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Posts Tagged ‘Tree’

More fall leaves...

More fall leaves… (Photo credit: life is good (pete))

Though the season seemed endless, the recent cold snap has convinced even the die-hard gardeners that fall is well under way.  Winter is around the corner, so before the holidays distract you and chill days drive you indoors, take advantage of the lingering warmth to tuck the landscape in to bed.

 Here are a few suggestions for helping your garden head into winter:

 Wrap young trees.  With a few moments out of your busy schedule, wrapping a young tree to tuck it in for winter is an easy way to keep your sapling strong.

 Winter can be a rollercoaster of warm days and cold nights, which wreak havoc on young, thin barked trees that have not grown old enough to form protective corky bark. Sun hitting trunks on south and west sides warms the bark and cells underneath, causing them to lose their cold protection.  As nighttime temperatures plunge, these cells freeze and burst, resulting in sunscald on the trunk, an area that will be prone to disease in summer.

 Sapling fruit trees are vulnerable to sunscald, as well as lindens, honeylocusts, ashes, oaks, maples, and willows.  Protect them for the first two to three years they’re in your landscape by wrapping them with tree wrap in early in November.

 Wrap from the ground upward, overlapping each layer over the lower one by one-half-inch until you reach the lowest branch.  Use tape to hold the wrap in place, making sure the tape doesn’t stick to the trunk.

 Mulch perennial beds.  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.

 If the leaves are from trees that aren’t diseased, pile them 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 rotting, dead plants to convert them to 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.

 To build a compost pile:

–          Select an out-of-the-way area at least 4-by 4-feet wide.

–          Gather together both green and brown plant material – you’ll need twice as much brown material as green.

–          For faster composting, chop the plants into small chunks before mixing them into the pile.

–          Layer brown and green material into a pile, adding water with each layer until the pile feels damp, like a sponge.  If the pile is soggy to soaking, add more material in until it dries a little.

–          The compost should heat up within a week and be very warm to the touch.  Once it begins to cool, turn it from the outside in and sprinkle with more water to recharge the microorganisms.

–          When the compost no longer heats up after turning, looks like crumbled humus and has an earthy smell, it’s ready to be added to your soil.

 Give trees and shrubs one last, big drink.  Research has shown that the best thing to do for trees and shrubs as they head into winter is to give them a deep soaking before the ground freezes.  This helps prevent winter desiccation of branches, needles, or evergreen leaves, so for good woody plant health, give them a last soaking when temperatures are warm.  Be sure to disconnect the hose from the faucet once you’ve finished watering.

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Today’s post can be heard on the public radio show Crop to Cuisine, hosted by Dov Hirsch.

There’s a thug lurking in your neighborhood, taking every opportunity to attack your precious tree fruit.  With oozing droplets and a hoard of unwitting helpers, it moves from tree to tree, torching twigs and branches until the tree looks scorched.  Evidence of the infection becomes more obvious as we head into June.

 Fire blight is a bacterial disease that affects certain plants in the rose family. It is especially destructive to apple, pear, quince and crabapple. It attacks in spring, when temperatures reach 65 degrees F and frequent rain occurs, and then bacteria overwintered in cankers on the tree resume activity, multiplying rapidly.

 Though the good news is that we’ve had some rain and humidity, the bad news is:  the recent weather created good conditions for this damaging disease.  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 such as bees, ants, flies, aphids and beetles are attracted to this ooze, pick up the bacteria on their bodies, and inadvertently carry the bacteria to opening blossoms. Bacterial ooze splashed by rain also can spread the disease.

 Young branch tips can be infected through air openings on leaves, called stomata, air openings on branches, called lenticels, or, more commonly, through wounds created by pruning, insects, or hail storms.

 Droplets of ooze can form on these infected twigs within three days and fruit may be infected through insect feeding wounds. Girdling cankers – areas of disease on the wood – eventually develop from branch or blossom infections.  Leaves wilt, darken and curl to form a shepherd’s crook. This gives the tree a fire-scorched appearance, thus the name “fire blight.” 

