Category Archives: Trees

Your Yard is Thirsty

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When I moved to Colorado three decades ago I expected to be knee-deep in snow and cold to the bone for months on end. Little did I know, Denver winters have long dry stretches, moderate daytime temperatures and bright sunshine that melts snow before it needs to be shoveled. So much easier than the New Jersey winters of my youth. The downside is that plants often suffer from lack of moisture. This year I’m being especially diligent about winter watering to help  newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials make it through their first winter and thrive in the future. Whether nurturing young plants or insuring the longevity of established ones, here are Colorado State University’s recommendations for cold season landscape care.

  • From November to March, give plants a good drink when four weeks elapse without snow cover or adequate moisture. March is the metro area’s snowiest month (11″); January (7″) and February (6″) average the least.
  • Water when temperatures are above 40° and early enough in the day for the moisture to soak into the ground before temperatures dip below freezing.
  • Reflective heat from buildings, the lower angle of the sun and areas prone to intense wind cause root systems to dry out more quickly, watch plants in these areas closely and water accordingly.
  • Newly planted trees establish slowly – one year for every inch of trunk diameter, (measure 6″ above the soil ). A good rule of thumb is to apply 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter each time you water. Water around the tree, out to the drip line and beyond. The goal is to send moisture to the tree’s entire root system at a depth of 12″. I’ve found running a sprinkler for 30 minutes does the job nicely.
  • Newly planted shrubs require more moisture than established ones (over one year old). A first year, 3′ tall shrub requires 5 gallons per watering.
  • Mulch is a plant’s friend – it helps maintain moisture and mitigate the damaging thaw/frost cycle.
  • Newly seeded lawns and perennials (especially fall planted ones) will benefit from supplemental watering if precipitation is low, too.

According to globalwarmingdenver.com, we’ve received just .02″ moisture in the last two weeks and are about 2.5″ below average precipitation year-to-date. Given our dry days and spring-like temperatures, it’s  about time to unwind the hoses.
For more information:
Planttalk Colorado: Fall & Winter Watering
Colorado State University: Fall & Winter Watering Fact Sheet 7.211

Photo credit: Pixabay.com, a source for royalty free images
Written by: Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

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How to Enjoy a Living Christmas Tree

When considering the price of trees these days, it makes sense to buy one that offers the biggest return on investment. That’s why I’m a big fan of living Christmas trees.

A living tree is one that makes the season bright, but also adds beauty to the landscape long after the holiday is over.

Before investing in a living Christmas tree, there are a few things to keep in mind about its care:

1. Buy a tree that fits both inside and outside the house. A smaller tree will be more manageable for moving into the house for the celebration and then outside for planting. In addition, smaller sized trees will take less time to get established in the yard after planting.

2. Select the planting site and prepare a planting hole for the tree before the ground freezes. Dig a saucer-shaped hole that’s at least three times the size of the root ball. The hole should be shallow (no deeper than the root ball) and wide. Planting too deep slows root growth and can harm the tree. Be sure to reserve the soil to fill in the hole at planting time.

3. Locate a cool spot to store the tree after getting it home. Keep it in its original container in the garage or on a sheltered porch or patio until it’s time to move it indoors.

4. Unlike a cut tree, a living Christmas tree can be indoors for just a short amount of time. Plan ahead to move the tree indoors for 5-7 days around the holiday. Then move it back to the garage.

5. Place the tree in the coolest room in the house. Avoid placing it close to the fireplace and keep it away from furnace vents that cause hot-cold temperature swings.

6. Water wisely to keep the soil moist. One easy method for watering is to put the tree’s container in a larger container, like a metal tub. Elevate the tree off the bottom of the container with a layer of gravel to keep roots away from sitting water.

7. After the holiday is over, allow time for the tree to get re-acclimated to the outdoors before planting. Place it back in the garage or cool, sheltered spot for a few days. Then take it outside and plant.

CSU Extension gives all the best practices for tree planting in the Garden Notes called The Science of Planting Trees. Be sure to remove any burlap or wire baskets before backfilling the hole and watering in the tree.

Keep your new tree watered through the winter, at least once a month or more frequently if the weather is dry and warm with a lack of snow cover.

A living Christmas tree may need a little extra TLC, but it’s one of the best ways to keep the holiday spirit alive throughout the year.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

New CSU Resource Targets Emerald Ash Borer

Colorado is preparing to battle a tiny insect that’s destined to change the way our urban forest looks. The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is already in Boulder County, and it’s only a matter of time before this destructive pest is found in nearby counties.

Every single ash tree that lines the streets of our neighborhoods is at risk. The EAB loves these trees that make up about 15 percent or more of all city trees.

