Friday, September 9, 2011

Surviving Dead Roots

When we moved to our new location last spring, I noticed a large post oak had suffered massive root loss from a recent construction project nearby. This caused me considerable angst. The tree is an important element of our backyard landscape, providing much-needed shade during our blistering hot summers while softening the appearance of the sizable structure that had been plunked down in its root zone.

After several weeks, I noticed a small metal tag tacked to the tree's trunk. On closer inspection, the tag read: TGR CAMBISTAT 2010. The "2010" presumably indicated the year the tag had been attached to the tree.

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Five minutes later, I learned that Cambistat is a growth regulator applied to the soil, often to reduce tree growth beneath power lines. But in the case of my root-damaged oak, it was used to retard the top growth so more energy could be channeled toward growing denser roots that, in turn, could store more energy. Cambistat also increases chlorophyll production, so the leaves, though smaller, are darker green, which enhances photosynthesis.

This is an excellent way to help save storm-ravaged trees that have root damage caused by flooding, drought, or partial uprooting. As advertised, Cambistat also increases a tree's insect and disease tolerance (often a major problem for stressed specimens), and improves its heat and drought resistance.

And the old oak needs all of that.

As if the root damage weren't bad enough, the tree was badly defoliated by a catastrophic hailstorm last spring. In addition, it is still suffering through the hottest summer of its long life, including more than 60 days with temperatures at or above far. And it is trying to endure a grinding drought that has killed many, many trees all over town.

Through all this, I've concentrated on regularly deep-soaking the soil at least out to the oak's drip line, so the remaining roots within this "critical root zone" won't dry out and die. Then, when we do have a rare half-inch of rain, it can do some good.

Still, as the unremitting severity of this summer wore on, I became more and more discouraged as to the big tree's prospects. But yesterday, I happened to be inspecting the foliage and discovered fresh new leaves sprouting from the tip of a branch.

So now I have renewed hope. Time will tell whether this wonderful tree will ultimately survive...and time can move very slowly. But a tree wants to live if it can. And maybe with the help of Cambistat, this one can.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

One Tree At A Time

I love planting trees in my yard. Over the years, Robert and I have planted oaks and redbuds and maples and pecans, to name but a few. As we lower the rootball into its new home, it's always been easy to think that we're fulfilling our total obligation to maintaining and improving the urban forest.

And then I met Linda Goeringer.

When Linda noticed that the aging trees in her inner-city neighborhood were dying out, she took it upon herself to help remedy the situation.

Following a catastrophic ice storm that killed or damaged thousands of local trees, her city began giving away young trees to help restore the urban canopy. Linda got an idea. She stood in line at the tree giveaways, and planted her acquisitions along streetsides in her neighborhood.

But did she rest on her laurels after that? Absolutely not!

Linda can be seen regularly pulling a wagon of water down the street, heading off to tend to her young transplants. Three years have passed since her first tree went into the ground, and she's still providing them with TLC.

This past summer has been the most brutal in her state's history, resulting in the loss of one of her trees. But Linda remains undaunted. She plans to keep right on planting trees in her neighborhood.

Fifty years from now, I imagine people will walk and drive beneath the branches of Linda Goeringer's towering legacy...never wondering how the trees got there. Which makes me admire this big-hearted woman's commitment all the more.

And it makes me wonder just how much individual responsibility the rest of us feel we owe to the greater urban forests beyond our own yards.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chainsaw Nightmares

Several years ago, I stepped outside to check on our arborist, Michael, who was cutting down a large, storm-shattered tree. Right away, I noticed a new tear in the knee of his jeans. He also had a slightly haunted look in his eyes.

As I approached, Michael spread the tear in his jeans and showed me a fresh Band-aid on his knee. He had just nipped it with the chainsaw. I shuddered. So did he, probably not for the first time. He had come this >-< close to sawing his kneecap in half.

This was a chainsaw expert who had been in the business of trimming trees for two decades. Michael was careful. Many times, I had seen him make a cut in a fallen limb, then glance up into the tree crown to make sure nothing else was about to fall. He could handle a chainsaw as deftly as a butter knife.

And yet, he had just come within a hair of doing severe damage to himself with one of the tools of his trade.

Above, you are looking at disaster with an easy-grip handle...if you don't carry precaution to the level of religion. In the wake of a natural disaster, homeowners aiming to save a buck turn up in hardware stores in droves, snapping up chainsaws. Many have never used one in their lives. But as hospital emergency room personnel can attest, many chainsaw wielders never imagine how much damage the tool can do—and how fast it can happen—until it's too late.

Chainsaws are designed to cut through hardwood. Think about that. A sharp chainsaw blade can slice through a tree limb as big around as you thigh within seconds. Need I say more?

So just a few tips to help save you a trip to the hospital:

—If you have never used a chainsaw, read the instructions carefully...twice. Better yet, apprentice with someone who is experienced.

—Don't use a chainsaw over your head.

—Do use hearing and eye protection.

—For major jobs such as felling a large tree, call an arborist. Sometimes trying to save a buck can result in a substantial medical bill.

(Weatherproofing Your Landscape—the book—contains further chainsaw pointers, as well as pruning tips.)

I'm sure Michael had flashbacks on that too-close-for-comfort chainsaw moment, possibly in his sleep. I certainly did. But I also realized that, in the hands of a less experienced and wary operator, the chainsaw probably would have done much more damage.

So be careful out there! I'd love to hear about your experiences with chainsaws.