Save Water in Your Landscape

January 4th, 2016

I’ve extolled the virtues of the National Arbor Day Foundation before, and they do great things for the environment through their programs that promote and establish trees in various locales throughout the U.S. and the World. In my view, anyone who is interested in planting and caring for trees should be a member and/or otherwise support the Foundation. Check it out at

A member of the Foundation receives various benefits and opportunities to gain knowledge about tree planting and care including Tree City USA Bulletins. An example of the information contained in these bulletins is excerpted below. This is a good example of the types of tips that are contained in the bulletins; plus, there are other tips, guidance, recommendations, etc. presented in more detail (in some cases) that you can use to help manage your landscape and/or individual trees. Click on the image to enlarge.

Living On The Edge

December 27th, 2015

The following article was written by my fellow colleague, and friend, Lynn Barnickol. It is used with permission of the Missouri Society of American Foresters, who contracted with Lynn to write a number of news releases that encourage people to manage their forest resources for multiple benefits, and offers advice on how to do so. This piece tells the story about what Lynn and his wife did with their backyard forest located on the edge of Jefferson City, Missouri. Some of the actions Lynn took can be replicated on many urban and suburban home sites. I recommend it highly, and hope you’ll give it a look.

Living on the Edge

The Missouri Society of American Foresters believes that we all can have a huge and positive effect on trees, wildlife, and insects. Even if you live in an apartment, on a neighborhood lot, or on a farm there are plenty of things to do that do not have to be expensive or involve large expanses of land. Flowering plants, shrubs, and trees attract migratory birds, bees, and butterflies. Even apartment dwellers may provide a potted flowering plant on a deck, a window box of flowering plants, or a bird feeder. Our food chain depends on bees and butterflies to help pollinate crops. Birds are effective in helping to control destructive insects. Trees and shrubs provide nesting and roosting habitat and at the same time provide summer shade for our homes. Here are some examples of how I am approaching care of my trees, wildlife, and insect habitat.

The main feature of our home, situated on less than an acre of ground but nestled into the woods, is the trees; mainly short-bodied post oaks, a couple of taller black oaks, and shagbark hickories. By looking at the vegetation when we moved in, we identified several habitats. Part of the yard was shaded, part was dappled shade, and on another part full sunlight. We thought we had the beginning of interesting habitats. We get a nice variety of birds at our feeders, especially during the migration periods.
As a forester I knew the best use of these trees was shade for the house and dens for squirrels and woodpeckers. Trees create a lot of leaves, but they get collected, providing exercise and compost.

Three post oaks, measuring about 8 inches in diameter at the stump, were cut because the trees were too crowded. By counting the growth rings, I found that the trees were 90 years old. Growth had been slow but steady. I cut an 18 inch diameter, dying black oak for firewood and determined it was 60 years old.
Basically we had a wooded lot with three ages of trees; post oaks 90 years, the black oaks at about 60 years, and some oak seedlings. The openings created by thinning the oaks provide more open space between the remaining trees and helps the surrounding trees remain healthy. We also have a steep, south facing slope, receiving lots of sunlight, that behaves like a glade. Rather than mow we decided to make a woodland and glade area with native, flowering plants.

Fortunately we live near a nursery selling native wild flowers, grasses, trees and shrub seedlings. We have noted that the native plants establish and grow nearly effortlessly.
To make life interesting, we have replaced a collapsed retaining wall and corrected some drainage issues. By adding a dry creek, a shallow trench lined with a weed barrier fabric and course rock, water is directed away from the house. We replaced the timbered wall with a rock wall. To expand an existing garden pool we added a wet creek, a shallow trench about 30 feet long that’s lined with rubberized pond liner and gravel. Water is pumped through a tube buried in the gravel to the upper end of the creek where it tumbles and eddies back down a gradual slope.

Our wooded lot is taking shape. We have four miniature habitats with trees as the dominant feature. The north side of the house is a moist shade garden featuring native plants. The openings in the woods feature native plants that attract birds and bees, the south facing slope features native grasses and flowering plants that are unique to glade habitat and beneficial to birds. The wet creek, shaded and lined with native plants and shrubs, was a surprise to us. During a spring morning, we had 20 species of birds using the wet creek. Not all the migratory birds have arrived so we hope to get a higher count.

