Trees have been taking the brunt of nature’s fickle moods lately, so when humans compound the problem by treating the stately plants badly, gardeners shake their heads and mutter.  Trees are used as billboards, planted in hell strips, or moved often, like furniture; their roots are chopped, mowed, sliced, or driven over.  In short, they’re taken for granted by people who live under them.

Despite all these things, trees still grow, but there are a few things we do that make their lives miserable.  If you want to avoid harming your tree, take some tips from local Foresters, who shared their lists of the seven deadly sins of tree care.

Keith Wood, Colorado State Forester, says tree problems can start at planting, unless your pay attention to digging the right hole for the plant.  “Having the adequate size hole for the tree (wide and shallow) rather than (narrow and deep),” is the best way to get your seedling off to a good start.  A wide and shallow hole allows roots to expand quickly into our heavy clay soils.

Kathleen Alexander, Boulder City Forester, and Ralph Zentz, Fort Collins Forester, caution that the wrong tree in the wrong place is a recipe for disaster.  When ogling that cute young tree at the nursery, keep in mind that it will grow; popping it in close to the house, sidewalk, or driveway is something you might regret later.

Planting trees not suited to our area is another pitfall, so don’t believe everything that newspaper inserts advertise.  “Diversity -do your homework,” says Alexander about giving thought to the trees you choose.  Avoid planting species not adapted to Front Range, like red maples, Autumn Blaze maples, or planting ash, she said.

Ken Fisher, Forestry Assistant with the city of Boulder urges people planting new trees to be good stewards of your sapling by removing the wire basket, burlap, and string from the root ball. Provide mulch to buffer roots, but avoid mounding it up against the trunk, which offers insects, rodents, and disease a hiding spot.  And if you stake, take it off after one year to allow the tree to flex a little in the wind and grow a sturdy trunk.

Once trees are in and growing, the list of offenses to avoid takes a wild turn.  “Loving the tree to death with too much water or fertilizer, chaining a dog around the base of the tree, or using herbicides near trees (trees are broadleaf plants too),” are part of the list Fisher provided, who has seen a lot of damage to trees in public places caused by such things.  And trees aren’t vampires, so why impale them with stakes or nails to hold signs?

Chains yanked by dogs cut into the bark, causing damage similar to weed whackers or lawn mowers, which are high on the list of damaging items Zentz and Alexander have.  This type of wound, caused by string trimmers or lawn mowers, cuts into the cambium, a crucial pathway for the tree to move nutrients.  A circle of mulch helps prevent grass from growing right up to the trunk and keeps trimmers away.

On older trees, a paramount concern is improper pruning, which can include the cardinal sin of topping a tree (cutting off the main trunk), something reputable arborists won’t do.  Keep your tree in good health by hiring an experienced, International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist to prune them.  “You check credentials or insurance for electricians, plumbers, etc. ; why not trees?” said Alexander.

In the warmth of our early spring, landscapes burst with enthusiasm for the season; trees and perennials woke up in a raucous, flower-filled welcome.  Gardeners greeted the spring show with joy, but as plant after plant sent forth blooms we soon went from feeling euphoric to feeling alarmed.

“Wait, wait, it’s only March,” we muttered at forsythia, and “you’re not supposed to be here until Mother’s day,” we told lilacs.  Crabapples ushered in April instead of May while flowering bulbs burst open in a display more like the fireworks finale than a long, colorful parade.

Sure, it was nice, but also disturbing.  After all, Mother Nature has a way of laughing at Colorado.  And this year, she’s in a full belly-laugh, sending snow and freezing temperatures just as we brought out our Hawaiian shirts and flip flops.

The start of our season was weeks ahead of schedule, with horticulturists and gardeners noting a three-week earlier flowering or leafing out.  Diseases and insects emerged early too, making things busy for landscape and tree maintenance companies.

Experts use phenology, or Degree-day models, to predict pest outbreaks; it’s based on the number of days or hours at certain temperatures the pest needs to emerge after winter.  Depending on the pest, we’re eight days to one month ahead of the usual pest problems.  The Emerald Ash Borer began popping from trees at the beginning of May; last year (the first season tracked following its detection here in Colorado) it emerged in early June.  The bug isn’t getting more aggressive, it’s simply following the climate we’ve had this year.

