Stakes And Binding For Trees

Binding merely straightens developing tree trunks.

Few trees that inhabit home gardens begin their residency as nature intended them to. Most are exotic, from other ecosystems, regions and climates. Almost all initially grew in nurseries, with their roots confined to cans of soilless media. Most rely on pruning and binding to develop straight and tall trunks. In the garden, most rely on stakes for stability.

Nursery stakes are different from landscape stakes. They support the developing trunks of young trees as they grow in nurseries. They can do the same for very young trees that grow directly into home gardens. Such stakes do not stabilize trees. Within confinement of nursery cans, they can not extend into the soil below. They guide trunk development.

Some young trees with very limber trunks rely on constrictive binding to nursery stakes. Most trees need only loose binding. Ideally, binding should be as loose as possible, and is only temporary. Trunks that move with wind are less reliant on support as they mature. Once straight trunks develop, temporary nursery stakes should no longer be necessary.

Landscape stakes stabilize new trees after installation into a garden. Most of such trees lack stability while their roots are initially very confined. Root dispersion stabilizes trees as they mature. Landscape stakes are only temporary during this process. They should not be so constraining that trees rely on them for support. They must be sturdy though.

As important as it is for many trees, staking can interfere with trunk development. It limits motion from wind that stimulates trunk expansion and root dispersion. Timely removal of stakes when no longer needed promotes healthier development. Yet, some very limber trees may briefly need both nursery and landscape stakes. Timing of removal is critical.

Small trees may need only a single landscape stake after installation. Larger trees may need a pair of stakes. Some stout trees may need no stake at all. Ties that loosely attach trees to stakes should cross over between the trees and stakes. This forms a figure eight pattern that limits abrasion between trees and stakes. Short nails can hold ties in place.


Arborists Are Horticulturists Of Trees

Arborists work with the big trees.

Landscapers and gardeners are only the two most familiar of horticultural professionals. There are also landscape designers, horticulturists, greenskeepers and various nurserymen, just to name a few. Each of the many distinct horticultural professionals works within a specific horticultural industry; like each of the many different types of physicians works within a specific medical industry, even though many might work together in the same hospital.

Arborists are the horticultural professionals, or even horticultural ‘physicians’, who work specifically with trees. In fact, they had historically been known as ‘tree surgeons’  because they perform what might be considered to be surgery on trees. After nurserymen grow trees in nurseries, and landscapers install trees in landscapes, arborists take over to care for the same trees like gardeners take care of landscapes below the trees.

Arboriculture, or the horticulture of trees practiced by arborists, is important because trees are so different from other plants in the landscape. Obviously, trees are larger than anything else. Structural problems or instability can have devastating consequences, not only to the affected trees, but also to anything around them that might be damaged by falling limbs or even entire trees. Some trees are large enough, or even have limbs that are large enough to crush an entire home.

Arborists who are certified by the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA, have passed an examination of their arboricultural expertise, and maintain their certification by attendance to educational seminars, workshops and other relevant ISA approved events. Certified arborists are the most qualified to assess the health, stability and structural integrity of trees, and prescribe any necessary arboricultural procedures. Such matters should not be trusted to other horticultural professionals who specialize in other aspects of horticulture.

The website of the ISA at is the best resource for finding certified arborists and the tree service businesses that they are affiliated with. Arborists can be found within particular regions by city or ZIP code, or directly by name. The website also features all sorts of information about trees that is useful to anyone who lives with them or wants to add more to the landscape.

Of course, there is more to gardening than trees. For those who missed reading about it already, it is nearly time for the most locally grown of horticultural events. Spring in Guadalupe Gardens will be April 28, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., in the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens between Taylor Street and Coleman Avenue in San Jose. More information can be found online at or by telephoning 298 7657.

Coast Live Oak

Coast live oak can get massive!

Valley oak and coast live oak are the two most magnificent oaks of California. Valley oak likely receives more notoriety. It stands taller, and defoliates to expose its sculptural form through winter. Coast live oak, Quercus agrifolia, is almost as grand within its evergreen foliage. It can grow as tall and broad as seventy-five feet, with trunks wider than ten feet.

Coast live oak is notably variable in the wild. Exposed and solitary trees can grow bigger and older than grove trees. They can live for many centuries, and hang their canopies to the ground. Grove trees may not live half as long, and tend to shed shaded lower growth. Solitary trees are likely to survive fire. Grove trees within forests are less likely to survive.

Coast live oak is more appealing in the wild than within home gardens. Regularly messy debris is mildly herbicidal to some delicate plants below. It also stains hardscapes. Trees that matured without irrigation are very susceptible to rot with new irrigation. Landscapes around such trees must therefore demand very little. Roots are very sensitive to damage.

