Miscellaneous Matters & Important Advice About Trees

State of STL Cool Season Turf

Today, 18-November-2018 we find ourselves thawing from a great snowfall. This, along with the October rains has provided our area with very good soil moisture status. Going into late fall and winter with adequate moisture is great for our landscapes. But those damned leaves are complicating clean up efforts! The maples, ashes and hickories have shed their leaves but the pears and oaks are still hanging on. I have the misfortune of living on a side street with dozens of huge 40-year-old pin oaks. The dang things meter out their spent leaves, requiring weekly cleanups all the way through January. I hate pin oaks (more about that later). I spent several hours yesterday literally raking sloppy wet leaves off the street. I shoveled piles onto a tarp with a snow shovel! Plus I used my commercial leaf blower to clean up the leaves underneath a light crust of snow. Turf pros know that you can’t let your winter leaves pile up on cool season grass, lest you kill it 100% next spring! It’s going to be a nice, sunny week with normal temperatures. So get off your ass and get those leaves cleaned up. Mow your yard a few more times, too.

Trees in the Wrong Spot

It annoys the hell out of me when I see redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and dogwoods (Cornus florida) used in hot parking lots. The redbud is certainly more heat tolerant than our native white flowering dogwood, but neither are suited for the desert like conditions in an asphalt parking lot. Its tree abuse! Call the authorities! Redbuds and dogwoods are shade tolerant trees and as such, they are adapted to the understory of our forests, or along the edges of our woods. A good nursery will tell you to avoid planting these small flowering trees on the SW and W sides of your home, where hot afternoon sun causes tremendous stress. Planting on the S side of the house may be OK as long as the site is shaded after 2 PM.

Check out this photo from a local grocery store. These redbuds will be short-lived because of the heat load and the lack of supplemental irrigation. While I enjoy multi-stemmed versions of the redbud, it’s not really appropriate for a parking lot because low hanging branches present an eye-injury hazard to customers. This is dumb all around. The landscape architect that planned this job should be tarred and feathered. Dumb ass!

Redbud in hot parking lot.jpg

You might wonder what a better alternative would be in this hell hole. Believe it or not, the ginkgo (Gingko biloba) would be an excellent choice because they’re great street trees. An upright or pyramidal selection would be outstanding. Because of limited soil volume a slow-growing tree would fair better than a rapidly growing tree. The European beech (Carpinus betulus) would also be great here.

No Planting Under Red Maples

Lots of folks like to plant directly underneath their shade trees. It certainly won’t hurt the tree, but there are factors to consider. The first factor contributing to success or failure is the tree species. Shallow rooted trees like the river birch, silver maple or red maple will limit your long-term success. Take a look at the roots under this red maple.

Maple Roots Desert.jpg

Even if you chopped holes with a mattock or ax, whatever you plant beneath this won’t be able to compete with those roots for water and nutrients. You’re best just to apply a light coat of mulch. 2 inches of mulch is MORE than enough.

Here’s a shot of some sickly daffodil bulbs that were planted several years ago. They’re alive but they can’t produce enough energy to make a flower.

Bad Idea

They were probably OK the very first spring, but started to decline right after that. The moral of the story is to avoid planting underneath shallow rooted trees, including but not limited to red maples, silver maples, Japanese maples, sweetgums and river birches.

Please shoot your questions or comments to me about these issues. Feel free to disagree!








2 thoughts on “Miscellaneous Matters & Important Advice About Trees

  1. Jeff, I couldn’t agree more about how stupid it is to “landscape” parking lots. I would be surprised if ANY retail commercial architect consulted a landscape architect, let alone hired one. Any professional designer knows form follows function. The only thing more functional than a parking lot is a hammer! Just imagine if Craftsman planted a tree or bush in the claw of your hammer. That nail ain’t gonna get removed and that plant is gonna die but it was “green” when you bought it.

    My personal pet peeve is creating “planting beds” that must be traversed to gain access to your destination. Foot traffic does nothing but compact the mulch and hasten the demise of the plantings meant to beautify the surroundings and steal attention away from that slowly rusting out Honda Accord that got a rock star parking spot. It’s as senseless as putting a planting bed between your driveway and your front door. Sure, I could be sensitive to these prairie reclamation projects and walk around them but isn’t the idea to get customers into the store as easily,quickly and safely as possible? Instead, the developer expects me to extend my route around their quickly dying bushes and plantings and walk along with cars both entering and exiting spaces while I make my way to the stores.

    For god’s sake, they even name them parking lot islands! Shouldn’t they have sand, an umbrella and a fruity cocktail ready for me once I arrive safely? Maybe a few of the more distant islands could even have lounge chairs or a cabana so I can rest with my packages as I make my way back to my vehicle in the hot sun. If only Jimmy Buffett had become a real estate developer…


    • Hey Big D, you’re spot on! I enjoy your sense of humor as well as your common sense. It really does reflect poorly on a business when they try to force longer routes–and at the very least, landscape architects should put steppers in the offending landscaped beds. Waayyyy back at MU one of the professors preferred to do walk-about classes at least once a week. I vividly remember a stop at the library at the commons. There were 2 dirt trails headed to the front door from various sidewalks. Those foot paths should have been planned for!

      Thanks for the great comment and entertainment! Hope your new year is off to a great start.


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