First things first, before starting on our column we would like to wish each and every one of you a merry Christmas, We hope that you are able to spend the holidays with your family, and if you are traveling, that you and yours have a pleasant, safe trip.
Even though today is only the second day of winter, and Christmas is still 3 days away, spring will be here before you know it. Spring officially starts the twentieth of March, but long before that, many trees and plants will be leafed out and blooming.
If you are planning to do some landscaping or just improvements to your existing landscaping, it would be a good idea to start planning or thinking about it right after New Years. In the green business, the early bird really does get the worm. Many landscapers are either already booked up for the first part of spring, or soon will be. Getting your landscape in as early as possible means that your plants are going to establish earlier, be healthier for it, and look better too. Another consideration is that the supply of available plants is not unlimited and is first come first serve. The best looking plants are going to go into the earlier jobs and the later in the season you get your plants, the more picked over the supply is going to be.
Another factor is plain old human nature. Landscaping professionals are just as human as anyone else, and giving whoever you hire time to properly consider and plan your work is going to make it a lot easier to end up with your work done correctly, on time, and on budget.
Probably the biggest advantage to preplanning is the fact that you have time to get the right person to do or oversee the work for you. If your water heater goes out in the middle of a winter night, you probably are going to have to go with whoever can fix that for you the fastest. If you wait until the middle of spring to hire a landscaper, it may become a similar situation where availability becomes the biggest issue. Since landscapes are very personal in nature and no two are alike, you need someone that understands what you are trying to achieve and will ask questions and listen to the answers so the final work will be what you want. Not being under pressure to hurry and find someone that has the time to take on your work also gives you a chance to look at other properties and find out who did the ones you like. This will help determine who does work that appeals to you and asking other people for references is one of the best ways there is to weed out the fly by nights.
The biggest difference between landscapes is the customer. A good landscaper knows this and wants to get as much input from the client as possible. This way the first draft of the landscaping plan will be something that can be talked about and adjusted to get it right rather than something that doesn’t work at all and has to be thrown out. Experienced planners know what questions to ask and more importantly, they really want your input. In fact, if you just tell contractors to “go by, look at the property and draw me a plan”, very few of them will respond to that at all. They know that without the owners input, there is very little chance of satisfying the customer.
If you are doing a few small things around the yard, or know exactly what you want done, then an actual plan or drawing would not be needed and unnecessarily adds to the cost of your project. However; if you are doing a large job, or are not exactly sure how you want to proceed, then a plan becomes important. Not all of the people in the landscaping business are capable of drawing plans, so before hiring a firm or individual, ask to see some examples of their plans from other jobs. An unwillingness to show you old plans is a big red flag. On the other hand, if you like the plans you see, then you will probably like the one that will be done for you. They can also tell you which of those plans were actually utilized and finished, giving you another opportunity to check out their work.
If you are going to have the work done anyway, why not start a little earlier and save yourself some time, money, and frustration?
I Deal with vines growing in trees on a regular basis. Since urban forestry, or arboriculture, includes woody vines as well as trees and shrubs, sometimes I’m working with the vine, sometimes with the tree that is supporting the vine, and often enough, doing something with both of them at the same time.
One of the most asked questions about vines in trees is whether or not the vine is actually damaging the tree. Most vines actually do damage trees or other plants that they grow on, but usually not in the way that would seem obvious.
When you see a large vigorous vine growing on a tree, it would be natural to assume that the vine is getting some if not all of its nourishment from the tree that it’s growing on. Indeed if you try to pull most vines off of a tree you will find multiple attachments from the vine to the tree that can look a lot like small roots. The truth of the matter is that these numerous points are just holding the vine to the tree or whatever else it may be surrounding and they are not actually penetrating through the tree bark.
Some vines are what we call strangler vines. A familiar plant in the Big Country area that has this strangler capability is wisteria. This type of vine grows very tightly around whatever it is on and can actually restrict the increase in diameter of woody plants where the vine wraps around the stem of the plant. As you can imagine, that can cause problems for trees as they try to grow. Fortunately, there aren’t many strangler vines that grow in this area, and wisteria vines seldom reach enough of a size to cause a lot of problems.
