Posts Tagged ‘Trees’

I recently ran into a very interesting new concept for vegetable gardening. It is called “yardsharing.” Say someone has some yard space and would like to have a small vegetable garden, but doesn’t have a clue about how to get started or what to do afterward. The solution is for that homeowner to find one, two, or three persons or families who do know how to grow vegetables but live in an apartment or town house or someplace with no property on which to garden. The result is “yardsharing.” The homeowner donates that space and the gardeners set up and manage the garden and everyone shares in the harvest.

For example, take a senior citizen living in a house with a yard with space, but who physically is not able to garden. “Gardening Person” comes and sets up and runs the garden. The senior citizen gets half the harvest but probably won’t be able to handle that much. Extra goes to the food bank or the Garden Writers’ “Plant a Row For The Hungry.”

Gardening Person would rent a roto-tiller to break up the turf and dig the garden. Raised beds are optional. Gardening Person, after talking veggie preferences with “Host Homeowner,” purchases seed and seedlings then plants the garden. How much the Host Homeowner does is up for discussion. The system still works if the homeowner plays no role whatsoever; the harvest is still split 50-50 and it is still a good deal for both sides.

This idea apparently was conceived in Portland, Ore., and has spread to many other states. The Portland folks have a great Web site at www.yardsharing.com. There are hundreds of gardens in Portland that use yardsharing.

We have our own yardsharing program alive and well in southeastern Michigan. Go to http://hyperlocavore.ning.com/group/seekingyardsharesdetroit.

This arrangement is very similar to my foster apple tree idea. Some years ago I wrote about taking advantage of the thousands of full-sized old apple trees that are in backyards and have not been cared for in decades. The apples are small and wormy and the lawn is covered with rotten apples every fall.

The solution to this problem is for the owner of the apple tree, who knows nothing about caring for an apple tree, to find one, two, or three families with someone in the group who does know what to do. It takes three years to properly prune a tree that has not been pruned in many, many years. You can’t just clean it out in one season. However, even after the first pruning, if the tree is sprayed properly, the apple harvest will be edible.

A mature apple tree, properly cared for, can produce more apples than four families would ever be able to eat. There would be enough apples to also make some tasty apple cider.

Sharing is good for the tummy and good for the soul.


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We need Johnny Appleseed to come back and make another round of planting apple trees.  People don’t plant apple trees in their yard as often as they did a few generations ago.  While we can now buy a fair number of varieties in the grocery store all year round, none of them taste as good as an apple grown at home.  Millions of Americans plant tomatoes each year for the same reason; better texture and better flavor.  What is interesting is that two dwarf apple trees will take up about the same amount of room in the yard as three or four tomato plants, take about the same time to care for, and will produce a similar number of fruits per plant.  Yet seldom does one see an apple tree included in the landscape design of any new homes these days.

One problem might be that most of us can remember grandma or a neighbor having an huge old apple tree in the back yard and it usually took an enormous amount of work to care for and while you harvested a ton of apples you still ended up with lots of apples rotting on the ground attracting yellow jackets and making a mess.  Another concern might be the trouble and worry about having to spray an apple tree many times with pesticides.  What folks today might not appreciate is that now those problems have either been eliminated or at least greatly minimized.  It is not difficult to grow apples in the backyard and you do not need much space to grow them.

Small Is In

While the standard sized apple tree can be 20 feet high and 15 feet wide, the dwarf and mini-dwarf trees available today grow to be only 6 to 8 feet tall and may be only 2-3 feet wide.  Any variety of apple can be grafted on to a dwarf root stock.  Stark Brother’s Nursery (www.starkbros.com) has even developed anapple tree they call the ”Colonnade” which has branches only 6 to 10 inches long growing up a single stem to be only about eight feet tall at maturity; now that is about as compact as an apple tree can get.  There are other advantages to having a dwarf apple tree. It is much easier to care for in terms of pruning time, spraying time, fertilizing and watering.

