Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Never pruned apple trees before? Here’s five fool-proof cuts you can make

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

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:

1) Use a sharp pair of pruning shears for twigs and small branches.

2) Loppers resemble over-sized pruning shears. They are much more sturdy than shears, have longer handles and are used for for cutting larger branches.

 

Anvil pruners (left) are OK but, to make the cleanest cuts use the by-pass type (right).

Anvil pruners (left) are OK but, to make the cleanest cuts use the by-pass type (right).

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.

Bob

Lemon tree recovering from frosty fall temperature

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Sometimes gardeners are given plants that others can’t use or take care of but they just can’t bare to throw out. That happened to me this past summer when someone gave me a four foot tall lemon tree. It was in mediocre condition, a little weak and run down and needed some extra attention.

I re-potted it and applied slow release fertilizer pellets. Once or twice a week it also got a dose of manure tea solution.  It took me the rest of the summer to nurse it back to reasonable health.  And it actually looked pretty good going into the fall.

I always like to keep my citrus trees out as long as possible in the fall. It seems like a bit of a chill tends to make them a little more hardy. I don’t worry about the trees if it gets down below freezing. They seem to do well even when it briefly dips into the upper twenties at night.

One evening this fall I got caught stretching the season out too much. The overnight temperatures were predicted to be around 28°F so I moved the trees to a sheltered area near the garage, tossed a light frost cloth over the top of them and let them stay out that night.

The actual temperatures were almost ten degrees colder than predicted. The oranges looked a little droopy from the cold but I was pretty sure they would pull through. I’ve seen them handle some pretty cold temperatures after a power outage. The new lemon tree however, lost nearly all of its leaves. A large percentage had already fallen off of the tree and were laying on the frosted ground — it did not look good at all.

That day I moved them all into a semi-heated area in my garage for storage. The temperature stays in the upper 40’s and the trees get a few hours of winter sunlight from south facing windows.

 

These buds started out as just tiny green bumps. Here they are about a quart of an inch long.

The new buds grow from the node where the old leaves used to be.

A couple of days after Christmas I noticed some tiny green pointed buds here and there on the lemon tree — it was still alive and wanting to grow leaves! A few days later, buds were emerging from branches all over the tree.

This week, the buds are still growing and developing into new leaves and twigs.

Right now the largest new lemon twigs are about one and a half inches long.

Right now the largest new lemon twigs are about one and a half inches long.

I’m fairly optimistic that the lemon tree will completely recover but it’s not out of the woods yet, we still have plenty of winter left before spring arrives.

Bob

 

 

Protect fruit trees from mice damage

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

Now that the fruit trees are all dormant, disease and insect pests have also gone dormant and won’t be bothering the trees until spring. That doesn’t mean the orchard is completely safe from pests.

There’s another kind of pest active out in the orchard during winter; meadow mice, or more accurately, meadow voles.

Voles look very much like mice and are about the same size. They act much like mice too, especially in the way they gnaw on things.

During the winter when the ground is snow covered, voles build tunnels under the snow. The tunnels are built to help hide them from predators and to help keep them warm while they search for food. They travel through those tunnels over and over through the winter.

So far, our mild beginning to winter means that voles haven’t had to worry much about finding food, but that could change as winter drags on.

Meadow voles eat a wide variety of grasses, seeds and other kinds of plant material. Unfortunately, they sometimes develop a taste for the tender bark of young fruit trees, especially if the vole population is large and their other food sources become scarce.

I’ve lost a few fruit trees from voles through the years. One way to keep voles from damaging vulnerable trees is to install a physical barrier around the trees.

Installing a cylinder of wire mesh — hardware cloth — around each fruit tree, keeps voles from gnawing on the tender bark. It’s like having a miniature fence around each tree.

I use 18 inch wide hardware cloth and form it into thin cylinders about six to eight inches in diameter around each tree trunk. This gives the trees plenty of protection in case there is a lot of snow cover. The mesh size has to be one-half inch, less is even better, otherwise voles will crawl right through to get to the bark.

Hardware cloth

Full service hardware stores will cut hardware cloth to any length you need. Other stores sell it in pre-packaged lengths.

There’s a plastic tree-wrap rodent barrier on the market. It’s easier to install at first but needs to be removed each spring and re-installed each fall. Even though it’s designed to expand, if left on, the plastic material will keep the bark from developing properly.

