Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One more summer gone, many tree years gone, Winter's Respite

There remain a number of trees to cut down after the terrible loss we had this past year with beetles in our pines. Based on what I saw, the 1000+ trees that had to be removed from public areas along roads, paths, parks and medians, most of the trees were older than 10 years. Many were 30+ years old. Let's just say conservatively, they were each ten years old on the average. That would present us with a 10000-year tree-year growth loss. I could not say what number of tree years we have in our forest, but it is a very very large number, so the percentage of loss remains fairly low. Yet intuitively, none of us can rest peacefully with the results. The primary reason we must not just write this off is the mere fact that there is a forecast for ensuing years of continuing and even worse drought. Then too, we lost a large number of trees in 2008 to the hurricane. The combined two events raise our alarm to a higher level than the norm.

How are we going to deal with rain shortages, water conservation and preserving our trees at the same time? We must put some financial resources into our future. If this year is only a taste of the future, we should be doing something about it and not just let nature take its own natural course. The one valued commodity that we have, unique from other communities, is our large trees. Without them, we are just another large subdivision on the outskirts of Houston - waterway or not, parks or not, nice homes or not. Nothing really matters except our trees.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Woodlands Pine Trees - we are losing the battle. Now Pine Bark Beetles!

Pine bark Beetles are having a field day, because our pines are weak from the 2009 Texas drought. As you travel about in The Woodlands and Southeast Texas forests, you will see dying or dead trees. A dying tree is turning brown, typically from the bottom limbs towards the top, whereas a completely dead tree has no green leaves at all. The water delivery system has been cut off. Sometimes one, sometimes several trees are dead in a "stand" of trees. One business I visited just today had a problem with this insect. Someone from the Association had already been there to advise the business to remove the infected trees as quickly as possible. That business planned to cut them down this evening. I inspected the trees and discussed the issue with the manager. One tree dead, one adjacent tree dying and two more infected. In that these beetle attacks are classic, by the book, I believe they will lose all four trees. They have already received a guide on what species of trees are recommended to replace those they are losing. These beetles are slowly killing our mature trees and those not so mature. Since it takes decades for a tree to reach 50 feet in height, we are losing what we prize as our trademark - the pine forest trees. It is happening to all species but the Loblolly tends to be more adaptive to the beetle than the Shortleaf or Longleaf. It is not difficult to identify a tree that has been infected. On my street alone, we have lost three large pines this year to the beetle. I have seen three other pines lost in our neighborhood and several others in the park nearby.

This Woodlands tree to the right, infested with these insects, appears to have the pox. A bubbly mass of sap and a bit of the drilled out cambium layer shields ants and other intruders, like woodpeckers from the tunnels built for their eggs and subsequent larvae. The result is a nice tube cavity suitable for eggs to develop and which can be expanded by the young as they mature. This insect deprives a tree from water when many of the insects attack simultaneously. Since the beetle can explore, attack and finish their reproduction cycle in a matter of a few days, they accomplish  complete tree destruction by their numbers and can carry on their attack to a full stand of trees in one summer. Their life cycle is very interesting. One beetle will serve as an "explorer". He finds a tree, bores into it and when he is able to reach the inner layer, he excretes a chemical that attracts other beetles. Hundreds can be drawn to one tree and they can collectively kill the tree to make a nice habitat for their offspring. The eggs hatch under the bark in the incubation tube and the cambium under the bark serves as food for the hatched larvae. The larva then changes into a pupa.

This ugly little thing is a live larva, found under the bark and beneath the inner bark layer of an infected tree here in The Woodlands. If you recall your biology, you know the pupa of a beetle is equivalent to the worm stage of a butterfly. The larva stage of the beetle is equivalent to the worm stage of a butterfly. Instead of eating leaves, this beetle eats the cambium or the live part of the tree trunk, the part that creates the outer ring of wood and the inner bark.

This is the area of the tree from which the pupa was extracted. You can see the bark (outer layer), the cambium (orange second layer which has living cells) and the wood (light brown inner layer). The cambium is the food for the larvae and pupae.

This is the adult, courtesy of  the University of Georgia Bugwood Network.

A stand of infected trees (or perhaps better stated "trees under attack)", is on the Woodlands Parkway. Two trees are dead and two adjacent trees are now under attack. Since it takes about 8 days to kill a tree, this will be completed in only one more week. Then others will get infected unless these are removed now.

