Feb, 10, 2019: Almost five years ago, to the day, I wrote a blog post (Winter Plant Depression) on dealing with snow loads on trees and shrubs. Looking out over a snow stomped landscape once again has inspired me to re-echo my call. The snow is coming! The snow is coming! As Paul Revere might do if he had a Sno-cat.

Here is western Oregon, particularly the Coast range where I live, when we get snow its heavy and wet. We may not get the volume of snow of New England or the upper Mid-west, but I challenge any of them to produce a heavier snow per inch than we have. That’s because most of the time, when it snows, temperatures hover just below freezing. The colder the temperature, the lighter the snow.

Our snow are limb breakers and benders. Not all plants respond the same to snow load. Conifers tends to fare better (arborvitae excluded). They have adapted a branch structure that bends downward with weight and more easily sheds the snow before breaking, Even among our local conifers, there is some variability in snowload tolerance. Western hemlock and noble fir have greater tolerances than Douglas Fir. Saplings fare worse than mature trees. Deciduous trees with their upright branch structure seldom bend as well and so they have greater limb breakage.

So like the Minutemen responding to Revere’s call, one needs to bundle up, grab a shop broom and go forth into the storm and start knocking snow off branches. A bent over small tree or shrub may be able to recover if the snow is shaken off a few hours after bending, but wait a day and no way.

Though snow can cause branch breakage, ice does far more damage. Ice can increase the weight of a branch by 30 times! Ice damage particularly hits deciduous trees harder in our area. Ice storms tend to be fall events for us. The earlier in the fall the ice storm usually the greater the damage. Some trees are late in shedding their leaves or some trees have corky branches, like sweet gum, and these increase the surface area for ice to accumulate and thereby increase breakage potential. The treatment for limb breakage is to prune off the broken limb back to a sound branch crotch. Time is not as critical, but within a year is a good idea.

So for many, the winter wonderland of snow makes for exciting outdoor recreation and snow angels. But for the arborist its a time of dread and a time to gird one’s loins (preferably in thermal underwear) and go forth and do battle with the storm.


Aug 13, 2018: If you’re like me, you’re tired of hearing all the talk these days about border walls and immigration. A lot of yadda-yadda and nothing is getting done. In the end, if you want to get-r-done, well you’ve just gonna have to do it yourself. So I’m here today to encourage you to build your own border wall!
Now as I see it, there are two kinds of border walls: those that exclude and those that retain. I much prefer the latter, as it creates usable space and helps to stop the erosion of land or human decency. And my material of choice for the DIY’er is segmental retaining wall block, or SRW as the pros call it. Civilians often refer to them as “Keystone block” but Keystone is one manufacturer out of many today that are making the units.

SRW’s hold many advantages. They are extremely diverse in color, texture and size, which give a multitude of design options.They are easier than many other wall materials to create curves, corners, caps and steps. They are considered to be flexible structures,meaning that they can accommodate some soil shifting from frost heaving without failing. You don’t have to dig down to the frostline to lay a wall foundation. You don’t need to have heavy equipment like a tractor/loader (though it’s handy) for working with the block. Block weights can range from 25 lbs for small garden wall block to 80 lbs for heavy duty walls.

There’s a ton of information in your local library or the internet about how to build SRWs. so I’m not going to reiterate all those iterations you can find, but I would like to highlight some personal tips to consider before building your border wall.

- 4 feet. That’s the maximum height a SRW can be before being required (by Oregon law) to be designed by a landscape architect or civil engineer. As I mentioned above, SRW’s are flexible but sometimes that flexibility leads to failure. The higher the wall, the more engineering is needed. Things such as soil type, angle of repose, surcharge, and anchorage become important factors. So my tip to you, study the installation manuals published online for the SRW units you’re thinking of using. The manufacturers do a pretty good job with their educational support materials. Under 2’ high, you can do yourself. 2-4’ , think about getting some professional advice or some serious self-study. 4’ or higher, hire a professional, preferably a landscape contractor with retaining wall experience and a portfolio they can show you. Several SRW manufacturers, such as Allan Block and Belgard have their own professional training programs for contractors.

- Foundation, foundation, foundation. It’s the key to the walls success. Follow the manufacturer’s specs in the dimensions. materials and techniques to follow. Many is the wall failure I have seen that was directly attributable to an inadequate base foundation.

- Drainage, drainage. It’s the second most important reason for failure. Soil water trapped behind a wall puts hydraulic pressure on that wall. Because SRW’s are modular they have some porosity. Water can weep through them from the backfill behind, but only if proper backfill procedures and porous backfill materials and drain pipe in some instances are used. The higher the wall the more slope it retains, the more important drainage becomes. Make sure you make the accommodations for hydraulic relief.

- Compaction. It’s the third most important factor to wall success. Unless it’s a small 18” high wall, I’d recommend renting a vibra-tamper to mechanically compact your gravel base. Hand or foot tamping just doesn’t cut it.

- SRWs and back health. Once you’ve selected the SRW block you’d like to use, go the supply yard and heft it up repeatedly. Even if you’re using a tractor loader or Bobcat or a big burly teenager named Bob, you’re going to be manhandling this block a lot. Learn how to safely kneel down and lift block as well as safely turn with it. Pay heed to my heart felt and hernia felt advice.

I hope I have, in some small way, inspired to you to step forth and be a patriot and build your own border wall. What this country needs is not one big border wall, but thousands of individual border walls keeping American land on American properties. So get out there now, without waiting on anybody, and start retaining what’s good in this country, before it erodes away.