A hardware cloth cylinder can be left in place for a few years until the tree matures and has developed coarse bark that is less appetizing to vole.

Bob

Paw paw tree from seed

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

I’ve heard experts, farmers and others say for decades that paw paw is on the verge of becoming the next “in vogue” fruit. They may be finally right.

Since current paw paw varieties are so difficult to handle and are impossible to ship because of the soft fruit, only local paw paws are ever available.That makes them well positioned to become popular with locavores and other foodies.

Five years ago I planted eight seeds from a paw paw fruit and ended up with a half dozen seedlings happily growing in pots. Unfortunately, they were lost during a move and I never pursued starting any more. Since it takes five to seven years for a paw paw tree to begin producing,  by now, I probably would have had a small crop to pick this year.

A few weeks ago, I was given a paw paw fruit. I was inspired once again to save the seeds and start all over again with my future paw paw orchard.

Like most trees native to this area, paw paw seeds must be stratified before they will germinate. Stratification involves exposing seeds to cold temperature and adequate moisture.

I case you've never seen one, this is a paw paw.

In case you’ve never seen one, this is a paw paw. It contains about a dozen seeds.

In this case, paw paw seeds require 90 to 120 days at 32°F to 40°F while being kept moist. The vegetable crisper of a refrigerator is just the thing to meet those conditions. Just rinse off the seeds, and place them in some moist peat moss in a zip-lock storage bag. Toss the bag in the crisper and forget about it until spring. Don’t let them dry out or freeze, either one will kill the tiny paw paw tree embryo inside the seed.

Next spring plant the seeds into pots of good potting mix. If all goes well, the seeds will sprout in about two and a half to three weeks. Then re-pot as needed in order to give the new seedlings plenty of room to grow.

The most difficult part of the whole process may be finding a paw paw fruit in the first place.

Bob

 

 

Watch out for poison ivy when collecting leaves

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

The fall color season is nearing its peak. It’s a beautiful time of the year to be outside watching the leaves turn a little bit each day.

Collecting those leaves is a lot of fun too whether you use them for decorating or for helping your kids make that time honored school project, a leaf collection.

Many people use leaves they’ve collected from fall color tours or from their own backyard to decorate their homes.

Once you collect leaves and bring them indoors, they’ll easily hold their vibrant colors until Thanksgiving.

Be careful though not to bring a health risk into your home.  Poison ivy could be lurking among your hand-collected decorating materials.

Poison ivy vines are often found growing up tree trunks and even on sides of buildings. In the fall, it produces one of our most brilliantly colored leaves. It’s bright-red autumn leaves are very attractive and would make wonderful indoor decorations except for one thing — they are still poisonous!

This poison ivy is just starting to turn color.

This poison ivy is just starting to turn color.

Every year I hear of someone “catching poison ivy” in the late fall even though they claim they have never been anywhere near the stuff. Many times their poor dog or cat is blamed for coming into contact with poison ivy and bringing it in on their fur when, in fact, it is the owner’s leaf decorations that are to blame.

To avoid bringing in poison ivy, learn how to identify it. The old saying “leaflets three, let it be” holds true even in the fall. Before picking up an unidentified leaf, take a few seconds to look for nearby vines climbing up trees or walls.

Virginia creeper, on the other hand, looks similar to poison ivy but it has five leaflets instead of three. Virginia creeper is harmless.

Be wary if that bright red leaf is not something you can easily identify before you add it to your table’s centerpiece.

Bob

Gypsy moth eggs hatch

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may remember a post from last fall. It was about a gypsy moth caught in the act of laying eggs. I decided not to destroy that eggs mass.

Last week, the eggs hatched. In the photo you can see how small and seemingly helpless they are at this stage of their life. They are less than one-sixteenth of an inch long. A single rain drop could probably crush a baby caterpillar if it landed right on it. Or, at the very least, wash it from the tree branch.

 

Over one hundred gypsy moth caterpillars hatched from this egg mass.

 

So how do these small caterpillars survive our spring rain storms?

Looking at the egg mass, I think I figured it out. The mama gypsy moth lays her eggs on the underside of a branch where the baby caterpillars are well protected from direct rainfall. I’m sure many get washed away but many survive to live another day.