Gardeners should be aware that many pests are active earlier.  And although the recent cold weather might have put a crimp in their activities, those pests are resilient.  Controlling pests before their damage is severe is the best way to sustainably garden, so be on the lookout for potential problems and have your strategies in place to keep your plants healthy.

Here are a few thugs to watch for:

Fire blight is a bacterial disease that’s destructive to apple, pear, quince and crabapple. It attacks in spring, when temperatures reach 65 degrees F and frequent rain occurs. The best weather conditions for this damaging disease is exactly what we just had: humidity, rain, and hail.  This is when masses of bacteria are forced through cracks and bark pores to the bark surface, where they form a sweet, gummy exudate called bacterial ooze.

Insects attracted to this ooze pick up the bacteria on their bodies and carry it to opening blossoms or young branches wounded by pruning, insects, or hail. Girdling cankers – areas of disease on the wood – develop from branch or blossom infections.  Leaves wilt, darken, and curl into a shepherd’s crook. This gives the tree a fire-scorched appearance, thus the name “fire blight.”

There’s no cure for this disease; prevention is the best solution. Fire blight control include use of resistant varieties, cultural practices, pruning and spraying.

Japanese beetles are beautiful but devastating insects that attack over 300 types of plants, including grapes, raspberries, beans, apples, and roses.  Ganging up on plants, they cause serious injury.  Louisville, Lafayette, and Boulder residents have reported the beetles; it’s unclear how widespread they are in our area.  For more information on Japanese beetles and their control, see ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05601.html.

Gardeners with strawberries, raspberries, and other cane fruit should watch for Spotted Wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii).   The overwintering females of this fruit fly relative lay hundreds of eggs on ripe fruit.  Upon hatching, the larvae burrow inside, where they feed on the fruit, growing into plump maggots.  According to the Degree-day models, we’re rapidly approaching peak egg laying by overwintering females and the first emergence of this season’s adults.

From egg to adult is a mere eight to ten days, depending on temperatures, and there are several generations per year.  Keep your fruit meticulously cleaned from the floor of the garden and pick and discard overripe fruit.

For gardeners, seeing the first, green shoots of spring is like hearing the NASCAR announcement “Gentlemen, start your engines.”  Our engines rumble, our minds become sharply focused.  We act like rookies on the line by digging a bit too early, our eagerness to get started getting the better of us.

If you’re itching to plant, get a jump on the season by warming your soil.  With a few simple tricks, you can get your spring salad off to a quick start.  Before you start, a note of caution:  make sure you’re not working wet soil.  Turning it can damage the tilth of soggy ground.

One of the simplest ways to warm your soil is covering the ground with plastic sheets. Use 6 mil or thicker, UV resistant clear or black plastic and lay it over the soil, weighing down all edges with rocks or soil to prevent winds from whipping it up, up, and away to Kansas.  Alternately, you can anchor it down with wire U-shaped pins.

Check the soil after ten days to see if it’s warmer; for germination of cool season vegetables the minimum temperature needed is 40-degrees F.  Typically, it takes two to three weeks for it to rise, depending on the soil type. Sandy or manufactured “planters mix” soils warm faster than wet, heavy clay.

If you’d like to speed the process, combine the plastic cover with an insulating layer.  Using only clear plastic, lay a sheet on the ground, anchoring it as described above.  Then drape a second layer of clear plastic slightly above the first, using bricks or other objects to make a small space between the two layers.  Anchor the second layer securely, by tucking its edges under the bricks or by weighing them down on the ground.

To plant, fold back the plastic drape and remove the plastic sheet covering the soil, cleaning, drying, and folding it away for use another time. Plant seeds of lettuce, radish, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, peas, onion and carrots and then replace the plastic drape over the spacers, creating an impromptu cold frame, anchoring the cover securely so it remains to keep the seeds snugly warm in the bed.  There is no need for a plastic sheet on the soil once seeds are planted.

Patience is required when warming the soil as seed take longer to germinate at minimum soil temperatures than they would later in the spring.  Leaving the plastic on until the temperatures have risen higher than 40 degrees won’t take much more time and you’ll be rewarded with better germination if you wait.   Monitor soil moisture and add water as needed.

