Memorial Tree Update – March 22, 2020

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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.

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Memorial Tree – After

Weeding Earlier Rather Than Later

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Rain makes weeds grow like weeds.

Weeding is not much fun. Some of us might enjoy the relaxing monotony of productive weeding. Realistically though, most of us would prefer to do something else in the garden. There is certainly plenty of other chores that need to be done now, after earlier rain, and before the weather gets significantly warmer. However, such weather is why it is important to start weeding earlier than later.

By definition, weeds are weeds, because they are unwanted. They get to be unwanted by dominating space and exploiting resources more aggressively than wanted plants. Some innately grow faster and more aggressively than most other plants. Some are innately prolific with seed. Some employ multiple tactics to gain unfair advantages. Weeding is how we help our gardens compete.

Weeds grow throughout the year. Most slow down through the dry warmth of summer, and many die off then. However, there are always some weeds growing somewhere. When they die off, it is only after they have dispersed seed for their next generation. Some generate a few generation annually. Some are perennial weeds, or even shrubs, vines and trees, which survive for many years.

Weeding is more of a concern now because the majority of weeds grow so much more aggressively after the earliest rain of winter. Warming weather later in winter accelerates their proliferation. This is the time of year that weeds start to crowd desirable plants. If weeding is delayed for too long, weeds eventually bloom and toss seed. Some weeds extend stolons to disperse vegetatively.

The good news is that the same rain that promotes the proliferation of weeds also facilitates weeding. Weeds are easier to pull while the soil is still damp than they will be as the soil dries later in spring and summer. Also, while weeds are still fresh and turgid, they are less likely to leave roots or stolons behind in the soil. They are more difficult to pull intact as they begin to deteriorate later.

Furthermore, weeding should be done before weeds bloom and disperse seed for subsequent generations. Some are sneaky and quick.

Snails, Weeds And Falling Leaves

P90713KThe coloring of foliage is a bit slow this autumn. The cooling nights after such warm weather is bringing some of the deciduous foliage down while it is barely yellowing. Honeylocust and black oak have already gotten notably sparse without much notable color. Hopefully, the more colorful sweetgum, flowering pear, pistache and gingko trees will retain their foliage later into cooler weather, so that they can put on a worthy show before filling compost piles.

It is probably slightly too early to clean gutters and downspouts. Unless the rainy season somehow starts first, this should probably wait until most of the foliage that is expected to fall has already fallen. Lawns, certain ground covers, decks and pavement should be raked as needed though. Decks and pavement can get stained from the tannins that leach from decomposing foliage. Lawn and ground cover do not like the shade under the debris.

However, slugs and snails really dig the mess. Fallen foliage keeps the ground cool, damp and shaded. Raking leaves does not eliminate slugs and snails, but inhibits their proliferation. There are always plenty of other hiding places. As the weather eventually gets cooler and damp, snails that stay out in the early morning should be collected and disposed of. Of course this technique is not convenient for everyone, since most snails hide before the sun comes up. Small slugs hide earlier in the morning and are even more unpleasant to handle.

Once found, neither slugs nor snails are too elusive . . . or fast. Yet, plucking and collecting them is not a fun job. Once collected, no one knows what to do with them. They can be put into plastic bags and disposed of; and will eventually succumb. Some people prefer to simply toss them onto a dry and sunny driveway or roof where they succumb more quickly and get taken by birds. Snails may need to be squashed to limit mobility.

Even though it is too late to prevent most types of weeds from dispersing their seed, a few types continue to disperse seed as they deteriorate through autumn and winter. Weeds in areas that get watered last longer and disperse their seed later than those without watering. Perennial weeds that are still green in dry areas areas will be easier to pull after the first rain.

Thistle

60323Some of the biggest and nastiest weeds are thistles. The most common is annual sowthistle, which can get taller than four feet in just a few months. It is relatively easy to handle, since the bristly foliage and stems are somewhat soft, almost like coarse lettuce. Blessed milkthistle is much nastier, with sharp foliar spines that can penetrate boots! It can get more than five feet tall and broad!

Most thistles are biennials or perennials, with spiny lobed foliage. They produce low foliar rosettes during their first year, and then bolt and bloom on tall floral stalks during their second year. Biennials usually die after bloom, but sometimes regenerate from the roots later. Perennials are more likely to regenerate and bloom annually for several years. Some thistles get rather shrubby.