When vines grow on trees and cover the outer tree with their trunks and leaves, they create a nice dark humid habitat right next to the trunk that favors insect, bacterial, and fungal activity. I’ve found a lot of structural problems with trees that were hidden by vines and only became obvious once the vines were removed or the tree fell over. If you have a tree where the actual trunk is hidden by vines, I recommend that once a year, you take the time to move the leaves out of the way, and really try to get a look at the base of the tree. If you find mushrooms or other growths on the tree in this area, then further investigation is called for. If everything looks okay, and you want to keep the vines, just remember to check again next year.
The biggest damage from vines in trees is that when the vines grow vigorously and are doing well, they eventually grow faster than the tree and cover the whole tree including the leaves. The sad thing about this is that at this point the whole thing probably looks like a million bucks because of the very thick lush canopy that the vines present. Since no sunlight is getting past the vine and into the tree foliage, the tree gradually starves to death. At this point the structural strength of the tree starts a continual decline.
Often, trees can stand for many years after they have died for the simple reason that even though they are losing strength, they also have lost the entire leafy canopy and just don’t catch much wind. Also they dry out so the wood that makes up the large bulk of the tree becomes much lighter. In the case of a dead vine covered tree, the effect is just the opposite, as the tree loses structural strength due to decay, the vines are growing larger, catching more wind than the tree canopy did, and increasing in weight. If the dead tree is left in place with the vines growing on it, this can only have one end, and that is the vine tree suddenly falling over.
Reading up to this point it would be easy to get the idea that I don’t like vines. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I think a nice vine tree looks great. If you see one that has such a good growth on it that the vines are “dripping” back to the ground, it’s easy to understand why people plant vines in the first place. I just think that vines growing in trees should be contained so that they don’t smother the tree, this way the happy medium of a living tree with attractive vine growth can be maintained. However; if you have let vines consume a tree, just be aware that the tree will fall over if it isn’t removed first. As it’s hard to predict exactly when it will come down, these trees should not be left in place very long.
This time of year, I’m often encouraging people to plant trees and since I highly recommend oak trees, the subject of multi stemmed, or “cluster oaks” often comes up. Probably three quarters or better of the cluster oaks that I see are red oaks with the occasional live oak cluster thrown in. A large well maintained cluster red oak has a very attractive look to it and I can sure understand why somebody would want one in their yard after seeing a nice specimen somewhere.
Looks can be deceiving though, cluster trees of any kind have some real problems. These trees are in the group that I call heartbreakers. The reason that I label them “heartbreakers” is that when these trees become established and start thriving in the landscape, they start the process of growing themselves into trouble. Several things that are particular to cluster trees cause them problems.
It doesn’t matter whether the multiple stems start below the ground or they come out of the ground as one trunk and divide just above the dirt, the effect of the numerous trunks is the same. Trees need light to drive the photosynthesis in the leaves and they grow in the direction of the available sunlight. The multiple legs of the tree trying to grow right beside each other, guarantees that all or almost all of the stems of the cluster are going to grow away from the center of the tree and lean out at various angles away from each other. Growing out like that causes the canopy of the cluster to cover a much larger area than a single trunk tree would. This is one of the reasons that this type of tree looks so good; it’s also one of the factors that helps shorten the life of the cluster. Live oaks and red oaks are some of the strongest trees that grow in North America. As long as they are healthy, they can grow at angles, have bends in them, and support some very large side branches. The problem with the multi trunks is that they are going to have some health problems and then the heavy lean and large trunks are going to be a structural problem.
The main problem with the clusters, is how close the main stems are to each other either where they come out of the ground or where the trunk divides up just above the ground. What happens here is that there isn’t room for all of these different trunks to increase in diameter and not contact each other. For the most part, when they come into contact, they don’t fuse into one piece; they instead push against and wound each other. For example, I looked at a young multi trunked live oak today that had three main stems about one inch in diameter coming out of the ground about three inches from each other. All of these stems are now existing and growing on a piece of ground about eight inches in diameter. Try to picture three young live oaks with twelve inch trunk diameters existing in this small area. It’s not going to be very long before the increase in girth of these trunks has them rubbing on each other and causing wounds. This is only going to get worse as they try to grow larger and all of them want to occupy the same limited space. Since these trunks will be wounding each other close to the ground, and many fungi and bacteria that attack trees live in the soil, it’s only a matter of time until a wounded section of this tree becomes infected with something. As soon as that happens, the structure of the whole cluster is at risk of infection. In my experience, once one leg of a cluster becomes infected, it’s just a matter of time before the other stems suffer the same fate.