Fruit production on a dwarf tree is much more within human scale in my view.  A mature dwarf tree will give you at least 20 to 30 apples a year.  If you had three or four varieties, you would be harvesting at least 100 fresh, tasty apples; more than most of us eat in a year!  Apple sauce made from fresh picked apples is to die for.  You’ll never eat canned apple sauce again.

Low Spray Programs

Having to spray an apple tree ten or fifteen times a year is a situation only found in larger orchards with hundreds of apple trees.  That is a monoculture that attracts all the insects and diseases of apples.  When you intermingle two or three dwarf apples in amongst the diversity of your landscape, those problems are much less prevalent. You can find tasty varieties today that are almost completely disease resistant.  By using lots of compost and proper mulch your trees will be able to resist most disease and insect attacks on their own.  I sprayed my trees only two or three times a year and that did the job.  It’s almost impossible to have perfect apples using no sprays at all.

Consider Being A Foster Parent

If you don’t have the space or sufficient light for even one apple tree, you can still have fresh apples.  No matter where you live in metro Detroit,

you can find a home in your town or suburb with a huge overgrown apple tree in the back yard that has not been cared for in many years.  Go to the owner and offer to take over the care of the tree for half the harvest which could be over ten bushels of apples, enough to think about making cider.  Renovating an old untended apple tree takes about three years of careful and proper pruning.  Done properly you can bring a 100 year old tree back into very respectable production.  Be sure you check some references about the procedures for pruning overgrown and ancient apple trees.  It can be very satisfying to bring an old tree back, and you can be sure that the tree’s owner is going to be delighted with the deal.

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We woke up to a spectacular “hoar” frost this morning.  All the weeds, plants, trees and shrubs are coated all over with a sparkly white frost coating.  It is not ice; it is frost and does no harm to the plants as will a coating of ice. It is sometimes called “soft rime” or “white frost”.  Usually it disappears as the day progresses.

Trees Coated With Hoar Frost


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We have not had that big snowstorm or that terrible ice storm yet, but there are some rules you need to remember if those storms arrive and cover our trees and shrubs. Heavy snow and ice storms cause damage by bending and breaking branches from the weight of the snow or ice. Multiple leader, upright evergreens, such as arborvitae and juniper, and multiple leader or clump trees, such as birch, are most subject to snow and ice damage.

When a snowstorm hits conifers

When snow accumulates on the branches of conifer trees, the branches can be bent fairly far down from the weight of the snow. If you want to remove the snow, do not brush the snow in a downward motion. If you brush snow downward, you may break the branch. Always brush upward from underneath the branch to remove snow safely.

When an ice storm hits a tree

If you experience an ice storm that coats the branches of your conifer or leafless deciduous tree, do not do anything to remove the ice. You will do more damage than good. Leave the ice and let it melt naturally as the weather warms up.

Protect the bark of young trees

To protect the bark of younger trees from such hazards as sunburn, boring insects and injury from small animals that chew the bark, it’s a good idea to wrap the trunks with protective material such as natural burlap or a commercial tree wrap, which comes in a number of materials. Wrapped snugly from the ground up to the first major branches, the tree wrap expands along with the growth of the tree, and is said to discourage sapsuckers and other woodpeckers from drilling into the trunks. Again, the important rule here is to remove any tree wrap every spring even if the product package says it can stay for two to three years. It is possible that tree wraps left on during the growing season can injure trees by stopping photosynthesis and gas exchange through the bark surface and by giving bugs and fungi a place to breed.

While tree wrap will usually protect the bark from chewing rodents, some folks expecting rodent problems use a cylinder of ¼ -inch mesh hardware cloth around the trunk. The cylinder extends 2 to 3 inches below the ground line for mice and 18 to 24 inches above the anticipated snow line for rabbit protection. Hardware cloth can be left on year-round, but it must be larger than the trunk to allow for growth. For small trees, plastic tree guards are also effective. You can protect shrub beds from rabbits by fencing the beds with chicken wire; however, check such fenced areas frequently to ensure a rabbit has not gained entrance and is trapped inside.

