Posts Tagged ‘Trees’

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.

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The Lorax Lesson

The Lorax

Image via Wikipedia

One of the joys of parenthood is indoctrinating your child in your views, molding their impressionable minds into clones of yourself and your thinking.  Launching them upon society, a parent hopes that one day those seeds will bring forth an adult as completely entrenched in their visions as they are, which, of course, is The Only Good and Just Way. 

 If you’re a gardener it means saving the world, one seed at a time.  So it was with purpose that I read to my toddling son books and tales of controversy, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Good Night, Moon.  Deliberately, I selected material to foster in him environmental awareness, rabid tree-hugging, and rampant dirt worshipping.  It meant, of course, that I read him The Lorax.

 The Dr. Seuss classic, published in 1971 and now a major motion picture, is, according to some critics, a left-wing Hollywood conspiracy, a pinko-commie plot to indoctrinate children into being anti-industry and pro-trees.  Cue the outraged gasps. 

 What’s surprising is that anyone would assume the movie would have a different message than the book, which is a lesson in the effects of deforestation, human-centric consumptionism, and the dangers of a throw-away society.  What shouldn’t surprise others is that many gardeners will flock to see it.

 Growing up in our house, my son saw parallels between the book and real life every day, so the message doesn’t frighten him.  If you’ve read it, you know it’s a tale of a furry, mustachioed creature that “speaks for the trees,” something I do regularly by shouting at television ads and whispering warnings to shoppers in stores.  

 When the Lorax appears, he’s mistaken for a tree since he’s wearing foliage on his head.  Nothing new about that in our house, either; it’s a source of pride to see my son pluck a seed from me and joke “you’ve got hollyhocks in your hair again.”

 Saving trees is a message we get behind in our house, and I confess that the moment the Once-ler gave the boy-hero the last Truffula tree seed, encouraging him to plant it in the middle of town for all to enjoy, I nodded, because a gardener would plant over everything if given the chance.

 For me, that’s the message – go out and plant a tree, and the best time to do so is now.  Choose the site carefully for exposure and room for the tree to grow where it won’t rub against houses or power lines.

Measure the height of the root ball to determine depth of planting hole, which should be one to two- inches shorter than the root ball.  Dig a saucer-shaped planting hole, three-times the root ball width.  Straight sides limit root expansion, so slope the sides of the hole. 

Prevent sinking of the tree by firmly tamping down the bottom of the hole.  Remove the tree from container, clip any girdling roots, score the root ball, then set tree in place so that the knees of the root ball – where the ball begins curving in toward the top – are an inch higher than the soil line.

Pack soil around the lower third of the root ball, to help stabilize it, then backfill the rest of the hole, leaving soil loose.  Add water to firm the soil around the root ball, then backfill again.  Water the planting area and mulch the tree.

With car chases, a granny with attitude, and corny musical numbers, I worried that the message would be lost.  But in the closing scene, as tiny, new Truffula seedlings were tended by the contrite Once-ler, a little boy in the row in front of me said “I want some of those.”   And I thought, yes you do, and so do we all.

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Now that gardening season is so close we can taste it, I’ve returned to the digital screen in a series of how-to videos, produced by the Boulder Camera, a newspaper that carries my gardening column. 

The first in this year’s series is a blatant attempt by me to distract all of you green thumbs from rushing forth into the garden and, in your enthusiasm for spring, do harm.  This happens in several ways, such as tilling soil, wet from snows, which creates clumps that dry into cement-like hardness. 

Other gardeners are starting seeds, which is fine.  Except some people are starting plants like cucumbers or summer squash, which, as a warm season vegetable, don’t get planted out until mid-May.  Giving a plant like that a 10 week head start is alarming – imagine how big they are on the 1st of August, which is ten weeks from when we direct sow them into the ground!  My zucchini is easily three-feet wide by that time.

Yes, the madness must stop, at least temporarily. 

Instead, dance between the rain showers this weekend and prune your fruit trees.  Check out how to work with cherry and peach trees in this week’s video.

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Organic Bartlett pears (Williams Bon Chrétien ...