Watch the weather and your plants closely; once the weather warms, the plastic tenting will trap heat and can reach temperatures hot enough to sizzle your plants.  Open the cover on sunny days, partially folding back the cover and clipping the flap to prevent it from whipping in the breeze and tearing.  Be sure to close the cover in the late afternoon to retain heat.

When the weather has warmed, remove the cover gradually over a week to harden off the seedlings.  Provide wind protection to keep the worst of spring away from them by making a low wall from straw bales or plastic.

 Jade plants are one of the most popular house plants to grow. They’re also one of the stealthiest, because many people don’t realize that cute little cutting is going to grow into large proportions. Cheerfully described as “assuming a tree-like shape as they mature,” they can live for a long time and grow into small trees or shrubs up to five feet tall.

Jades (Crassula ovata) are easy to grow and nearly fool-proof, which is why we gardeners like to use them as gateway plants, to lure innocent friends into growing things. A succulent, they have fleshy, paddle-shaped, shiny leaves. They’re grown as foliage plants but do flower; the blooms are fairly small and occur on Jades 10 years and older.

Several cultivars are available, including dwarf types that are ideal for bonsai. Once you’ve gotten yours, place it where it gets bright sunlight for at least four hours daily. They need day-time temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and night-time temperatures between 50 and 55 degrees. During the winter months, protect plants from getting a cold nip from a chilly window by moving them a short distance back from the glass.

Keep the soil moist, allowing the soil to dry slightly between watering. Jades are sensitive to having chronically wet soil and it often ends in root rot. But don’t let the soil dry too much, or your jade will complain about it by shedding its leaves or developing brown spots on them. If your plant requires watering more than once a day to stay moist, transplant it to a larger pot.

Fertilize jade plants once every three to four months, but if the plant is recently repotted, wait four months before its first application of fertilizer. Liquid fertilizer is easiest to apply, never apply fertilizer to dry soil, because it will result in root injury.

When repotting – this is best done on mature plants every two to three years – cut the jade back to help it re-established more quickly. Jade plants grow best in cactus mix soil with some added organic matter, or you can your own potting media by mixing one part sterilized organic soil, one part sphagnum peat moss, and three parts coarse sand. When you plant it into a larger pot, put some soil in the bottom of the pot and firm the soil around the old root ball. Water the soil thoroughly at first, and don’t water again until the soil dries out on top.

Jade propagation is simple: take stem tip cuttings in spring and let them sit for five days to develop a callus over the cut end. Then root the cuttings and leaves in a moist sand/peat medium. This gives plenty of air for root development and a better chance of survival when transplanting. Roots that develop in water don’t take as well to being moved to potting soil as those that are rooted in sand or a sand/peat combination.

In Victorian times messages of love were sent with flowers, each type and color having its own meaning. Should someone send you a bouquet of red roses, they were speaking of love. Should the roses be yellow, they were saying they’re jealous.

Modern relationships are carried out differently – nowadRosesays, love is celebrated by sending flowers, candies, and text messages. “I lv U” has replaced floral displays, but sending flowers is still a great way to express passion for that special person in your life. With all of the new varieties of flowers, what would Victorian florists send in today’s world of modern love?

Roses are great if you’re already in a relationship. But what about the person who has a crush on the girl in the next office cubicle, and isn’t sure if she is interested in return? Try sending mixed wildflowers – they’re non-committal, casual, and not intense. Frightening people is a real risk in today’s romance scene, and wildflowers have less of a reputation for commitment.

Wildflowers can be grown in the garden for just such casual occasions. However, this does not mean picking weeds to give; save those for when asking for a divorce.

Unsure whether it’s time to take the relationship to the next level, or keep it casual? Send Gerbera daisies, tulips, and freesias. Together these make a unique mix with big flowers, bold color and soft fragrance. This step above standard bouquets sets the stage for better things, while leaving an “it’s just casual” safety net should the receiver become alarmed at the idea of closer involvement.

Occasionally people come together for brief romantic interludes.   In some cases those involved want to remain friends without continued entanglement, and carnations are an ideal choice to send. Inexpensive and commonly found in many retail stores, they soften the words without encouraging further involvement. Carnations say “Yes, I’m sending a flower to thank you, but I don’t really want anything more”.