To sum it up, we do some typical yard maintenance like mowing and leaf raking. The wet creek will take some maintenance to prevent algae formation and an occasional cleaning. However, it’s interesting to watch the birds frolic in the wet creek like kids in a water park. Located at the edge of town, the benefits of our wooded lot include shade for the house, reducing cooling bills, and enjoying the relaxing atmosphere.

If you would like to take action to care for your trees and plants, animals, and insects here are some links for habitat information: , for Missouri land owners this link provides some details about forest management: . Additionally the Forest and Woodland Association of Missouri provides an informational web site for anyone interested in our forests and woodlands: .

If you do not use a computer please call your local Missouri Department of Conservation office, or the State Forester at 573-751-4115.

By Lynn Barnickol, Missouri Society of American Foresters (MOSAF) – Outreach Project Coordinator

MOSAF is the Missouri state unit of the Society of American Foresters, a professional society with the following objectives:
- to advance the science, education, technology, and practice of forestry;
- to enhance the competency of its members;
- to establish professional excellency;
- and to use the knowledge, skills, and conservation ethic of the profession to ensure the continued health and use of forest ecosystems and the present and future availability of forest resources to benefit society.
- For more information about MOSAF see

Think Hazelnuts

December 29th, 2014

Do you have a place “out back” or “over there” in your home landscape where you’d like to plant some kind of woody plant; but you don’t think there is enough room for even a smallish tree? Would a wonderful, useful woody shrub do; especially if it only reached about 15 feet in height and 10 feet in diameter at maturity? How about if it also produced a bounty of wonderfully-tasting, nutritious nuts in less than 10 years? If so, you may be thinking of a hazelnut.

Hazelnuts have provided nourishing food for over 5,000 years, and the ancient Chinese even called them a “sacred nourishment.” The following illustration from the National Arbor Day Foundation summarizes the world of benefits of hazels very well.

If you want to try hazelnuts, you will actually need to plant three of the bushes within a reasonable distance of each other (preferably in a clump, if possible) in order to facilitate successful cross pollination. So, if your space can accommodate this additional requirement, why not give hazelnuts a try? This additional information from the Arbor Day Foundation tells you more about the amazing hazelnut, or contact the Foundation at Click the icon to enlarge.

Hazelnuts are good for the environment, good for wildlife, good for growers, and TASTE GREAT! Give ‘em a try!

Dead Trees

August 16th, 2014

Occasionally a tree dies. A natural human reaction is, “What killed my tree?” Or, in some cases, “What the Hell killed my tree???!!!” A dead tree in the forest is just a dead tree in the forest, but a dead tree in someones yard becomes a matter of consternation and responsibility for the homeowner.

Like all living things, a tree has a natural lifespan, and will eventually die; of old age, if nothing else. When the cause of a trees death is obvious (e.g. storm damage, a lightning strike, a fire, etc.), we don’t normally get too upset, if at all, and just mark it off as something that couldn’t be avoided or bad luck. However, when the cause is not so obvious, our reactions can cover a wide range of emotions from curiosity (“I wonder what killed my tree?”) to raw anger (“Who/what killed my tree?!!!!!”). Finding answers for such a wide range of emotions can sometimes be a difficult task for an arborist or urban forester.

Determining what killed a tree can be difficult because the reason may not have been the result of something that occurred recently. For example, it may take a few years for the effects of a prolonged drouth or construction damage to show up by killing a tree, “all of a sudden.” Such damage is difficult to determine, and many times a homeowner doesn’t believe the arborist when he tells them the damage that caused their tree to die actually occurred 4 years ago when their house was built. I once had a hickory tree die from root damage that occurred 8 years before the tree finally succumbed (it never was able to regenerate the roots killed when the houses’ foundation was poured. But, being a tough hickory, it hung in there for a good long time before giving up the ghost). Severing/damaging the root system of a tree is one of the most common ways that a tree dies slowly over time. Repeatedly topping a tree is another slow killer. The tree tries to overcome the damage, and hangs in there, but eventually gives it up and dies.