The reason why I call these trees heartbreakers is that they don’t develop these problems until they have been planted, established, and grown in the yard for many years. Sometimes these problems don’t start for twenty to forty years. This is when the trees should be starting to reach a mature size and really add something to the landscape, instead, all of these problems start, the tree gets removed, and all of the time spent growing the cluster is lost. Now the area that had a nice tree is empty and it will take many years to grow a replacement. It would be a lot easier if they failed a year or two after planting instead of just when they are starting to look really attractive.
There is however; a solution to the problem of growing clusters. Instead of planting a single tree that is multi-trunked, plant several single trees in close proximity to each other. The main potential for trouble with the clusters is how close the trunks are and the limited room that they have for growth before contacting each other. So if you would like a tree with four trunks, simply get four trees and plant them a few feet away from each other. Putting these four trees five feet away from each other will keep the trunks from contact and still give that beautiful cluster effect. The cost of buying four single trunk trees instead of one multi-trunk will be more, but it will pay off in the long run.
Cluster trees are very attractive and with a little planning, can live and contribute to a landscape for years and years.
Even though most people are interested in doing things in a greener, more environmentally friendly manner these days, and that is certainly a good thing, there are still a lot of uses for chemicals around the yard. Scientists have developed many products for use by homeowners and professionals alike that are amazingly effective.
For the most part, when you start talking about using pesticides, herbicides, and manufactured fertilizers (chemicals), the general perception is that they are harmful to us and the environment. Yet, properly applied and correctly used, these same products have many good qualities. One of the largest benefits of these materials is the abundant and affordable food supply that we enjoy in America.
While you don’t have to look very hard to find proponents of being totally organic and not using any chemicals or manufactured fertilizers at all, I think that the real answer is responsible, knowledgeable use of the available products, both organic and manufactured, combined with good cultural practices that diminish the need for extra treatments. The problem with manufactured chemicals and fertilizers is usually not the materials themselves, but the misuse, overuse, and misapplications of them. Two fifty pound bags of 15-15-15 fertilizer over a 10,000 square foot yard (100’x100’) would be an extreme over application of the wrong balance of fertilizer, but a large truckload of organic fertilizer such as cow or horse manure over the same yard would also be an over application of the wrong balance of fertilizer.
I spoke with a golf course manager the other day about fertilizers and he told me the efficiency of the fertilizers they use on their golf course has improved so much over the last few years that they have gone from using 600-800 pounds of fertilizer per 130,000 square feet every 3-4 weeks, to doing that same application 2 to 3 times per year and filling in between those 2 to 3 applications with a fertilizer that uses only 4 pounds to cover the same area. That’s a reduction of 4 ½ tons of fertilizer per year. I’d like to point out that golf courses are some of the most closely tended landscapes on earth. Golf courses have to be in as good a shape as possible year round and supervisors that don’t know how to produce that in a cost efficient manner are promptly removed. So if it wasn’t working, he wouldn’t be doing it that way.
The golf course example is a good one for pointing out the improvements in fertilizer chemistry over the last few years, but the two things that probably get the most misuse, and certainly have the largest potential for damage, are pesticides and herbicides. The largest problem with pesticides and herbicides is that when they are incorrectly applied, either by using too much, using the wrong type, or applying at the wrong time, they tend to have unintended effects and show up in other spots that were never intended to be part of the original application. For instance, some of the most potent soil sterilants that are ideal for use on parking lots and caliche pads, will drift nearly every time if they are applied at ambient temperatures over 85 degrees. Even though most sterilants are restricted use chemicals that can only be purchased by people with the proper licenses, this factor is still responsible for a lot of unintended plant damage.
An over the counter product that sees a large amount of misuse is weed and feed. Just as the name says, the idea behind weed and feed is to fertilize grass and kill turf weeds in one application, however; the most common weed killer added to fertilizer to come up with the weed and feed formulation is 2-4D. 2-4D is a very effective broadleaf killer. If your yard is full of broadleaf weeds such as dandelion or thistle, the 2-4D will help you with them. But in most yards the largest broadleaf plants in the yard are trees and shrubs which will also be affected by 2-4D. Weed and feed is often over applied either because the applicator wanted to be sure and kill every *%# weed, or because the area wasn’t properly measured out. The result of these overdoses is often severe damage to the trees and other woody plants in the yard.