The newest weapon in the fight is a mobile app. Colorado State University Extension and the Colorado Forest Service joined together to create a free app to help with early detection of the EAB menace.

The app is easy to download to Apple and Android-based mobile devices. Just search for “EAB/Ash Tree ID.”

The app walks users step-by-step through tree identification to determine if the tree is an ash and susceptible to the EAB. If it’s an ash, there are more resources for EAB symptoms, management and links to much more information.

It’s important for tree owners to be aware that ash trees are already at risk so they can be prepared. It’s better to consider management and treatment options sooner rather than later.

The EAB/Ash Tree ID app is the latest tool in the Colorado campaign to raise awareness about the insect pest that has already killed tens of millions of ash trees across the states.

The Be a Smart Ash program, sponsored by the City of Denver, started its communications campaign last year. The Colorado Department of Agriculture is also actively involved in fighting the EAB.

Laura Pottorff with the Colorado Department of Agriculture, leads an excellent one-hour webinar called “EAB: Myth or Monster” for Colorado Master Gardeners. The webinar (taped in May) is available through the CMG online continuing education program and will give master gardeners the information they need to provide research-based information to their communities.

All these resources will help tree lovers start thinking about their options for managing the ash trees in their landscapes. Approaches include replacing ash trees now, planting new trees to take the place of an ash tree in the future, and researching the insecticides to treat trees when the time comes.

By Jodi Torpey
A Colorado Master Gardener

Fall: The Science of Color and Options for Clean-up

In Colorado and many other states in the US, we enjoy fabulous fall color in our gardens, parks and wilder landscapes.  We notice it most on trees, but many shrubs and other plants change color in the fall too.  Have you ever wondered where all that color comes from?  Why do the leaves drop off the trees?  And what use are all those huge drifts of dead leaves to us?

Color

Most plants have green leaves.  This is because chlorophyll in the leaves absorbs the red and blue parts of the light spectrum but reflects green light-waves so we see “green”.  Chlorophyll is used in photosynthesis.  This is the chemical process by which plants convert light, carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and carbohydrates – i.e. food for the plant. Chlorophyll is an unstable compound and the plant continuously replenishes it throughout summer when good sunlight and high temperatures prevail.

When temperatures cool and nights lengthen, chlorophyll production stops and so does photosynthesis (the plant’s food production system). As the green-reflecting chlorophyll disappears, other colors “appear.”  In fact, these colors were always present in the leaves but now they are no longer masked by the green light-waves reflecting from the chlorophyll.

Carotenoids absorb blue-green and blue light and reflect yellow light waves.  This is perceived by the human eye as yellow or greenish-yellow.  This is why the fall color of birches and aspens is yellow.

Anthocyanins absorb blue-green, blue and green light and reflect red light-waves.  This is perceived by the human eye as red through to purple.  This is why the fall color of red oaks, sumacs and some maples is red.

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Acer tartaricum ‘Hot Wings’ still green

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Acer tartaricum ‘Hot Wings’ turning red

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The depth and shades of fall color depend not only on the presence (or absence) of these pigments, but also the temperature and sunlight available.  Low temperatures and bright sunlight destroy chlorophyll.  So, falls with dry, sunny days and dry, cool nights tend to produce the best fall color.

In severely dry falls, the lack of moisture available to the plant may mean that leaves simply die without producing their usual fall colors of yellow, red or purple.  The leaves lose so much moisture that the normal chemical processes cannot continue and the leaves dry, turn brown and drop early.

The ‘Fall’

Once the spectacular show of fall color is over, deciduous (i.e. leaf-losing) trees and shrubs drop their leaves.  Cooling temperatures and lengthening nights trigger plants into sealing off the point on their stems where leaves are attached so that no more exchanges of moisture and nutrients between the leaves and the rest of the plants are possible.  This is called the “abscission layer”.  When this layer is complete, the leaves drop (or “fall”).

What use are those dead leaves?

Think about how nature deals with this “problem”.  Leaves fall from trees to the ground of the woodland, forest, mountainside, meadow – wherever they are situated.  Rain, frost, snow, the trampling of animal feet all help to break the leaves down into smaller and smaller pieces.  A huge drift of fallen leaves decreases significantly in size as air spaces between the leaves diminish.  An army of creatures from the soil surface, and from beneath it, break down the leaves further through eating and excreting them (think: earthworms, beetles) or chemically decomposing them (think: fungi, bacteria).   In this way, the dead leaves are decomposed into the tiny elements that create soil.  It’s a mixture of humus and minerals.  The humus is the last vestiges of the leaves that are hard to break down like cellulose and the minerals are the chemical components of the leaf tissue, e.g. nitrogen and carbon.