Some interesting facts about the beetle: they do not die off in the winter. They tend to attack the same tree several times over, but their lifecycle is slower than it\ is in the summer. The insect is active all year long. Adults will lay eggs and leave their eggs host to attack another tree, but they will also reemerge and lay eggs in a tree previously attacked, even using the same tube. They lay about 30 eggs per mating sequence. They do have enemies - the woodpecker, mites,  and two types of beetles. I am reasonably sure I saw a Checkered Beetle on a tree infested with the Pine Bark Beetle.

When inspecting trees, one will find another visual hint of an infection, the running of sap such as you see on the right. Inside the bark, there are probably pupae causing the flow of sap to flow out of the tree instead of up water moving up the tree.

You might also see this - the powdery cuttings of the inner bark or outer cambium.

How does one treat this problem? Unfortunately, the remedy is very difficult. Generally, in forest management, the trees are cut down and isolated from others in a stand.  They can be allowed to stay or burned.. At a residence or park, there may be insecticide remedies or natural predator remedies but the insect attacks are so quick and  thorough, there may not be enough time to react. Prevention measures against a flying insect is not very promising. At the time of writing this article, I have not ascertained the best approach, although I would prefer to take the natural predator avenue. This is the next step in my study. I believe it is best to get this concise information to readers in order to educate what might be happening in their piece if the forest.

On September 26th, I visited a booth of the Forest Forest Service. We discussed this problem and the following is from my learning there. The forest service is currently inundated with concerns from all over the state. A prolonged drought weakens our pines to the extent that they become not only vulnerable to the beetles but are significantly at risk of death. This year has been a very bad year for the IPS Bark Beetle. This species attacks the weak trees and does it in stands or groups close together, unlike the Souther Pine Beetle and turpentine beetle, which attack healthy trees and takes out one at a time here and there, not typically in stands. A tree infected with the engraver beetles will often have three IPS species in it. The six-spined calligraphus is the largest at 5mm and attacks the large diameter portion of the tree - trunk and limbs. The eastern five-spined grandicollis is the mid sized at 4mm and attacks the smaller branches in the mid part of the tree. The smallest at 3mm is the southern avulsus which attacks the small branches, typically at the top or the furthest from the root system, in recent growth parts of a tree.  One species at the base, one in the center and another in the top. Our trees in The Woodlands are susceptible, because they typically grow in shallow soils with a clay layer beneath it, making the soil not give up the water that the tree needs in a drought.  Typically the IPS Beetle, also called the "engraver", is 3-5 mm in length. The other beetle now active in the forest is the black turpentine beetle, a lover of fresh pine sap and thereby the name. They however are typically found in stumps and injured trees usually associated with logging but in our case, with the injuries from hurricane Ike.2  
It is important to note that a home owner could have a healthy tree and three days later the tree could be dying from these beetles. The engraver beetles act fast and in mass!

Although we are not going into treatment in this article, the advice was - give the tree masses amount of water as soon as it sees the problem. A lot of water will also help your trees through very stressful times in a prolonged drought. Another piece of advice is to keep the areas around a pine tree free from fresh cuttings. Do not cut your trees and place the cuttings under the tree. Remove fallen live branches from pines, thereby removing the attractive material that initially brings the beetle under your tree.

Every year we have this issue with beetles but this one is particularly tough because of the hurricane and the drought. We typically see cycles of infestations. Expect the southern pine bark beetle to emerge in big numbers in a few years. They typically follow a major infestation of the engraver beetles about five years afterward.  The last really bad infestation of that beetle was in 1985 when 15000 infestations were reported (note that this was the number of event reported, not the number of trees - one infestation might cover 100 acres or more).  

What has happened is that hurricane Ike produced a lot of material on the ground that the beetle could feed on and that attracts it. In the Spring, the material was available but as the summer drought unfolded, the beetles needed to get their nutrition from the live trees. Once an explorer finds a vulnerable tree, he chemically calls the others and bingo! There is an infestation attracting all species of the engraver beetle and possibly other species as well. Thanks to the representatives from the forest service for their valued input to this article.

