Archive for October, 2009

Young oak under snowload Driving to work this morning revealed the impact of this heavy, wet snowstorm.  Young trees, especially oaks, are bending under the weight of a foot or more of the white stuff.  Larger, older trees remain upright – thanks to stout trunks – but are lowering their branches as the flakes continue to fall.    downed tree

 And some trees are losing limbs. 

“It could have been worse, much worse,” said Ernie Wintergerst, Forestry Technician with the City of Longmont, as he climbed from the bucket of a cherry picker used in trimming a damaged Silver maple.  “That freeze a couple of weeks ago helped by making most of the trees lose their leaves.  If we’d had a typical October, the trees would have still had leaves and this would have been really bad.”

 Citycrews are busy trimming and clearing hazards from roadways and power lines, he said.  “There’s plenty for us to do today.”  If you spot a damaged or downed tree on public property, notify your city forester’s office so they can put it on the schedule for maintenance.  City Forester crews clearing damaged trees

 NEVER APPROACH A DOWNED LIMB ON A POWER LINE.  Call your power company to report it.

Caring for trees on private property is the responsibility of the owner but if your trees are overloaded from the snow there’s no need to panic, says Alison Stoven O’Connor, Horticulture Agent with Colorado State University Extension in Larimer county

“Because they hold snow, evergreen trees are a priority, but anything that hasn’t shed its leaves, like the oaks which don’t lose theirs until mid-winter, are cause for concern,” she said, “some people are suggesting you grab the branch or tree and shake it, but that might add to the stress on the wood.  A better approach is to use a broom to very carefully knock off snow.”

“If your tree has broken branches, the best thing you can do is to get the wound as neat and clean as possible,” Stoven O’Connor says, “take a sharp knife and remove all the jagged edges of bark around the tear.  Don’t bother with wound paint – the tree will heal the wound.”  Broken branch

If possible, trim branches to leave a clean cut, making sure you follow the three steps for proper pruning (which prevent bark tears):

1.  Twelve inches away from trunk or from where you want the prune to be, make your first cut on the underside of the branch, sawing upwards through one-third of the branch.

2.  One-inch outward from the undercut, saw downwards through branch.  At the point of no return, the weight of the branch will snap the limb, but the undercut will stop bark tearing of the tree. 

 3.  Make your last cut just outside the branch collar, the spot where branch and trunk join.  Often, you can see a slight swelling at this point. 

 Find a diagram of this pruning method at PlantTalk Colorado.

 “What we learned in Windsor after the tornado was that trees with 50-percent damage or more will probably not survive,” said Stoven O’Connor.  “If you’re not sure if your tree is a goner, contact an arborist to assess it.  Those with less damage should be cleaned up, then have close attention to care over the winter.  Water them if we’re dry, and keep them healthy.”





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We’re in the middle of a heavy, wet snowfall and if your tree hasn’t lost its leaves, the extra weight may cause some branch breakage.  But don’t rush out and whack off the snow – you could make things worse by wiping the snow off with a broom, grabbing and shaking the tree, or otherwise adding to the stress the wood is under.  

If you feel you must do something, gently bop the branch with the soft bristles of a broom from the BOTTOM up. This will dislodge the snow.  Gently is the way to go with this – you don’t want to flail away, bruising and tearing the branches in your desire to help that tree.

If the storm does damage, many people will try to put their trees back together again.  We do not recommend that split or broken trunks be glued, duct taped, screwed, cabled, stapled, super-glued, tied, propped, cemented or banded back onto the tree.  This will not result in the tree immediately fusing back together, á la Humpty Dumpty.  

In fact, this can lead to a very hazardous situation.  If the tree is seriously damaged, it may need to be assessed to determine if it is in a dangerous condition.  Hazard tree assessments require specifically trained experts to address this highly technical situation with potentially serious legal complications.  Many city foresters and certified arborists have the training (and insurance) to perform hazard tree evaluations. 

Pruning off the torn branches and cleaning up wound sites is the best answer for lightly damaged trees.  If the trunk bark is torn, take a sharp knife and clean the torn bark from the tree, leaving a smooth edge to the wound.  Wound paint isn’t recommended – the tree will seal that area itself, and wound paint only locks disease organisms or water into the wound.  

If you’re doing your own tree cleanup,  always put safety first.  Be cautious on ladders or when climbing a tree.  Look before you climb to see if any hazards, such as power lines, are in the way.