Even less evident is the slow killer we call “fill kill.” It occurs when fill dirt is added over the root zone of an existing tree to such a depth that it essentially smothers the root system by upsetting/choking-off the oxygen supply in the critical feeder root zone. Again, the tree may not die immediately, and tries to recover, but eventually becomes so weak (or stressed) that it cannot overcome pest attacks, drought conditions, etc., and it dies.

There are a number of construction damages that can injure a tree that is trying to be saved; some are obvious, such as a backhoe knocking a chunk of wood out of a trees trunk, but it may be the less obvious that causes the most long term problem(s) for the tree that one is trying to save during construction. The operation of equipment, and vehicles of various kinds entering and leaving a site can cause serious soil compaction problems that will kill root systems (or parts thereof) that result in long lasting damage that won’t show up for several months, or years, after a home is finished. Trenching to install underground lines of various kinds is also another construction activity that is good at killing roots.

Damaging the root system of a tree is the major reason a tree dies “all of a sudden” with no apparent cause.

Many folks see insects and diseases attacking their tree, and assume these are the culprits responsible for their tree troubles. This is possible, of course, but most trees that are otherwise healthy, can successfully fight-off attacks by native, endemic bugs and pathogens without dying. Sometimes an alien invader shows up in epidemic proportions, and our trees have no built-in immunities to help them combat such an attack, and they die even though they are basically healthy. However, even this is fairly uncommon in healthy trees, but the damage is begun, and repeated attacks may do-in the tree over time. Most observations of insect and disease activity are secondary attacks occurring on individuals that are stressed by previous/ ongoing health issues or problems. Treating the attacking pests may slow down, or even cure, the deteriorating condition of the tree, but it’s kind of like trying to cure cancer in a person; you have to be vigilant, and stay with the treatment(s) in order to be successful.

So, if a beloved landscape tree suddenly dies, it is incumbent on us to immediately remove it in order to remove any danger that might occur due to it’s demise. Then, we can get down to planning for a replacement, if desired, or adjust our landscape plan to do something else with the space created.

Some Random Thoughts on Tree Care in Winter

January 27th, 2014

Some folks may think that there isn’t much care to be done for trees in the winter. Hey! They’re dormant! Why do we have to be concerned now? Well……………..let’s see……..

One effective action that can be done in the winter is to inspect the crowns of deciduous species to see what potential problems may be lurking “up there” where it’s difficult to see when the leaves are in full bloom. Dead limbs or branches can be identified and removed much more easily than in the summer. Similarly, broken branches and twigs that aren’t dead can be repaired through proper pruning so they are ready to begin the healing process quickly after bud break in the spring. Just make sure that you follow the recommendations for making proper pruning cuts to avoid further damage to the branch or twig once the regrowth begins. A reminder of proper technique(s) is shown in the following illustration:

And don’t forget how to make a pruning cut:

Another good winter tree care action is to minimize ice melting agents on driveways and sidewalks where the runoff from the melting will be concentrated around tree roots. Use the products that have low salt ingredients as much as possible.

Don’t pour hot water on tree branches to melt ice or snow from the tops. If there is no breakage of limbs or branches, Mother Nature and the tree are perfectly capable of removing the ice in a manner that allows the tree to recover from any stress that might have occurred.

Check the mulch pile and add some if necessary. This should actually have been done in the late fall, but add some now if harsh winds have blown some away, or mulch-eating other “things” have removed some of the trees best friend.

On the nicer days (yes, there are some occasionally – even this year) get outside and walk among your trees to check them for anything out of the ordinary that may be impacting them and/or their space.