 There is no cure for this disease, so prevention is the best solution. Fire blight control methods include use of resistant varieties, cultural practices, pruning and spraying. Using resistant varieties is the most effective prevention method, but keep in mind that resistance doesn’t mean immunity.

 Remove and destroy newly infected young twigs as soon as possible, so that your tree doesn’t become the mother ship for disease in the neighborhood.   Do this when no rain is predicted for at least two weeks.   It may be best to leave pruning until winter when the bacteria are not active. This reduces infection on the tree and the number of bacteria available to infect healthy blossoms and shoots.

 In young twigs, make cuts at least 12 inches below the dark, visible edge of infection to avoid slicing into the bacteria. Remove all blighted twigs and cankered branches. Prune larger limbs about 6 to 12 inches below the edge of visible infection.

 After each cut, surface sterilize all tools used in pruning. Spray tools with Lysol or dip tools in 70-percent ethyl alcohol, or a 10-percent bleach solution.  Bleach can rust tools, so if you use this to sterilize your pruners, wash them after you’re done and apply a light tool oil to keep them rust-free.

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Watching television is an endurance test, not for me, but for my spouse.  At any moment, the drone from the box will be split by an ear shattering “WHAT?” followed by my going on a five minute tirade whenever a commercial for a big box store comes on.  The 30-second ad gives me more of an aerobic workout than I get all day, what with my flailing arms, leaps from the sitting position, and fast march back and forth in front of the set.

The big box store, eager to cash in on gardeners’ enthusiasm for planting, has a chirpy commercial touting their expertise in plants, potting soil, and everything else to make your garden bloom.  Ahh, but the savvy gardener rises up in horror when the ad shows a tree plucked from its pot and plomped in the ground, not because the tree is planted, but how.

The three-second scene shows a man grabbing the tree by the trunk in order to lift it from its pot, which proves that the fellow doing this is an actor, not a gardener.  A gardener knows this is a no-no.  Grabbing the tree by the trunk to lift the heavy root ball from the pot puts the tree at risk of damage to the bark, which is sensitive in spring growth.

A good way to handle a containerized tree at planting is to dig your planting hole (which should be three times the width of the container, and the same depth as the root ball), then gently lay the containerized tree on its side.  Slide the tree from the container by tapping lightly on the sides of the container to get it to loosen away from the root ball.  Then set the tree upright and lift it from below the root ball to set it gently into place.  Score the sides of the root ball to cut any circling roots, then backfill the hole.

The ad doesn’t show this, so when it comes on, I lean forward, unable to look away from the flagrant foul the store commits.  Shrieking that the ad should have a “do not try this at home,” disclaimer, the diatribe begins anew.

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When you live with a gardener, it’s important to have ground rules, especially when it comes to new cars.  If you don’t establish boundaries with us, we’ll put the darndest things in that vehicle, things that are guaranteed to take away the new-car smell.

I married a car guy, one who loves heavy metal as much as I love the garden.  So when we purchased the convertible of my spouse’s dreams – a sweet Volvo C70 – he sat me down, gently took my hands, and laid down the law.  “That is a luxury vehicle,” he began, making sure we had eye contact.  “Promise me you won’t put plants in it.”  I nodded yes.

“No straw bales.  No buckets of fish for the pond.  No flats of seedlings.”  Nod, nod, nod.  “And honey,” he said, leaning slightly closer for emphasis, “no – absolutely no – manure.”

Before you get the wrong impression, let me say that my spouse normally doesn’t get heavy-handed with me.  But in this circumstance he knows me well, and knows that in the frenzy of spring, I’ll pack the car brim-full with supplies and plants, without regard for upholstery, carpeting, or vinyl. 

Because his request was reasonable and we do own a pickup, I happily agreed.  After all, I have rules, too, out in the garden.  No stepping in the raised beds.  No using weed whackers against the tree trunks.  No picking flowers unless you ask first (this is for the children in the neighborhood, but my spouse thinks it applies to him, and I let him).

