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Zelkova Serrata or Japanese Zelkova, at Borough Hall
in Metuchen, New Jersey. (USDA Growing Zone 6)

A Tree Grower's Diary
Photographs and text by Julie Walton Shaver

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

And You Thought I Was Crazy

Making it into Julie's tree blog seems to be a competition of sorts in my neighborhood. Yesterday, Kathryn's mom, Elaine, won the prize when she spotted a lady bug on our purple leaf plum. We were standing under the plum talking about the ugly scales and how gross they are when all of a sudden, Elaine took her hand and started swiping them away, yelling something about this being somewhat equivalent to popping bubble wrap!

It was SO gross! There were scales all over her!

I ducked and ran screaming, of course, being the squeamish one. "You're going to take a shower when you get home, aren't you?" EW!

However, I must admit: the scale population on my tree has been significantly reduced. I would have had to pay George-the-tree-guy 75 bucs for that swiping! Elaine, you are welcome in my backyard any time, hon, as long as you don't walk through the house on your way home. (Sappy, scaly shoes, you know.) EW!

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Should I visit your backyard Julie remind me to bring my umbrela! Better yet hand them out as visitor enter. Yuck! I am so thankfull that I don't have your problem, I love bugs but yours...keep them!!
Photograph of the day.
11:32 pm | link 

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Nursery Owner Teaches Me Patience

My sugar maple has had quite a life, always changing, and challenging me to ask, "What's up, girlfriend?" Take yesterday, for example, when I first noticed she has anthracnose spots on her leaves. "What's up with that?" I took a picture and calmly went inside to do some research.

Frankly, I'm amazed the tree has made it this far. When first she was planted, I looked up at her branches and realized I had chosen an unhealthy tree. The branches looked -- how do I say this? -- dead. The tree was still dormant though, so what did I know. I called the nursery. "I think my tree is dead. Will you come look at it?"

Much to my surprise, the owner came right over the next day! A house call! Can you believe that? What is this? 1950? Long pruners hung on the loop of his pants. He looked up at the branches and said, "Yep, you do have a stressed tree. But it isn't dead. I'll just trim out these dead branches for you." When on the ground, I was able to get a closer look at what had me troubled: the branches looked as though they had been sitting on train tracks for a year or two, deep impressions ran the length of the branch, like train tracks. Bizarre. The owner also told me I had planted the tree too high, and needed to replant. Ugh. I dug a hole slightly deeper right next to the tree, and pushed the tree down into it all by myself. (It was a really big tree for one person to move.) Once in the new hole, I was pretty sure it was then too deep! But by this time, honestly, I was thinking the tree was dead or dying anyway, so why bother trying to move it again?

When leaves finally did appear that April, they were sparse and tiny. I called the nursery. Are you sitting down? The owner came to my house AGAIN! And this was back in the days when the Tree Grower's Diary was just a little white notebook in a drawer in my living room, no world wide exposure and free publicity to ponder. He came, he looked, he said, "Stop calling me. Your tree is fine."

I gave up worrying. That tree was going to do whatever it was going to do. That fall, the leaves went from orange to bright yellow and every color in between. The leaves were small, but man, were they a sight to behold. I was forever hooked on that tree.

The next year, the leaves were perfectly sized, abundant, gorgeous all summer! Mr. Nursery Owner: You were right!

Fast forward to this spring. Seven years later. The tree produced flowers for the first time! I never knew what sugar maple flowers even looked like before! Cool! And now, I noticed it just yesterday -- she's made samaras for the first time! I wonder when the little double seeds will take flight? I can't wait to find out! I hear sugar maple seeds stay on the tree until fall, which is why they have such a hard time getting established. They have to stay on the ground through winter, and hopefully not get eaten, before they even have a CHANCE at germinating the following spring. They're competing with all those red maple seeds that have been germinating since they fell in May! Plus, there aren't that many samaras on this particular tree. Birds and squirrels might eat them all before they ever fall.

So what's the deal with this sugar maple anthracnose? The spots are showing up mainly on the bottom branches, the ones that are shaded all day. After a little patient research with my camera by my side, I discovered that anthracnose is not fatal to a sugar maple, just a tad unsightly. I will need to rake up the leaves in fall as soon as they drop, and dispose of them in the trash. Considering that my trees don't all lose their leaves until December, and by that time, it's gotten downright cold here in New Jersey, I will have to be disciplined about getting the leaves up. But, like I said, anthracnose is not really a problem for sugar maple trees. It won't be critical if I miss one or two or a thousand leaves.

I could call Mr. Nursery Owner and ask him to come look at this anthracnose problem. If he comes over here after seven years and rakes my leaves for me, I'm nominating him Business Owner of the Decade! (Somehow I doubt he'll come. In fact, if I were him, I wouldn't even take my call.)
Photograph of the day.
11:47 am | link 

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Confessions of the Crazy Tree Lady: Part 1

I became the "Crazy Tree Lady" when my next door neighbor's teenage son, David, witnessed me whacking my dogwood with a rolled up newspaper, yelling, "Bad dog! Bad dog! Now you produce flowers next year or ELSE!"

Since my tree had not put on a show in a couple of years, I researched what to do about this, and found in a book a theory that if a dogwood feels threatened by imminent demise, she will produce flowers (and seeds) in an attempt to insure future generations. Since I hadn't read anything else that seemed productive in troubleshooting this situation, I decided to give it a try. What would be the harm, I thought, other than nosy neighbors making fun of me.

