The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

April 29, 2015

Mulching around trees

Filed under: Trees — bob @ 8:59 am

As the days get warmer, more and and more people are out sprucing up their lawns.

After cleaning up winter debris, one of the first tasks people like to do is refresh the mulch around their trees and shrubs. Garden centers and hardware stores know this and stock up on piles and piles of bagged mulch.

Mulch serves many purposes but the two most common reasons for mulching lawn trees are the decorative appeal and protecting trees from mower damage.

One of the most common ailments of yard trees is “lawn mower disease”. This happens most often when someone mowing the lawn gets in a hurry and tries to get too close to a tree. The mowing machine then makes contact with the trunk of a tree and scrapes away part of the bark.

The wound leaves an entry point for insects and disease organisms to enter an otherwise healthy tree. Many times the owner is not even aware that his machine caused the damage.

When a tree is surrounded by mulch, you’re less tempted to mow close to the tree trunk.

Well-place mulch can give your lawn a crisp, manicured look.

Unfortunately, many people see commercial landscapes with trees poorly mulched by unskilled workers and try to copy that look at home.

The look I’m referring to is “volcano mulching”. I think you know what I’m talking about. That’s where mulch is piled up against a tree trunk in a volcano shape. They assume that is the proper way to mulch since professionals are doing the work.

Many homeowners have come to prefer that volcano look. I have had people actually get angry with me when I suggested they change their mulching technique.

Over time, volcano mulching damages the bark and the tree eventually struggles to stay healthy or slowly dies.

The proper way to mulch is to apply and maintain no more than two to four inches of mulch in a four to five foot diameter around the tree.

Do your tree a huge favor and say “no!” to volcano mulching.



April 22, 2015

Pruning apple trees: five cuts you can make even if you’ve never pruned before

Filed under: Fruit,Trees — bob @ 9:26 am

Although you can prune apple trees just about any time of the year, most apple growers agree spring is the best time to do it. You may have seen professional orchardists out pruning trees as early as February but that is only because they have so many trees that they need the extra time to get them all pruned before the growing season starts.

Pruning and shaping apples trees takes some knowledge and experience to get it right but there are a few cuts you can be sure of even if you’ve never pruned an apple tree before.

Before pruning remember to make the cuts near the junction of the twig or branch and the main branch or trunk. Don’t leave a long stub. Conversely, don’t cut into the trunk or main branch, that makes it difficult for the tree to heal. Try to leave just a small “collar” to allow for proper healing.

You’ll need two basic tools. Use a sharp pair of pruning shears for twigs and small branches. Loppers resemble over-sized pruning shears. They are much more sturdy than shears, have longer handles and are used for for cutting larger branches.


By-pass type pruners (left) make the cleanest cuts. Anvil type pruners are cheaper to buy but don't cut as well.

By-pass type pruners (left) make the cleanest cuts. Anvil type pruners are cheaper to buy but don’t cut as well.

Here’s five basic cuts to make when pruning apple trees:

1) Cut off all dead twigs and branches. The spot where they attach to the tree provides a entry point for disease and other pests. Once a branch dies, the tree will try to heal around the dead branch. Unless the branch is cut off or falls off naturally, healing will never be complete.

2) Prune away “suckers”. They are those thin shoots that grow up around the base of the tree. They don’t contribute anything to the tree and make their growth at the expense of the rest of the tree.

3) Help increase light penetration and improve air circulation through the tree by removing all “water-sprouts”. Those are thin shoots that grow straight up from the main branches. They don’t produce fruit and will grow larger each year eventually distorting the tree.

4) If two branches are rubbing against one another, remove the weakest one. Rubbing damages bark leaving a wound for disease organisms to enter the tree.

5) This one will take a little more thought. Prune away weak branches that are shaded by more vigorous branches. Even though they may produce fruit, it won’t be the quality and volume produced by stronger branches. If you are fortunate enough to have inherited a mature apple that has been properly pruned through the years, it’s easier to tell which are the weaker branches.

There is much more to proper apple tree pruning but these five cuts will go a long way to improving the health of your tree and building your confidence for more sophisticated pruning.


Behind the scenes at the botanical gardens — getting ready for spring plant sale

Filed under: Events — bob @ 8:47 am

May 10 is probably already marked on your calender. That’s because it’s Mother’s Day and by default, Mother’s day is always shown on all calenders.

However, there is another reason to mark that day. It is weekend of the annual Spring Plant Sale that happens at University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor.

This week I had a chance to go behind the scenes and got to see how preparations were coming along for the Spring Plant sale.

The day I was there, staff and volunteers were tending thousands of growing plants. They were also designing and planting many, many hanging baskets and containers for the fund raiser.

Adrienne O'Brien Collections and Natural Areas Specialist at Matthaei Botanical Gardens leads a team of University of Michigan student workers and adult volunteers. They plant, grow and design containers for the Plant Sale.

Adrienne O’Brien Collections and Natural Areas Specialist at Matthaei Botanical Gardens leads a team of University of Michigan student workers and adult volunteers. They plant, grow and design containers for the Plant Sale.

Make plans now to take Mom on a trip to the Gardens on Mother’s Day. See you out there.




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