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Between the early freeze and the recent wind, our trees lost their leaves in a hurry.  Once again, we need to clean up the mess.  But raking, bagging and sending those leaves to the landfill is not a good idea, so why not use them in your landscape where fallen foliage turns to garden gold?

 Here are a few suggestions for living with those leaves:

Mow them with a mulcher and leave them on the lawn.  Researchers, motivated to find a way to avoid raking, have found that finely chopping leaves and letting them stay on the grass will return trace nutrients to the soil.  The decomposing leaves provide food for earthworms and other soil citizens, holds moisture for grass roots, and builds soil from the top down.   Big Tooth Maple

First, make sure the leaves are dry and then, using a power lawn mower, make two passes over the leaves on the lawn to chop them into fine pieces.  Move slowly across the yard, savoring each pass as it pulverizes the leaves.  If after two swipes the leaves still have large chunks, go over them again to get tiny particles.

Though this technique sounds tantalizingly easy, it must be repeated every three days to ensure that the leaves don’t build up too thickly on the lawn before mowing.  Should you miss a round or two, choose another use for your leaves, such as mulching perennial beds. 

Oak and cottonwood leaves should be used sparingly in this manner, as they have high amounts of tannin, and take longer to decompose.  Black walnut leaves should not be left on the lawn – they contain juglone, a chemical that prevents other plants from growing.

Mulch perennials.  Leaves make an excellent blanket for protecting perennials and woody plants from the ravages of winter.  In Colorado, thawing and freezing can lift roots, but covering the soil with a four to six-inch layer of leaves will keep temperatures consistently cool.

As long as your trees aren’t diseased, pile their leaves up around your plants and let the ones that blow into the beds settle there for winter.  In spring, rake the leaves out and put them in your compost pile.

Compost them.  Rotting, dead plants are converted to an organic material that, tilled into the soil, holds water and nutrients for roots to take up.  This is a great soil amendment to have on hand in spring.

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A co-worker of mine has an Oklahoma Brown tarantula in his office that has created a little havoc in the building where he works.  The tarantula is a male near the end of its eight-year life, a time when the boys leave their burrows to search for a girl. In addition to his wanderlust, this big fellow is a gifted Houdini.

Squirming from his cage last week he went in search of love, climbing down the stairs and jogging through the hallways, where he encountered a staff member on her way to the copier.  Upon spying the roaming Romeo the staffer gave a shriek, which summoned nearby graduate students to the rescue.

Fortunately this ended well for all involved, since large containers were handy to shepherd the spider back into captivity.  But despite being in a building filled with entomologists – and their buggy zoos – the gentle tarantula was still regarded with fear.

True, spiders will never be as cuddly as a praying mantis, but with the exception of black widows, spiders in Colorado are not a problem for humans.  So what is it about these silk spinning wonders that give people the creeps?

Could it be the eyes?  Though they possess six or eight, the web weavers don’t see very well, relying instead on vibrations along the spokes and radial lines of their web to cue them to potential prey.   With one exception (jumping spiders see very well), they don’t see us as anything other than a large lump to be ignored.

Most spiders hunt by night, creating a cheerful sight when their eyes, glowing from captured moonlight, dot the landscape.  To see spiders in your yard in the evening, take a flashlight and shine it along the ground or plants at a 45-degree angle.  Spider eyes will reflect light back toward you.

Perhaps it’s all those legs that give people the willies.  Having eight is useful for climbing over mulch or plants in search of a meal, and it helps to have an extra set of claws to grip a wriggling supper.  High-speed locomotion is critical for outrunning prey, and spider legs accomplish this by a combination of muscle and hydraulics, with some joints operated by blood pressure, others by contraction.

I’d love to have the legs of a spider.  They taste with their feet, and with that many, it’s an adaptation that would come in handy whenever the dessert tray is offered at a restaurant. 

Webs can cause consternation when people walk through them, their clinging strands annoying and hard to remove.  Yet spider silk is a marvel of nature, both strong and elastic.  The claim that it’s five times the strength of steel is true – steel, spun as finely as silk, is brittle.     

 The worst misconception is that all spider bites cause necrotic wounds – those which don’t heal.  This is a bum rap when most of them are so small their fangs can’t break our skin.  Yet fear of spiders has lead to wholesale stomping of this tiny helper. 