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Winter Tip: Consider offering local songbirds some suet in a suet cage to provide the high-energy animal protein essential to the survival of small birds in very cold weather.  Also don’t forget that Chickadees really love peanut butter at this time of year.

A friend has given me a good lead for my column about long pole pruning tools.  Fortunately he is still alive to tell the tale.  My friend had a large limb hanging over his tennis court.  His son set up a ladder against the tree and started cutting the limb with a hand saw.  My friend stood below watching.  They made the mistake of assuming the limb would fall directly down to the ground.  Instead, as often happens, the large weight of the limb was distributed in such a manner that when the cut reached the breaking point, the limb swung to the right as it began to fall, sweeping my friend’s son right off the ladder.  My friend had for no special reason moved his position on the ground just before the branch started to fall.  The very large heavy branch fell right where my friend had just seconds before been standing.  What could have been a tragedy is a story now told with much chagrin about using poor judgment in cutting a limb off a large tree.

As I have noted several times in this column, yardeners should never try to prune limbs larger than 2 inches in diameter when standing on a ladder.  If the limb is bigger than 2 inches and requires a ladder to be reached, that is a job for a professional arborist.  That’s the rule.

At the same time, we are now in a season when snow storms and ice storms can cause limbs of trees to break or be damaged.  If those limbs are within 12 to 15 feet of the ground, they can be removed safely with a pole pruning tool.

Pole pruners come with gasoline engines, electric motors, but most often as a saw and clippers that are operated manually.  The powered tools are really for folks who have a lot of tall trees and need to be pruning up above 10 feet frequently; not a common situation for yardeners. If you browse Amazon.com for powered pole pruners, you will find models costing from $150 to over $500.

I prefer the manual pole pruning tool because it is relatively inexpensive,  requires little maintenance,  is easy to store, and it works very well for incidental pruning jobs. Home centers and garden centers usually carry what I call plain vanilla models of pole pruners for $20 to $40.  On the end of a telescoping 12 foot pole will be a curved pruning saw and a set of cutting blades that close by pulling on a line attached to a spring device.  You place a one inch thick branch in between the blades and pull the string to cut the branch.  The curved saw is quite sharp and can be used to cut through a branch up to four or five inches thick with only a few water breaks during the job. For basic models check out Home Depot or Ace Hardware Stores or on the net at Amazon.com.

My favorite long pole pruner is Fiskars Telescoping Pruning Stik (www.fiskars.com).  This 12 foot tool has pruning blades with an adjustable angle and are operated by sliding the handle up and down; there is no string to get in the way.  It includes a 15 inch curved pruning saw at an angle that also can be adjusted. A 12 foot Pruning Stik can reach over 15 feet when you add your own height and the extension of your arms.  Yes, it does cost about $80, but this tool is so well made, you will have it forever.  The Pruning Stik is sold at English Gardens, or on the web at Amazon.com.

Think About “Limbing Up”

This is a good time of year to consider “limbing up” one or more of your landscape trees with branches so low on the trunk they create serious shade under the tree.  If you cut off the lower limbs up to 15 feet or so, you still may not get any sun around the base of the tree, but the improvement in the brightness of the indirect light is often sufficient to be able to plant shade plants such as impatiens and bleeding hearts or even have some turf.  Never prune off more than one third of the full height of the tree, and please be careful where you stand as you cut off branches.  .

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Some yardeners prefer to have a live Christmas tree for the holidays so they are able to plant the tree outside to offer pleasure for decades. The first question is, what kind of tree makes the best live tree? The answer in part is determined by which species are being sold in your neighborhood garden centers.

In any case, unlike folks buying a cut tree that will be thrown away after the holiday, you need to give special attention to how big your cute little live tree is going to get 20 years from now. You need to be sure you have the space to grow that tree you intend to plant after Christmas.