My dogwood was literally 20 feet away from David's back door. He stood on the stoop, arms crossed, head shaking. "What?" I said. "I'm scaring my tree into making flowers!"

David, then 16 and with a father who had a forestry degree, was having none of my explanation.

"Crazy Tree Lady," he said, shaking his head as he moved to turn up the heavy metal in his souped up hot rod. I say "was 20 feet away" because his family has since moved to Pennsylvania, and a new generation of Crazy Tree Lady witnesses have moved in next door.

Interesting thing is: the whacking worked! Or something did, because the following spring, the bracts were big and beautiful! Maybe it was the bone meal, or the fact that I cut down two annoying mulberry trees that were shading the dogwood all day long, but in any case, aside from the dogwood's anthracnose, my tree went from sad to happy in one fell swoop. And the Crazy Tree Lady name stuck.

Kinda fits if you ask me. I know it's a little bit nutty to always be taking pictures of trees.

Bob, stationmaster of Coffeedrome, wrote recently, "Stop calling yourself that. We should all be so crazy."

Nice, but, if the shoe fits...

So, on to the confessions.

CONFESSION number 1: I have girdling roots. I noticed it last summer and hoped that if I blinked it would go away. Guess what. It didn't. My
greenspire linden is in imminent danger, and I need professional help. Which brings up...

CONFESSION number 2: A certified arborist has never stepped foot on my property. George, the cheap tree guy, did all my serious pruning. He wasn't an arborist, but he knew a thing or two about trees and he was true to his name, cheap. He passed the test when I begged him to top my black cherry tree and he turned to jump back in his old beat up truck saying, "I don't top trees, you crazy tree lady you."

"It was a test!" I said. "You passed! You're hired!"

Meanwhile, here I sit, admonishing people to hire certified arborists when they have tree problems. So, I put my money where my mouth is, making the first move today, contacting three certified arborists through the International Society of Arboriculture. I have a long list of tree things that need to be done, structural pruning of my sugar maple and Bradford pears being the top priorities, after the girdling root, which brings up...

CONFESSION number 3: I know why my linden roots are girdled. I did not dig the hole wide enough, which brings up...

CONFESSION number 4: The real purpose of the Tree Grower's Diary is not to show you juicy pictures of trees growing, but to reveal my many mistakes, which, in the best case scenario, will help you prevent yours.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Thank you "crazy tree lady" for your helpfull confessions. Keep talking to your trees because they listen and so do we. You make a difference in our world filled with trees! :)
Photograph of the day.
1:24 pm | link 

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Music and the Trees

My brother, Bill, wrote to me yesterday about the band concert at his son's school. And today, my son, Bradley, some 600 miles away, was in yet another band concert. As I sat on the bleachers watching Bradley in his white shirt and tie, clarinet between his lips, I imagined school bands across the nation playing concerts, sharing the music they've worked hard to learn with their peers, teachers, siblings, parents, and me. The music this morning, from two bands, an orchestra and a chorus, was varied, difficult and well-performed. But the best part of the concert was at the end, when the director of the 6th grade band lavished such intense praise on her young students, encouraging them with her beaming smile, her outstretched hands coming together in grand applause for them, and they were beaming right back at her, paying no attention to the applauding audience, their eyes focused only on her. What grand encouragement!

But how, you might be asking, do these school music concerts all across America today relate to trees? The band this morning played "America the Beautiful," and I, of course, listened carefully and thought about how trees contribute fantastic beauty to our country. I thought about how the clarinets, the original ones anyway, were made from the wood of trees, same goes for the flutes and the drums, and probably some of the other instruments too. I thought of the sheet music, made from trees, sitting on stands in front of every child, the wooden stage upon which the students tapped their feet.

My mind wandered outside the fluorescent gymnasium as I pictured the trees in our temperate forest and how they contribute their energy in a crucial step along the circle of life, and how the forests are distinguished from the prairies, as in "amber waves of grain . . . /Above the fruited plain!" (Katharine Lee Bates was looking out across the prairie from Pikes Peak when the original lyrics came to her.) I wondered if any of the lesser known verses of "America the Beautiful" referred specifically to trees as contributing to America's beauty. I didn't think so.

So I started to think of music that conjures images of trees, and the first one to mind was Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." I can not listen to that composition without picturing the yellows, reds and browns of fall, curled leaves blowing from trees in a wind gust, a snow-tipped birch forest, pale new greens of spring mixed with white bracts of dogwoods morphing into the deep humid green of summer in the canopy.

Another piece that I can't hear without imagining a dense forest of trees: Aaron Copeland's "Appalachian Spring." Bill might suggest "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" ("with tangerine trees and marmalade skies") by the Beatles. This one will date me for sure: Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Old Oak Tree." And from my dad's generation, the classic Andrew Sisters', "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" ("with anyone else but me"). This is but a few of the many songs that feature trees. I'll bet John Denver had one or two.

Not to mention the music of songbirds nesting in the trees, leaves flapping in the breeze, woodpeckers tapping a beat, moaning, breathing, cracking, popping of rushing wind on branches, the tympani of a tree fallen, a faint shrill of borers marching through grooves to make new homes and food, cicadas every 17th year -- the music of nature.