Pesticides are often misused, even by professionals due to a lack of good diagnosis of the problem. For example, if insects are treated with a miticide, or mites are treated with an insecticide, the real problem won’t be addressed, but some beneficial insects may be killed allowing the original pest to multiply unchecked. The resulting population explosion of pests can lead to more and larger applications of pesticides trying to get the problem under control.
For several years pesticide companies have been developing systemic pesticides that only attack the insects and pests that actually feed on plants and plant parts. These products are usually either injected directly into plants (in the case of trees) or put into the soil around the plants to be picked up in the roots. This is a good approach to the problem of how to kill the pests without killing the beneficial insects that help control the pests naturally. The option of applying pesticides systemically instead of by spray or broadcast cuts down considerably on unwanted side affects. With the systemic method beneficial insects aren’t killed, drift is totally eliminated and the potential for runoff is removed or considerably reduced. Many of these systemic pesticides are available directly to the public for private use and are an excellent alternative to spraying.
When using any pesticides, herbicide, fertilizer, or other chemical, the difference between environmental harm and environmental benefit is proper application. If you have people applying pesticides or herbicides for you, make sure they are properly trained and licensed. If you do this work yourself, I recommend that you attend the private applicator training offered by the Extension Service. When using any kind of chemical, always read, understand, and follow the label.
It seems like we just celebrated July 4th a few days ago and suddenly it’s Thanksgiving. Where did the year go? Christmas will be here befo..., hey, wait a minute, it’s already time for a Christmas tree! That’s not fair; I’m not ready for Christmas. But ready or not, I guess it’s time for a Christmas tree.
Until just a few years ago, if you wanted a real Christmas tree versus an artificial tree, there were two choices, flocked and not flocked. Now, you can still find the occasional cut tree that is flocked, but the two choices in real Christmas trees are cut or living.
Cut Christmas trees are selected from many different varieties of pines, spruce, and firs. Some of them can be very lush and make beautiful Christmas trees. I myself use a cut tree just as I’m describing here and I must admit that I think the noble fir is gorgeous. Since these trees are cut and will be recycled into mulch after the holidays, they can be any variety whether it could actually grow in this region or not. Almost all of them are in fact raised in climates very different than what we have in the Big Country. The noble fir that I mentioned would die a not so slow, torturous death if you planted one in West Texas. Also, don’t worry too much about whether or not it’s environmentally sound to “waste” a tree by cutting it and using it for a Christmas tree. The fact of the matter is that many of the tree farms that grow Christmas trees also have orchards, sell trees for planting, and are doing it on land that wouldn’t have trees at all if it wasn’t for their tree farms. So I think that as far as carbon capture and the other good qualities that trees contribute to the environment, Christmas tree farms are probably a big plus. In fact some of the larger towns have programs to gather the disposed of cut trees and turn them into pine mulch for reuse around the towns.
The second choice for Christmas trees is what’s referred to as a living Christmas tree. These are trees that are dug up out of the ground instead of cut off close to it. The root ball is retained in a pot that is basically a nursery pot very similar to what the trees you would buy at the local nursery for planting come in. Unlike the pots that most nursery trees come in, the pot your living Christmas tree comes in is meant to go into your house. These pots will be a little thicker than and not as drab as the ones that are meant to be thrown away as soon as you get your plant home. They will have holes in them at the bottom so something will have to be underneath them to catch any water that seeps out from watering your living Christmas tree. What you end up with in the living Christmas tree is a balled and burlaped (B&B) root ball stored in an attractive, stable bucket for looks and ease of handling. Since the living Christmas tree is meant to be planted in this area after you are done using it for a Christmas tree, unlike the cut trees, it will have to be a variety that can survive and thrive in the Big Country. Since few pines and no firs or spruce trees thrive in our local climate, that narrows down the available varieties to just, about...., one.
The variety of tree that is marketed in this region as a living Christmas tree is most commonly known here as afghan pine, less commonly it is also called a mondale or eldarica pine. The Latin name for this tree is Pinus elderica, so you can see where some of the confusion comes from. This tree makes an attractive Christmas tree, but more importantly for the purpose of using it as a living Christmas tree and planting it in our Big Country environment, they thrive in dry hot arid areas with alkaline soil. It’s almost too good to be true (like having a cow that grazes on mesquite), but these trees come from the dry areas of Asia where Afghanistan is, and they truly are desert, or at least dry land trees. In fact, these trees will do very well with little care once you have established them in your yard. Most of the pine tree wind breaks that you see while driving through West Texas are these same trees. If you see a pine growing in the I-20 median, chances are it’s an afghan pine.
