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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Not in My Back Yard

 

In some areas of the United States, particularly the countryside, gun owners can step out the back door of their house and practice shooting targets, and some do so without satisfying even the minimum safety requirements of local ordinances. This behavior falls under the heading of “Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should”. City dwellers may imagine that all rural homesteads are capacious enough to accommodate the whims of target shooters without endangering their neighbors’ lives or property, say 10 acres at least. That is not so. Many rural residential lots are 2 acres or less. Yet the law generally does not factor in lot size as long as the area is zoned agricultural or mixed use. Common sense and common courtesy should be a factor where the law leaves a gap, but unfortunately too many citizens possess neither quality. Combine that with gun possession and there will be the devil to pay somewhere along the line.

 

No target shooting
“No Target Shooting” sign located at mile 80.5 of the Seward Highway in Alaska, along 20 Mile Creek; photo by Lar. In some circles, this kind of thing passes for wit.
Discharging firearms on private property is a sensitive subject that gets tangled up in the Second Amendment to the Constitution when it really shouldn’t because of how the activity affects the safety, property rights, and quality of life of neighbors. The issue at hand is not a gun owner’s right to own guns and shoot them, but the right of the gun owner’s neighbors not to have to barricade themselves in sound-proof, bullet-proof houses, or to enjoy their property and the flora and fauna on it without having it all riddled by bullet holes. The Second Amendment guarantees the right “to keep and bear Arms”; it says nothing about discharging them responsibly. That is where state law and local ordinances step in, although in some places, again particularly in the countryside, they are far too lax. In many instances the decision by a government authority on whether a gun owner’s home firing range is safe and legal is left up to a judgment call made by a sheriff’s deputy who visits the property after being called by a distressed neighbor.

 


Some scenes from The Andy Griffith Show demonstrating why Sheriff Andy Taylor eventually issued Deputy Barney Fife only one bullet and insisted he keep it in his shirt pocket.

Enactment of a noise ordinance can help restore sanity to a neighborhood. It’s interesting to note that gun owners who are conscientious about safety advocate hearing protection for the person discharging a firearm, but rarely take into account how the noise affects those within earshot. Unlike the noise made by a lawn mower or even a loud stereo system, gunshots are an intimidating sound. Perhaps for some gun owners that is part of the appeal. A noise ordinance can also help restrict target practice to daylight hours, because as hard as it is to believe, existing private property firearm discharge ordinances often do not explicitly state that target practice after dark is not allowed. Apparently that is where common sense and common courtesy are supposed to fill in the gap.

 

Education of gun owners may help in a few cases, such as making them aware they are subject to reckless endangerment laws. Reckless endangerment includes things such as leaving a child or pet locked in a hot car, or disregarding safety rules in a dangerous workplace, as well as discharging a firearm without regard to where the bullets land. Some reckless endangerment transgressions are misdemeanors. Reckless endangerment with a firearm is a felony. Knowledge of that may change a few minds about forgoing the convenience and cheapness of stepping out the back door to blast off some rounds in order to travel miles away to spend money as well as bullets at a safe and legally instituted firing range.
Barn on North Haven
A New England style barn on North Haven, Maine; photo by Jim Derby. Never mind trying to hit the broad side of a barn, watch out for the people!
But you can’t talk sense to some people, the hard cases. For them, it appears, the only solution to keep peace and quiet in the neighborhood will be to have state and local laws that prohibit target shooting at any place but a legally instituted firing range. Can’t afford firing range fees? You can afford bullets, though, and they aren’t cheap. Still want the convenience, if not the cheapness, of stepping out your own back door to blast away? Fine, then go to the trouble and expense of acquiring the minimum amount of land that will allow you to qualify it as a legally instituted firing range. But these new laws will restrict the ability to target practice to only those of substantial means! Tough. There are lots of things in life that poor people don’t get a fair shake on, and if one of them is the ability to make their neighbors’ lives miserable, then so be it. Anyone of limited means who has moved out to the countryside with the dream of enjoying nature in peace and quiet only to have that dream shattered by the booming report of a nearby thoughtless neighbor’s gun firing, often repeatedly and at nearly all hours, and to satisfy no other purpose than that neighbor’s sense of fun or imagined readiness for the Apocalypse, will shed nary a tear when that neighbor has to jump through a few more legal hoops to ensure he or she behaves with common sense and common courtesy.
― Ed.

 

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Don’t Scalp It If You Can Help It

 

Grass mowing time is here and many folks like to save themselves time and trouble by cutting their lawn very short. They give their lawn a “two week cut”, reasoning that it won’t be much different than an extra short haircut which will look good in two weeks and stay that way for a while before it needs cutting again. Some people cut their lawn short frequently because that’s the way they prefer it. Those are the ones who are outside on the job at least once a week, all season long, mowing the grass to within an inch of its life. Others are elderly and want the lawn kept short because it feels safer to them that way, long grass being difficult for them to maneuver through since they tend to shuffle their feet along rather than lifting them up, and they are ever fearful of falling and breaking a hip.
Induction Day hair cut 150701-N-TO519-054
Tim Corcio, member of the U.S. Naval Academy’s incoming Class of 2019, gets his first military haircut on Induction Day, July 1, 2015. Induction Day marks the beginning of Plebe Summer, the six week indoctrination that transitions civilian students to military life; U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Wilkes.

Roger Cook from This Old House talks about seasonal mower height settings.

Personal preferences aside, the cool season grasses which predominate in lawns in the northern two thirds of the country really should be mowed at a height of two to three inches at least for the health of the grass and the appearance and lushness of the lawn. The warm season grasses which predominate in the South can be mowed shorter, at about one to two inches, though St. Augustine grass should be mowed higher than that. Regardless of North or South, a good rule to follow is to start with a short mowing height at the beginning of the season, increase the height as temperatures increase, and then lower the height again going into autumn. The worst mistake people inflict on their lawns is to keep the mower at a short height throughout the year, and the worst damage occurs then at the hottest part of summer, when grass that is too short burns up in the heat, allowing weeds to proliferate in the gaps.


The late, great philosopher comedian George Carlin riffs on golf courses and cemeteries, two enormous, grassy wastes of real estate in a bit from his 1992 show, Jammin’ in New York. Warning: foul language.

A good thing to consider as you are either out in the heat yourself this summer mowing the grass or paying a service to do it for you, is how much lawn you really need and whether what you have is enough, or too much of a good thing, also known as a maintenance headache. Plenty of time to think out there. There is just about no entity other than a snooty neighborhood association or nosy, indignant neighbor that will blame you for turning over some or all of your lawn to garden bed or some kind of no mow alternative. The critters will love you for it. You yourself may enjoy more free time away from a fume-belching mower or the few extra dollars in your pocket saved by not hiring out the work to a lawn service. Of course, the increased garden bed space will require some more time for weeding. It’s a trade-off, though not necessarily one that doesn’t benefit you in the long run. Whatever grass you keep, let it grow so that you can feel it between your toes.
― Izzy

 

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