This morning when that music teacher burst with delight at her students, applauding them just as energetically as we in the audience, I thought: a society that doesn't teach its children music might as well eliminate the trees too.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: BRAVO! I applaude you for writing this post, well done!! Celine Dion sings "there's a tree standing there in such an ordinary way" tree is ordinary. :)
Photograph of the day.
2:56 pm | link 

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Neighborhood Linden Grows On Us

Gregory and I were stopped at a traffic light next to a large droopy tree. "What kind of tree is that?" I asked Gregory, wondering if he would recognize the droopy limbs, the long pale yellow flowers coating the tree.

"Womping willow?" he said.

Gregory is five. I go easy on him when he botches tree names. "Womping willow? Hmm, try . . ."

"Oh! Oh!" Gregory interrupted. "That's a linden tree!"

"Right on, buddy! Good job!" I was so proud of my little prodigy. I admired the tree, wondering how long it has been guarding that street corner and shading that sidewalk, watching the light change, green, yellow, red, for decades.

Again, Gregory interrupted my train of thought. "That tree was a little baby tree once,"' he said. "I'm glad for the people who planted her."

As the light turned green, I covered my face with my camera, the back of my hand wiping away a tear.
Photograph of the day.
3:51 pm | link 

Monday, May 22, 2006

Darth Vader Was Living in My Bradford Pear

A hazard of having too many trees in the yard is that things easily get stuck in the branches, especially if one of those trees is a tightly branched Bradford pear. Bradley tried everything he could think of to get his Star Wars HoverDisc down from the tree. He threw sticks. He threw a soccer ball, and then a kick ball (because soccer balls and kick balls have SUCH different velocities when thrown). He tried knocking the tree with a snow shovel. He climbed a ladder and shook the branches. He whacked the tree with a broom. Nothing. No movement whatsoever.

"Stinkin' Bradford pear," Bradley said.

Ever wonder why squirrels like to make nests in Bradford pear trees? It isn't because they like the pear nuts (they don't eat them). It's because there is nothing that can shake a nest loose from a Bradford pear tree aside from pruning shears.

Bradley and Gregory came inside, defeated by the force of the branches.

Suddenly, a huge gust of wind blew the tree half bent to New York City. The disc went flying! Bradley and Gregory ran outside before Darth Vader could zoom at warp speed to another galaxy. (That disc is their favorite toy today.)

Got him!

A few minutes later, Darth Vader was living on my roof.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: That is the lesson the boys learned today and mother nature was there to prove her point..only the gust of wind brought it down.If I had space I would plant a bradford pear so I feed the squirrels instead of housing them. :) I liked this post!

NatureGirl wrote in her blog recently about a sickly black squirrel that lives near her yard. She has fed the squirrel, and made a new friend, sort of like Aesop's lion and mouse story. As for me, squirrels in my yard provide lively entertainment for Kaptain Karl (the chattery cat), but they don't like pear nuts one bit. They do, however, DEVOUR cherries on the black cherry tree.
Photograph of the day.
3:18 pm | link 

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Careless Construction May Be the Death of This Tree

In the background, the dark leaves of the Purple European Beech provide a beautiful backdrop to the new Japanese zelkova trees. I think the combination is simply beautiful. The beech tree is probably around 100 years old; the zelkovas are brand new, planted there after the new borough hall was completed in July 2004.

Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling about the beech's future. During demolition of the old borough hall and construction of the new one in 2004, I often saw big trucks driving right through her spread, breaking off the ends of branches and parking on her root zone. There must have been no plan to protect the tree during construction, or the construction contractors ignored whatever plan was in place; there was no rope or gate keeping the trucks away from her roots. The trucks would sit on top of her root zone all day and all night, and this would have been hard not to do considering the close proximity of the beech to the building. Despite the fact that these trees are large and seem so muscular, their roots are fragile and require tender loving care, even in the best of situations. And as if construction trucks weren't bad enough, the new landscaping clearly favors grass and mulch over the tree's general health.

This is such a beautiful tree, and so majestic next to the municipal building, that it mortifies me that special care wasn't taken to protect her.

What should have been done: Before demolition of the old borough hall began, a certified arborist who specializes in protecting trees during construction should have been consulted. Through every phase of demolition and construction of the new building, the root zone should have been gated in at least a 50-foot circle around the trunk. In addition, the new building was built too close to the tree; the old building didn't come that far out, or that close to the road. They built the new borough hall right on top of her!

I wish the town had taken the proper steps to protect this tree. This is an old town; Main Street was laid out around 1705. To me, this beech tree, because she's at town center, stands for the history and longevity of Metuchen. While it's true that we still have a majestic tree to welcome our visitors as of now, how long will she last? Last summer, she was already showing signs of stress: dead branches, and clusters of pests on the undersides of the leaves. I give her no more than 10 years before she fails, a sad ending that could have been prevented.

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Julie you care for the trees and I the squirrels..what a pair we are.:)It is a shame that the tree has not been given the respect and protection it deserves!! I get so angry when I see construction crews clearing away trees I know have been there forever!! Where are all the "tree huggers" when we need them!! This post brings out the fire from within!

My brother, Bill, in Spartanburg, SC, writes: I am learning so much from reading your tree blog it's amazing. I am getting the feedblitz update emails, so that motivates me to go to the page and read the latest. Too true on the large tree and construction damage. I hope they don't have plans to cut it down. Do you think they will??

I think they will cut her down only if she starts looking really bad.

Bill adds: Question...what do you suggest for fertilizing trees? I have the October Glory and some red maples (I think...I'll have to go back and look at my notes...old age again!!)