Image via Wikipedia

Every year has bumper crops and busted dreams, so a gardener learns to go with the flow.  Though chilly nights this summer kept some vegetables to a minimum, Mother Nature made up for her stinginess with an overload of tree fruit.  Apples and pears are on people’s minds, and if you’ve been staring at the tree trying to figure out when to clear your schedule for harvest, here are some hints for getting perfect fruit. 

Apples are easy to tell ripeness on because they hit you on the head when ready.  Dropping from the tree by bushels, your yard gets covered in slightly bruised, ready-to-eat fruit.  This makes a mess; laying there it begins to spoil, fermenting until you worry that the wasps and squirrels nibbling on it will start throwing drunken toga parties. 

 Those fallen apples have to be used quickly; they won’t store well after hitting the ground.  Jelly, sauce, and frozen pie fillings are best ways to preserve that harvest. 

 But apples don’t ripen at the same time; some finish early, others late.  If you’re lucky enough to have late types, you’re in position to harvest apples for storage through winter.  Picked when mature but not fully ripe, they’ll keep for months at 32 F.  Leave the stem on when storing, and pack them in plastic lined boxes that hold humidity.

To gauge an apple’s readiness, get to know the skin color before it ripens.  This is known as “ground color.”  As apples ripen, the area facing the tree usually colors up last; watch this spot closely.  Once its ground color changes from bright green to creamy or yellow-green, the apples are ready.  Pluck them as soon as possible to prevent them from fully ripening on the tree.  

 Pears are challenging, cantankerous enough to make gardeners want to take up another hobby.  Ripening from the inside out, if left on the tree, they’re mushy by the time you think they’re ready.  But picked early, and the fruit just sits there until it rots instead of ripens.    

 The way to wrest control over pears is to turn the ripening process on its head through chilling.  Pick pears when they’re just becoming mature, the point at which the fruit detaches when tilted horizontally from their hanging position (Boscs don’t do this; they cling to the tree).

Once pears are picked, cool them to about 30 F; the sugars keep the fruit from freezing.  Hold Bartlett pears at this temperature for a day or two, others such as Anjou or Bosc for two to six weeks.  Then bring them back up to 65 to 75 degrees to ripen.  Depending on how long they were chilled, Bartletts are ready in four or five days, Boscs in five to seven days, and Anjou in a week to 10 days.   

Gauge ripeness by gently pressing the neck of the pear just below where the stem joins the fruit. If it yields evenly to gentle pressure, it’s ready to eat.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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Here’s an entry from the horticulture police files:

How much convenience shopping do we need?

 Who actually heads down to the local warehouse grocery to pick up a set of radials and a six-pack of trees?  I really shouldn’t be surprised; after all, this store sells everything from diapers and baby formula to caskets and cremation urns, so it must be logical to expect people to impulse purchase a plant that can live to 100 years or longer.

But when did Bridgestone get into the nursery business?  They aren’t rubber trees – I checked.  They’re fruit trees, poor things, bagged bare-root for sale at pennies on the pound.

You be the judge – do we really need to offer trees where we can buy sausage and auto parts?

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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, which one of you thumbed your nose at Mother Nature, upsetting her enough to visit the Wrath of a Ticked Off Elemental on us this summer?  I can’t remember the last time we’ve had such awful hailstorms. 

 The one Monday night – July 20 – brought gale force winds, two small tornados and Dorothy clutching Toto as they flew by.  While the big stuff – farms decimated, power knocked out, dented vehicles – is very serious and sad, there is one group so savaged by the hail that just seeing the pictures in the Denver Post had me howling in anguish:

 The trees.

 Uprooted and flung, limbs and trunks torn; the destruction is profound.  Many landscapes had trees completely defoliated, their branches now bare of leaves.  The question is:  is this fatal?

To find the answer, I went to Robert Cox, a co-worker with Colorado State University Extension.  Robert is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to trees, a fellow who cares a great deal for the strong, silent plants.

 “If they’re pretty well-established deciduous trees they should be ok,” said Robert, “because they’re used to putting out several flushes of leaves each season.  The ones that concern me only put out one flush, like pines or spruce – they can be badly damaged.”

 Though we’re well into July, deciduous trees should be able to leaf out again, but buds for next year’s leaves may be compromised.  Trees set buds for next year in summer; if those buds were torn off along with the leaves, the trees have to form new ones.  These young buds won’t have as long on the tree to grow plump and healthy before the tree goes dormant. 