In the 18 months we’ve owned the car I’ve done well with the rules, only getting away with a few seedlings in the trunk by placing them in a plastic box designed to keep the carpet dry.  But this all changed in the second spring of ownership, when fruit trees were offered for sale at a local store.

“Let’s see if they have what you want,” my spouse suggested when spring storms were keeping us from yard work.  And off we went, to discover that the store had one remaining Honeycrisp apple tree, a sturdy sapling as tall as I.  I was overjoyed.

Proudly we wheeled it from the store to our car, where we realized that, in our haste to go shopping, we forgot what we went shopping for.  My spouse glanced from car to tree, tree to car.  He opened the trunk and attempted to tuck it in.  But it wouldn’t fit, and after one look at my crestfallen face, my spouse sighed, shook his head, and put down the top of his beloved convertible. 

It turns out that seat belts are remarkably good at crossing the container and trunk of a tree, so that the sapling could ride home in safety.  Slowly we drove through town, cruising at a sedate 20 mph.  A fine spray of soil and mulch arose from the container, swirling to coat the interior as we headed home. 

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 Drivers behind us were not impressed, but when they honked I waved a hand at the tree and they seemed to realize what we were doing.  Either that or they were stunned speechless to see a tree strapped in like a toddler in our car. 

We arrived home without mishap, the honeycrisp is planted and the car has been vacuumed.  Sitting down together later that day, my spouse took my hands, looked into my eyes, and gently began “promise me you won’t put more plants in that car….”

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When the call came in that a spruce tree was ailing in a way that baffled the local nursery, I was intrigued.  Garden center staff see a lot of strange plant things, and in order to stump them, the problem is usually a puzzler.

Any time a tree behaves badly I rush out to see it, like an ambulance chaser following a crew armed with chainsaws and chippers.  To avoid the disappointment of arriving to find the tree is normal, I’ve learned to ask for a description of the problem over the phone first.

“It defies description,” said the kind man on the other end of the line, “I honestly don’t know where to begin.”  Now, normally people have no trouble putting their plant’s distress into words, usually relying on such phrases as “bugs are eating my tree,” “weird oozing,” or the popular “I just woke up this morning and it was dead.” 

Here was a man who was speechless to describe it, and because he was referred to me by the nurseryman, I drove over.

 That nurseryman was right; one had to see this to believe it.  Under a mature spruce tree, thousands of small twigs littered the ground, falling from a tree towering more than 30-feet tall.  They were short tips of the branches, still green and succulent with life, covering the ground and lower branches.

The rain of twigs had been happening since mid-December, and to keep up with it, the couple had been sweeping up the twigs, collecting bushels full to take to the tree mulching yard.

I did the reconnaissance a tree diagnostician should do when coming upon a new patient – stood back and looked at the tree.  There were no obvious signs of stress – it looked healthy, top to bottom.  Stepping closer, the twigs scattered across the ground showed no signs of insects or disease.  But there was one, odd thing: A pattern to the cut ends.  They were all clipped at an angle. 

I’d seen this before, just not on such a large scale.  That angle was familiar, and slowly my eyes lifted to the fence line, upon which two squirrels were sitting and giving me the stink eye.  “You’ve got squirrels,” I said, “nipping your branches.”

Squirrels will do this, in winter or spring when food is hard to find.  They also do it at random times of the summer too, for no apparent reason.  Some foresters have suggested boredom.  And because the squirrels aren’t stripping the bark or eating the wood, I believe them.

There’s nothing to be done to stop the problem, but the good news it that the tree will be fine.  Although the damage seems alarming, a healthy tree can take a bit of twig loss.  If you find your tree suddenly losing its tips, check the discards closely for the tell-tale angled cut; if you find it, you’ll know it’s those squirrels, and not a disease.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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Some states elect wrestlers, others movie stars.  But in Colorado, we’ve elected a brewer.  Ok, yes, before that he was a geologist, but for any gardener who’s toiled under the blazing sun cutting a soon-to-be garden bed, well, a skill in brewing up cold, frosty beverages is more useful than being able to say that those rocks are limestone, granite, or gneiss.  Leave that conversation for after you’ve relaxed in the shade.