Give them a break and less them pass by without harm.  At this time of year, like the wandering tarantula, they’re probably just out looking for love.

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The Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado are at it again, giving us wise advice on keeping our sprinkler systems in top shape.  After their helpful information on winterizing the backflow preventer published in a previous post, they have super-sized their advice by sending out instructions on the rest of the system:

“Each year, many Colorado homeowners have serious water damage when the sprinkler system left in summer-mode freezes in November or December.  Winterizing most sprinkler systems runs in the $100 range, but repairs due to freeze damage can be many times that amount.  Proper winterization can save you a world of grief–and a lot of dollars. 

How to get your system ready for winter:
-Wrap the backflow prevention device located outside to help prevent freezing before your system is fully winterized.

– Shut off the water to the sprinkler system.  There’s usually a shut-off valve in the basement.

– Drain water from the backflow prevention device from the ports. 

On warm days, you can turn the water back on and run the system until it is winterized.

Schedule a winterization.  Some homeowners think draining the sprinkler system is all they need to do.  But even when the system is drained, water often remains in the pipes and in the sprinkler heads.  Remember, water expands when it freezes and pressure from that expansion can burst pipes and damage sprinkler heads and other parts.

 Winterizing is done with an air compressor, and because of the equipment, usually requires the help of a landscape service contractor.  The compressor is hooked up to the sprinkler system and zone-by-zone pushes air into the pipes so that all the water is forced out. This process takes 1 to 3 minutes per zone.  Winterizing the system with compressed air is the best way to make sure your sprinkler system has no water in it that can freeze, create damage and lead to costly repairs. 

What to do with the controller (timer):

If the controller is outdoors – Manufacturers recommend leaving the power on and the dial or switch in the “Off” position. 

If the controller is indoors – Either leave the power on and the dial or switch in the “Off” position OR remove the battery backup and unplug the transformer from the power outlet.

 To find a contractor to winterize your sprinkler system, go to www.alcc.com and click on Find a Pro.

Published with permission from ALCC.

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Gardeners, here’s a topic we must look squarely in the eye and discuss.  I speak of the Associated Press story on  investors in Greeley, Colorado, planning to turn manure into clean, refreshing energy. 

I have no beef with green energy.  Finding new ways to fuel our lives is a responsible thing to do, and the amount of dung produced near Greeley is impressive.  According to the JBS Five Rivers feeding company website, their cattle yards can house around 90,000 head in that location, each dropping approximately 2,700 pounds of waste per year, or 121,500 tons per herd annually.  That is one big pile of poo.

 This much manure releases methane in copious amounts, perfuming the air above the lot and, when storms bear down on us from the north, surrounding cities as well (prevalent winds).  These businessmen want to harness that fragrant treasure to power…a cheese factory. 

They want to power other businesses in a new clean-energy park too.  But LePrino has a factory in the area and is scheduled to open a new, larger facility less than 10 miles from the cattle yards.  As their website proclaims, they are a world leader in premium quality cheese.   It would be nice if they, or another company, could use the odorous off-gas of manure to produce and cut their cheese, packaging it for sale.

Mooving to clean energy is not without risks, and a worried group of farmers are lamenting the economic disaster this will cause, predicting a shortage of dung will drive up the demand for – and cost – of fertilizer.  The last thing northern Colorado needs is a media spotlight on the potential poo panic; we’re just recovering from a different incident that involved hot air.

 For now, gardeners shouldn’t worry or hoard their dung; this could result in a run on manure that could stampede out of control.

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October is a difficult time.  In this month, one of the best beneficials in the garden is maligned, cast as a villain and used in effigy as a Halloween horror.  What a cruel reputation the spider has, when all it really needs is a little understanding. 

Once you get to know these web-spinning wonders, you’ll welcome them into your garden and yard, so celebrate the month by taking a peek into life as the thing many people fear the most.

 Let’s start with a Halloween love story.

Some time ago, I was asked if it’s true that spiders scream while mating.  A friend had read this in the local paper and wanted to check if it were true.  This set me to thinking….

Why would they? 

From the female’s perspective, the wooing and winning of love often involves having to endure the male dancing about, rushing in to tap her on the head to see if she’s interested, and dashing away in case she’s not.  This goes on, back and forth, until the male, convinced of success at winning her heart, gently enfolds her in his arms.  All eight of them. 