The producers that grow and dig these trees for the most part do an excellent job of preparing the trees for you to pull out of the pot and plant in your yard. The percentage of these trees that live after being planted is very high compared to regular B&B plantings.
So, if you need or want another tree in your yard, consider using a living Christmas tree this year and getting double duty out of your money.
Have a happy Thanksgiving.
This is the time of year to be planting trees and other large plants, so I often find myself talking with customers about what type of tree to plant and where to plant it.
The tree that often comes up in the conversation is the “perfect” tree. This is the tree that grows vigorously wherever it is planted, unless it needs to stay small and then it keeps a nice size to fit the area without ever outgrowing the available space. This same plant is also drought tolerant, unless you have a wet area in the yard and then it takes advantage of the extra water to grow more lushly. And it’s non-bearing, unless the owner would like to have some fruits or nuts on it, then it has enough of the fruit to satisfy the owner without having extra that falls in the yard and makes a mess. The perfect tree has no need of shaping or maintenance pruning, but will respond to any pruning by growing into a more perfect shape. Shade isn’t an issue because there is just the right amount in the area this tree grows in without it having too much shade and stunting other plants or keeping grass from growing right up to it. Leaves aren’t a problem because the perfect tree is evergreen where you want it to be and deciduous if you don’t like evergreen trees (the leaves have the most perfect fall color too) and the falling leaves never pile up in the yard because they are instantly biodegradable. Birds that nest in its branches never poop on cars and insects don’t bother it.
I could go on and on about the good qualities of this tree, in fact, everything about this tree is really great with one notable exception. That one small flaw in an otherwise perfect plant is that I don’t know where to get this great tree.
All is not lost though; the perfect tree for your yard is the one that will best fit what you want out of a tree. Do you want shade above anything else? There are plenty of trees that grow to be good shade trees and do very well in the Big Country area. Do you want something with good fall color? How about a red oak, chinese pistache, ornamental pear, chinese tallow tree, or golden raintree? If you like showy flowers, magnolia, red bud, ornamental pear, crabapple, red buckeye, vitex, or desert willow will fill the bill. If fruit or nuts are what you desire, pecan, peach, plum, apricot, pear, and some apples grow well here. Is the only place you have room to put a tree a rough spot? There are lots of trees that grow here that will do well in a bad spot. Many oak trees can and do survive in places where it normally wouldn’t occur to anybody to plant an oak tree. Fortunately, squirrels aren’t very good soil scientists so they don’t know any better and don’t consult with me before they successfully plant another tree (squirrels have a big advantage on me though, I have to guarantee my plantings).
The absolutely perfect tree doesn’t exist, but the nearly perfect tree for your particular planting does. West Texas is a harsh environment for trees, the arid climate, hot summers, alkaline soil, and high winds all combine to limit the different types of trees that we can plant and how well some of them will thrive here. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have that shady, colorful, healthy tree you desire. What it does mean is that more thought and preparation needs to go into selecting and planting trees.
There is one quality that all trees, including the “perfect” tree share and it’s the single most important factor of them all, which is that if they aren’t planted, they don’t grow. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get planting.
The KWKC Green Team is made up of Bruce Kreitler (Broken Willow Tree Service 325 675 6794) Adam Andrews (Willow Creek Design and Landscape 325 673 2329) and Stephen Myers (Steele Myers Landscaping 325 673 7478). Catch them on KWKC 1340 Saturdays at noon.
Fall just officially started, so it hardly seems fair that I’m writing about getting ready for spring. The truth is though, that if you want your landscape to look good first thing in the spring, a little bit of thought and preparation now will save you time, money, and frustration down the road.
Don’t wait until spring to clean up the fall and winter debris around the yard. Many of the fungi and insects that attack your trees and plants in good weather hang out in brush and debris piles around the yard and the neighborhood. What about that pile of old firewood that never seems to get burned up? Check it out, if it’s full of insects and rotten wood, haul it off or make sure it gets used in the fireplace. Cleaning up this kind of debris eliminates a lot of problems before they even get started. You’re probably going to clean it up eventually anyway, so it won’t even cause you any extra work.
Are you thinking about adding some new trees or shrubs this coming year? If you are, they will have a much better chance of surviving and thriving in your landscape if you plant them this fall / winter instead of in the spring. Planting in the fall lets the roots on large woody plants have a chance to establish themselves before spring when the whole plant needs to do a lot of fast growth all at once. Combining the spring flush of growth with the need to establish in the landscape at the same time will cause stress in new plants that could very easily lead to other problems, including the new plant just not making it.