From pinerytree.com

Again, unlike the folks buying the cut tree, you are not limited to having a species of tree traditionally used at Christmas such as the Scotch pine or blue spruce. You can use almost any evergreen tree that you feel is attractive and will work best later on in the home landscape. So the trees to consider as live trees are evergreens, which include arborvitae, junipers, Canadian hemlock, Scotch pine, white pine, blue spruce, Douglas fir, Balsam fir and red cedar.

Dig the hole early on

Just in case there is a cold spell and causes the ground to freeze around Christmas time, it is wise to dig your hole for the live tree before then. Fill it with leaves to keep it from freezing.

When you get your tree, store it in an unheated but sheltered area such as a garage or porch, out of the wind and sun. Do not expose your tree to freezing temperatures.

This is important: Under normal circumstances your live tree should not be kept inside your heated home for more than 10 days, and seven days is better, so plan accordingly. Many live Christmas trees die by spring because the owner wanted to have the tree indoors “just for a few more days.” However, there is now a product on the market that will allow you to keep your live tree safely indoors for up to two weeks.

Going by the name Vacation, http://tinyurl.com/yean6qz, this is a natural chemical drought treatment that when used with watering your live Christmas tree, you do not have to water it at all for the two weeks it’s in the house, with no harm coming to the tree. Wiegand’s Nursery, (586) 286-3655, in Macomb Township carries Vacation.

Mulch is critical, too

When you do take the tree outside again, take it back to the sheltered area first for a few days and then you can move it out into the cold, cruel world.

See my Web site, www.yardener.com, for instructions on how to plant a tree. A 3-inch layer of mulch is critical to prevent your tree’s roots from freezing too quickly. Water so the soil is moist, but do not flood the tree or it will die.

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Global warming is definitely a problem, but we have learned in the past few weeks it can still get painfully cold in the Detroit area.  Here in the boonies, we’ve had some snow and a bunch of days with really high winds.  High winds mean branches of mature trees come down, sort of Mother Nature’s pruning technique.  With a driveway going through the woods, I have quite a few branches to move each winter season.

Last week’s downed branches caused me to remember that terrible ice storm we had in 2003 in Southeastern Michigan.  There was sometimes a half inch of ice on every branch of every tree.  In the sunlight, it was a beautiful scene, but the reality was the major damage that storm created in the trees on the streets, in parks, and in our yards.

I had an interesting experience a few days after that ice storm.  We went to visit a friend who was throwing a football game party.  As we drove up to his house, in one of the older developments with lots of trees, the damage of falling limbs and even fallen trees was still everywhere.  What was very obvious and a little weird, my friend’s yard was essentially clean and he has a number of big trees.

I figured he and his son had worked hard since the storm cleaning up the debris, but I was making a bad assumption.  He said he had very little cleanup compared to his neighbors.  He credited the fact that about four weeks before he had an arborist and his crew in to give a professional pruning to all his big trees.  He says he does it every 4 or 5 years.

That was the first time I had a chance to clearly see the benefits of having large trees pruned periodically by a professional.  General pruning involves a lot of thinning of branches on the interior of the tree’s structure.  Of course dead branches are removed, but a good arborist can spot branches with a potentially weak crotch and those are removed.  After a large tree has its haircut, it still is about the same size but there is more light coming through the branches because of the thinning process.

The most important rule in having your trees tended, is to always hire only a company with one or more certified arborists on the staff.  They have gone through a rigorous education process and have passed a tough test put out by the state.  Avoid the guy with the chainsaw and pickup truck.  Tree care can be a substantial investment with a large tree costing $500 to $1000 to prune properly.

However, since a large shade tree is considered worth from $2000 to $4000 by realtors, it makes sense to have them cared for every four or five years to keep them healthy and remain beautiful and valuable components of your landscape.

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