Six on Saturday: Aspen

Aspen are not native here like they are around Aspen in Colorado. Common cottonwood is. While bare, it almost resembles aspen, and really seems to be a species from a climate with colder winters. Actually, all of my Six this week seem to be from colder climates. All but #1 and #2 are native however.

1. Forsythia X intermedia, forsythia looks like it belongs in a colder climate where it can bloom as the snow melts. Only a few inhabit our landscapes, and they are blooming late.

2. Leucojum aestivum, summer snowflake blooms whenever it wants to here. I had been wanting some for here when a few mysteriously appeared near a ditch of the main road.

3. Corylus californica, beaked hazelnut is native, but also looks like it should bloom like this as the snow melts in a colder climate. The nuts are rare and tiny, but richly flavored.

4. Populus deltoides, cottonwood grew as a small colony from roots of a tree that got cut down. This colony got thinned. This stump is under water that reflects a remaining tree.

5. This is that reflected tree, which is the only one of seven remaining trees that is out in the water. Its colony grew before the formerly drained pond filled more than a year ago. Platanus racemosa, California sycamore is reflected to the lower left and the upper right and, I believe, Salix lasiandra, red willow or shining willow is reflected to the upper left.

6. These are the other six cottonwood trees. The seventh is beyond the right edge of this picture, where more twigs of California sycamore are visible. Myrica californica, Pacific wax myrtle is in most of the background to the left, with a lodge building farther behind. Such elegantly straight trunks of common cottonwood seem to resemble those of aspen.

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:

Horridculture – “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

The landscape maintenance industry attracts apathetic idiots. There is no nice way of saying it. Those who have flunked out of everything else and simply do not care can push a mower. I can not imagine how infuriating this must be for gardeners who take their work seriously. It must be more difficult for them to observe than it is for me.

More to the point, the jacaranda tree in the median pictured above fell down and stayed that way long enough for the canopy to try to grow into a normal tree. It likely got run over by a car. No one bothered to try to stand it up and stake it, or more simply remove it, and maybe replace it. It just stayed there, for YEARS. So-called maintenance ‘gardeners’ just mow around it, and weed whack the grass that they can not mow below the horizontal trunk. Arborists might eventually groom the canopy. Apparently, they all find this to be acceptable horticultural procedure.

The Brazilian pepper tree pictured below is almost as weird. It is slightly more tolerable only because it has not been in this position as long. Perhaps SOMEONE or ANYONE will realize how inappropriate its horizontal orientation is for the parking lot that it inhabits, and remove it. It had been falling over slowly, which is why the exposed roots are already weathered. No one bothered to prune it for weight reduction or to improve the clearance on the side that it was falling toward. Otherwise, it might have been able to support itself, even with a bit an irregular but tolerable lean. Now that it is on the ground, some so-called ‘gardener’ pruned it around the parking spaces that it fell between. Seriously! The bumper of the pickup is against a now hedged portion of the canopy of the fallen tree. The branches to the left in the picture were pruned between adjacent parking spaces so that they can actually accommodate parked cars as they were intended to. Seriously, rather than simply cut the tree ‘down’ and remove it, someone devoted that much effort into something as crazily dysfunctional as this. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MUCH EASIER TO DO THIS PROPERLY!

Japanese Black Pine

Japanese pine is more proportionate to confined urban home gardens than more common species.

Not many large specimens of Japanese black pine, Pinus thunbergiana, can be seen around the Santa Clara Valley. They can get taller than a hundred feet on straight trunks in their natural range on the coast of Japan, but locally, rarely get more than a quarter as tall on leaning and irregular trunks. They just are not quite as happy in the dry air here (minimal humidity). They are purported to be more tolerant of smog than most other pines that were so sensitive to the nasty smog of the 1970’s, but are more likely to become infested with insect pathogens as they get old.

With their angular and somewhat open growth, and classic pine foliage and cones, Japanese black pines are one of the more distinctive pines. Since they do not get too large, they can work well as sculptural specimen trees in small garden spaces and atriums. Even if they grow up above the eaves, their leaning trunks and outstretched lower limbs with rough gray bark are as distinguished as those of larger trees.

The paired somewhat stiff needles are about three or four inches long. The small but stout cones stay green through most of their first year of development, and then turn brown as they mature and open to disperse their seed in the second year. They are only about two inches long, but can become annoyingly abundant among aging trees.

Cork Oak

Cork oak develops sculptural trunks and branch structure with striking bark texture.

Portuguese neighborhoods in San Jose and other big cities might be identifiable by the presence of the otherwise rare cork oak, Quercus suber. After all, they are native to Portugal, as well as Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and the coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far east as the eastern tip of Italy on the north, and the northwest corner of Libya on the south.

