Start Young Trees Off Right

Recovery is difficult for abused trees.

Young trees are so impressionable. Too much water can damage their roots, or cause them to disperse too shallowly. Improper pruning can disfigure their branch structure, and ultimately compromise structural integrity. Improper staking to keep them stable can actually interfere with development of stabilizing roots, and interfere with trunk development.

Newly planted trees will of course want to be watered from spring to autumn for at least the first year, and more likely for a few years. Those that will eventually be less reliant on watering as they mature are actually the most demanding while young, because their confined roots are not yet adequately dispersed for self sufficiency. The problem is that too much water can keep lower soil too saturated for new roots to disperse into. This causes roots to instead disperse closer to the surface of the soil, which is not only unhealthy for the trees, but puts the roots closer to pavement, other plants and any other features that they can eventually damage as they grow.

Many young trees should be pruned as they grow to eliminate structural problems, and to instead promote good branch structure. The problem is that improper pruning can actually cause structural problems that will be with the victimized trees for the rest of their lives. Pruning should leave no stubs that will take longer to compartmentalize (heal), or that might produce vigorous but weakly attached new stems.

Stakes are unfortunately necessary to stabilize new trees. The problem is that the trees can become so reliant on stakes for support that they do not develop enough trunk strength to support their canopy without stakes. That is why trees should be tied loosely enough to their stakes to be able to move at least a little in a breeze. Nursery stakes (that trees are bound to for a straight trunk in the nursery) should be removed when sturdier stakes are added.

New trees are naturally a bit more distressed than mature trees that have settled into their environment. They are consequently more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.

Memorial Tree Update – March 22, 2020

Memorial Tree – Before

Updates get complicated as they link back to previous updates to previous updates to previous updates and so on. Linking and reblogging from another blog adds more complication. The last update for the Memorial Tree was reblogged from Felton League on August 10. It and previous updates should link back to preceding updates chronologically. At least it sounds simple.

Another brief update that will reblog here from Felton League at noon will describe more of the social significance of the Memorial Tree rather than horticultural concerns. It really is special.

This little Memorial Tree has certainly been through some difficult times. Despite reassurances that it would not happen again, and that the tree would be outfitted with an ‘approved’ trunk guard, the trunk base has been gouged by weed whackers on more occasions than I can remember. That is an unfortunate consequence of efficient but unaware community service workers.

Such major damage severely inhibited growth. As it begins its fifth year, the Memorial Tree is barely six feet tall. By now, it should be developing branch structure above minimal clearance. Fortunately, it was quite healthy last year. If it continues to grow similarly this year, it will grow above six feet, where it can later develop scaffold limbs. I intend to apply fertilizer regularly.

Stubble had been left on the trunk to enhance caliper growth. That which was developing into significant branches was removed to concentrate resources into vertical trunk growth. Stubble that remains is minimal, but should be substantial enough by winter to get mostly pruned away again. It will more likely be unnecessary, and pruned away completely from the main trunk.

Binding is unfortunately still necessary. The species innately develops irregular form. Binding straightens the otherwise curved trunk. Once the trunk lignifies in the desired position, binding and the associated stake will not be necessary. The larger lodgepole stake holds the binding stake vertical, but is more important for protection from those who bump into the still small tree.

Weeds were removed from around the base of the Memorial Tree, so that there would be no need for a dreaded weed whacker to get close to it. Former damage is compartmentalizing well.

Memorial Tree – After

Horridculture – Cruel and Unusual Punishment

P90213This landscape is nothing fancy. It is out in front of a fast food establishment on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz. It is low maintenance, and starkly simple. It would be nice if the so-called ‘gardeners’ would cut back the African iris and English lavender a bit better, but they may have left them like this so that they are less likely to get trampled. The colored chips get replenished regularly, and the trash gets harvested quite efficiently. As I said, it is nothing fancy. The only remarkable feature had been this exemplary crape myrtle in the middle.
Only a few weeks ago, it was a perfect small specimen. Even though it is still quite dinky, the main stems were all at good angles, well spaced and aimed in the right directions. None of the stems were crossing over others, damaged or otherwise misshapen.
I can not explain what happened here since then. Are the so-called ‘gardeners’ trying to make more work for themselves by causing problems that will likely need their attention in the future? Do they just hate their work as much as this abuse implies? Is it possible that someone really believes that ‘this’ is somehow beneficial to the victim?
Each of the two fence stakes is sufficient to support a small tree, if such a tree needs it. If a tree, or in this case, a multi-trunked tree, does not need support, it should not be supported. Otherwise, it becomes reliant on the support. Besides that, these are fence stakes that are designed to be somewhat permanent. Now that they are there, they will probably be there forever. So-called ‘gardeners’ who do this sort of thing are not the sort to remove stakes.
The nylon straps are not flexible to accommodate the expansion of the stems they are tied around. If not removed, they will constrict, or ‘girdle’, the growing stems. What exactly are the straps doing anyway? The two closest to the bottom are tied to one stake, and pass the other to reach the respective stems that they are tied to, rather than tied between each of the two stems and the stake that it is closest to.
Someone certainly put a lot of effort into a whole lot of uselessness that will interfere with the healthy development of this formerly exemplary crape myrtle. Yet, with all this effort, no one bothered to prune it, or even so much as deadhead it. Yes, those are deteriorated floral stems from last summer.P90213+

