The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

June 8, 2019

Weather related disease problem on sycamore trees

The extra rain and cool weather we’ve been getting has been a mixed blessing. It’s June and a lot of gardens, farms and fields haven’t been planted yet because of saturated soil and cool temperatures.

On the other hand it has been great for established plants like trees and shrubs. In most cases they’ve made tremendous growth except for one notable exception — sycamore trees.

It’s quite startling to see how little progress the sycamore trees in our area have made. Most of them have very few leaves on them at all.

The maple tree on the left is flush with new leaves while the sycamore on the right is nearly bare.

The maple tree on the left is flush with new leaves while the sycamore on the right is nearly bare.

This is due to a disease called anthracnose, a fungal malady of sycamores that is present in varying degrees from year to year. This year’s outbreak is particularly severe due to unusual weather.

A lot of it has to do with timing. Rainy and cool conditions that occur a couple of weeks after bud break allows the anthracnose fungus to thrive. The longer that type of weather stays around, the worse the infection gets. That’s why our sycamores are looking so bad for so long this year.

There’s really nothing practicable we can do to cure or even prevent this disease.

Young leaves killed by anthracnose

Young leaves killed by anthracnose

Fortunately, once it gets warmer and drier they’ll bounce right back. Most of the time, very little major damage is done to the trees. The most obvious permanent damage you’ll see is “witch’s broom” a disfigurement of the branches that occurs in the spot the fungus killed twigs. At that point several small branches will grow from a single point giving it the typical witch’s broom appearance. Once the leaves fill out, however, the disfigurement is not so noticable.

Witch’s broom caused by anthracnose.

Witch’s broom caused by anthracnose.

Dead twigs eventually fall to the ground and can cause a mess in the lawn. This is probably why some people think of sycamores as messy tree, but it’s not the poor tree’s fault.

Trees can be sprayed or treated but it really doesn’t do much good since the infected parts can’t be healed anyway. Waiting for the weather is the best course of action in most cases. It extremely rare for a tree to die from anthracnose unless it is under stress from something else such as being planted in the wrong area or has a lot of bark damage from lawn mowers.

A little bit of fertilizer may help your tree to grow back its leaves faster. Generally, trees growing in lawns will get the nitrogen they need from the fertilizer used to fertilize the grass.

Anthracnose will always be with us so it’s just something we’ll have to live with.

Bob

 

May 16, 2019

Ornamental pear trees may become invasive in the future

Ornamental Bradford pear trees are in full flower right now. They must be everyone’s favorite tree, or you would think so because everywhere there’s a housing development there’s at least one Bradford pear tree planted in front of every house. Even municipalities and businesses are planting them.

They do have a certain charm and they’re quite eye-catching when they’re in full bloom. But there’s so many of them now that they’re beginning to just become part of the background visual-noise instead of  being an accent in the landscape.

Landscapers plant Bradfords because of their flowers, shape and moderate size, and even though they are an introduced species, they are believed to be non-invasive by many. That has been the case in Michigan until recently. There’s evidence that these trees have become tired of being well-behaved and have decided to cut loose from their suburban lawns. This was pointed out to me a couple of years ago by a local, well-respected naturalist. To drive home her point she said all you had to do was look at the number of wild Bradford pears growing all along the highways.

Well, I drove the entire length of I -275 this week and was surprised how many out of place Bradford pears there were. They weren’t overcrowding any one area but there were plenty of single trees and small clusters of them. When you’re looking for them you begin to see them everywhere.

Even though this tree was covered with flowers, no bees were around. Bees seem t prefer other kinds of flowers if given the choice.

Even though this tree was covered with flowers, no bees were around. Bees seem t prefer other kinds of flowers if given the choice.

These more boisterous, escaped trees are claiming some area for themselves and have the potential to push out the native plants. The conventional wisdom that they are sterile and unable to reproduce may be true but something is going on. It brings to mind what Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm said in the movie Jurassic Park, “Life uh, finds a way”.

In some other states Bradford pears are already a big enough problem that they have been place on those states invasive species list and are no longer recommended for planting.

To be fair, Bradford pears may never become a problem for us. I remember early in my career when, for a short time, some people worried smoke trees might escape and become invasive. Some trees did take root out of place here and there but the smoke tree invasion never materialized.

Maybe it’s time to think about developing a replacement for the Bradford pear if for no other reason than to add more variety to the suburban landscape.

Bob

April 17, 2019

Reproduce forest soil to help trees get off to a good start

Filed under: Shrubs,Soil,Trees — Tags: , , — bob @ 5:26 pm

Spring is the best time of year to plant trees. During the winter the dormant buds and roots are in a kind of holding pattern until the right growing conditions happen in the spring. Then they have the entire growing season to establish themselves before next winter.

No doubt you’re aware of the requirements for a proper sized planting hole and the need to water the young tree after planting. Proper planting depth is also very important. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how important it is to remove the wrapping from the root ball, even though it can be a hassle.

I always set aside any sod and never use it to back-fill the planting. Actually, I don’t use the topsoil to back-fill either. I just use the subsoil from the hole for back-fill and save the topsoil for the very top of the hole. That way the original soil profile is maintained.

After I’ve taken great pains to get the tree into the ground, there’s one more thing I like to do to and that is to create an artificial forest floor covering.  It’s something I’ve been doing for decades and I like the results.