Like redwoods, cork oak is one of the few species of trees that survive forest fires by being less combustible. Their foliage and small twiggy stems may burn, but larger limbs and trunks are insulated by very thick cork cambium (bark). Most other trees that are adapted to burning either disperse their seeds as they burn in order to get a head start at reforestation afterward, or simply resprout from their roots.

 Ironically, this bark that is intended to help the trees survive was actually the reason why trees on the north coast of Algeria were so extensively and detrimentally harvested during French  colonialization. Corks made from the bark were needed for the wind industry in France. Fortunately, cork in Algeria is now harvested like it is in other regions, without harming the trees that produce it.

Compared to other oaks, cork oak is not too large. It can get a bit more than fifty feet tall and nearly as wide, but takes a century or more to do so. It can actually stay proportionate to urban landscapes for a very long time. Roots are mostly complaisant. The main problem with cork oak is that it drops its evergreen foliage constantly, and drops floral debris and acorns for a few months.

Gnarly trunks and limbs with spongy bark are the main appeal. The one and a half or two inch long leaves are not so interesting. They are barely convex, often with a few blunt lobes, and dull grayish green from below.

Atlas Cedar

Amy Carter had the most boss treehouse in an Atlas cedar.

My generation can remember when Amy Carter, the daughter of former President Carter, got a treehouse built in a mature Atlas cedar, Cedrus atlantica, at the White House. It was so cool that it was ‘boss’! Besides being more luxurious than a typical treehouse, it was designed by President Carter to not damage the tree even slightly.

Here in the west, most Atlas cedars are cultivars (cultivated varieties) with blue foliage that often rivals that of Colorado blue spruce. Most have strictly horizontal or angular limbs with stiff, densely foliated branches. Some are so pendulous (weeping) that they need to be staked to be kept off the ground. They actually look great trained along the tops of retaining walls, even without staking, with their blue foliage cascading over. Others are strictly upright and narrow. Colorado blue spruce may have better color; but Atlas cedar has more interesting variation of form.

It is also better adapted to the local Mediterranean climate than spruces and other conifers are, and gets much larger. Mature Atlas cedars can get as tall as a hundred feet, with trunks as wide as five feet.

If A Tree Falls In A Forest . . .

If a tree falls in a forest of the tallest species of tree in the World, things might get messy. Understory trees often fall without much commotion, but the demise of this particular redwood was observed from all over the neighborhood. The forest that it inhabited is too crowded for good pictures of where it landed. I got what I could. Falling trees is one of the unpleasant and hazardous results of the recent epically abundant rain.

About twenty feet of trail dislodged with the massive root system that nearly inverted as it fell into the canyon below. The gap was less than fifteen feet long on the left and uphill side of the trail when this picture was taken, but widened as more soil collapsed into the muddy void below. Obviously, the trail is now closed. Repair is not a priority until after winter at the soonest.

The dislodged root system is about thirty feet wide. I did not estimate how far into the canyon it slid. Since I can not see the base of the trunk, I did not estimate how wide it is. The trunk extends diagonally to the right, where it is obscured by vegetation in the foreground. It broke many other trees as it fell, leaving the shattered trunks and limbs that are visible to the upper right and left. Some of the debris near the water was deposited by earlier flooding.

The trunk fell upstream into a curve in Bean Creek below, so almost crossed the creek twice. From this distance, it is difficult to estimate the width of the trunk. Because the top is not visible, it is impossible to estimate the height. If it did not burn up in the atmosphere, someone in Nevada might have received an unexpected delivery of lumber.

Grecian Bay

Grecian bay does not get as massive as the native bay laurel.

The native bay laurel should not be confused with the Grecian or sweet bay. Despite the similarities, the native bay laurel grows into a large tree. The foliage can be used as seasoning like Grecian bay, but has a very different and much more pungent flavor. It can often be found fresh in markets, labeled as Grecian or sweet bay, and has likely ruined all sorts of recipes.

Grecian or sweet bay,  Laurus nobilis, stays much smaller much longer. It takes many years to grow to thirty feet tall, often with many trunks flaring out from the center. Trees that are nearly twice as tall are ancient. Because of slow growth, Grecian bay can be happy in large containers as long as it is pruned to stay proportionate to the confined root system.

The three or four inch long, and inch or so wide leaves of Grecian bay can be difficult to distinguish from those of bay laurel. The minor differences are that Grecian bay leaves have slightly undulate margins with a few small and sometimes barely perceptible serrations (teeth) that bay laurel lacks. The leaf apexes of Grecian bay leaves are typically a bit more blunt. For culinary purposes, it is important to be aware that dried leaves and fresh leaves have very different flavors.