Landscape Faux Pas (foh pahz, for plural)

STUPID MYTHS

Pruning sealer (aka pruning paint) is bad news, but some folks still use it. Worse yet, some places still sell it! Arborists starting warning against this practice at LEAST 25 years ago. The black tar is especially problematic when it’s used on the sunny side of the tree trunk, which would be the south to west exposures. That’s because on cold winter days with puffy cumulus clouds, the tar overheats the wounded area when then sun is out, but the clouds cause a constant “heat/freeze” cycle. This cycle KILLS the phloem in the area, exacerbating the wound and often causing the bark to blast off the tree trunk.

Trees heal themselves from the “inside out”. They only need you to make a proper pruing cut. They literally plug their own vascular system after the wound event occurs. If the pruning cut is made properly, the tree “seals over” that wound. The sooner the tree seals the wound, the better!

So when you see pruning sealer on the shelf on any lawn and garden outlet, tell management to shoot me a note and I’ll set them straight!

 

COME ON, MAN! HAVE SOME PRIDE!

The photo on the left shows are really hideous sidewalk where the turf has encroached upon the sidewalk. The blue line shows the neighbor doing the right thing and keeping a nice crisp edge. The red line shows up 4 to 6 inches of crappy grass and weeds over-running the sidewalk. This really looks trashy.

Now check out that photo on the right–showing a gorgeous edge on a fabulous sward of turf-type fescue. It’s a literal horticultural erection! That’s how you do it, folks!

Lest you judge me as harsh for my criticism of the crappy sidewalk, it’s possible that the homeowners are old and of poor health. If this is the case, I apologize to them. Not you, them.

 

CRAPPY SHRUBS

Nurserymen are always looking for new and improved plants. But the old, crappy ones still exist in our landscapes, and even the retail nurseries. Below we have a photo of an “old-fashioned” pyramidal arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’). Because it has multiple leaders, a negative growth feature, the plant is prone to literally falling apart here in the Lou, where we suffer from heavy wet snows or freezing rain. Note how the plant has split into 3 parts, because it has three leaders, not just one. The plant has splayed apart.

This shrub is probably at least 15 years old and it’s too late to “fix it”. It should be removed and replaced. There a tons of new evergreens available now with a strong, central leader. There are at least 5 different colors that I can think of (blue, gray, light green, dark green, yellow), from the spruces, pines, juniper, false cypress, and even the arborvitae family. Shop at good nurseries and avoid the big box stores when you want good plants.

Split Arborvitae

That’s it for this blog. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please do me a favor and tell your friends and family about my blog. Have them sign up for the updates!

Send me your questions! Send me your comments! Dare to disagree!  Let’s roll around in the dirt and sling some mud!

Best to all of you,

Trav

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!

Trav

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS STUFF WORKS!

Bayer 3 wayI grew tired of watching some of my landscape ornamentals get hit with powdery mildew every summer. A buddy of mine with a lot of pathology experience (pun intended) suggested I try the fungicide tebuconazole as a preventative root drench.

So, I found this product on the shelf, Bayer Advanced All in One Rose and Flower Care.  In addition to fungicide it has a systemic insecticide (imidacloprid) and some fertilizer (9–14-9). I was also sick of black spot on my roses, which this controls. The insecticide controls feeding adult Japanese beetles, a huge plus, aphids, scales, leaf miners and a host of other pests.

So I bought it and put it to the test. The general directions are 2 fluid ounces per plant, or 2 fluid ounces per 12 sq ft of general mass plantings, as a drench in 1 qt to 1 gal of water.

Back in early May I treated my roses, a 16 ft tall native flowering dogwood, ‘Mrs Moon’ lungwort, two peonies,garden phlox, woodland phlox and a mass planting of Monarda (beebalm). Interesting that every beebalm in my bed was advertised as resistant to powdery mildew! Total crap in St. Louis! I’m impressed! Especially with the lack of mildew in my Monarda bed! Directions say treat every 6 weeks, which I intend to do, because we’ve got another two months of mildew enhancing weather!

Stay tuned!

Trav

No Way You’re Gonna Straighten That!

IMG_3240.JPGIt is hysterical that folks think they can straighten trees this way–simply not possible! Those t-posts are too weak and that tree would need massive 4 x 4 posts planted at least 2 ft into the ground. Heavy gauge wires would be required, too. Save yourself the trouble. Save yourself from looking like an idiot!

It drives me nuts at how many new landscape plantings have leaning or crooked trees, but I know why it’s happening, for two reasons.  First, in commercial plantings, where big landscape installers do the planting, they use heavy equipment with huge augers, and the root ball has “way too much room” in that hole. Then their workers backfill the holes without tamping/firming the soil around the root ball. Thus, the tree is free to flop around in the wind. It is especially bad with evergreens because they present considerably greater wind resistance than deciduous trees.

Now you’re thinking, “OK, Jeff, what should I do if my tree is leaning?” Well, first of all, when you plant a new deciduous tree or evergreen, DO NOT use “great soil” to backfill the hole. Use your native soil, or amend it just slightly to improve it; avoid using that fabulous “bagged dirt” with peat, compost, vermiculite, etc. That stuff won’t compact and your tree will flop in the wind. If you have nothing but rocky soil, just use plain ‘ole bagged topsoil as backfill but use as many of the clay crumbs as you can.