1. Bark Beetles of Concern to the Southern U.S. by the University of Georgia Bugwood Network
2 Southern Pine Beetle or Pine Engraver or IPS Beetle, a brochure by the Texas Forest Service

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How to water trees during a drought in Southeast Texas

This article applies to any drought-stricken area including Southeast Texas, especially The Woodlands Texas. Anyone who knows me, knows I love trees. It is time to be concerned about this year's drought. This year could be a record breaker! That is, this could go down as the worse year in history for a summer dry spell. La Nina is the key. When will it go away? Next hurricane? Regardless of the answer, we need to water our trees now. Two months have passed without significant rainfall.

Any tree planted within the last two years must be watered now. My suggestion is to water a small tree thoroughly every two weeks. Trees that have been planted more than two years ago may need attention now also. They can be watered every three weeks. Very large trees can generally get away without water for four weeks but be careful. One formula for application volume is 10 gallons per inch diameter of tree trunk. The temperature is so high now (100+ degrees) that all plants need more frequent watering than they normally require. To water trees, it is advantageous to understand where the roots are located, the physical nature of the roots and water delivery process to the leaves.

How do leaves get water?
A tree's primary source of water is an area from the surface to about a foot and a half deep, located around the tree. To understand what the root system looks like, simply look at the tree and picture the tree limbs as roots which are usually a mirror image of the tree limbs. The length of the roots will be longer than it corresponding limb and will extend beyond the drip line of the leaves. Now think of the leaves as fine roots needing to find water. The tap root will penetrate much further, but the shallower roots are its source of life and are the key to the tree's health. 90%+ of the roots of a tree are within the first foot of soil! In broadleafed trees, water is delivered to the leaves of the tree from the roots by a physical process called transpiration which leverages a basic physics process called capillary pressure. A pressure that counteracts gravity pull is produced by the capillary walls consisting of cells especially made to move water and nutrients from the soil to the leaves. In the leaves, during the day, the stomata under the leaves constrict to preserve water. But as inevitable evaporation occurs in the heat, water must be replaced by the capillary pressure pushing the water into the tree leaves, keeping a pressure in the capillaries. Without water in the root system, the capillary pressure can fail, causing the tree to die. The first sign of lack of pressure in the capillary system is the wilting of the leaves, next a browning, and then a total failure of the capillary system. A pine tree is different. It moves water from live cell to live cell, using a pass-the-baton type process. It is much slower than the capillary process, so pine trees die easier when the water dries up. By the time the leaves turn color on a pine tree, it is too late to recover. Pine and Cypress trees react to a shortage of water in the heat by shedding many of its leaves, thereby reducing its consumption and thirst.

How to water your trees

So as the soil dries, the process of moving water up the trunk of the tree to the limbs is diminished, stressing a tree in its ability to cope with drought. The tree needs your help. A small tree can get by with watering every 2-4 weeks. I use a two gallon bucket. One bucketful for a seedling, two bucketfuls for a 3 foot tree and three bucketfuls for a 10 foot tree. One recommendation is to provide a tree with 10 gallons per caliper (diameter) inch. To do this effectively, you must have the base of the tree mulched as an shallow upside down bowl structure so that the water is held within the irrigation area intended. Get the water to the area on the ground that mirrors the ends of the branches. This is where the ends of the roots occur below the ground. The base of the tree needs to be mulched to conserve evaporation from the ground. The larger the tree and the older age of a tree makes the process more difficult. A large tree needs considerably more water and it must be delivered slowly. A drip hose wrapped in concentric circles around the tree will soak the ground. That is the best way to make sure water reaches one full foot below the surface. It may be more advantageous to use a needle approach however for the large trees, where the water is delivered directly to the roots a foot underground. A water measurement device to one foot deep is handy for you to know if you have reached the depth intended. One can also purchase watering devices for trees at any tree nursery, but they are not required.

Conserving water and being a good neighbor

When the time comes to water trees, we almost always are under a water alert from our water utility for watering lawns. We are either asked to voluntarily conserve water or required to water the lawn only on prescribed days in order to maintain water pressure to homes and have emergency water in case of fire. Drip watering devices do not utilize a lot of water and therefore are not a threat to the water pressure if used with low pressure. However, it is wise to monitor the consumption of your watering process by taking a water meter reading before and after you have watered a tree, so that you understand how much water you are using and what the delivery rate is. If the usage is more than about 10 gallons per hour, you should not be drip watering on days that your home is not allowed to water the lawn.