This is also the stage at which they are most vulnerable to insecticides. You can imagine it wouldn’t take much spray to kill these pests now compared to later in the season  when they have grown into full-sized caterpillars.

Bob

This is a Good Time of Year to Decide Where to Plant Evergreens

Friday, December 14th, 2012

This week I’ve been helping a friend decide where to plant some evergreens in his yard.

Now is the perfect time to make those decisions because the leaves are gone from the trees and bushes.  Since evergreens keep their leaves or needles, their deep green color will stand out from the rest of the vegetation during the winter. So, it’s important to place them in the right spot.

We’re trying to  get a better idea how an evergreen will look in the yard space next winter and the following winters.

The other reason we’re doing the planning now is because we won’t be distracted by all of the spring time foliage of the other trees and shrubs. It’s too easy to get fooled into picking the wrong spot for your evergreen and regret the choice next winter.

We’re going to visually survey his yard and try to imagine how the evergreens will look in a different places around the property. Also, I keep reminding him that we need to keep in mind how big the trees or shrubs will get as they grow through the years.

Once we make the final decision, we’ll drive a stake in each spot to remind us of the planting spots. The actual planting will take place next spring.

This is not a fool-proof method but it gives us more information to help us make the best planting decision.

Bob

Female Gypsy Moth Laying Eggs

Friday, August 24th, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a moth on a tree in the yard.  It took me a couple of seconds to  realize it was a female gypsy moth.

That  gypsy moth was in the middle of laying its eggs.  I could have destroyed it right there and then but decided against it.  I thought  maybe a few readers of this blog might want to see what an egg-laying  gypsy moth looks like.

The brown egg mass it deposited contains hundreds of eggs, most of which will survive the winter and hatch out next spring.  Cold winter weather doesn’t bother them at all. After the caterpillars  hatch from their eggs, they will climb the tree and start devouring leaves.

This female gypsy moth is laying an egg mass that contains hundreds of eggs.

The next time you’re outside enjoying your yard, it might not be a bad idea to look at your trees for signs of gypsy moth egg masses. They normally lay eggs on the trunk of a tree or on lower branches. You can also find them on backyard swing-sets, picnic tables, RVs — just about anything that’s left out side.

It’s a good idea to destroy these eggs masses as soon as you find them.  Scrape them off of the tree and throw them in the trash.  Don’t let them lay on the ground thinking that you took care of them. They’re pretty tough and will hatch even if left on the ground all winter.

Now I have a bit of a dilemma, do I take off that egg mass from my tree? Or do I leave it there until spring and take pictures of hatching caterpillars for this blog?

Bob

A Dogwood Makes Its Home

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

We have a wild area on our property that we keep for birds . It’s about an acre in size and is home to a wide variety of wildlife.

This spring, for the first time, we noticed a wonderful dogwood tree hidden in a rarely visited corner tucked in on the south side of  a pine tree. It is in full bloom and rivals anything you might find in a landscape nursery.

Our wild dogwood is about 18 feet tall.

It really is a stunning sight.

The tree is covered with large white blossoms.

We never would have had this surprise if I was sprucing-up this wild area every year with my brush cutter and weed-whacker. I probably would have cut it down long ago without even realizing what it was.

Sometimes, it pays not to organize the wilderness.

Bob

Conservation District Tree Sale Seedlings

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The trees I ordered from the Monroe Conservation District arrived Friday. I drove over to pick them up first thing in the morning and got there shortly after they opened the doors.

My package  contained 50 trees — 25 white pine  and 25 white cedar– so it was small enough to carry in one hand. The tree seedlings look beautiful.

I placed my seedlings in a bucket of water for a while to re-hydrate them a bit before planting.

White pine grows very fast in our sandy, somewhat acid soil. I have never planted white cedar here but I’m sure that they will do well too.

Fifty seedlings doesn’t take too long to plant. I noticed other folks picking up orders that were much larger than mine. Some had several gunny sacks worth of seedlings. I mentioned to one fellow walking out with a large order that it looked like he had a big project on his hands — he just grunted and walked out to his truck with the last of his order.

Judy and I planted our  seedlings Saturday morning. The cool weather this week will help them get off to a great start.

Bob