 The result may be small leaves next year, and sparser amounts of them.  “Trees will look peaked, they won’t have as many leaves,” said Robert.  Make a note not to panic on your calendar for next year to remind yourself of the devastation this week.

 Bruising of the bark and the cambium below it may interfere with the tree’s ability to transport water, causing it to struggle in the heat.  Pay close attention to the water your tree receives, making sure it isn’t going dry.  In other words, water your tree.

 Help your tree with a light touch – too much love will end up adding insult to injury.  Clean up any broken branches by pruning them off with a clean cut.  Should the bark on the trunk be torn, use a sharp knife to clean off jagged edges of bark around the wound, then let the tree seal itself – without any wound paint.

 Apply a fungicide to the damaged area to keep disease at bay. 

 Above all, don’t fertilize the plant.  Yes, I know – our nurturing instinct is to offer a soothing cup of tea to the wounded; in this case it’s a splash of fertilizer to make it feel better, but for trees in July, this is counter productive.

 “Fertilizing now won’t be seen until August and September, and that new growth won’t harden off in time for winter,” says, Robert, “if you want to do something, the best thing to do is give it a light – LIGHT – application of foliar fertilizer, at one-eighth strength.” 

Mix up a batch of liquid plant food at this very dilute rate, then spray it on the remaining leaves on the tree.  Make sure you winter water your tree this year, once every four weeks if we don’t receive a lot of snow.

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Pruning pointers

Trees aren’t the only ones whose sap rises in springtime.  The balmy weather we’ve been having is driving every gardener I know crazy with desire; they’re frenzied with wanting to get out, get planting, and get growing. 


But before you content yourself with pruning, keep in mind that a little restraint is a good thing. 


Looking at a plant that needs pruning can be daunting.  The branches go everywhere and gardeners do one of two things:  either they freeze at the brink of making cuts, or they chop away, never stopping to look at the results until it’s too late.


This last approach was my brother-in-law’s method when pruning overgrown upright junipers on either side of the front window.  The result was breathtaking; two vertical trunks with a feathering of foliage – tufted totem poles instead of trees – was all that was left of once full-figured evergreens.


Don’t let this happen to you.  Remember, pruning is not a race, and gardeners who flail about with sharp tools and no plan can expect to have amazingly awful plant shape.  There is no hat big enough to cover the blunder.


crossing branches

Yet pruning need not be a reason for panic.  Start with the easy stuff, by removing any broken or competing branches, and often the twigs needing more cuts reveal themselves.  Competing branches are those that rub against one another, or block other shoots, developing wounds that disease enters.  Prune one of the two rubbing branches off to allow the other to grow.


prune broken branch  clean up torn bark












Once this is completed, stand back and look over the plant to see if these few snips have left the plant misshapen.  Take time to consider what other cuts will help the plant maintain its form, or remove anything that blocks walkways, seating areas or drives. 


In all, removal of up to one-third of the plant will be fine, provided the tree is young.  Should it be more mature, removal of up to one-quarter of the overall plant is the limit.  Large branches over two-inches in diameter shouldn’t be pruned unless there is a jolly good reason.  They don’t seal well and disease could be a problem.  If you must remove a larger limb, do so over several seasons by cutting back one-third of the branch each year instead of lopping them off in one fell swoop. 


ALWAYS use the three-cut pruning method for removing limbs two-inches in diameter or larger to keep bark from tearing.  The first cut is made about 12 inches from the trunk, sawing upwards into the bottom of the branch.  Next, move out from the trunk another inch, and saw down through the branch from the top.  The final cut is made at the trunk, just outside of the branch collar.


You don’t always have to take off the whole branch.  You can partially prune to shape, by making the cut (called a heading cut) one-quarter inch in front of a growing bud.  Choose a bud that will grow in a direction that is outward from the plant and will not cross other branches.  If the plant is near a walkway, choose a bud that will grow above head height or away from the walk.


Should the entire branch need to be removed, make the cut one-quarter inch in front of the branch collar.  The collar is a ridge of slightly thickened wood surrounding the junction of branch to trunk.  If care is taken not to nick this collar, the wound will seal over and the tree will remain healthy.  Longer stubs of more than a quarter inch will not allow the tree to seal the pruning cut, looking nubby and unsightly on the tree.





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