Watering your lawn is not the way to deliver water to your trees, unless they are seedlings and even that is insufficient for seedlings. If you water your lawn and do not water your trees, the root system will die at normal feeder root depths and only live on the very surface. High wind can then blow your tree down much easier! One inch of water on a lawn is a significant watering but will not reach very deep for a tree's use. Remember Hurricane Ike!

Take care of your trees. They take decades to grow back. The loss of deep roots has proven to be a significant risk to homes and fences in high winds. I recommend reading the references below for additional information.

Additional Resources

1 Architecture of a tree
2 Caring for Trees During Drought

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Flowering Dogwood - diamond in the rough

Today was an exceptional day in that the Dogwood was flowering in abundance in the forest after the rains finally ended. I thought they were about bloomed out before the rains but the trees budded again and we have a fresh but short span of time to enjoy them again. The trees are seen at the edge of the forest on Gosling and on the edge of George Mitchell's Preserve.

Its red berries in the fall make it an all around show tree. It is small and lives in the shade. thriving in half shade areas such as found on the edge of a forest or in a small clearing, but will do fine even in motley shade.

If you cannot identify a white blooming tree in the Spring, try this one first. It is abundant in our East Texas forests. It has a distinct bloom easily identified.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Many white Blooms, many species

Here in The Woodlands, we have a wide variety of white blooming understory trees. Right now, we see the end the blooming season for Dogwoods and are at the height of the blooming season for several varieties including the Fringetree and the Hawthorne. Today, we focus on the Fringetree also known as "Old Man's Beard" which we see blooming all over our community. I prefer calling it Old Man's Beard. A person can drive down almost any main road artery and observe this tree amongst others in the forest, including Woodlands Parkway, Panther Creek, and Grogan's Mill.
Understory trees almost always do better exposed to a half a day of sun, so they thrive on the boundary of wooded areas. Unlike its competitor, the Hawthorne, this is a tree with large leaves, having a crown more like a larger tree, reaching up and out. The Hawthorne on the other hand is more social and stays lower like a spiny bush. Both have a blooming cycle peak at about the same time.

Its flowers as you can see are like fringe hanging on a skirt and tend to droop, giving the appearance of human hair from a distance, thus the beard. Interestingly enough, the heavy bloomer of this species is the male. These photos are male specimens. Now you know why I prefer the name "Old Man's Beard". The tree produces blue berry fruit in the fall. It is slow growing and can be easily smothered by other brush-like plants. Like all white blooming plants, it has survived over the ages in the forest by attracting butterflies, bees and other pollinators using its bright flowers to stand out, like a shining gem in the forest. White reflects all the available light whereas dark flowers absorbs the light, making them less visible.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Yaupon - One necessary component of the understory

We are The Woodlands. I know, we are a master planned community, and we have a forest. I think I would have preferred a name such as "The Forest", but that would not be inclusive of the savannahs we have, so "The Woodlands" is probably more appropriate. We do have savannahs alongside our creek beds.

Today we focus on an understory tree or bush of the forest, the Yaupon.
It is flowering time for this tree. Time to start making berries again. Technically, the Yaupon is not considered a bush, even though it has some characteristics of one. This is an understory tree that sets us apart from the piney wood forests.

This decorative plant is notorious for its density, its sharp branches, and its very red berries. It's density is great for protecting wildlife. It is the reason we have so many deer and other animals in this area. The tree propagates through its roots and its berries. But the seeds are not easy to sprout without birds carrying them and excreting them in various locations. Once established, one tree spreads and thickens in a few years, providing a barrier to light and helps reduce sound from carrying through the forest at ground level. Two birds are really good at spreading their seeds - the Robin and the Cedar Waxwing. These migratory birds come through here each Spring and Fall, eating the berries in both directions, but primarily when returning from the south. The berries seem to be the favorite of Robins until they are able to find some protein in the grass. Cedar Waxwings are more known for their voracious berry appetite, but usually the Robins arrive earlier than the Waxwings.
Its berries are not only for the birds! There are several creatures like the squirrel, which forage on these berries. In the Spring, some of the berries can go uneaten and they turn into hard black seeds. A few birds will eat these seeds, another means of propagation.