As John Hickenlooper is sworn in as the 42nd Governor of the state, I hope the man who launched the Million Tree Initiative in Denver takes that philosophy across the state.  Think of it – if an area the size of greater Denver can hold a million new trees by 2025, can’t he pack a few more into the state, until we become so thickly forested that we resemble Connecticut instead of Colorado?

Sadly, the answer is no, as anyone traveling the eastern or western borders of our state can attest.  It turns out we can’t really plant wall-to-wall trees, despite what bona fide treehuggers like myself want.   We’re limited by water, something trees need to grow big and strong.  On those borders I haven’t seen anything much larger than a shrub living outside of the towns. 

But a gardener can dream about taking over the planet with big, hulking vegetation, and trees are a gateway plant to other garden treasures.  Their shade keeps us cool, their branches support our children’s swings; the only thing I have against them is that they harbor squirrels who pilfer from my garden (it could be worse – if it gets much colder in portions of Florida, they’ll have those iguanas dropping from the trees again).

True, the Governor will have his hands full with the state budget, and yes, creating jobs, shrinking government and promoting the state are all worthy of his immediate attention.  But as long as he’s appointing a cabinet, toss in a tree czar – he can appoint an Ent to the position. 

Then the tree czar can get to work encouraging people to plant this spring, which is right around the corner.  There’s plenty to do, what with the new Front Range Tree Recommendation List being unveiled at ProGreen in February, The Colorado Garden and Home Show (also February), and planting starting in March.  

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Weather experts are predicting a mild winter this year, with above average temperatures and less snowfall.  Though “warmer” doesn’t mean it’s time to plan a luau for Christmas, scant snowfall and sunny days put your trees at risk from sunburn and dehydration.

So as you string your holiday lights, unpack your soaker hoses and break out the tree wrap, it’s time to get your plants ready for winter sunshine.  The secret to keeping trees healthy throughout the year lies in giving them moisture during the dormant season, and protect them from sunscald.       

What: Sun hitting trunks of young, thin barked trees warms the bark and cells underneath, causing them to lose their cold protection. As nighttime temperatures plunge, these cells freeze and burst, resulting in sunscald, an area that will be prone to disease in summer.

How:  Protect them for the first two to three years they’re in your landscape by wrapping them with tree wrap. Wrap from the ground upward, overlapping each layer over the lower one by one-half-inch until you reach the lowest branch. Use tape to hold the wrap in place, making sure the tape doesn’t stick to the trunk.  Mark your calendar to remove the wrap around April 15. 

Dragging wet hoses and getting sprayed with water can put a damper on anyone’s holiday mood, but with a little planning, winter watering can be a snap.

When:  Water once per month through March if we don’t have much snow or rain.  The lingering fall is keeping soil soft, letting rain soak in, but once temperatures get colder and the ground freezes, giving the trees a drink means watching the weather. 

Measure the snowfall at your house with a ruler to figure your plants’ watering needs. Write each storm’s accumulation on your calendar and add it up every four weeks.  Anything less than 12 inches of snow, total, means it’s time to water. 

How:  Pick a day when temperatures are above 40 and there’s no snow on the ground.  On frozen ground, water should be applied slowly, so spiral a soaker hose under the tree or use soft spray nozzle if watering by hand.  Have a timer on the faucet automatically shut off soaker hoses or plan on setting timers in the house to remind you to turn off water.

Tip:  Always disconnect hoses from faucets immediately after watering to prevent frozen pipes.  Plan to water at a time when you will be home to monitor temperatures, and water during the warmest part of the day.

Where:  Water around the dripline of the tree – the area that falls under the outer tips of the branches.   Soak the ground two to three feet on either side of the dripline, to a depth of 12 inches.  If using a soil needle, insert it no more than eight inches deep.  The roots that take up water are in the top 12 inches of the soil.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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