Do a soil test to determine if the soil is deficient in any particular nutrient your trees need. If your trees look good, then they probably are getting everything they need from whatever fertilizers you're putting on the lawn. I never fertilized my trees, other than lawn stuff. Forget tree stakes, by the way. They are a waste of money, unless you like giving squirrels free food. They dig them up and eat them, and stakes only provide fertilizer in that one specific area. Tree fertilizer needs to be spread all over the drip line, not just at six or eight tiny points.

Glad to hear Feedblitz is working for you guys! I subscribed using a clean e-mail address a month ago and the only e-mail it's ever gotten are the Feedblitz updates. No spam! It's a good thing.
Photograph of the day.
1:31 pm | link 

Saturday, May 20, 2006

October Glory: Far Exceeding the Tree Tag

Dear Tree Tag Writers: We want accuracy in tree tags! Truth in advertising! Pros and cons! Here's just one example of a tree tag that was so far off as to be downright silly: The October Glory Red Maple tree's tag said it would grow to a mature height of 25 feet. This, of course, is absolutely not true. My tree is already at least 40 feet tall, and it's only been in my yard for 7 years. And even though I started this Tree Grower's Diary project a complete nincompoop (yes, I know, I know, I bought Bradford pear trees), I wasn't completely naive; I knew this tree would get way taller than that. The people who write those tags rationalize listing erroneous growth information by saying things like, "But that's how tall it will be after 10 years in your landscape." BALONEY! We don't want to know how big it will be after 10 years, not to mention the fact that this tree is way taller than 25 feet after only 7 years! If we wanted to know how big our trees might be after 10 years, we'd read the Tree Grower's Diary! How's that for a plug?

Todd, in northern Georgia, writes: If you think that's bad, some tree tags have really bad planting advice. Such as this one...

Carol, in Zone 5, writes: I bought a sweet gum labeled as "seedless". After 5 years, it had as many or more seed pods as I've aver seen on one. I took a picture of it, plus the tags and receipts, back to the nursery where I bought it (after all that time), and they just looked at me like I was nuts when I asked them to refund my money or replace it.
Photograph of the day.
1:48 pm | link 

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Ginkgo Project: Learning to Grow Trees From Seed

I've said it before, I'll say it again: the last thing I needed was another project! But here I am, thrown in to growing trees from seed for the first time in my life, and loving every minute of it.

It all started on May 7, when Bruce, a most-generous reader from Illinois, offered to send me ginkgo and Kentucky coffeetree seeds he had lying around. Actually, he didn't quite "offer," it was more like he said he was enjoying growing baby trees and then giving away the saplings. I asked if he might send me a sapling, and he responded that sending ginkgo saplings in the mail is not often successful. He offered to mail me seeds instead. What a great idea! I've never grown a tree from seed! So, Bruce's ginkgo and coffeetree seeds arrived about a week ago, well packed. Since I've been so busy lately, I put that project aside until I could really dig in, wrapping my brain around what I needed to learn just to get started.

The first thing I learned: female ginkgo trees are the ones that stink. (One of the bottles was marked "female" with a question mark.) With all these ornamental pear trees in my yard, I need another stinky tree like I need eight years of drought! Bruce! What are you doing to me? The other bottle had no question mark, so I'm assuming that means those could be male seeds. I hope so. I roughed three of those up a little today and put them in a cup of lukewarm water, attempting to bypass the cold stratification process. Since Bruce sent a good many seeds, I'm considering this a bit of a science experiment. If this first batch doesn't work, I can try again using one of several "how to grow ginkgo trees from seed" methods described in The Ginkgo Pages, a detailed Web site by Cor Kwant that Bruce told me about. I also popped open two of the coffeetree seeds (darker blotches in the photograph above) and planted them in little plastic cups today.

I can't wait to see what happens with my tree seed project! If I get leaves, I can honestly call myself a tree grower. Now if I just had room in my yard to plant one. Any readers out there with some sweet fertile farm land to send me in the mail? ; )

Todd, in northern Georgia, writes: You already know that Callery pears are invasive. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that I found out just how invasive they are. I knew they were showing up in roadside ditches and "disturbed sites" but was stunned and amazed when I found a very mutated callery pear in the woods at a park.

I know it would be an EXTREMELY difficult thing to do because you've *hopefully* fallen in love with what the tree has to offer rather than the tree itself, but removing the bradfords is the next big project if you ask me.

If you ask around on the tree forums as to where you can find some that have showed up escaped cultivation in your area or where they have done damage to the plant and wildlife communities, it might make the decision to remove them a whole lot easier after a field trip.

In my opinion a Ginkgo has the best fall color of any tree I've ever seen. Not just for the intensity but for the longevity and timely leaf abscission. It would look great in that spot over the swing.

I hear Ky coffeetrees are really nice too but haven't had any experience with them myself.

If you want to see some great photos of Ginkgos as street trees, check out this site for the City of Lavonia, GA which has a photo gallery: A Tour of Downtown Lavonia.

Bruce, the most generous one who sent the tree seeds from Lombard, Illinois, writes:The fruit of the female Gingko tree fruit or seed is what has all the odor associated with the trees and a female tree takes twenty to thirty five years to mature. Enjoy a beautiful tree and put up with a little odor in the fall. You always plant a tree for your children or possibly theirs, but you can enjoy watching it grow.
Photograph of the day.
4:16 pm | link 

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fat Ant Predator: This Makes Me Itch

I was delighted to see fierce predators devouring scales on Gregory's purple leaf plum today! By the way, those purplish, red bumps are scales, and they are a nasty little headless, armless, legless pest. The white oval things are scale larvae. You can see that one of the larva has split open. Did the ant eat that one? You go, ant! You are my hero!