Do you need to do some construction around the yard? If you do, now is the time. Putting in a new drive or building that extra bedroom onto the house is definitely going to affect the root zones of any large woody plants or trees that you or your neighbors may have close to the new construction. The plants will recuperate from that damage much better now than they will if they are actively growing or it’s summer time weather and hot outside.
If you need to do some major pruning on your trees, through the fall and winter is a good time to do it. Any time that there is a need to remove more that 25% of the canopy of a mature tree, if it can wait until winter time, it should. Of course before removing that much of a mature (younger trees are a different matter) tree, you should consult with a professional first. If you have mesquites that you would like to remove the mistletoe from, while they are defoliated in the winter it is much easier to get it all. These are just a few examples of things we can be doing in the winter to help get that striking healthy landscape that we all want.
Even though spring is a long way off now, much like Christmas, it will be here before you know it.
Landscape trees contribute shade, color, attractiveness, protection, cleaner air, better property values and number of other useful things. Healthy, vigorous trees around the house and in the yard are generally taken for granted until one day we notice that they don’t look as good as they used to, or there are a lot of dead branches that have seemingly died nearly overnight.
The truth is, trees usually decline over a long period of time and people that see the tree on a day to day basis don’t notice at first because it’s happening so gradually. Some of the diseases that affect trees, start very slowly and just aren’t apparent to an untrained observer until the effects have become devastating. Some of these diseases, like cotton root rot, can have a tree at the point of falling over before the canopy starts to die off. At this stage, removal would be the only option. Of course that’s one of the more extreme examples of what can happen to a tree.
Fortunately, trees have evolved with many defense mechanisms to help protect them from whatever disease, fungus, or insect that might be attacking them at any given time. A lot of the different fungal diseases and bacteria that hurt trees are present in the soil and always available to infect weak or wounded trees. As long as a tree is in basic good health, its own natural capability to keep out the invaders will usually be all that is needed to prevent spores and bacteria from getting through the protective barriers and infesting a tree.
The best way to maintain the health of your trees is to help them maintain their own health. Good long term care and maintenance of trees will help them live longer, and look better while they are doing it. The right kind of fertilizer properly applied, supplemental watering in periods of low rainfall, and proper pruning will go a long way towards keeping trees healthy and happy. In fact, just taking good care of your yard is a long step in the right direction towards keeping your trees in good shape.
Trees and turf have different fertilization needs, and they can be dealt with separately or together. The recommended dosages for turf are usually more than the trees require, and over fertilizing trees can have a detrimental effect. The way to get around that would be to reduce the amount of fertilizer applied at one time, but increase the number of applications.
Some trees require very large amounts of water and some need to be in a fairly dry soil, but generally, if you are watering your yard enough to keep it lush and green, the trees in your yard will be getting adequate water. If you aren’t watering in dry periods, and the grass struggles for water, the trees are going to put feeder roots right up at the top of the soil with the turf and compete directly with the grass for whatever water is available.
Pruning should be done with the goal of doing the work that needs to done and leaving as healthy of a tree as possible. Any time leafy area is removed from a tree, the tree misses the leaves. There are many good reasons for removing branches from trees, and many of these reasons are to protect the long term health of the tree. But even though the pruning may be for the general well being of the plant, in the short term the effect on the tree is going to be negative, and tree work should be done with that in mind. If you have any doubt about how much or where to trim, contact a professional. Also, tree work can be hazardous, so exercise caution when doing your own pruning.
If a tree is suffering from stress, the plant will be weakened and the ability to maintain the canopy and root system while trying to fight off insects and disease will be reduced. As soon as stress, such as lack of water, is introduced, additional stress factors, such as fungal infection or insect attack are liable to come into play. In the arboricultural community, we call this the spiral of death. As each thing happens, the tree becomes weaker and more readily attacked by the next problem until finally all of the different factors add up to more than can be handled and the tree dies.
Does keeping your trees healthy sound hard? It’s not really. Good general care of your trees will go a long way towards keeping serious tree problems in check. Remember, trees can stand still in the same spot for 50 years or more, taking whatever comes along and do just fine. If you are in doubt about the health of your trees, consult a tree care professional.