One can reforest an area by transplanting the small shoots coming off of roots, or making cuttings. Actually, this method may be preferred over seeding or buying the plants and planting them because one can choose which gender to have. If one plants a cutting of a Yaupon with berries, one will have berries on the result. Some say to use a root stimulator to get the cuttings to grow some roots. The primary strategy is to plant when the season turns cool, in early December or late November. That will give the tree some time to root before the heat puts much stress on the emerging root system.

When reforesting, please do not forget to add this plant to the landscape.

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Parsley Hawthorne Tree - in spectacular bloom.

It may be raining now, but before it started, I got out to take a few photos of this lovely tree in full bloom.

There were rain drops on the lens at one point. This native tree is one of several species that shows off in the understory of the forest. Combined with its intense colors in the fall, this tree really is a gem in the forest.

It does like the sun but does well in a marble light as well. We find the tree throughout The Woodlands.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yellow Yellow everywhere! Woodlands Pine Pollen and Allergies

Take a deep breath or not? What damage can all this stuff do to a house or automobile? Each Spring we see a great deal of evidence that the pines are blooming. On top of that, we have other trees pollinating at the same time. Do our air conditioners filter the stuff out in the house? I suppose I am not the only person to ask these questions. We see this stuff on top of water, on our cars, all over everything!

As it turns out, the Pine Tree emits a pollen that is extraordinarily large and heavy, covered with a substance that makes it less of a threat to humans with allergies than the other tree pollens. Those pollens we can't see are typically worse for those who have allergies. Pine pollen is colorful but aggravating as a dust and probably not a risk to us. It's yellow color comes from it's sulfate content, as one might expect. Logically, we reason that if everything is covered in a yellow substance and that substance is pine pollen, we would be putting the material in our lungs also. That would be true, but not in the volume we might expect by what we observe. Once the material falls, it is unlikely to be inhaled, although it is being blown about on the ground. It is just too heavy to be effectively lifted back up to our nostrils. The pollen is 50-90 micro-meters in diameter, 2-3 times the size of the pollens which tend to stimulate our histamine reactions, which we commonly know as an "allergy". Each pollen grain has a very small amount of allergen, so the combination of an abundance of the grains in the air, the specific allergen itself and personal reactivity to the allergen, all combine to form individual allergic reactions.1 Saying all of this, there are disagreements as to how well the wind lifts and propels the pine pollen. It is said that pollen travels hundreds of miles in some cases. In our case,I would tend to say that almost all of it rests nearby the source.
Would it be surprising to find out that the pollen is actually considered a healthy product to consume? Yep, all that yellow powder is considered by some as healthy stuff to eat. It is purported to be a remedy for all sorts of things. Personally, I would not say it is or isn't a remedy or treatment for such conditions as osteoporosis or chronic arthritis or Fibromyalgia, or regulates the immune or cardiology systems. There are probably some of you out there who has an opinion on the health aspect of consuming honey made from pine pollen or the use of a pollen extract supplement. If so, please leave us your comment.

In regard to an automobile, the only advice I could come up with is to make sure you rinse the car first and not scrub the auto with the pollen present. It is abrasive material. Running or strenuous work outside? Just common sense. I would take certain precautions to not inhale much air during the time when the pines are pollinating, mostly because of the other allergens in the air at the same time, not specifically because of the pine pollen itself, unless tests have found you to be allergic to the pine pollen. If you are allergic to pollens, you should pay attention to the count by weather forecasters.

When we look at the blooms on the trees, what do we see at this time of year? Something very elegant for both the female and male parts of a tree! The male cones are where the pollen is disseminated and combined with the female cone, is how the tree propigates.


1Sampter's Immunologic Diseases

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mirror mirror on the wall, which house is fairest of them all?

Have you ever strolled down the street and discovered something worthy of a special photograph? Every year, I pass by this place and see something different. This time I was enamored with this particular home on a cul-de-sac corner in Indian Springs. It would be just another well-kept house except for this natural photo frame produced by the early blooms and seeds of a native tree. A customized wooden structure is nice to see, but when it is placed in the beauty of The Woodlands, it can be spectacular! I hope you agree with me. I rarely find anything that greatly eclipses the beauty and peacefulness of this particularly exceptional Spring moment. This underscores the rationale of choosing native vegetation for home landscapes. Like normal, you might want to view this in more detail by clicking on the photo.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sweetgum Tree

Isn't it strange how we love the unnatural and the things that make our lives more exotic? We love those things that are the prettiest as well those things that are the most comfortable to us. Now what has those statements got to do with the Sweetgum tree?

