Category Archives: Tree and Plant Care

Why Topping Your Trees Is Harmful

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This is what your tree should never look like. This is the result of the abysmal practice of topping. Other names for topping include: heading, tipping, hat-racking, and rounding over. Besides the ugliness of the topped tree and the cost of having someone come do it every year, there are other reasons to not ever do this to your tree.

The International Society of Arboriculture states: “Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known. Yet, despite more than 25 years of literature and
seminars explaining its harmful effects, topping remains a common practice.”


There are several things that topping your tree does to harm your tree:

Stresses the tree – Making large cuts can remove more than 50% of the leaf bearing crown of the tree. In an effort to recover, the tree produces rapid growth of new leaves. As a result you leave a weak tree with large pruning cuts which provides a perfect situation for diseases and pests to attack the tree.

Decay – Correct pruning of a tree allows the tree to compartmentalize the wound and close it. Topping leaves no way to close the wound created by leaving no branches nearby to carry resources to the point of the cut.

Weak Limbs – Due to the stressful production of new branches after topping, the newly formed branches are much weaker than a properly formed branch. This increases the risk of breakage through windy conditions.

While topping is still commonly practiced, it is not necessary. If you need clearance from utility lines you can prune in a responsible way to satisfy clearance and still provide a way for the tree to heal itself. Proper planning of tree species and placement will help you to avoid these problems in the first place.

Fruitless Mulberry trees have a lifespan of 50 years, but generally only live for up to 25 years due to topping. Topping is much easier than properly pruning a large tree and provides yearly income for those performing it, but properly pruning your tree will result in a healthy tree for much longer.

California Collection Checkup

It is time to do a cleanup of the California Juniper that I collected. My goal here is to remove all the dead foliage to be able to identify any changes in the healthy foliage, and provide better aeration and mist penetration for the remaining foliage.

Here are 4 photos of different portions of the tree before the cleanup. IMG_4396IMG_4397IMG_4398IMG_4399

Here are a few before and after photos side by side:

After doing this initial clean up I went back and removed small pieces that I missed. I identified a few places that might be turning yellow around the tree. I’ll keep a look out for those portions in the coming weeks.

Here’s the beauty after I was done.
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Soon it’ll be time to move outdoors and get some shade!

 

Why Your Yard Needs Mycorrhizal Fungi

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A mycorrhizal fungi is a symbiotic relationship between a plant and a fungi. This network of mycorrhiza can span miles and miles within one small cubic foot of soil.

Why Does This Matter?

This symbiotic relationship allows plants to draw nutrients and water that the root system itself would be incapable of. It also allows for the plant to resist disease and toxins. Mycorrhizal fungi can also be a great factor in drought tolerance, yield of fruit or flowers, prevention of soil compaction, ability to withstand the sowing process for seeds or transplantation, and overall microbial activity in the soil.

How Do I Encourage Mycorrhizal Relationships?

Here is a list of things that harm mycorrhizal relationships:

  • Erosion
  • Road and Home Construction
  • Leaving Soil Bare
  • Tillage
  • Fertilization
  • Fumigation
  • Chemical Treatment of Soil
  • Removal of Topsoil

These things can completely eliminate the mycorrhizal relationship in your soil.  This can leave plants in your landscape with a significant need for maintenance and upkeep.

You can add mycorrhizal fungi to your soil by using organic fertilizers that contain the correct fungi, or you can use a mycorrhizal inoculant such as those found at www.mycoapply.com .

Continued practices of not using chemicals, covering the bare ground that you can with mulch or other plants, and not tilling or leaving the soil to erode will keep the mycorrhizal fungi at home and not disturbed.

Having mycorrhizal fungi in your soil is the cure to a problem you didn’t know you had. These little guys will be personal caretakers for your plants so you can direct all your energy somewhere else.

 

How To Prune Fruit Trees

Some people choose not to prune their fruit trees. If you do choose to do so the main benefit is easier harvesting. There are two main things to address when pruning fruit trees: pruning for structure, and pruning to remove potential problems.

Structural pruning in fruit trees leads to 3 generally accepted systems: Central Leader, Open Center, and Modified Leader. I recommend using both the central leader and open center layouts for almost all fruit. Occasionally the modified leader can be necessary for very heavily branched fruit trees. I’ll focus on the Central Leader and Open Center methods.

Central Leader: This method allows for a strong central trunk and branches that grow horizontally off the trunk. This is great for apples and pears as they have heavy fruit.

Things to look for when pruning: Not having two branches near each other on the same side of the trunk. You’d ideally want a branch on the right, left, then back/front as you progress up the tree. This allows for balance of the tree.

Open Center: This is also known as the vase method. No central trunk is formed here. Instead you have several large branches the shoot out away from the center which allows for and airy center with plenty of space for sunlight to penetrate. This is recommended for: quinces, crabapples, plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots.

Things to look for when pruning: Making sure there is an even distribution so that the tree isn’t too heavy on one side. Keep any vertical growing branches short as they are very vigorous.