Still, 12 hours later as I look at the pictures, I keep scratching my head. Do you suppose any of those things -- ants and scales -- fell on me and is still in my hair? AAAAUUUGGGHHH! she typed, as she scratched her collar bone, then her head, then the back of her ear. You ugly little scale, you. At least I have ARMS!

Gregory was with me out by the purple bumpy tree today. He was having a hard time distinguishing the ants on the scales until I showed him the picture on my digital camera, zoomed way in. We were standing under the tree at the time. Once Gregory could see the humongous scales and ant, his big eyeball trained on the viewer, he ran screaming into the house. This is the stuff from which horror movies are made, (she typed, as she scratched the back of her neck.)
Photograph of the day.
1:44 am | link 

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Nervously Bringing Air to the Linden Tree

I hate to prune trees. But mowing required navigating around drooping branches from the Greenspire Linden tree, until Sunday afternoon, when Gregory and I worked to prune the lowest branches for walking and mowing clearance. I hate it because I always wonder if I'm hurting the tree! Or that I'll prune something and later wish I'd left it in place. Or that I'll start cutting only to discover that my pruning tool isn't right, leaving a big cut in a branch and I ultimately can't handle finishing the job. Or that I'll cut away a bird's nest. Or that I'll infect my pruning tools with some disease I don't know about yet.

But in the end, it's rather like a hair cut on a grand scale, fallen strands laying all over the floor waiting to be swept, or, as in the case of Gregory's play, waiting to be turned into marching trees. Gregory was having such a great time playing with the cut branches that he desperately wanted to plant one and have a little tree to play with forever. Took a while to explain to him that trees either grow bigger or die, and that Linden trees don't generally grow from cuttings.

"Tomorrow we order linden seeds," he said.

I think: how many 5-year-olds know about linden seeds? "Come on, baby, help me clean up these branches."

"I'll help you clean up the little trees!" With that he was off, marching the linden trees off to the shredder. Boo hoo.

Then I stand back across the street and think: What glorious air! Wow! That hair cut looks good!

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Tough love always difficult at the time but in the end we reap the rewards in life and in gardening. We learn through the experience. Mother-Nature is very forgiving. Your new generation of tree growers are learning much from mom.
Photograph of the day.
1:43 pm | link 

Monday, May 15, 2006

'Scales Suck' Sounds Rude, But They Do

I noticed on Saturday that there are little brown bumps, called scales, on Gregory's purple leaf plum tree. You can scrape the scales off easily with your fingernail (gross). I didn't recognize at first that these were bugs; I thought it was a fungus. But then I rememberd how adult female scales and the young babies don't move, don't have any recognizable body parts like legs or heads, and are covered with a waxy shell, just like the little bumps on my tree. They just sit there and suck the plant's sap. On Sunday, I checked again, getting up close to try to decide what to do. I thought it had started to rain. But on closer inspection, I realized the sap from the little suckers was dripping on me. EEEWWW!

A severe infestation of scales can be deadly to a plant. Damage usually starts as leaves that curl and drop, twigs and limbs that die, cracked bark with blemishes. But most often, scales are not deadly to trees. The biggest problems are that the leaves and bark can be so coated with honeydew from the sap falling everywhere that sooty mold can grow on the tree, and the other pests the honeydew attracts.

Scales have many natural enemies, which can often serve as a decent control. However, ants adore scales so much, they tend to protect the little pests from other predators like lady bugs, beetles and wasps. Hence, controling the ants can lead to scale control since the bigger predators can then have their field day.

These scale things are way ugly on my tree, and this dripping sap is highly annoying. And then there's the idea of scales attracting wasps, which would be in the middle of our backyard play area. Plus, the kids are tracking the sap onto the kitchen floor. Something's got to be done!

The best time to treat a tree infested with scales is during the dormant season, but since that has long since passed, I could try spraying the tree with an oil spray now, in spring. But the spraying has to be timed just right to kill scales that have reached the crawling stage. (These are known aptly as "crawlers.") If I spray the oil now, I will need to coat every surface of the tree! Impossible! I might try instead pruning the tree to let more sun and heat get into the inside branches, the shadier places where scales hang out. Since scales don't seem to like sun and heat, this might at least help the situation.

This will be one messy pruning job. That sticky sap is everywhere!

Bottom line: the purple leaf plum tree has been such a pain, from drooping branches during rain, to bees, aphids, wasps, and falling plums, that I wish I'd never planted it. Hmphh.

Gregory still loves his tree though. When I told him about the pests, he screamed, "Awwww! Is my tree going to die?!" Dilemma: cut down the tree and risk the wrath of Gregory? Or treat. I've of a mind to play "wait and see" for now.

Lessons learned: 1) Research pros and cons thoroughly before purchasing. 2) Don't trust the sales rep tell you everything you need to know. 3) Never fall in love based on looks alone. (I think my mom told me this stuff when I was 15, only it had something to do with men, not trees. Fortunately, I had more luck with the man choice than the plum choice.)

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Yikes! Glad it's you and not me dealing with this! I am having enough with one of my Japanese maples(splitleaf) NOT unfurling at the top.Taking a closer look the bottom of trunk seems to have a blister of sorts...we have found out that there is a disease at the root. We will give it tender care and hope that it survives.Oh how beautiful it was last summer!! We all have our "tree challenges."