I recall a related statement from a neighbor once when she cut down all the natural vegetation in her yard. Who needs Yaupon, pine trees, Sweetgums, and other native plants or trees? All of this is soooo blah, "I need a theme in my yard!" So she made it tropical! Banana trees and palms. Perfect for an east Texas forest? There was no food for the birds in her yard. Somehow, maybe she may have not even realized there were birds out there. It was as unnatural as she could possibly make it. The theme went with her swimming pool. Let's make this a paradise on the sea shore. We'll pretend. She moved away and now we live with her carnage.

Now you get my gist. I had someone recently say "I hate Sweetgum trees". This tree is very common here in our forests. Like other native species, there is a reason for it being here. I don't like walking barefooted and stepping on the Sweetgum pods any more than the "hater" of the tree. When green, the spiny pods are not so irritating but after drying, they fall to the ground for months afterward, and their spines are needle sharp and hard. This tree is considered to be ornamental. It grows well in marshes such as we have in abundance here in The Woodlands. A tree 100 feet tall is not rare. These trees will help form the highest canopy over the forest right with the Long Leaf pines, some 150 feet! Taken out of the forest canopy, their roots more exposed to the sun, they have a difficult time during drought periods. Myself? I encourage this tree to be cultivated and planted with the pines, especially in wet locations. I have several thriving in my yard, one from a seedling. I love diversity. This tree adds so much life to our forests! It is one of the reasons we are called "The Woodlands".

This tree is regarded as an ornamental for several reasons. In the fall, they are quite colorful. See my fall leaf display. In the early summer, the star shaped leaves are quite showy. Right now, in the early Spring? This is the reason I am publishing this article. This tree often gets overlooked. You will see little green "things" all over the ground near this tree right now. If you look closely, you will see what I saw through this photograph - an early blooming tree, showing how it creates its spiny pods. There are even colors in its unusual and ornate blooms on the ends of the tree branches.

As implied by the name, the tree bark has been used extensively for chewing gum by native Indians and settlers. The pods have been used for medicinal purposes and by the way, make a great Christmas tree ornament. Its wood is used for building structures. Let's tolerate that which we don't like and find reasons to live in harmony with nature. This tree demands and deserves our respect. Issues with the water table here in The Woodlands will eventually eliminate most of these trees in my opinion. Combined with drought, tree removal and the landscape engineering of the environment by man, our forest is bound to change to something much less interesting than what evolved or was created here over the ages.

Texas Game and Wildlife article quoting IndianSpringsGuy (Randy Scott)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How to plant a tree in East Texas

We have an abundant of tree specie candidates to plant each year. This is a dry year for most of us, so we are particularly sensitive to getting started right. Here is the simple plan:

  • Pick late winter or very early spring to plant your tree. Right before or at the start of the growing season is the optimum choice. That is late January to the end of February for East Texas. Ball root plants are more adaptive than seedlings. It is easy to plant balled root trees even in early summer or autumn. August and September are not good to plant any tree, but it is possible.
  • Understand the characteristics of the tree you wish to plant. Check its tolerance of standing water or drought, and the living space it will eventually require. Put your tree in a place compatible with its natural requirement for water. Check how close you need to plant your trees. Each species has different characteristics. It might like to grow in the shade of another tree for example, or it may thrive in a densely planted area conducive to a forest arrangement, as do pine trees for example. Some trees such as most of the Oaks, appreciate space and sun but will survive in a dense configuration.
  • To plant a seedling, you generally have to deal with an exposed root system. Most seedlings are raised in a hydroponic media. The roots are often partly damaged when seedlings are separated. The little tree needs some tender loving care. Start by digging an irregularly shaped hole at least one inch more in diameter than the apparent root diameter. Irregularities should extend out several inches further. Look at the root system. You will want some roots to extend laterally as much as possible. Make sure the depth is sufficient enough to accommodate the tap or center root. This way, you have a hole that will give the plant maximum nutrition and access to water, as it grows. Keep the roots moist in a wet newspaper while you prepare its new home.
  • Do not add anything to the soil. Put some of the soil back into the hole and make sure it is reasonably compacted by pressing the soil into the hole with your fingers. before putting the tree into the hole.
  • Place the tree in its new home, spreading the roots as planned. Cover the roots and gently press the soil over the plant's roots as you add the soil. Cover the roots to an inch below the crown top of the root system. water this and compact it to remove air bubbles.
  • Add no fertilizer nor root stimulator. Cover the remaining inch with ripe compost or some suitable mildly aerated but decomposed material. Do not use material that has fertilizer in it or is otherwise a heat producer when it starts decomposing. The material must be "ripe". A sandy loam would suffice in absence of compost. As you build this home for your tree, you will want to create a bowl effect so that water will be captured in the bowl, encouraging irrigation down deeper than otherwise would occur.
  • Water very thoroughly.
  • Cover with other material such as pine mulch (preferred) or leaves to insulate the ground from the sun.

