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Semi-arid Shrub Steppe land Zone 7 permies?

 
                            
Posts: 18
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In SE Washington near the Columbia River it is Semi-arid Shrub Steppe.  I'm right on the edge of 7a/7b on irrigated property with a hill to my south.  Property is pretty flat with slope in front yard.  We reach over 100 f for as much as a couple of weeks in the summer and below 0 f for maybe a week during the bad winters

I've searched this forum and so far found one person in SE Washington.  So my challenge becomes much more complex without folks to gab with who have similar conditions.

I have 2.5 acres probably categorized in 3rds.  1 3rd is now in pasture, 1 third house, barn, loafing shed, shop and driveway and last 3rd irrigated lawn and garden and wild space. 

Trees - 2 apple, apricot, 2 cherry, pear, 2 hazlenut, walnut, willow, dogwood, arborvitae (windbreak), russian olive (ack), sycamore (trellis for hardy kiwi).  Also have grapes, currants, raspberries and typical garden plants like tomatoes, peppers, turnips, carrots, etc.

Because a irrigation canal failure could result in a week or two with low water I want to leave the areas currently without irrigation dry and want to work on food plant guilds for that area.  It was heavily mulched with wood chips a few years ago and short of the opportunistic weeds is ready for something to be done with it.

Regarding the established irrigated areas I want to rid my fruit trees of the grass under them so am seeking guilds for them.

I also have a very hot area along the back of the house that gets water but dang it gets super hot.  Just got water to it regularly this summer so now I am looking for ideas for what to do with it.

Oh have chickens, wild cottontails, quail, pheasant, chuckar.  Will be adding rabbits and goats to farm in next year.

Anyway anyone who has similarities to my property constraints and willing to share I'd love to glean your knowledge.                 
 
Hugh Hawk
Posts: 225
Location: Adelaide, South Australia (Mediterranean climate)
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I don't know the area, but how much rain do you get?  Looks like there is high variability in rainfall in SE washington.  Those extremes you mention sound fairly similar to what we get here in our Mediterranean climate in South Australia, though we rarely get any frost.

I think the general advice is to plant plenty of trees, food and otherwise.  This will help cool things down in summer.  Deciduous trees can be used around the house to block sun in summer and allow it in winter.  Fire risk may need to be considered depending on whether that is a problem in your area (get advice on trees around the house from your local fire service).

For guilds, my thought would be to start with things that spread quickly and will help you shade out unwanted grasses - perhaps pumpkins/melons, nasturtium, borage, comfrey, etc.  You can also throw in plenty of wildflower seeds from your area.  This will buy you time to densely plant the areas, which will keep grasses out in the long term.
 
Kirk Hutchison
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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You could look in to some kind of mesquite. I don't know offhand if they would tolerate such severe frosts, but you could find out. There are lots of species, all of which are uber drought hardy (the kind I have, honey mesquite, is known to have taproots of up to 50 feet on a 15 foot tree!), nitrogen fixing, and the pods are edible for people and animals. Mesquite could go well in your super hot area (might need to be babied for a few years, but once the taproot gets deep enough it's golden.
 
                            
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Rain is a good piece of data I should have included.  About 8-9 inches a year. 
 
Kirk Hutchison
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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In that case mesquite should probably be fine with no supplemental irrigation. The trick is establishing it. It's main limit in the wild is that the small trees cannot survive on the limited rainfall. For that reason, the seeds only germinate well when quite wet. In nature, mesquite forms "bosques" around rivers, with new trees sprouting whenever a flood occurs. However, with human assistance in getting established, they can survive in drier environments. A fifty foot taproot picks up a lot of water (this effect is compounded in an area that has swales, which encourage more water to go into the ground instead of running off). Oh, and here's a question for you: is the russian olive irrigated?
 
                            
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Not on purpose.  Russian Olive around here is considered vile.  For most of my childhood I had major allergies to it till I had NAET treatment.  I understand one can actually do something with the olives but the horrific sweet stinking smell is almost more than many can handle.

The natives of years gone by had nothing taller than the greater sage to shade them thus - shrub-steppe classification.  Pictures here don't show the sage but they are a good example of the unirrigated land near my home.
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Oops didnt mean to make it look like we live in such a steep area!
 
Kirk Hutchison
Posts: 418
Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Really? That's odd. Apart from its invasive tendencies, I've heard only good things about the plant. According to the wikipedia page, it has actually been planted for its sweet smelling flowers. Is that really the same plant?
 
                            
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It is one of the biggest allergens in our area.  1 tree may smell ok but it is never just one - giant islands of them everywhere.  If you plant 1 you can't keep just one because they  sucker and they volunteer all over the place.  The thorns aren't just thorny but the impeditum (sp?) covering them causes an irritation in the wound they cause.