Ki, in New Jersey, writes: You should see the giant magnolia scale! I'm still battling those after 3 years. The scales on your tree sure do look yucky tho. If you find a good way to get rid of them please post the solution. I've tried insecticidal soap and volck oil so far. Don't want to use too nasty an insecticide because of animals we have.
Photograph of the day.
3:06 pm | link 

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Can You Hear It? Close Your Eyes. Listen.

There's a soft clicking in the trees today.
It is pink and new, yet old and about to die. It sounds vaguely like my typing, but more a nurturing sound from nature, each click announcing: "I am born!" "I am ready!" "Come fly with me, Samara!" "Give me a breeze and I'll be on my way!" With the wind they are clicking, flying, feeding, falling . . . free! Can't hear it? Stand by my red maple tree and stare with me at a helicopter seed until it flies. Beware the cardinal. She's hungry today! And she has babies to feed. Listen. Can you hear it? Cardinal dinner bell, a soft clicking in the trees . . . Mother Nature nurturing her young.
Photograph of the day.
12:47 am | link 

Saturday, May 13, 2006

On Growing, and Growing Taller

The sugar maple was supposed to be "slow growing." I blink and a hundred memories flood my brain: of her railroad track dead branches when I planted her in 1999: her too-small leaves; her uncharacteristic trunk with horizontal lines; Bradley as a 4-year-old playing in the tiny oval of shade she threw; me supervising to be sure the tree's young trunk wasn't damaged. I look at her now and she is as tall as the house, her leaves are rich and full, she made flowers this year! I still supervise to try to prevent unnecessary trunk damage, though I am unsuccessful: Bradley's Base Lego ties are still multiplying, having become the center of backyard shady play. Did I say "shady play"? Did I mention Bradley is as tall as me now?

Photograph of the day.
1:29 pm | link 

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Guarded Progress at Metuchen Borough Hall

I love the new zelkova pages here. Borough Hall is such a beautiful building, and the zelkova trees were a smart choice for that location, having all the qualities a tree would need to be planted where a canopy of shade is the ultimate desire in a street setting.

Zelkova trees make good street trees for many reasons: the vase shape keeps the tree from drooping into the way of cars and pedestrians; it is drought and salt tolerant; if planted 30-feet apart, the crowns of mature trees will create a beautiful shady street or, in the case of Metuchen Borough Hall, a shady sidewalk or courtyard; there is not a significant surface root problem, so these trees do not often lift sidewalks; it is relatively pest-free; and, it grows well in restricted sidewalk pits. Whoever it was at Borough Hall that made the Japanese zelkova decision, I applaud you!

One reservation, and something to look out for should any borough employees happen upon this discussion: some of the trees have a significant amount of dieback in the center this spring. That dead wood needs to be pruned away. I believe there's a cause for this: when the groundskeepers apply mulch, they make volcanoes, lumping the mulch 6 inches up the baby trees' trunks. This is suffocating the trees! The damage is already obvious.

As I would enjoy photographing and documenting these trees and others for decades to come, here's wishing away mulch volcanoes from here, and everywhere.
Photograph of the day.
12:51 pm | link 

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Oak Book: New and Free in My Backpack Today

Not spiral bound and not ready for hiking, the "Field Guide to Native Oak Species of Eastern North America" is available for download as a pdf. The file is way big -- the book has 160-some-odd pages -- so downloading is going to take some time and if printing is in the plan, load up the color ink tanks; the book is full color throughout. Or, do what I did: send your mailing address in an e-mail to for a free copy of the spiral bound book, complete with ruler in the back for measuring such things as acorns and leaves, or in my case, the distance from my camera to said acorn for maximum macro settings. I asked for my book via e-mail on May 2, and it arrived yesterday, exactly one week later. Not bad for government work. (Figures it would be the tree people who'd get it right!)

This field guide covers all native oak species east of the 100th Meridien. Just to illustrate what an educated tree scholar I am, I could have named maybe 6 oak species before I got this book. I had no idea there were so many! Fifty in the table of contents, and that doesn't include introduced trees like saw tooth oak and English oak so popular in our modern landscape plans.

Next time the boys and I head out for Holmdel Park, I'm packing the oak book! I can't wait to test my tree ID skills in the woods, see if I can find some of these oaks. Wahh-hoo! (Twenty years ago I never would have guessed I'd get so excited about a field guide. I lead such a varied life.)

One question for the book cover designer: Big fan of M*A*S*H, are you? Hey! Me too!
Photograph of the day.
11:37 pm | link 

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Dishing the Dirt With Kathryn

My children are not always cooperative, as evidenced today when it came time to plant the baby beech in her new pot. Gregory took the decidedly uncooperative lead of his big brother, saying, "it's a weed, mom," just to be silly. He refused to help, running through the yard and landing head-first in the lawn chair. But Kathryn, my neighbor, was nearby, so I asked if she would like to help. She immediately responded that she does not like to get her fingernails dirty. So I gave her the camera and a basic lesson in how to focus and said, "Take pictures." She thoroughly enjoyed making fun of me when I planted the beech on a slant. Some kind of tree lady I am! She also laughed at me when I ran my fingers through the dirt as if I were choosing silk for a wedding dress, pressing it into my palms and letting it rain down over my hands like water from a faucet. "Kathryn! The dirt feels so rich!" I said. "Come on! Put your hands in!"