Finally, now is the time to be planning for any new or replacement plantings that need to be made in your home landscape. Measure and evaluate your available spaces, look into species selection and availability in your area, and make sure you have tools (or a contractor) available to do the planting once the ground is ready. Don’t forget to budget for and acquire any additional supplies needed (like mulch) for the work. Your objective should be to plant the right tree in the right place, and give it the best possible start you can. Good planning now can make your planting job beneficial and pleasurable during the busy spring season.

Searching, Searching, Searching

August 12th, 2013

As you read this blog entry, I call your attention to the archives section on the right side of the page. It should now be easier to locate a specific tree care topic by using the search function. Just follow the instruction and the entries related to your topic or keyword should be displayed in a listing that will allow you to access a particular entry directly from that listing. That way, you won’t have to go back and scroll through the entries by month and year, just to find a topic of interest. I have over 4 years of posts, which cover most of the relevant basic tree care topics, so you should be able to locate relevant information. If you try, and cannot locate an article on your topic, please e-mail me, and I’ll try to add something to help.

I am also trying to add the direct comment feature to the blog site, but the cost for doing so may still be prohibitive. So, I ask for your patience, and encourage you to use the e-mail function to communicate with me. It’s not the best, or normal, way for most blogs, but right now it is the way we have to go. Hopefully, I’ll get it worked out.

I’m going to continue trying to make this section of MCFC,s website as user friendly as possible, because the more informed you are about the basics of urban tree care, the better you can be the kind of steward your trees deserve. Stay tuned…………………………………..

Got Storm Damage?

May 31st, 2013

It’s been a stormy few weeks throughout the midwest, and Missouri has not been immune to the damages caused by the various types of vectors (wind, rain, flooding, hail, etc.). Never is the danger to a tree greater than during the inevitable trial by storm. Homeowners can do very little while the storm is raging, except to watch and hope that their tree(s) survive(s) nature’s onslaught. Survival, or loss, depends on how well your tree is managed both before the storm strikes, and in the aftermath (very critical). Knowing ahead of time what to do when a storm occurs can minimize, or even prevent, your intrinsic and/or financial loss. Following are some reminders of what to do (and what not to do) when a storm strikes.

1. Assess the damage – A storm can leave trees looking as if there is no tomorrow. But trees are amazingly resilient, and may be able to recover from what appears to be certain death. Before writing off a damaged tree as a “goner,” determine whether or not it can/should be saved. Is it basically healthy (other than the storm damage)? Are major limbs broken? Has the leader (main stem) been lost? Are at least 50% of the branches and leaves still intact? How large are the wounds? Can the remaining branches form a new branch structure? Is the tree a desirable one for its location? Positive answers to these questions will help you determine whether or not the tree can be saved.

2. Make decisions about the tree – Frequently, damaged trees look worst than they really are. If the tree is a “keeper,” make notes concerning remedial needs, but don’t jump into action right away……..

3. Wait and see – Time is on your side. After proper pruning to remove completely broken limbs or branches (for safety’s sake), give the tree some time to recover. A final decision to remove can always be made later.

4. Provide first aid right after the storm, mainly for safety purposes (as noted above) – But there are some other things to do that help with recovery: (a) You don’t have to do it all yourself. Hire some professional help if necessary, and especially get the professionals to clear any limbs or branches interfering with utility lines. Never mess with these yourself. (b) Repair torn bark patches so callus can start forming correctly. (c) Remove any broken branches still attached to the tree. (d) DON’T TOP YOUR TREES! Topping just sets them up to be the first victims of the next storm.

5. Cultivate trees that are the right species for the right place in your landscape, and keep them as healthy as possible, to prevent and/or minimize damage in future storms. There will be more…………count on it.

6. Lastly, watch out for who you hire to work on your trees. There will always be scam artists out to make a quick buck during an emergency situation. Avoid them.

Pruning Young Shade Trees

April 25th, 2013

Pruning limbs or branches from shade trees can be done almost anytime, as long as it is done properly. In general, however, the sooner you can start pruning a young tree, the better chance you (and the tree) have in attaining the proper shape and growth habit that you desire. The following illustration depicts basic guidance for pruning young shade trees.

Also, don’t forget how to make a proper pruning cut. The next illustration depicts that proper method.