I posted more info request about mesquite on another thread and I'm starting to think that plants can seem like positive choices when you havnt lived with them.  Will Mesquite really tap my aquifer and lower my water table?  Will Russian Olive really spread like crazy and cause you to suffer allergies and once it becomes a large copice will the sweet smell of the flowers be so thick and strong that they steal the air from your lungs like happens here?

I think maybe a Mesquite might be ok down in my pasture - maybe in the area where I fight off the Russian Olives.  Maybe you might do well with one of the Russian Olives.  Tomorrow I'll take a few pictures of specimens both left to wild growth and pruned back in the battle against them so you can see them a bit better.

Sweet Dreams
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Same plant.  There is a nursery in TN that sells it (autumn olive).  He can no longer sell it in TN, and will probably discontinue it altogether, due to state laws.
 
Kay Bee
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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autumn olive and russian olive are different. 

The Hidden Springs nursery in TN has the autumn olive cultivars that are being discontinued due to TN regulations.  It is a shame, they are good plants for the right places.
 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
Posts: 489
Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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Russian olive was once recommended by Oregon Fish & Wildlife - now it's on their noxious list because of its impact on native riparian vegetation in central and eastern Oregon.

I don't know how Washington views it, but ODFW might have some ideas about controlling it and suitable replacements, native and otherwise. Also, check out your local Soil & Water Conservation District. Some of them are very active in promoting climate-suitable tree and shrub planting for wildlife habitat. Their plant lists will give you some solid info on species to consider, and they may even sell them to you cheap!

 
Bill Kearns
Posts: 159
Location: E Washington steppe
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Hallo Womyn, I live in your general area with much the same sage/steppe (I call it prairie, lol), although I don't have the benefit of irrigation canals.  This place is quite old, dating from the early 1900s and has some huge old cottonwood and elm trees nurtured by roof run-off (I know this from early rain catchment activities and the summertime effects on those valuable shade trees).  I also have a small orchard of apples, cherries, apricots, and what I think is a peach/almond cross.  LIke you, mulch is the preserver of any soil moisture and I apply it copiously. 

I've found the underlying battle here to be with preservation of soil moisture due to sun and wind.  Although I water some from the well and rainwater cisterns, it can all evaporate before it has a chance to do much good if not protected.  I've had some success with choke cherry, siberian pea shrub, and box elder living on their own after some nurture-by-watering in their first year (bare root plantings in the spring).  I've not yet had any type of pine tree survive past that first year's nurture.  I've also had very poor success establishing any black locust ... it is a highly desirable tree. 

I have some mesquite seeds in my fridge and was quite interested to see your thread.  There is caliche here, so I'm not sure mesquite roots can obtain their phenomenal depth, but it's worth a try.  This year I've been planting EVERYTHING with some sort of windbreak along with lots of mulch.  Most plantings look much better than in years past and hopefully I've increased the survival rate by helping them to get established without the stress of constant hot, dry winds.

Bill
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9456
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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9anda1f wrote:
There is caliche here, so I'm not sure mesquite roots can obtain their phenomenal depth, but it's worth a try. 


Mesquite thrives in Central Texas, much of which is underlain by limestone and caliche.  The trees just blast right through it. 
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9456
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Another tree to try, if nobody has mentioned it yet, is Palo Verde, which also has edible seeds.  I hope to grow it in the next few years.  I don't know if the seeds are as tasty as Mesquite pods, which taste just like graham crackers. 

 
Bill Kearns
Posts: 159
Location: E Washington steppe
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H Ludi Tyler wrote:
Mesquite thrives in Central Texas, much of which is underlain by limestone and caliche.  The trees just blast right through it.   


Excellent and thank you!  Guess the only question re: mesquite is whether, once established, they can survive the sub-zero periods during winter.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9456
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Here's where Mesquite currently grows, according to the USDA, and some of those are cold areas (Zone 5b):  http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=PROSO
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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The mesquite tree is essential if you wish to cook authentic SW meals.
A chipotle pepper is essentially just a red ripe jalepeño that has been mesquite smoked.
 
                            
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Russian Olive pics I promised.

First picture is a neighboring pasture that has been allowed to go wild.  The trees tend to grow somewhat close to my fenceline.  My pasture irrigation doesn't spray all the way over the fence but they clearly appreciate the extra they can get through the root zone.  Also example of wild form structure.

Second picture is of one that has been pruned up off the ground into tree shape and has been consistently irrigated, in fact over irrigated as the neighbor literally sprinkles the grass in between the tree and my camera for a 24 hour period.  You can see it is big enough to provide good canopy for a chicken coop.  I have yet to see my chickens show the plant any interest.

I believe with irrigation they don't spread so fast because they are receiving everything they need.  Dryer the ground more likely you are to see them sucker.  Hence I am constantly ridding my pasture of them.  In our Shrub-Steppe 8-9" water a year climate they are definately an indicator of where water has run or where ground water can be found.  They did not exist here until after the area was lost to the Native Americans.  Before that the highest tree one found was the Greater Sage.       
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