Next time you are leaning on, or standing under a tree, take the time to admire the structure and beauty of the tree itself. They are worth keeping healthy.
The KWKC Green Team is made up of Bruce Kreitler (Broken Willow Tree Service 325 675 6794) Adam Andrews (Willow Creek Design and Landscape 325 673 2329) and Stephen Myers (Steele Myers Landscaping 325 673 7478). Catch them on KWKC 1340 Saturdays at noon.
All three of us on the KWKC Green Team hope that each of you had a good Christmas and we wish you all of the best for the New Year.
I spend a lot of time recommending particular species of trees and urging people to plant more trees. Overall, trees are beneficial to yards, pleasing to the eye, an environmental plus, and generally, the more trees in the environment, the better. But, not all trees are an asset, I don’t know of many ranchers that will sing the praises of mesquites or cedars.
What I would like to discuss in today’s column is some of the trees that I would normally recommend against in your yard or landscape and a few of the reasons that I discourage using them. As I’m not going to get into the mesquite, cedar issue on ranchland, the only comment that I will make on the subject is that the problem isn’t the type of tree so much as the number of them and how easily they spread and take over large tracts of land.
When I recommend against a particular type of tree, it is because of some kind of problem that I feel will cause you to later regret planting that species. Even though some of the trees that I’m going to single out here may initially do very well and seem to be the perfect tree at first, I feel that in time they will turn out to be the wrong plant in the wrong place. I would like to point out that even though I’m against some trees in the landscape, all trees, even a mesquite, planted in the right place could be a good tree. We don’t care for mesquites here because we are over run with them. If you could get one to grow in a park somewhere that doesn’t have several million of them in the countryside, that single tree would be an attractive specimen. Just as slash pines can be a desirable plant here, but are more or less a weed in the Houston area.
To me the worst fault in a shade tree would be a short life span. There are many short lived desirable trees that are planted for other reasons than shade, and if you are planting for color, shape, fruit, or some other quality, short life span is just something that you account for in the planting. Shade trees are different though, it takes years to develop a nice shade canopy, and to have the tree start declining as soon as it reaches mature size entirely defeats the purpose of planting a shade tree to start with. The trees that I would recommend against because of this factor are ash, maple, and mulberry.
Another common problem with landscape trees is invasive root systems. Any tree can be invasive if the conditions are right, but some species are much worse than others. I doubt that there are too many people out there that don’t know how bad mulberry roots are about breaking up concrete, surfacing in yards, and invading sewer systems. Any large tree can cause problems with its roots if planted in the wrong place, but there are some that are definitely prone to cause trouble. These would be mulberry, cottonwood, silver maple, and sadly, some of the elm trees.
Trees that are aggressive about spreading are definitely on the undesirable list. If you have a space where nothing will grow, some of these plants may work there, but only if you will be able to contain them to that space. If you have any of these trees in your yard, it will require constant maintenance to keep them from spreading. Some of these plants are actually not bad trees individually; it’s just hard to keep them down to that one tree. Western soapberry, chinaberry, tree of paradise, white poplar, and red mulberry are definitely on this list.
Since we live in West Texas, trees that aren’t at least a little drought tolerant should not be planted as shade trees. Fortunately, most nurseries and tree farms in this area don’t stock a lot of trees that aren’t at least a little drought tolerant. They do stock willows and lombardy poplars which are really more of an accent tree than a shade tree, these shouldn’t be planted unless you plan to water them constantly throughout their life. Also, I really like sycamores, but they are border line for planting in West Texas due to our low annual rainfall and arid conditions.
There are different reasons to recommend against other types of trees, such as aggressive thorns, bad smelling fruit, being disease prone, excessive litter, attracting insects, and many other shortcomings, but most of these types of trees are not sold at the retail level for just those reasons.
Are all of the trees that I have just finished preaching against bad trees? Absolutely not. Each one of those species properly placed would be beneficial and contribute to a landscape. Do you have a tank at the edge of your property and want something large growing on the dam? A cottonwood would grow vigorously and probably have a long life in that spot. That’s just one example, I can think of places that any one of the trees I have just written against would fit perfectly, I just don’t think that these trees should be planted in your yard unless you know exactly what you are getting.
Remember, trees are good, just be sure the tree you get is the tree you want.
The KWKC Green Team invites you to attend their Saturday January 9th winter pruning and maintenance workshop at 2 P.M. at Greenbelt Gardens 1820 South Treadaway in Abilene.