 Who wouldn’t scream at being held in arms covered in spines and tipped with claws?

How delighted she must be when he runs his fangs in a loving caress along the back of her head.  Males don’t like to approach the front – that’s where her fangs are, and he isn’t taking chances.  His embrace is from the back, and since the female is typically much larger than the male,  he has to hold on somehow.  Fangs are a handy way to grip her in the embrace.

How romantic.

If this weren’t enough, consider that he has not one, but two pedipalps (male spider genitalia) with which to woo, for reasons I’ll talk about later.

Female spiders aren’t the only ones who have good reason to scream.  There’s risk involved for the male and the whole process is one long, stressful event.  After spending his life minding his own business, he has his final molt, at which time he leaves his web in search of a female. 

He may no longer hunt or be interested in food, he’s so consumed with finding the girl.  Following a silken thread perfumed with pheromones, drumming the ground to provoke a response, or wandering about hoping for the best, the search may take him far from home.

This often leads him into danger from other spiders, predatory birds, or human houses.  Males looking for love are a large number of the spiders found in our homes;  how sad that their quest for love often meets a tragic end under someone’s shoe.  (The female doesn’t engage in such nonsense – she has better sense than to give up her food and housing just to search for a guy). 

Once the female is found the risk increases.  They are almost always larger – like a school bus is to a mini Cooper –  faster, stronger, and quite often, hungry.  It’s a thin line between being a suitor or being a supper, and males must take steps to ensure that the female is well fed before any love happens. 

Some males use the ‘tap-and-dash’ method to test her willingness or pluck her web lines like a lute; others take no chances and bring living food as a nuptial gift.  “Here, have dinner,” is a plan tried by many animals in this world.

Yet once she accepts the male, there’s still risk.  True, he has two pedipalps, which seems impressive, worth boasting over.  But there’s a rather gruesome reason for this:  with many species, after the nuptials take place the male must seal off the female to make sure no other male can impregnate her.  He does this by snapping off the pedipalp to leave as a plug.  When a spider decides to ‘break it off’ with his girl – he really means it. 

 Are you screaming yet?

To answer the question “do spiders scream while mating?” one has to respond “who wouldn’t?”.  But spiders don’t have vocal chords or bellows-like lungs with which to scream.  Their sounds come from rubbing legs, drumming the ground and other external means.  So the answer is “no”, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if they could.

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Just because they’re pampered, smell good, and look great with a tuxedo-clad guy doesn’t mean this princess is a pushover.  In fact, when it comes to hanging tough once the weather gets ugly, the rose proves it’s about as delicate as Mac truck.  Rose hips in fall

Frost, wind, snow and chilly days aren’t enough to stop this blooming beauty, so if you’re putting your garden to bed this month, wait to tuck your roses in until nights in your area are consistently 26 degrees F.  Until then, they’ll continue to bloom even though the weather has us shivering.

 “Don’t put winter protection on too soon,” says Joan Franson, an American Rose Society Master Rosarian, “roses will keep blooming in temperatures down to 30, 28, or 27, but even the dumbest ones know it’s time to go to sleep at 26 degrees.”  Monitor the weather at your house instead of relying on temperatures recorded at the airport, she says, “you’re not growing roses there.”

To become a Master Rosarian, Franson spent over 10 years consulting with rose gardeners in Colorado on how to get the most from their plants.  With her mix of humor and good advice, your roses will survive the winter and be the beauty of the garden for years to come.

 – Begin cutting back on their water now to slow them down, she says, which will also help them harden off.  But do this slowly over the next two to three weeks – going cold turkey is sure to shock them.

 – Wait until temperatures are 22 degrees for several nights before mulching over the crown and graft of the rose.   Scoop several shovels of soil or a mix of compost and bark mulch up over the crown, burying it eight to ten inches deep.  Use an open collar or ring around the plant to hold the mulch in place. 

 Canadian hardy roses and shrub roses are tough enough that they don’t need mulching, unless they were planted this past season and are still getting established.  Hybrids need the extra blanket mulch provides to get through Colorado’s rollercoaster winter temperatures.  Clip old flowers just under blossom

– Deadheading blooms in October – where old, spent flowers are removed – should be done without stimulating the plant to grow new shoots.  By clipping the blossoms just below the flower, but well above the leaves, you’ll get rid of decaying petals without getting new growth. 

