emerging perennials for weeds, you need to know exactly where you planted them.  An easy solution is to mark them.

Flags are a good way to temporarily mark plants.

Marking perennials with sturdy, winter-proof markers is a good idea.  And October is a great time to do this, before the plants die back to indistinguishable masses.  If you don’t have appropriate markers, at least temporarily mark the locations/names with marking flags (found at your local hardware or home improvement store).  You can replace these with more permanent markers once you have them.  

Write-on metal markers will survive the winter.

We like permanent, write-on metal markers with long prongs that insert into the ground.  These can withstand the rain, snow and high winds of winter and still be readable in spring.  We just ordered some good ones from Gemplers: https://gemplers.com/collections/landscape-nursery-marking-supplies-plant-markers-tree-tags     If you don’t know about Gemplers, this is a great mail order source for many items useful to the home gardener.

Why mark perennials?  This photo says it all!


We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: monaturesmontrosegarden@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Plant of the Month (October) : Wild Mint – Mentha arvensis

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): Mother Nature's Montrose Garden

September is a great month for planting on the Western Slope.  We’ve recently planted a number of (potentially) large shrubs in our hedgerow. We’ll tell you more on this in a later post. We’ve also added a garden ‘Plant List’ page to the blog (right).  In addition to the shrubs, we’ve gotten some hardy native perennials into the ground.  One of our favorites – used as a seasoning herb and tea – is the common Wild Mint, Mentha arvensis.  The scientific name is pronounced MEN-thuh  are-VEN-sis.

Mentha arvensis has a wide distribution.  In North America, it’s native to most areas, with the exception of the deep South.  But its total range includes temperate regions of Europe, as well as western and central Asia. [1]    Some taxonomists separate the North American and Asian types as distinct subspecies.   And Mentha canadensis (a similar species) is lumped with Mentha arvensis by some authors.  We’ll see if genetic studies reveal more about the relationships of these mints.

Mentha arvensis is known by several common names, including Wild Mint, American Wild Mint, Field Mint, and Corn Mint.  The species is included in the Family Lamiaceae (the Mint Family), a major plant family world-wide. It includes many plants known to gardeners: the true mints, Wood mints, Savories, Lavenders, Hyssops and Sages. Most Family members are herbaceous plants or shrubs, and many have aromatic foliage.  Many important cooking herbs are members of this family. [2] 

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): can be used fresh or dried

Mentha arvensis is one of the culinary herbs, in addition to being a native plant.  It has a wonderful, ‘true-mint’ aroma (think ‘mint extract’) and can be used, fresh or dry, as a cooking herb, seasoning and tea. In fact, oils of this plant are used to flavor candy, other edibles and toothpaste.  It’s one of those plants that cooks should include in their gardens. Leaves can be harvested through summer, up to the first frost or so.  For more on making mint tea, see: http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2012/06/making-tea-from-california-native-mint.html

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): spreading
 herbaceous perennial

Mentha arvensis is a hardy, herbaceous perennial.  It grows 1-2 ft. tall (to 0.5 m.) and spreads to 3-4 ft wide.  Like many mints, it spreads by rhizomes, which are underground stems.  This makes it useful as a filler plant under trees and shrubs.  If space is limited – or if you want to limit the spread – you’ll need to contain it.  Some gardeners even grow it in a container, rather than planting it in the ground.  You can also plant it in a container buried in the ground (or covered with mulch).

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): foliage

Wild mint has square, herbaceous stems that are upright or sprawling. The square stems are a characteristic of the Mint Family.  The stems are green, sometimes with some red or purple in sunnier locations.  The stem may be hairy or smooth. The leaves are simple, green, opposite and may be smooth or hairy.  The leaves are oval to oblong, 1 to 2 ½ inches long, with prominent veins and serrated edges.  In short, the foliage looks like what we expect for a mint.

[for good flower pictures, see ref. 3.  We'll add some photos of our own next year]

The flowers of Mentha arvensis are tiny – about 1/8 inch long.  They range in color from white through pale pink or lavender.  The flowers grow in clusters located in the axils of the upper leaves (where leaf meet stem).  The flowers are not particularly showy, and may be almost hidden by the leaves.  The flowers have no noticeable fragrance.