Reason 2 for crooked trees, for the average Joe. What I will say next is sure to piss off the PROS, like the university extension folks, the master gardeners at MoBot, and the published authors–DO NOT make your hole “twice as wide” as the root ball. This will give you a floppy tree for sure. Dig the hole about 1 to 2 inches more shallow than the root ball because you do not want the crown of the plant to be lower than grade (potential rotting issues). Dig the hole only 6 to 8 inches wider than the root ball, just wide enough to use your foot on all sides to tamp the soil back into the bottom third to half of the root ball. As you backfill the hole, continually insure that your tree is straight on ALL views. Make sure the more critical spouse is present during planting, so that the new tree is perfectly straight. I’ve planted hundreds of trees this way and seldom had a crooked tree! If your tree does lean, you’ll need to fix it ASAP. Don’t just push on the tree trunk, though, and for goodness sakes, DON’T STAKE like this photo.  For example, if the tree is leaning 10 degrees due north, you’ll have to dig up some soil on the outside of the root ball on the north and the south sides. For this example, use a spade on the north side to pry the root ball sufficiently so as to level the tree trunk. Then tamp the soil EXTRA firm with your foot. Digging on the opposite side (south in this example) facilitates repositioning the root ball. Tamp the soil back in on the opposite side, too.

SIDEBAR: don’t remove the burlap from the root ball, or the wire basket (if present). Cut the twine off of the tree trunk, to avoid girdling the trunk. Make sure that burlap is not exposed, because it will wick water from the root ball. I recommend cutting the top of the burlap off AFTER the tree is planted.

And oh, by the way…cut that ugly tree down!

 

 

Kiss Your Buds Goodbye!

Unseasonably Warm Weather

St. Louis and much of the Transition Zone has “benefited” from unseasonably warm weather in November, after some good, cold weather in October. This weather pattern has totally confused our landscape ornamentals, especially beautiful flowering shrubs that bloom on old wood–such as the Bigleaf Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars). Plants in our region are programmed to go dormant, based upon either short days and/or cold temperatures. Think about this. To survive our cold winters, plants need to hibernate. Each species has a different chilling requirement (hours of cool/cold weather at a certain base temperature) and those plants that are adapted over a wide geography (such as the showy bigleaf hydrangeas) tend to require too few hours of chilling. As such, they are prone to making mistakes. A good example of how this works is the apple tree. At the risk of oversimplification, an apple tree needs 600 hours below 45 F. This is why Georgia grows peaches and very few apples!

The featured image shows an actual flower bud on the popular ‘Nikko Blue’ selection, taken just a few days ago. The buds emerged in mid November, only to be killed by one of our frosts. These buds should have opened next May! Those of you with these plants know how disappointing they have been these past few years. They were so gorgeous at the nursery! I did some research on the various reasons for flowering failure in this species. Breeders of these cultivars are working on improving heat tolerance, because prolonged hot weather decreases flower bud set. Another obvious need is better cold tolerance. For maximum success here in St. Louis, try to locate your bigleaf hydrangeas on an east or southeast exposure with good protection from winter winds. Shade after 1:00 PM or 2:00 PM is perfect. If you’ve got a brick or stone house, that will enhance your flowering success, because the stone will radiate heat during winter nights, increasing flower bud survival.

A good friend of mine grows nursery stock and I queried him for advice, too. He recommended caging the plants and filling it with straw mulch (or any loose mulch…not leaves…not hardwood bark) by early December to protect the tender buds. That would not have helped this year, but I may try it in the future.

 

 

 

NOW is Prime Time to Plant a Flowering Crabapple

For those of you wanting a nice flowering tree for full sun exposure, the flowering crabapple is hard to beat, but ONLY if you pick out the best cultivars. There are hundreds of varieties and cultivars of the crabapple, and most of them are actually quite crappy. You read that right–crappy! The inferior selections suffer from three bad foliar diseases (rust, scab and mildew) and some are susceptible to a virtually uncontrollable bacterial disease (fireblight). Too many of them have fruit that is too large for birds to consume, resulting in nasty messes and rotten fruits all over the sidewalk, driveway and patios. Those rotten fruits draw them dang yellow jackets, too. Horrible!

Too many homeowners abuse redbuds and dogwoods by planting them in a hot, sunny location (southwest, west and northwest exposures). Dogwoods abhor hot afternoon sun (3 to 7 PM) while redbuds can handle a bit more, but they won’t thrive with intense PM sun. Instead of planting these “woodland understory” species, plant a crabapple! Some crabs stay nice and small, while others can reach 30 ft tall and wide.

Here’s what you need to do. Visit the nurseries NOW. First, look for trees that still have leaves on them. If the leaves aren’t present, assume they suffered from disease and have dropped off. The owner of the nursery may try to tell you that simple water stress/drought is the reason for a lack of leaves, but don’t buy that line of B-S. Next, look for small fruits—about the size of a pea or just slightly larger. Marble-sized fruits are too big for most songbirds to consume. Finally, inspect the base of the tree for an absence of root suckers. It’s ok to have a sucker or two on the main truck, but NOT from the roots on the top of the root ball. If necessary, try to peel back the burlap on the top of the root ball to ensure that the existing suckers were not pruned of. You can easily feel the woody stubs. Heh now, keep your mind out of the gutter! Rootstock suckers are a symptom of either graft incompatibility or an aggressive rootstock, or both. They will develop all spring and summer long, and thus, make the tree ugly and result in a lot of maintenance headaches for you.