Horridculture – Well Done Stakes Are Rare


Stakes are temporary. That is what so called maintenance ‘gardeners’ do not seem to understand. Stakes should not stay any longer than necessary, so need to be removed sooner than later, depending on their function. Stakes that are left too long can interfere with the healthy development of the trees and vines that they were intended to help.
Nursery stakes are used either to straighten the trunks of developing trees, or to support climbing vines. They must be removed when the trees or vines that they worked for get installed into the landscape, or as soon after installation as possible. Some flimsy trees may need their stakes for more than their first year.
The problem with leaving trees bound to their nursery stakes for too long is that they rely on the stakes for support as they grow, so do not put much effort into supporting their own weight.
The picture above shows a coast live oak that was staked properly with landscape stakes to the side, but while still bound to the original nursery stake. Because the tree was bound for too long as it grew, it may be too flimsy to support itself without bending when the binding nursery stakes eventually gets removed. For this particular tree, the bindings may need to be removed in phases so that the tree can learn to support itself before the last binding is cut loose.
The problem with leaving vines bound to their nursery stakes is that they remain bundled in the middle while new growth spreads out more naturally. Vines should instead be unbound and spread out onto their support, even if they need to be bound to the new support like they were bound to their nursery stake. Only a few vines that will get cut to the ground annually or after their first growing season, such as Boston ivy and creeping fig, can remain bound through their first year, only because the whole mess will be pruned to the ground, and replaced with new growth later.
The picture below shows a pink jasmine vine that is still bound to its stake, right in front of a disproportionately small trellis. The bundled mess of stems in the middle is partially obscured only because the tangled upper growth is so overgrown. There are so many problems with this unfortunate potted pink jasmine that it will be a topic for next week.P81128+

Landscape stakes are very different from nursery stakes. They are not needed to straighten trunks of trees, but are merely used for a little bit of support while new trees disperse their roots. When trees have adequately dispersed their roots and are stable enough to stand up to a bit of wind on their own, landscape stakes must be removed. They are not as likely to interfere with the development of structural integrity like nursery stakes do, but can interfere with root dispersion and development of adequate stability if trees become reliant on them for support.
The flowering cherry tree in the picture below obviously does not need the support of the unsightly landscape stakes that remain partly strapped to the trunk. The stakes did not compromise stability only because the tree is so naturally stout. The stakes really are unsightly though. So is the overgrown Boston ivy on the trunk and up into the canopy, . . . and the mutilated stubs and stems that were ‘pruned’ by the maintenance ‘gardeners’. Seriously; what kind of ‘gardener’ does this sort of atrocious work?! Well, those topics can be addressed at another time.P81128

Straight And Narrow For Trees

30731thumbIn the wild, trees do just fine without any help from anyone else. They certainly are not stupid. Their roots disperse for adequate stability. Their trunks grow upward as limbs spread outward for adequate structural integrity. Trees only need help in landscape situations because they are expected to perform so unnaturally. From the very beginning, their trunks are bound and their roots are confined.

While they are growing in the nursery, trees are bound tightly to stakes to keep their trunks straight. Unfortunately, this binding inhibits natural development of trunk caliper. Since they can rely on stakes for support, trees do not waste resources on developing the strength of their own trunks. The various eucalypti are particularly sensitive, and can bend over to reach the ground when unbound.

Roots are confined to cans (pots) or boxes because that is how trees are grown in the nursery. Even in regions where trees are field grown, roots must be severed when trees get dug and moved. Many types of trees do not mind much, and are eager to disperse roots into a new landscape as soon as possible. However, oaks, pines and many others do not recover as efficiently from confinement.

Once in a new landscape, most trees need to be staked to recover from being staked and confined in the nursery. New sturdier stakes that extend below the confined root system into soil below should stabilize newly planted trees. This is particularly important for evergreen trees that will be blown more by wind than bare deciduous trees, and particularly because most trees get planted in autumn and winter.

These new stakes should be installed a few inches away from the tree trunks so that they can support the trunks loosely when the tightly binding nursery stakes gets removed. To prevent abrasion, new straps should be somewhat loose, and cross over between the trunks and stakes. A pair of opposing stakes, with straps supporting in opposing directions, is sturdier than a single stake. A few straps may be necessary.

The new crepe myrtle trees in the picture above remain  bound to the stakes that they were grown with in the nursery. Sturdier stakes that can support the trunk in a less constrictive manner have yet to be installed.

Scofield Tree Update

P71212+KThe sad little Scofield Tree in Felton Covered Bridge Park did not do much this year. ( and In fact, it grew only about five inches taller, so is now only about four feet tall. The damage from the weed whacker really set it back. Growth was healthy on the side shoots, but that growth will need to be tucked back to promote apical dominance. The good news is that the vigor and health of the foliage of the sideshoots indicated that root dispersion was likely adequate to sustain healthier and normal vigorous growth next year.

Although the sideshoots will get tucked back to limit their competition with vertical growth of the main trunk, the stubble will remain to promote caliper growth of the trunk.

The trunk will be bound like a tree in a nursery; and the bound trunk will be staked for stability. Binding outside of a production nursery may not seem to be horticulturally correct, but is necessary for a straight trunk. The staking is done more to protect the tree in such a high traffic area than to support the tree. It would be better for the tree to do without binding and staking so that it can learn to support its own weight. Once the straight section of trunk is taller than about six feet, the bindings will be loosened, and eventually eliminated as the trunk lignifies into form.

A bit of fertilizer will be added to the soil around the tree before the last rains of winter. This might seem like cheating, bur for right now, the tree is too small to be safe in such a high traffic area. It will also be irrigated occasionally after the rain stops. It does not get much water, but will get enough to keep it vascularly active through the growing season. Too much water promotes shallower roots, which might damage the nearby concrete curbs and asphalt pavement. Valley oaks naturally disperse their roots very deeply, so the curbs and pavement should be quite safe for a century or so.