"Are you serious?" Kathryn said. "You like the dirt?"

"Feel it for yourself!"

She did, and she agreed, though I think she'd rather read about it on the internet than actually do the dirty work. Me? I had to wash my hands twice. (Because I had to replant the beech after Kathryn so sweetly pointed out my botched planting job.)

Then Bradley and Gregory came over to see our "weed" in her new clay pot. Bradley asked about the notch near the bottom of the little tree's trunk. (I just love it when they ask questions!) "I'm so glad you asked! That's the graft site." The children could clearly see the existing branch and where it had been spliced into the root stock of another plant, growing a brand new tree. All three listened carefully, then Kathryn asked innocently, "What good are trees?"

That's an easy one. Without trees, none of us would be here.

Photograph of the day.
5:32 pm | link 

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Lifeguard of the Beech: Sink or Swim With God's Help

A long tall box from Forest Farm came in the mail late in the afternoon on Friday, but I was on my way to work, so I put the box in the back of my van and took off for Manhattan. It wasn't until Saturday that I could open the box to peek at my new baby tree, a Dawyck Purple Beech. Oh how beautiful she is! Mike was at work at the time, and Bradley and Gregory were inspecting the perfect little leaves, the moist soil, the delicate sweet trunk. The phone rang. Bradley ran inside to answer it, and I could hear him through the open window: "She's admiring her new tree..." (Oh no, I, um forgot, um, to tell Mike about the tree I ordered for which we have no space.) "...In between the maple and the pear." (Actually, I don't plan on planting it here, I'm just sitting under the maple while I marvel at the baby beech.) "...Yeah, I know dad, she's crazy."

I shouted to the window. "Tell him how tiny she is! Tell him how pretty she is! Tell him I'm going to grow her in a container for a few years!"

"Mom," Bradley shouted back, "he wants to know how you know it's a girl!"

"I don't actually know that, I just think she's too pretty and delicate to be a boy!"

I heard Bradley say softly into the phone, "Looks like a weed to me, dad." Then, things got quiet from the window, followed by, "Mom!"


"Dad says you're crazy!"

I know. I KNOW! I don't have room for another tree. Here's how I figure it. This beech is tiny -- 18 inches tall, if you stretch out her top leaf. She's a slow growing tree, so I've got time to plan this out. Hmm, so, let me think: In a few years, who's to say that my Bradford pears will still be standing? SOMEthing will have to replace them when they've reached the max of their short life span. How about a nicely shaped columnar purple beech? Yeah! Just in time for Bradley's high school graduation!

So, the pressure's on. Can I nurture this beech? Can I prune her properly? Will she survive the winters in a container? Will she flourish in her new environment, so far from her Oregon nursery? Will she be given enough nutrients and water here? What lessons will I learn from her? What will she teach Bradley and Gregory? Will Gregory stop being so nervous around her? Will Bradley come to see her beauty as I do? Will Mike ever... (nah, that's asking too much). Will I ever learn if she's a she? Oh please, God, teach me to care for this baby tree. Give me the knowledge to bring her up. Let me live to see her planted in the ground, providing shade and beauty for the next generation. And please, oh please, let the next generation appreciate her history enough to let her be. Amen.

Marcia, in Metuchen, writes: I love that story. Probably because we nurtured a little scrub pine in a coffee can, and have lived to see it grow above the telephone wires, then higher than the house, now much higher...
Photograph of the day.
3:46 pm | link 

Saturday, May 6, 2006

An Art Show After My Heart: One Tree at the Edge of a Pond

Jeffrey Blondes set up a camera beside a pond and filmed a tree for one hour a week, every week for a year. While the camera did its work, filming the lone tree in the French countryside, Blondes painted the landscape, then put together the 52-hour film of the images with the paintings. There's no talking, nothing but this one tree, changing in the quiet. I have not seen the film (52 hours almost HAS to be a world record), but I have the little book from the gallery that shows each film image juxtaposed against its painting. The book is fascinating, and makes me think the gallery show (at Reeves Contemporary, 535 West 24th Street, New York) would be just the kind of thing that would captivate a tree lover, or a patient soul. Or, if you're like me, flipping through the gallery book is quieting too.

But flip fast I could not. I found myself stopping on each page, studying image to painting, comparing and contrasting, wondering.

I wondered why, for example, the film images show a winter tree from weeks 42 through 45 while the paintings depict a lovely autumn scene with glorious fall color. Perhaps after all those long weeks of filming and painting, week after week of summer leaves and the only thing changing was the cloud in the sky, he was so disappointed that the fall color didn't happen, that he created some anyway! For me, this took away from the production the very honesty I thought would be inherent in a project seemingly documentary in theme.

And then I remembered: this is interpretive art. He brought to the bare tree what he saw happening all around him, outside the crop, but still in his mind's eye. The slow change of nature, a treat of quiet solitude for the viewer, a reminder that wherever you are, whatever you're doing, that tree is there by that French pond, growing and changing with the light of each new day.

And you thought MY film took a long time to download!
Photograph of the day.
1:06 am | link 

Friday, May 5, 2006

A Spring to Remember, No Time to Fall

The dogwood began her journey to full blossom around April 1, reaching the "beauty" stage around April 15, the full blossom stage around April 23. Just today, her bracts began to fall to the ground, sign of summer on the way, and ultimately, autumn, my favorite season. What mysteries await? I have learned over the years that the intensity of fall color relies on many factors. Will the temperature be just right, the rainfall just enough? Will the waning summer days be hot and sunny, the nights sending me searching for my winter coat? Ahh, slow it down, girl, enjoy the moment. The white blossoms are still on the tree.