Unless, of course, it was the interlude of a lifetime, one never to be repeated yet sizzling and memorable. The absolute must-send bouquet for this is made up of yellow daylilies for the fleetness of love, blue forget-me-nots for remembrance, and red Crocosmia “Lucifer” for the devil that made you do it.

Relationships may encounter a few bumpy times, and lovers have ways of communicating this, such as blasting Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” over the stereo. When this happens, hustling quickly over to the florists to choose unique flowers for one-of-a-kind bouquets is best. Hand-pick tropical flowers and orchids to show an effort went into the apology, a good thing to demonstrate to an irritated spouse.

Flowers can encompass the wide range of love found in our world. Close friends can be celebrated with unusual arrangements, such as floral displays placed in items that evoke unique interests or shared moments. Think outside the box when choosing both flowers and the vase to hold them. Often personal items, such as a bike helmet, can convey deep appreciation for friends and the connection you have together. 

For those who have no clue where they are in a relationship, the safest way to go is with traditional roses. They’re formal, standard, and are the best fall-back when you don’t want to risk not doing enough. But don’t underestimate them: due to their reputation as beacons of love they may help the receiver to feel more strongly about the sender. Especially if the roses are made from chocolate.

cropped-dsc_0032.jpg  The depths of winter is a gardener’s favorite time, where we curl up under a lap throw and delve into seed catalogs. Each new variety or old friend is weighed and considered for inclusion in the upcoming garden; the shopping list grows along with the gardener’s contentment.

Perusing my stack of brightly colored, glossy catalogs helped nurse me through a bout of flu, distracting me from feeling sorry for myself and ensuring I didn’t drive my spouse crazy with pathetic cries for aspirin, juice, or more tissue. I thumbed the pages with vegetables to try, such as Mexican sour gherkins (tiny, one-inch fruits with sweet cucumber flavor and an almost-pickled sour tang), Lows Champion dry bean for making a sweet pot of baked beans in winter, and the stunning, conical, deep mauve-colored Kalibos cabbage.

Deep into my shopping, a new lettuce variety stopped me short. The chartreuse and maroon romaine Ruby Glow looked gorgeous and sounded delicious, yet I stopped, not because I would move mountains to have it, but because the price was astounding: $6.95 for one packet of seed. I thought it was a flu-induced hallucination.

Shock turned to anger as I turned the pages, finding more and more examples of pricey seed packets. When did the basics of gardening get so expensive? It’s not like we’re ordering a half-caff, skinny dipped, two pumps of classic, soy-based mocha latte. These are seeds, the building basics of every garden.

And when gardeners buy seeds, we buy them like it’s an addiction.  We become hunter-gatherers, ordering varieties from different companies, consulting with friends, cobbling together the perfect, unique combination of crops that fit us like a glove. I used to think we really can’t help ourselves, until this catalog arrived.

The price halted me. It got me thinking, which is never a good thing. We aren’t known for calculating the cost of seed to table, but if we did, we’d find truth in William Alexander’s the $64 Tomato book (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $10.93). Yet I started calculating.

For that price, I could order two packets from other sources and have two different types of crops. Variety is the spice of gardening. I also know that, caught up in the frenzy of shopping at somewhat low prices, I don’t pay much attention to how many packets I’m purchasing, which is a very good marketing strategy for companies to have. Adding in shipping costs magnified the grumbling in my mind.

I continued to flip pages, not-so-silently judging the company’s pricing. In other catalogs there are pricey packets, but in general, the companies keep prices reasonable. Local companies also have sales in garden centers; we can pick up our packets from them and avoid shipping costs.

EAB PA DCNR  Think our recent cold snaps might halt the Emerald Ash borer in its tracks? Not likely, according to the United States Forest Service. Even though the polar vortexes are creating havoc on our landscapes, one place that’s still cozy is deep inside the wood of trees.

For the cold to smack the Green Menace down, temperatures have to dip to at least minus 20-degrees F inside the wood, and even colder temperatures are needed to kill higher numbers of larvae. Boulder hasn’t seen those types of low temps, so don’t count on Mother Nature giving the cold shoulder to the emerald pest this winter.

Read their report on how cold temps help stop the bug.


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