Make sure the tree has about an inch of water a week through the first summer. The following year, continue to water the plant as needed. Drought will get it if you don't. The third year, it should be on its own but be aware that it still could get killed by drought. Give the plant an opportunity to search for water. Its roots need to spread out and down. Too much water is not a good thing for many species. For some like the Bald Cypress, you can just plant in soil below the water and never worry about it.

It is good to brace a balled root tree with rope or something to stabilize it in the wind. There are various products on the market to help with this, but I generally put two stakes into the ground and rope the tree to them. Some folks like to go one step further and use three stakes in a triangular configuration.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What to do with all that Woodlands timber downed by Hurricane Ike

The supply of tree trunks and stumps left behind by Hurricane Ike has been steadily dwindling. Yet there is time to find some if you are handy at woodworking. One idea is to take some of the hardwood and put it to the side to dry. You can make some beautiful bowls with it if you have a turning lathe. I ran across the article below on how to make bowls out of the cut wood. Some of us may want to try this out. Oak trees provide some pretty wood. Pine trees provide a soft wood that is more difficult to dry out. There are variations in between. Of course we can keep warm by using the wood in our fireplaces. My grandmother utilized pine prolifically in her fireplace but of course a lot of creosote accumulated in the chimney, creating a fire hazard that called for a Chimney Sweep every few years. I am planning to make a chair out of one stump. It will require a little sanding and varnishing, but the end result will be a nice looking piece of lawn furniture to sit on. So here is the "how to" method for changing a block of tree trunk to a bowl.

Making a bowl out of a piece of tree trunk

Arbor Day 2009 in The Woodlands - time to plant some trees

Arbor day is right around the corner. Here in The Woodlands, we will have the opportunity to acquire free seedlings and add to our forest, whether it be in our yard or in a green area. Yes, some people and some groups will plant along the paths or in parks where the seedlings are not likely to be mowed down. If you do that, I advise to put a bright ribbon on the seedling to show it is not a weed. This year we lost many trees to Hurricane Ike. If we plant many trees on Arbor Day, we can at least do our part to compensate somewhat for that damage. Seedlings will be available at Rob Flemming Park in the Village of Creekside Park near the Gosling entrance to the village from 10AM to 2PM. There is always an excellent variety of trees offered. This there will be 35,000 seedlings issued in 12 varieties. The trees offered will include canopy as well as under story trees. Also enjoy inflatable rides, rock wall climb, free pony rides, hay rides, and a petting zoo.

Related Article - 2008 Arbor Day in The Woodlands

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Composting in The Woodlands

I have meant to write about this for so long! I had the pleasure of discussing this with a resident who I casually met today and he took me over the edge to write this article. Remember that I give you larger pictures, and you can see any one in higher resolution by clicking on it. Definition: "Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that is excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil. It is the way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal."1 For a more technical presentation of this subject, you may want to refer to the website dedicated to his subject.1 Note that the process of decomposition includes bacteria, water, and organic material. Decomposition produces heat, as much as 130-140 degrees F. Mine generally runs about 110 or so.

An entire year has passed by since my first lesson in composting from the Woodlands Association. I knew zilch about it at the beginning and felt totally incapable of doing this. Little did I know then that one year later there would be a terrific pile of material to use for fertilizing my garden. Definitely quality material! In addition to the composting process, this method also produces plenty of earth worms without any attempt on your part to introduce them to the compost pile. I am now going to share with you how to make this. If you like to garden, you will not be disappointed. If you like to fish with night crawlers, you will like it also.