 In most cases, canes shouldn’t be pruned until spring; our dry winters cause a bit of cane die back and if you’ve clipped your stems, you’ll have less that survives the season.  But if your plant grew vigorously this year and canes are very tall, cut them back by one-third to keep them from being whipped around and damaged by wind.

 – If the plant had insect or disease problems, apply a sanitizing spray of fungicide and insecticide, covering leaves and canes as well as the ground around the bed under the rose.  This helps suppress spores and bugs that might over winter. 

When we have the warm up so common in January or early February, apply a second dose of this spray to the rose to keep problems at bay.  Safer soaps or horticultural oils also work for this purpose in organic gardens.

 – As our ground freezes and winter sets in, keep an eye on moisture in the soil, watering on warm days above 45 degrees F.  In fall, just before our first predicted hard freeze, deep-water roses to protect the roots from drying out, now that we aren’t actively watering the garden.

(Note to readers:  today’s post first appeared as one of my weekly gardening columns in northern Colorado newspapers.  But Master Rosarian Joan Franson assures me the information is useful no matter where you live, just adjust the timing to match your local conditions. To read more of my columns, please see the Boulder Camera, Longmont Times-Call, or Loveland Reporter-Herald.)

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Fellow blogger Jodi Torpey asked an excellent question about the speed with which her ash tree dropped its leaves this weekend.  Reading her post on this in her blog, I couldn’t help but comment to her that my black walnut had done the same thing – dropped all of its leaves in a great, big circle all around its base.

Oddly, my burr oak still holds its leaves despite the frigid temps, something Jodi has noticed going on all over the area; some trees holding onto their canopies, others shedding them fast.  Her question “is it normal for some trees to experience sudden leaf drop after subfreezing temps?” had me diving into the research to find the answer.

Deciduous trees lose their leaves in fall by ‘abscission’.

Taking their cue from changes in temperature, length of daylight, and natural aging, trees form an abscission layer between leaf and branch with cells that get larger and harder, shutting off water flow to the leaf (also shutting off chlorophyll, which is part of the reason leaves change color in fall). 

Eventually the leaf is completely separated from the tree and falls gently to earth.  Every species of tree will do this on its own schedule; some early, others late. 

When temperatures drop below freezing, the abscission layer hardens more rapidly, cutting off the leaf’s connection to the tree.  Any weight, such as snow or movement from wind, will make these leave drop from the tree.  Some of our trees were at the right stage in their fall abscission to lose every leaf to the freeze all at once.

The good news is that this shouldn’t harm them.  Yes, left on their own more of the potassium and phosphorous in the leaves would have been absorbed back into the plant, but the trees can take a small loss of these nutrients if they were healthy.

A different result from this cold snap will have the opposite effect:  when we get a hard freeze in early October, some trees haven’t had time to develop the abscission layer. On these trees the leaves freeze and remain attached to the branches.

Eventually wind and snow will force those leaves to drop, but in the meantime there is a danger of branch breaking if we get a wet, heavy snow, where the added weight held by the clinging leaves can be a problem.  Keep an eye on your branches when we get those wet snows, and be prepared to prune should damage occur.

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Ok, so the snow took everyone by surprise – not that we don’t get a few flakes in October, but we got DUMPED on last night if you live up north by the Wyoming border.  A buddy who lives up there reported 14 inches at his house this morning.

Those of us further south didn’t get that much, but if you’re one of those who did and are worried about trees and shrubs bending under the weight of the snow, relax.  You don’t have to rush out and whack off the snow; in fact, you could make things worse if you do.

You see, most people try to help overburdened branches by wiping the snow off with a broom, sweeping from the top of the branch like you would when clearing off your car.  The weight of your sweeping – even lightly – with that broom adds to the weight of the snow, often being the last straw for the branch and it cracks.

Try to let the day warm and slough the snow off naturally.  I know it’s hard – those branches look like they can’t take any more.  If you feel you must do something, gently bop the branch with the soft bristles of the broom from the BOTTOM up. This will dislodge the snow.

Gently is the way to go with this – you don’t want to flail away, bruising and tearing the branches in your desire to help that tree.

 Perennials, grasses, roses, and other landscape plants should be fine.  But check small water features to ensure that pumps aren’t getting frozen.

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