Planting for Tomorrow

 

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
― investor Warren Buffett, known as the “Oracle of Omaha”.

If you have to be outside in the heat of a summer day, there is no sweeter relief than the shade of a large, spreading tree. Even staying indoors you can benefit from a shade tree if it helps cool the building you’re in, reducing the need for air conditioning. The first six months of this year have been the second warmest on record in the lower 48 states, after 2012. The National Weather Service accounts for climate data from 1895 onward, and according to their records 2016 was the warmest year of all.

Trees and shade - panoramio
Trees and shade in London, England; photo by TomasEE.
Drought has not developed as widely this year as in the recent past. The northern Plains states and southern Arizona have been hit hardest with drought this year, but elsewhere rainfall has been adequate. When it’s very hot, sufficient rainfall to keep plants, and especially trees, alive is crucial to mitigating high temperatures in the short and long terms, and maintaining trees as counterweights to further warming. A mature shade tree such as an oak can transpire over a hundred gallons of water in a day, drawing it up from it’s roots and losing it to the atmosphere from it’s leaves. Drought stresses trees and makes them vulnerable to pest problems, and if dry weather continues for several years in a row, the decline and death of trees can be due as much to pest damage as to lack of water for metabolic processes.
Summer is not the best time to plant trees because heat stress makes keeping up with watering difficult, but it is a good time to plan for planting in the best season, autumn. Balled and burlapped trees have been grown in a field, dug up with a root ball at least two or three feet wide and tall, and then the root ball wrapped in burlap to retain moisture until replanting. Such trees are tempting to buy because they promise shade sooner since they are bigger than container-grown trees. There are a number of reasons to resist the temptation.

 

Balled and burlapped trees are more often than not never root-pruned in the field, with the result that when the nursery digs up the tree, they cut off almost all the fine, fibrous roots at the outside of the tree’s root zone, and those are the roots which do the bulk of water and nutrient uptake for the tree. Because they are bigger than container-grown trees, balled and burlapped trees are more expensive to purchase. They are also more expensive to maintain for the first several years after replanting because they need intensive care on account of having to regrow fibrous roots. Until then, balled and burlapped trees will often not grow at all, and will even be surpassed in size and vigor in many cases by initially smaller container-grown trees.
Trees provide shade at the plaza
Trees provide shade at the Santa Fe Plaza in New Mexico; photo by WikTalksmart.
The reason is trees grown in containers have all or most of their fibrous roots. You can check this with a gentle tug on the trunk to see if there is some resistance to coming out of the container. Some unscrupulous nurseries will dig undersized field-grown trees and pot them up, knowing they could not sell them as balled and burlapped trees. Such trees will give little resistance to coming out of the container unless one or more of the large anchor roots is stuck in the side. There will be minimal fibrous root development. Another, perhaps simpler way to check for fibrous roots is to brush away some of the potting soil, making sure to replace it (when doing these tests, be gentle and put things back the way they were).
Artist.painting.at.Central.Park.New.York
Artist painting a picture in Central Park, New York City; photo by SpyON.
Whatever tree you buy and however it was grown, when you get it home, dig a ten dollar hole for a five dollar tree, but don’t overdo it or the tree will never try to extend its roots beyond the hole. Give it a little compost in the backfill and keep a light hand on the fertilizer. Water deeply and mulch lightly, and don’t pile the mulch up against the trunk, no matter how many “professional” landscapers you’ve seen do it! For as long as you take care of your tree, keep grass and other plants at least several feet away from the trunk, which will not only reduce competition for water and nutrients, but eliminate the possibility of mechanical damage from mowers and trimmers. Planting the right tree for your location will help reduce its need for extra water as it matures, though when absolutely necessary in the hottest, driest part of the summer, by all means give it water if you can. In time, your tree will reward you or someone in the future with cool relief from summer heat.
― Izzy

 

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Why Worry

 

“Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher.”
― from Ray Bradbury’s 1957 novel Dandelion Wine.

There is no end to the availability of advice, how-to manuals, and chemical poisons to help gardeners rid their lawns and garden beds of crabgrass and dandelions, two weeds most prevalent in late spring and early summer. Are they weeds? Only the individual gardener can say. If the gardener lives under the watchful eyes of a homeowners’ association, the association will say.

Field of dandelions (5659006546)
A meadow full of dandelions in The Netherlands; photo by Alias 0591 from The Netherlands. A meadow full of crabgrass would not be nearly as beautiful.
The guidelines of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) state that a pest is what the gardener says it is, whether plant or animal, and that each gardener has a tolerance level for pests. Those with zero tolerance spend a fortune and a lot of time pouring poisons on crabgrass and dandelions in an effort to eradicate them. Have they been eradicated? Maybe on a few tiny patches of the planet which are now toxic spill zones.

 

Mow high! That’s the cry which often goes unheeded because some folks don’t like walking through tall grass. Mowing high really does help desirable grass compete with weeds like dandelion and crabgrass, however, and if the grass is kept healthy with applications of compost and lime, so much the better. The main thing is to keep bare spaces to a minimum, because those are the places where weeds can move in and start to take over. Keep the applications of synthetic fertilizers to a minimum, or do without the stuff altogether, because in the long term they contribute to soil toxicity.

What’s a conscientious, organic (or mostly so) gardener to do then in the good old summertime when there are patches of crabgrass and dandelions in the lawn? Well, if an hour’s worth of hand weeding once a week won’t take care of the situation, maybe that mostly organic gardener could consider turning some of that lawn on the property over to some other purpose, so that it’s more manageable. Either way, the situation calls for a more relaxed tolerance level, especially in the summer. A suggested tolerance level would be one that calls for lying in a hammock under a shade tree, drinking from a cool glass of dandelion wine, reading a good book (see above), and listening to the peaceful sound of the crabgrass growing.
― Izzy

From 1988, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, by Bobby McFerrin, with Robin Williams and Bill Irwin along for the clowning.

 

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Green Grows the Grass

 

Winter dormancy is settling in on lawns almost everywhere but the pampered ones in National Football League stadiums. The groundskeepers who maintain stadium turf have an especially difficult job this time of year because they are staving off the natural tendency of grass to retreat into dormancy and turn brown and stiff as winter approaches. Not only does that look unappealing on television, it is difficult for the players who have to compete on it. If the ground becomes frozen hard, natural turf can be as dangerous to players as the old artificial turf fields which had insufficient cushioning beneath them.

Preparing the pitch at Stamford Bridge
Preparing the pitch with grow lights at Stamford Bridge, London;
own work by TheBlues

Modern NFL stadium natural turf stays green into December and January because groundskeepers take measures to prolong its growing season, from heating systems underneath to grow lights overhead. They effectively keep the grass in a condition most homeowners have not seen in their lawns since September. The “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is a memorable phrase evocative of the hard knocks of winter football outdoors in the upper Midwest, but it hardly applies any longer to the actual playing conditions considering modern turf management techniques.

For the average homeowner who looks out at a brown lawn throughout the winter (when it’s not covered in snow), the remedy lies not in trying to replicate the green turf of NFL stadiums. That would require an enormous input of money, time, and effort equivalent to what an NFL franchise invests, albeit considerably scaled down. Better to let the grass go to sleep for winter, but to tuck it in with some lime, some compost, maybe a light application of preferably organic fertilizer, and then a last mowing at a short setting to mulch the last of the fallen tree leaves. For the rest of December and January it’s time to settle into a comfortable chair in the warmth indoors and watch the football games on TV play out on the greener grass of early fall, maybe with snow falling on it for added dramatic effect.
– Izzy

View of Lambeau Field
View of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin;
own work by JL1Row

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