[we'll add a close-up of flowers next year]

A closer view of the flowers reveals many characteristics typical of the Mints. The flowers are tubular, with petals divided into three upper lobes and a lower ‘lip’, which may also be divided.  The flowers attract small native bees, small butterflies and hummingbirds.  Additional pollinators include wasps and pollinator flies.

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): developing
 capsules (fruits)

Wild mint blooms during the warm months. It can commence blooming as early as May in warmer climates (more often July in Colorado) and continues until October.  The fruits are round and slightly fleshy with four nutlets. Fruits ripen from summer to fall.  Fruits of Mints are toxic and should not be eaten.  Take precautions if you have small children who pop such things in their mouth.

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): easily propagated
 from cuttings

Wild mint is easy to grow, either from seed or cuttings. In Colorado, seed is best sown in fall (or give seeds a 2-3 month cold-moist stratification).  Mints are known to hybridize easily, so seeds may not breed true.  Cuttings are a more reliable source of plants with known characteristics.  Stem or root cuttings can be made in spring or fall, with root cuttings being slightly easier (at least in our hands).  Use a light growing medium and keep it moist.  In warm weather, cuttings will root well in 2-4 weeks.

Wild mint is an easy-care garden perennial. It’s hardy from USDA Zones 4-10, and can be successfully grown even in warm Southern California.  In all climates, it dies back to the roots in winter (or with successive frosts).  It then sends up new stems with warm weather of spring.

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): new
 stems emerge in spring

Mentha arvensis is not fussy about soil. It succeeds in clay to sandy soils, with a pH range of 6.5 to 8.0.  If you’ve got really alkali soils (much above 8) you’d do better growing this plant in a container.  Wild mint likes full sun to light shade; in a really hot garden, try placing it where it gets some afternoon shade.   It does need regular water, preferring moist to semi-moist soils.  In a good loam with leaf mulch, you can likely get away with giving it a good watering 1-2 times a week in summer.

Mints are susceptible to the usual array of insects that prey on young growth: whiteflies, spider mites, aphids and thrips. Watch for these and blast them off with water if you can.  Since leaves are edibles, you’ll want to limit use of pesticides to Safer’s Soap – and then only if really needed.  In our experience, mint patches in the ground are rarely seriously affected by these sucking insects.  Rabbits, deer and other herbivores are usually deterred by the aroma.

Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis): in mint bed
Mother Nature's Montrose Garden

Wild mint makes a wonderful addition to the herb or vegetable garden.  In addition to being edible, the mint aroma deters some common garden insect pests.  Mints are often promoted as companion plants for tomatoes and brassicas.  We like it as a perennial groundcover under trees or large shrubs.  In Mother Nature’s Montrose Garden, we’ve started a mints bed under a row of Mock Orange and related shrubs.

If you grow medicinal plants, you’ll want to consider Mentha arvensis.  The mints have long been used for their antiseptic properties and ability to settle an upset stomach.  Wild Mint tea has traditionally been used in the treatment of fevers, headaches, digestive disorders and various minor ailments.[4]  The tea should not be used by pregnant women – and should be used in moderation by all.  

In summary, Wild Mint is a delightful native perennial with a long history or culinary and medicinal use.  If you like to cook, make potpourri - or even make a natural pest repellant - you should consider this plant for your garden.  At the very least, a pot of wild mint adds a delightfully fragrant note to summer afternoons! 

Mentha arvensis does well in containers

For a gardening information sheet see: https://www.slideshare.net/cvadheim/gardening-sheet-mentha-arvensis-178566235

For plant information sheets on other native plants see: http://nativeplantscsudh.blogspot.com/p/gallery-of-native-plants_17.html


  1. http://herb.umd.umich.edu/herb/search.pl?searchstring=Mentha+arvensis


We welcome your comments (below).  You can also send your questions to: monaturesmontrosegarden@gmail.com