First I recommend you take the association class on the first Saturday of the month, typically offered in the fall and winter. The paid staff in the service company will sell you one of these green wire cages, if you wish, at any time - at a scheduled class or from your ad hoc request. I say do it! They are available from the association at a reasonable cost. Be prepared to pay $25 cash for one. As you can see in the photo below, the bins weather very well and hold the compost material neatly within a confined area, providing a means to aerate the content while releasing excess water.

Next, find a location where you can discretely put your bin without alarming your neighbors. The location could be in a shady or sunny spot. I chose a shady spot. For one single deployment, you will need enough space for two of them. By using these bins and following advice on household stuff to help decompose your leaves, you should have something that blends with the environment and not smell bad. Note that composting is regulated by deed restrictions in The Woodlands.

Place your wire cage at one end of the space that you have dedicated for this purpose. Fill it with your fall leaves. You can use deciduous tree leaves and pine needles. I used both quite successfully. Fill it to the top. You will need as much as you can get into the cage to produce a sufficient volume of material for your gardening needs. Crush the material as much as you can to produce space for more raw material. Water the leaves down well after each few inches you have crushed.

After packing and crushing the leaves to the top, you will be ready to start your process. Start collecting your egg shells, potato peels, unused raw vegetable materials, coffee and tea grounds (with paper filters), and anything green without seeds, into a container. Green works best because of the nitrogen content. I use a large plastic margarine container which seals in the odor, and I keep it under the sink, ready to access when we cook. Don't throw everything except the kitchen sink into this. Be specific - carrot peels, lettuce leaves, etc. I occasionally put some left-over cooked rice into it as well, but make sure the food is kept down so you do not have a smelly compost pile afterward. Tell your spouse or family cook(s) the plan and what should be put into the container. No meat, generally no cooked foods, nothing that will cause your neighbors to knock on your front door and read you the riot act!

This will not be your sole source of decomposition agents. You will also use grass cuttings and anything from the outside that is leafy and green without seeds.

Now you need to put this material into the compost pile. I do this every week or two weeks, whenever the indoor container fills or whenever I cut the grass. Dig a small hole in your pile and place some of the organic stuff from your can into it. Cover the hole with leaves. Place the organic stuff in as many places as practical a few inches deep into the compost pile. Water it down into the compost pile.

Once a month, pick up the green cage and place it on the other side of the space you have reserved for the cage. You are now turning your compost. The top of the pile will end up on the bottom of the new pile and the bottom on top. You can use a pitch fork or even your hands to do this. I use my hands but usually with a plastic glove. After all, you are picking up rotting material. Take a few inches off of the top of the pile and place it in the cage. Make sure the outside leaves are rotated inward into the pile, because the outside will be the first to dry out. After transferring a few inches, water down the transferred material. Saturate the material with water. Continue doing this until all the material has been transferred to the new location. Now you have turned your compost pile. If you have some organic stuff in the house to feed your pile, this is a good time to empty it into the new pile.

Well how about the worms? After you have turned the material, check to see if you have any worms on the ground surface where the pile was located. If so, transfer as many worms as you can find into the new pile. This is accomplished by simply using your hand as a blade to pull the worms out of the ground. They have been in a whole in the ground under your pile. You will scrape some dirt out in the process. The first couple of months you will not likely have any worms, but in a few months you will see them when you are picking up the last part of the material with your hands, transferring the last of the pile to the new location. As the pile matures, you will see worms in the pile itself.

At the end, when harvesting your compost pile, you will want to screen filter the material with a compost filter. I am not doing this part of the process this year, so the quality of my harvest will not be optimum. One filters the material to take out the twigs and all the matter that has not sufficiently decomposed, it can be used for potted plants or sensitive plant situations. I will use it for a vegetable garden this Spring, so I am willing to put all the material into the garden whether fully decomposed or not. Insufficient decomposition will result in extra heat in your garden and may impact the production of the garden.

So now you have it. It is never too late to start a pile. You obtain information from the association for your cage(bin) at this website:
Woodlands Association
Click here for a schedule of classes.
1quoted from How to Compost.org.