The humus and minerals help to form new soil structure in which new plants can seed, germinate, develop and continue the cycle.  The new fertile or replenished soil provides the moisture and nutrients that the now-leafless trees will need to survive winter and re-start photosynthesis and growth in spring.

How to deal with those huge piles of leaves

We’ve seen above that the dead leaves have an important part to play in the garden’s eco-system.  So, what can you do?

  • Just let the leaves remain where they drop on garden beds. They provide great mulch to maintain soil temperatures and protect plant roots and will rot down over winter, improving your soil as they go.
  • Leave a thin layer of leaves on lawns. Rake or blow them off (if you must) but a thin layer of leaves (especially if you run over them once or twice with the lawnmower) will break down quickly and help re-vitalize your lawn.
  • Rake or blow leaves off walkways, drives and sidewalks on to adjacent garden beds, so that these hard landscape areas are visible and don’t become slippery. Do not sweep or blow leaves into the street, as they can cause serious blockages in street drainage systems.
  • For a neater look, you can blow the front edge of borders clear, letting the leaves accumulate at the backs of borders and behind and below larger plants.
  • Put layers of leaves in your compost bin (even better if you can run the lawnmower over them first) between your layers of green garden/kitchen waste.
  • Save the leaves in plastic trash sacks (stored in an unobtrusive part of the yard) and let them rot down over winter, to be returned to the garden when they have decomposed. This leaf mold (the lovely dark brown material you get from decomposed leaves) is like “gold-dust” to the soil.
  • Save the leaves in an open cage made of upright posts and chicken wire to decompose – more “gold-dust”. If you have room, let your neighbors drop their leaves in the cage too.
  • BUT if leaves come from a diseased plant e.g. one with powdery mildew, black spot (roses), apple scab, anthracnose, they should be collected up and disposed of as garbage to help prevent re-infection in the next year.
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Leaf cage made from old timber and chicken wire

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Fallen leaves make great mulch (and are warm and cosy for the dog!)

If none of these options work for you, you can dispose of the leaves in degradable paper sacks which are usually available from your local hardware store at this time of year.  The sacks can be collected with your normal weekly trash service.  Some towns and cities will have leaf drop-off points where you can take the bags for the city to collect.  The city will then use the leaves to make leaf mold for local parks or otherwise dispose of them.  If you can’t do these things yourself, look for a local lawn service company that can, or hire a local teenager to help.

But, whatever you do, remember that the leaves really belong on the ground.  That’s nature’s way, after all.

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Acer saccharinum (silver maple) turned yellow

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Quercus rubra (young red oak) turned red

Anne Hughes/Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is a new tree on your wish list?

Not all gardeners enjoy reading seed catalogs.  If you are more interested in planning for a new tree then here are a few resources to get you started.

One Less Ash Tree for Emerald Ash Borers

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When I planted a white ash tree about 10 years ago, I never dreamed I’d be chopping it down while it was still healthy. But I did just that earlier this season and took the loppers to the tree while it was sending out new leaves.

I decided to take action now instead of waiting for the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) to take it out one day in the future.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I liked this tree a lot, especially in the fall when the leaves turned a brilliant yellow. But it’s only a matter of time before the dreaded EAB makes its way into my landscape and forces my hand.

The tiny Emerald Ash Borer has already caused the death or decline of tens of millions of ash trees in at least 20 states and now it’s in Colorado.

I chose to remove the tree this season to avoid my limited options in the future. Like other ash-tree owners, I’d have to decide whether to budget for the expense of treating a taller tree with insecticides every one or two years to prevent EAB damage or wait for the borers to kill the tree slowly and then hire someone to remove it for me.

Now that this ash tree is gone, I can take my time and find another kind of tree to replace it.

Then I’ll be able to focus my preventive efforts on the much larger ash that shades most of the front yard. That tree is more valuable and will be worth the cost of treating it, once the time comes.

Right now, home owners and urban foresters in and around Boulder are trying to make the same kinds of decisions. They’re deciding whether to treat their trees with insecticides — while weighing the costs with the environmental hazards; measuring the effectiveness with ease of application.

If you have ash trees on your property, you’ll have to make similar decisions in the future, too. Now’s a good time to start thinking of what you’ll do once the EAB invades your landscape. Would you remove a healthy ash tree as a drastic measure to prevent EAB in the future?

There are some good resources to help you decide, including CSU’s Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management website and the Colorado Department of Agriculture EAB website that includes an Ash Tree Zone interactive map and a way to sign up for the EAB newsletter to stay informed.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver master gardener