Most of them anyway.

Get the camera and go for a walk.
Photograph of the day.
4:36 pm | link 

Thursday, May 4, 2006

My Dogwood and Me: Living With Anthracnose

As part of our yearly anthracnose-watch, we take special care of our dogwood tree. Diagnosed with anthracnose (among other problems, like chlorosis) in June of 2004, the dogwood is the focus of an all-out plan to save a diseased tree. Dogwood anthracnose almost certainly results in the death of the tree. But here's the good news: If you catch it early enough, it is a manageable disease and you can prolong the life of your tree by many years, if not decades. It takes work and dedication, however. In the case of our dogwood, she is in such a functional position that we will do whatever it takes to keep her healthy. She shades our air-conditioner in summer, provides shade and beauty for the dining room windows, provides a barrier between our house and the neighbor's, and gives our cat something to look at with all the birds and squirrels that hang out in that tree eating berries and buds. In winter, sweet dogwood sheds her coat and lets the sunshine stream through the windows, warming our house in more ways than one. I can honestly say I love this tree. She is my baby.

So, our anthracnose plan involves special spring detail. First, we clean out all the old mulch and any leaves still left over from fall. All of that, in case any of it is infected, is put into the trash. We then apply bone meal and water it in, followed by a layer of sopping newspapers, around six pages thick. Dogwoods like acidic soil; the newspapers serve to provide a little acid, plus, they are a natural barrier to moisture-stealing weeds. By next spring, those layers of newspapers will be completely decomposed, which is a good way to recycle them. On top of the newspaper-mulch, we add a layer of root mulch about two inches thick, not touching the trunk of course. No mulch volcanoes in my yard!

Note that it is always good to have help in this project, especially in the form of young boys who play in the yard and can spot anthracnose from 20 feet away. Whenever they see the slightest spot on a leaf, I have trained them to run inside yelling, "Anthracnose alert! Mom! Get the pruners and the bleach! Alert!" (They love to yell things like that.) They even alerted a park ranger at the Holmdel Park Arboretum, where the dogwoods are all infected.

And it always helps to have interesting newspapers on the ground to peruse while the boys are working to soak them. Bradley soaked the Zack and Cody story in Sunday's Times particularly thoroughly before covering it forever with root mulch. As a mom, I am patting myself on the back for getting my son to read something on a Sunday!

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: "Sweet Dogwood" is fortunate to have a family so dedicated in caring for her!! She is no ordinary tree! Nice to see the boys share moms passsion.
Photograph of the day.
12:32 pm | link 

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

UPDATE: Lego People Have Colonized Base Sugar Maple!

Our sugar maple has become the central feature of the backyard Star Wars Lego People colony. Kids from all over the neighborhood are coming to play here. Ties around the tree that are serving as base holders have increased. Since they're not quite tight enough to hurt the tree -- for now, I'd hate to spoil the fun everyone is having. I guess the ties can stay for a couple of months without causing damage, as long as we check them once in a while to make sure they haven't gotten too tight. That particular tree is a fast-grower despite the fact that sugar maples are notoriously slow-growing. I don't know though. If I were that tree I'd be enjoying all the special attention, while at the same time wondering if Zurg was on his way to save me from the invasion. Oh wait a minute. That's Toy Story. I meant Han Solo. He's the Star Wars hero who can save me! But nevermind the acting. Just send me Harrison Ford! Oh baby!
Photograph of the day.
9:52 am | link 

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Tripping Over the Fact that I Don't Have a Compost Bin

The issuse of my summer will be how to deal with the problem of surface roots in my backyard play area. While we love the October Glory red maple for her cooling shade and the beautiful colors she adds to our landscape year-round, the surface roots are a bit of a nuisance. My certified arborist friend says I need to build up the area just slightly every year by adding a quarter inch of 1 part top soil, 1 part compost. Problem is: I don't have a compost bin. Step number 1: start a compost bin.
Photograph of the day.
1:24 pm | link 

Monday, May 1, 2006

Invasion of the Lego Star Wars People!

My son knows that he will have to remove those ties pretty soon or else they will choke our sugar maple to death! In the meantime, Bradley is very proud of himself for finding a way to enjoy the trees with me. And the Lego people have a home on the wilderness planet, a k a our backyard. I, however, eye those ties around the trunk with keen suspicion. If I stare at them hard enough, will the energy I am transferring to the tree's inner soul cause it burst free? Use the force, Tree!

NatureGirl, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Your son feels the energy from the tree and finds comfort there. We enjoy nature to our heart's desire!!

Lisa, in Ontario, Canada, writes: Hi Julie, loved that post!!! I just won't show my eleven year old or I know what will be going in my jungle. LOL

Heidi, of redbud fame, in Metuchen, writes: Lisa's comments echo mine completely. I can't take a step in my house without embedding a lego piece in my foot. Must the trees suffer as well?!?
Photograph of the day.
1:20 am | link 

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"The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today." -- African proverb

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While the Tree Grower's Diary has been in existence since 1996 (as a notebook) and since 1999 (at Coffeedrome), this new, independent site was launched on April 4, 2006. The blog posts here go from April 2006 through 2007. After that, all Tree Growers Diary blog posts appear in my main blog, the City of Nouns. Click here to go straight to the tree category.