It’s really a way of mulching that small trees seem to respond to. I first apply a thin layer of partially decomposed wood chips around the newly planted tree, over the topsoil,  maybe a couple of inches deep. Then I cover that with a layer of chopped leaves. Chopping the leaves prevents them from matting down which can slow down rain water penetration into the soil.

Here the mulch is applied  about four feet in diameter.

Here the mulch is applied about four feet in diameter.

The layering combination of subsoil in the hole, with topsoil over that then covered with the chips and leaves mimics the soil conditions of a forest. I don’t mix the layers, I let the soil microbes do their thing. Eventually as the mulch decomposes, humic acid and related compounds are formed providing an environment for a wide variety of beneficial soil microbes. All of that allows the tree to adapt to its new home and grow to its full potential.

Not everyone will want to fuss with their trees like this and some will say it’s overkill and I certainly wouldn’t expect a landscaper to do it. but it’s something I’ve found to work for me.

Bob

March 28, 2019

If possible, save dead trees for woodpecker nests

I spend a lot of time outside and one of my favorite sounds this time of year is the drumming of woodpeckers. In our neck of the woods we have mostly hairy woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers.

We live in a rural area and there are plenty of trees around to provide nesting sites for woodpeckers. If you remember, woodpeckers only nest in holes that they carve in tree branches. When looking for a likely nesting spot, they always choose dead branches first because the wood is softer due to decay making it easier for the bird to excavate a hole.

This branch is about ten inches in diameter and about twenty-five feet off the ground. They were most likely made by hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers prefer smaller diameter branches.

This branch is about ten inches in diameter and about twenty-five feet off the ground. The holes were most likely made by hairy woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers prefer smaller diameter branches.

Unfortunately, people don’t always think about birds when it comes time to cut firewood or tidy up the woodlot. Often, dead or dying trees are the first ones that get cut down. That reduces the number of nesting opportunities for woodpeckers.

When there is a lack of trees,woodpeckers will look for other places to build their nests. The outside wall of a house can be tempting for them, especially if it is covered with wood siding. They can be fairly destructive if they drill into a wall to make their nest.  More dead trees left standing may draw woodpeckers away from homes and back to their preferred habitat.

It’s not only woodpeckers that benefit from standing dead trees, other species of songbirds and small mammals will move into old woodpecker nests once the woodpeckers have eventually moved on.

If you decide to leave a damaged tree standing, just make sure it is in a location where it won’t cause any damage if the branches, or even the whole tree, falls.

Bob

March 8, 2019

Making a DIY maple sap stile from an elderberry or sumac branch

We’re rapidly approaching the maple syrup season. Actually if it wasn’t for this cold snap we’d be gathering sap right now. It all depends on the weather,  cold nights with quickly warming morning stimulates sap flow.

Now that I reminded you of it, maybe you want to try making some maple syrup yourself this year. First you’ll have to collect maple sap and for that you’re going to need some equipment before you start. One very important piece of equipment is the stile, or tap. That’s the little doohickey that is used to funnel maple sap from the tree trunk to a pail or other collecting container.

Like so many other things that started out simple, a huge retail industry has developed around selling items for tapping maple trees. To hear them tell it, you can’t even get sap out of a maple tree without their products. People have been tapping trees and making maple syrup for centuries, How did they do it without access to modern day gadgets? Well, they made their own equipment using raw materials available in the environment around them.

If you hurry and ask for priority shipping, you may be able to order tree tapping stiles online and get them before the season ends. Or you can make your own.

You can easily carve a stile from an elderberry branch using tools you already have around the house. Sumac branches work just as well or perhaps even better than elderberry and may be easier to find in your neighborhood.

The hardest part of the whole process is finding the shrubs. Once you find a likely bush, take out your sharpened pruners and cut off a section of branch around a half an inch in diameter.  Freshly cut, green stems are relatively soft and very easy to work with.

Cut elderberry branches into sections three to four inch long.

This is about the size of stem you need to make a stile.

This is about the size of stem you need to make a stile.

Using a screw driver, hollow out stem by removing the soft pithy part running through  the center.

Use a screw driver to clean out the soft inner pithy part of the stem.

Use a screw driver to clean out the soft inner pithy part of the stem.

Work the screw driver  through the pith to form a hollow tube.

Work the screw driver through the pith to form a hollow tube.

Try to get as much pith out of the stem as you can.

Try to get as much pith out of the stem as you can.

For the next step, use a sharp pocket knife to whittle away one end to form a taper. This will be the end that goes into the tree.

A utility knife with a new blade makes short work of tapering the end.

A utility knife with a new blade makes short work of tapering the end.

Finally, make a slanted cut at the far end to form a spout. And that’s all there is to it. Your first stile will probably take several minutes to make but once you’ve done it, you’ll find the next one will be easier and can be finished in less than a couple of minutes.

Make an angled cut at the opposite end to form a spout.

To complete your stile, make an angled cut at the opposite end to form a spout. Shave off the bark f you want.

I’m not going to go though all the steps necessary to tap a tree and boil down sap into syrup but if you want to learn more, click here to find an old publication that I posted several years ago describing the process from start to finish.

After the first year, you may find you’re interested in expanding your syrup making hobby, if that’s the case then by all means go online and start collecting  more sophisticated equipment for next year.

Bob

 

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