The roots of many types of thistle would not be too difficult to pull from well watered soil if only the spiny foliage were not so difficult to handle. Larger plants might be easier to pry out with a shovel. If foliage is merely cut off at the the surface of the soil, it will regenerate from the large tap roots left below. However, cutting down flower stalks before bloom interferes with seed dispersion.

Pull Weeds Before They Seed

60323thumbSpring brings out the best and the worst in the garden. While warm season annuals and vegetables are getting established, so are a variety of weeds. Just like other annuals and perennials, they respond to the changing weather. Cool weather and moisture stratified their seed through winter. Warming moist soil prompts germination. Warm and sunny spring weather promts rapid growth.

There are all sorts of weeds. A few are big trees like bluegum eucalyptus and shamel ash. Some are substantial shrubbery, like privet and cotoneaster. Pampas grass and giant reed are big grassy perennials. The most familiar and prolific weeds are annuals or small perennials, like foxtail, burrclover, purslane, bindweed, sowthistle, pimpernel, spurge, crabgrass and Bermudagrass.

It is best to pull weeds as soon as they are big enough to grab onto. It will take more effort to pull them as they disperse their roots, and as the soil gets drier through spring. Unwanted shrubbery and tree weeds should be pulled like any other weed because they are likely to regenerate from roots if merely cut down. Once they recover and grow more, they will be much more difficult to pull.

Many small grassy weeds can be cut down low with a weed whacker, instead of pulled out completely. In some situations, low cut or mown weeds are better than bare soil. Some types of weeds will neither bloom nor disperse seed if mown. However, many types adapt to mowing by merely blooming and seeding lower. Dandelion and foxtail are notorious for their defiance to mowing.

Weeds are very efficient and creative with the dispersion of their seed. It is impossible to prevent seeds from coming into the garden from the outside. Yet, it is still best to inhibit the production and dispersion of seed from within the garden. Spurge and oxalis bloom and disperse seed in secret before they seem to be mature enough to bloom. Other weeds have taller or more prominent blooms that can be cut down before producing seed, even if the weeds are not actually removed completely.

Weeds Obviously Grow Like Weeds

90306thumbNot many of our favorite plants grow like weeds. We must help most of them along, and give them what they want. A few might naturalize and perform well on their own, but if they do too well and become aggressive or invasive, they too become known as weeds. Although we might prefer some of our favorites to be easier to grow, we are probably fortunate that more do not do too well.

Conversely, not many weeds are appealing plants when they invade our gardens. They might not be so disdainful if they provided fruit, vegetables or flowers, or were less aggressive with other plants. Instead, the conquer and occupy useful space, consume resources, and then toss their seed for the next invading generation. Their aggressive invasiveness is what makes them weeds.

There is no easy definition of ‘weed’. We know them only as unwanted plants, or plants where they are not wanted. Most are exotic (nonnative) plants that were once imported at a time when they were actually desirable. Some were vegetable or flowering plants grown in home gardens. Some were forage crops. Blue gum eucalyptus was imported for wood pulp. A few weeds are native.

Weeds become weeds because they have distinct advantages. Most get an early start at the end of winter, while other plants are still dormant. Then, many weeds bloom and toss seed for the next generation earlier than other plants. Many lack the pathogens of their homelands. Weeds generally survive on less resources, or complete their life cycles before resources are exhausted.

Most weeds are annuals. Many are perennials, Some are shrubby or vining. A few are trees. One commonality is that they should be pulled as soon as they are big enough to get a grip on. They are easier to pull while the soil is moist from winter rain, and before they have dispersed their roots much. Some of the short term annuals are pretty quick and sneaky about dispersing seed too!

Weeds that are woody shrubs, vines or trees need to get pulled like the rest. If merely cut to grade, they will likely regenerate from their stumps, and need to be dug later.

Weed Seeds Can Hurt Pets

80725thumbPlants are quite ingenious with their technology of exploitation of animals and people. Many get insects, birds, bats, spiders and anyone who is animated within their environment to disperse the plants’ pollen for them. Plants who prefer to not rely on wind, water or gravity to disperse their seed exploit a different range of animals to do so. They know how to compensate for their immobility.

This sort of exploitation is generally not as bad as it sounds. Many pollinators are rewarded for their service with nectar or surplus pollen. Dispersion of many types of seed is likewise rewarded with the fruit that surrounds the seed. Many types of nuts produce significant surpluses of seed to reward squirrels for burying them, and leaving just a few to germinate and grow into new plants.

However, there are many types of seed that are not so gracious, and several that are potentially dangerous because of the tactics they use to exploit those who disperse them. Mistletoe is an odd parasitic plant that makes very sticky berries. Those that do not get eaten by birds (for later ‘deposit’) can stick to the feet or feathers of unconsenting birds in order to catch a ride to other trees.

