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Larches

Christa Klus-Neufanger Christa Klus-Neufanger

Tender green needle shoots, sun-yellow fall colors: The deciduous Larch trees go well in parks and - thanks to their diverse varieties - in pots or in rock gardens.

Origin

The Larch genus (Larix) is spread across the northern hemisphere with around ten species, three of which are mainly in colder regions around the pole, the others more in mountainous regions. In contrast to most other conifers, all Larches are not evergreen, but shed their needles after the fall colors have faded. All Larches are distinct types of shade-tolerant trees, which is why, as pioneers, they often colonize open spaces, they often form the tree line together with Swiss pine or mountain pine. Typical of all Larches is that they grow very quickly when they are young.

The European Larch (Larix decidua), of which there are numerous breeds, is native to Europe. It occurs naturally in many forests and sometimes even forms monocultures. A popular fall travel destination are, for example, the inner-alpine larch forests in Ticino or Valais, which then turn golden yellow. In 2012 the European Larch was declared the tree of the year. The witch rattle, which are hung on the doors at the end of April - on Walpurgis Night - hold a mystical meaning of driving out witches. Holy Larch is native of Austria, for example "Maria Larch" near Innsbruck. The figure of Mary, which is venerated there, is typically hung from a larch tree.

The Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi) is native to Asia. Both species are of great importance for forestry and are also popular as park trees. Only these two species have been cultivated so far, so that there are hanging as well as dwarf forms and varieties with spiral growth. The Scottish hybrid Larch (Larix eurolepis) emerged from crossing the two species.

In the east of Russia and in Asia, the Dahurian larch is found in two varieties in the Amur region and on the Kuril Islands, while the Siberian larch is found in western Siberia. Western China is home to the common Chinese larch. In America there are three representatives of the Larch - the Tamarack larch in Alaska and Canada, the Rocky Mountain larch in Montana and Idaho and the West American larch - also in the northwestern USA.

Appearance and Growth

All Larch species are extremely tall trees that can reach heights of up to 164 feet. Sword-like growth is relatively common, but in the mountains this is mainly caused by snow fall. It can easily reach an age of 800 years. The needle-shaped leaves are in spirals on the long shoots. On the other hand, on older branches there are tufts of needles on short shoots. With their delicate green, the fresh needles are for many the embodiment of spring. Even the golden yellow fall color is attractive. The Larch mulch is acidic, it takes several years to decompose.

The bark, which is smooth at first, has deep cracks as it ages. In youth, the branches are regular and cone-shaped, but later they stick out vertically to the side or hang down. All larches are monoecious, so female and male flowers grow on the same tree. The male flowers are usually spherical and yellow, the female flowers are green at first and later turn red. The cones consist of free cover scales and screw-shaped seed scales with two seeds. The pollen grain has air sacs to facilitate better dissemination by the wind. Often the position of the cover scales - fitting closely or curled outwards like a rose blossom - is used to distinguish the species. The cone falls off as a whole, and often remains on the branch for several years after the mature seeds have been released. Due to the extensive root system, the Larch proves to be quite wind-resistant; on clayey and wet soils, the roots have a flat growth. Larch trees provide — if it has a fine-ring patterned growth — an excellent wood with a vivid red-brown color at the core. It is used for furniture, windows, doors and floors, among other things. It differs from Douglas fir because it has a much narrower sapwood.

Location and soil

The ecological amplitude of Larches is large, especially the European Larch prefers a continental climate with low humidity. The Atlantic climate favors the growth of the larch cancer. Larches prefer to grow on deep ground that is sufficiently moist, but they are often displaced on stony ground. Waterlogging should be avoided for these conifers. When it comes to the light requirement, larches do not make any compromises; their hunger for light much more than that of pines. In the wild, where the soil is too dry, it is also replaced by the pine.

Planting Larches

The Larch is best planted without needles; it is usually sold in a container. For the roots to gain a foothold, a stake driven against the main wind direction is useful.

Care Tips

Larch trees are relatively undemanding; they don’t need fertilizers and compost.

Pruning

Dead branches can be sawed off without any problems. If you want to plant the Larch as an understory plant, you can also remove green branches.

Overwintering

As a pioneer tree species, larches are used to a lot of cold. The Japanese Larch isn’t particularly harmed by late frosts.

Where to Plant in the Garden

The species are only suitable for parks and the great outdoors, preference should be given to native larch. Dwarf forms go well in rock gardens, on graves or in the Alpine gardens. They can even be cultivated in pots. The wood is versatile and is often used in hydraulic engineering and boat building as its high resin content means it does not need to be treated. In the Alpine region it is often seen as facade cladding, it is used for durable masts, fence battens and roof shingles. In the garden, larch wood is often used as a coherent and durable floor covering that goes well in any ambience. As a bath additive, larch needles are said to have a relaxing effect. The resin is said to have an anti-inflammatory properties.

Important Species and Varieties

‘Pendula’ is the name of a decorative hanging form of the European Larch, and there is a counterpart of the Japanese Larch of the same name. ‘Repens’ grows procumbent as a dwarf form, ‘Kornik’ has a spherical shape. In the case of Japanese Larch, there are the blue-needle varieties ‘Blue Ball’, which form a wide ball. "Blue Rabbit" grows narrow and cone-shaped. Gray needles are typical of the ‘Gray Pearl’ variety. The ‘Wolterdingen’ variety is very popular, a tiny specimen with almost horizontally protruding branches and gray-green needles.

Japanese Larch ‘Pendula’

The ‘Pendula’ variety of Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi) wins us over with its decorative hanging shape

Propagating the Larch tree

The species are usually propagated by sowing seeds from cone pickers. The stratified seeds are best sown immediately outdoors. Garden forms are grafted onto a base - usually larch or Douglas fir. Root formation in cuttings is not always successful and treatment with a growth substance is required for this.

Diseases and Pests

Especially outside of the natural area, problems such as larch cancer occur in the tall species. Grown in a larger area, the larch moth and larch leaf miner as well as the larch needle aphid are a particular problem. Young trees in particular are often trampled over by deer near the forest, which often causes the trees to die. Gray mold causes problems for the young trees, especially in cool, humid, Atlantic climates.

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