Dead and Diseased: The next major reason to prune is to remove dead, diseased, suckers, weak, or overly strong branches. Below I have a series of photos with branches that are either crossing, rubbing each other, growing towards the center, or diseased. Other branches that are growing directly vertical (also known as ‘water sprouts’) or with a very acute angle from the branch it emerges from (less than 45°) need to be removed as well.

If you choose not to prune your fruit trees regularly, dead and diseased branches should still be removed immediately. Suckers as well should be removed from the graft union at the bottom of the tree.

If you have more questions about pruning fruit trees leave a comment below and I’d love to help coach you through the pruning process.

California Juniper Yamadori

Yamadori Post-Dig Care

To see the removal process I went through to get this baby out read my earlier blog post. I got the bagged California Juniper home and began unwrapping so fast that I forgot to take pictures of it happening…
I made sure to make the cuts clean to facilitate root growth once potted up. Make sure to do this on all of the large cuts you make to the roots. 

Here you can see all of the smaller roots coming out of the root ball.

I cut these clean off right at the edge of the soil. This is another place that roots will emerge. Typically these are ripped and not cleanly cut. Leaving them without a clean cut can be a major factor when the tree is trying to recover. 

Afterwards:
After that I cut back the long thick roots to better be able to fit this into a container. I made sure to do so without moving the root ball and shaking any more soil loose.

Here is the prepared container. I drilled holes in the bottom, and used several 2×6’s that I’ve “saved” from various burn piles.


Then after I strung wire through and laid the bottom layers of soil, I set the tree in to get it secure.

The purpose for using the wood to decrease the size of the box is so that there aren’t any large gaps of solely pumice. Pumice and the native soil are vastly different, so you would end up with large pockets of dry pumice and the root ball of soil would still be wet. Having a smaller area helps to keep them similar in water and oxygen balance. 
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As you can see here, I used the higher branches to secure the tree into the container. I did this because the soil and root ball weren’t held together well enough to use as a sole anchoring point.

After chopsticking the pumice in to fill the gaps I ended up with this. 
I then moved it to a better location in my garage on top of a heating mat to keep the root temperatures favorable for root growth.
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To use the new handy update on the iPhone I took these as well:
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Hopefully you’ll read the updated post on this tree when it begin pushing new growth. From all I can tell the dig was a success and should yield a healthy tree within the year.

How To Properly Plant A Tree

Properly planting your tree is critical to maintaining a healthy tree for years to come. Incorrectly performing one or more steps can set your trees growth back years and might eventually lead to its death.

  • To start you’ll want to make sure you aren’t digging into any utility lines beneath the soil.
  • Follow that up by checking for mature tree size and make sure to give it enough room to grow vertically and horizontally without any interference.
  • Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and 2 to 3 times img_3237as wide as the root ball. 
  • Check the drainage to ensure this is a good planting site. If necessary modify the hole for better drainage or change the planting site.
  • Remove the tree from the container and place the tree on the ground.
  • Remove soil from the top of the root ball until the top of the main root system is visible. You should see several pencil thick roots emerging from the trunk. You may have to remove up to 4 inches of soil.
  • Remove any small roots above this point and any roots that circle around main roots as they can cause significant damage in the future.
  • Backfill the hole to this new soil line with the root ball placed inside with 50% native soil and 50% soil amendment.
  • Assure that the root ball is not covered with soil above the top of the root ball.
  • In the High Desert be sure to stake the tree.
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There can be several inches worth of soil before finding the root flare.

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This is after removal of the fine roots above this final soil line.

 

Removing the soil is a critical step to providing your tree with the highest chance of survival years down the road. Failure to do so can result in roots choking each other out when the tree ages like the tree below.

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Bare Root Ruckus

My bare root adventures started off very exciting. I had one company give me an estimated date and another company gave me a tracking number. I had planned for 100 Japanese Black Pines to arrive somewhere between 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm. While waiting, I received another 200 trees that I wasn’t expecting for another week. I ended up planting up the 300 trees from 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm.

These are the different instructions I got from both companies:

Open when ready, and…

Open this right away!

This led to my kitchen being piled up with wet towels, needles, and ginkgo leaves.

I ordered 100 Ginkgo Biloba, 50 Bald Cypress, 100 Japanese Black Pine, and 50 Colorado Blue Spruce.

Ginkgo Biloba and Bald Cypress Seedlings

Japanese Black Pine Seedlings

As you can see, the root systems varied a bit, but this is due to the differences in age, growing locations, and species. The Japanese Black Pine were grown in plugs and transplanted into the field. The Colorado Blue Spruce were grown for 7 years, 3 in the seedling beds and 4 in the field. The Ginkgos and Bald Cypress were both grown in seedling beds for 4 and 2 years respectively.

The Colorado Blue Spruce had pretty solid root systems and size.

Colorado Blue Spruce Trees

Japanese Black Pine Seedlings

I picked a few of each species to grow out in a mound of compost in the backyard. I’ll give an update on survival and how each species transitioned from the bare root process. Overall I was impressed with the size and roots of the trees that I received.