It is sneaky but effective. Most other plants that use this technique are small annual plants that rely on mammals instead of birds. Instead of sticking to feathers, their seed are designed to stick to fur. Such seed are not often a problem for wild animals who have short fur that the seed can stick to only for short distances before slipping out and onto the ground where seed really wants to be.

Domestic animals are not so fortunate. They have longer, shaggier and maybe curlier fur that weed seeds such as foxtail and burclover can get very entangled in. Because foxtail is designed to go into fur but not come out, it is seriously dangerous if it gets into the eyes, ears or noses of domestic animals. Because dogs and cats go wherever they want to, it is very important to eliminate such weeds from gardens where dogs and cats live, and to hopefully do so before they go to seed.

Weeds Want To Get Ahead

80411thumbWeeds always seem to have unfair advantages. While we pamper so many of our desirable plants to get them to grow and perform, weeds proliferate without help. They survive harsh conditions, inferior soil and some of the techniques we try to kill them with. They do not need much, if any water. They broadcast inordinate volumes of seed. They grow fast enough to overwhelm other plants.

This is the time of year when most weeds really get going. Like most other plants, they like the warming weather and moist soil of early spring. Many bloom and sow seed before summer weather gets too warm and dry in areas that do not get watered. Some that happen to be where they get watered may perpetuate second or third generations through summer! Weeds really are efficient!

However, the same pleasant weather that allows weeds to grow so efficiently also allows us to come out to work in the garden. The same soft rain moistened soil that the weeds enjoy so much also facilitates weeding. It will be more difficult to pull weeds later when the soil is drier, and roots are more dispersed. It is best to pull them before they sow seed for the next generation anyway.

Most of the annoying weeds are annuals or biennials. Some are perennials. A few weeds might be seedlings of substantial vines, shrubs or trees, like privet, acacia, eucalyptus or cane berries, especially the common and very nasty Himalayan blackberry. Cane berries have thorny stems that are unpleasant to handle, and perennial roots that must be dug. They can be very difficult to kill.

Tree and shrub seedlings should be pulled or dug out completely. Except for palms, most regenerate if merely cut above ground, and are very difficult to remove or kill the second time around. It is no coincidence that they tend to appear in the worst situations under utility cables and next to fences and other landscape features. Birds tend to perch in such spots as they eat the fruit from around large seeds that then get discarded, or as they deposit small seeds that were within small fruit and berries that they ate earlier.

Weeds Have Been Very Busy

60323They are weeds for a reason. They grow like . . . well, weeds! By definition, they are unwanted. Yet, they typically proliferate and grow faster than desirable plants. They aggressively compete for space, sunlight and resources. Many weeds start to grow through winter, and get established while other seedlings are just beginning to germinate, or other plants are just waking from dormancy.

Besides staying ahead of other plants, weeds stay ahead of us by growing so much while the wintry weather keeps us inside. Many weeds are really just trying to stay ahead of insects or animals that eat them in the wild. Since almost all weeds are exotic (nonnative) and far from their natural homes, the insects or animals that should eat them are not here to do so. It is an unfair advantage.

Now that the weather is more conducive to gardening, weeds should be pulled as soon as they are big enough to get a grip on. This includes tree, shrub and big perennial weeds like blue gum eucalyptus, Acacia dealbata, coast live oak, glossy privet and giant reed. If simply cut down, they will regenerate even stronger, and will probably need to be dug out. The roots are difficult to kill.

Annual weeds are very different. They will die by next winter without any help. Some will die when they dry out over summer. However, they should be pulled anyway, before they bloom and sow their seed. If the weeds are too abundant to exterminate, they should at least be cut down before their seed develops. In some situations, the mown or cut weeds might be preferable to bare soil.

Burrclover, bindweed and purslane stay so low to the ground that mowing or cutting weeds does not slow them down much. They must unfortunately be pulled, which is a serious chore in large areas! Dandelion and foxtail can get mown once, but they have a sneaky way of coming back lower to avoid losing seed the next time. Dandelion can actually come back next year as a perennial.

Bermudagrass and crabgrass are low growing perennial grasses that spread vegetatively (with their stems), even if deprived of their seed. They are very tough! Spurge and oxalis seem like they should be wimpy, but they sow seed so profusely and so early that, by the time they get noticed, their next generations are already started. Oxalis survives winter with perennials stems and bulbs.60323thumb