April 1, 2018: It is refreshing in our know-it-all world to find something we didn't know about. Recently a new species of Hemlock tree was discovered on a remote island off the coast of South Korea. Now, I know that this probably isn't going to set off a tsunamis of tweets, but my heart is aflutter at the news. This new species, Tsuga ulleungensis, lives on the slopes of an inactive volcano on a tiny island and it became both the newest tree discovered in 2017 and the most endangered at the same time and already we have plans for it.

Along the spine of the Appalachians, the Eastern Hemlock is being decimated by a tiny pest called the Hemlock wooly adelgid. This tiny aphid-like creature sucks the sap from needles and it protects itself by exuding a cottony mass around its body. Just imagine thousands of Q-tips heads glued to the branches of a tree. Within a year most hemlocks die. It's a BAD problem.

Enter our new hemlock species. It's related to Japanese hemlock trees. The hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA) came from Japan (thank you kindly). The Japanese hemlock and HWA co-evolved, so Japanese hemlocks have the genetic makeup so that they're not as badly walloped as our Eastern hemlocks are. The hope is that the new hemlock species may have even more resistance genes in its DNA and that crossbreeding it with Eastern hemlock may give it some HWA protection.

Exciting, yes? Well, maybe if you're a forester or arborist. If you're the newly discovered species itself, I'm not so sure. Just imagine if you were Tsuga ulleungensis (that is if you're semi-retired and have time for such ludicrous musings). You've been standing on your volcano with your close-knit group of friends and family for millions of years and suddenly that isolation is shattered. You're discovered and the world has great plans for analyzing, breeding and propagating you. That's when I'd want to be the Howard Hughes or Greta Garbo of the plant world. I yust vant to be alone.

If there are any undiscovered species reading this, a word of warning. Lay low, keep quiet, don't be too showy or useful. We'd love to meet you, but you might not.


December 31, 2017: In the past, I have ranted on this blog about insect pests, and one might think I was a bugaphobe and entertained anti-entomological sentiments. But I keep bees, which can be a disheartening labor of love, and realize the problem of declining pollinator populations. However, it seems insect decline goes farther than just honeybees and monarch butterflies.

Malaise trap used in surveysMalaise trap used in surveysA recent article in a scientific journal has created a rather shocking revelation that perhaps most of the insect world may be suffering decline. The article reports the findings of a survey of flying insects in 63 nature preserves in Germany over a period of 27 years. It reports a decline of insect biomass (all bugs caught in the survey traps) of more than 75%. Now when you consider that 70% of the entire animal kingdom is comprised of insects, that 60% of birds rely on insects for food, that 80% of wild plants rely on them for pollination . . . well, that seems kinda serious. Like maybe a big change is happening?

What's causing this decline? That is not so clear and it seems evident, from the literature, that there is no one factor responsible. Of the usual culprits - habitat loss and change, climate change, pesticides - no one seems to stand out. The researchers found that decline in this survey happened regardless of habitat type, climate variations, or temperature and could suggest a larger overall reason.

There are some scientists that believe we are entering into the sixth mass extinction event. I guess we were out of town for the first five. Another recent survey of population declines looked at a much broader range of species and estimated that 30 percent of all land vertebrates — mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians - are suffering from dramatic population declines. Species extinction rate for the past 100 years has been 200 species/100 years. "Normal" extinction rate in the past has been 2 species/100 years.

The good news is that humans don't seem to be declining in population and I'm going to be giving thanks this New Year for not being extinct. What can we do for our other biomass brothers or sisters? That is an urgent question for us all, and I, for one, am going to go mix a stiff drink, turn up the heat and maybe watch reruns of the Brady Bunch while thinking about that. Happy New Year to you and your species!

For more info to dampen your revels:



Nov 19, 2017: My fellow Oregonians, we have been invaded by aliens who come undocumented and uninvited and with a voracious appetite for our Oregonian landscape and agriculture. These invaders originally came from the Far East but probably more recently came from the Back East where they have been wreaking havoc for years. I speak of the Japanese Beetle and it's beachhead, for the largest invasion ever detected to date in the state, is in the Oak Hills/Cedar Mill area.

Spring and early summer of 2017 the ODA (Oregon Dept. of Agriculture) found 23,000 beetles in monitoring traps set up in the that area. Alerted by numbers caught in the year previous, the ODA set about a program of control and quarantine. With an estimated 2000 homes in the affected area, ODA sought permission of homeowners to apply a granular pesticide to lawn areas. The larval beetle live under sod surfaces from mid-summer to spring when they emerge as adults. 1700 of those 2000 homes granted permission to apply the insecticide Acelepryn. Acelepryn is listed as a "Reduced Risk" pesticide, which in my personal scale of toxicity means I have more to be concerned about the amount of sugar in my diet than the amount of Acelepryn in my garden.

As part of the quarantine component, the ODA is requesting from landscapers and homeowners that all Public Enemy #1Public Enemy #1landscape debris collected within the quarantine area be taken to a special yard waste collection site on Cornelius Pass Rd or put in your regular curbside yard debris can. For a map of the quarantine area, information on yard waste dumping, and updates from beetle control HQ, check out
I can't overemphasize the threat of these #$%@!! beetles. They eat everything! Well, at least 300 types of crops and plant, including fruit trees. And guess what they're favorite is? Roses. Do this math: Japanese beetles + Roses + the Rose City = well, you get the idea.

Even if you're not on the front lines for the battle now, you can help in the war effort by reporting any Japanese beetles you encounter by calling the Oregon Invasive Species Hotline, 1-866- INVADER or there is an online equivalent also.

To paraphrase Winston Churchill (quite horribly, I'm afraid), "We shall fight in backyards. We shall fight in the front yards. We shall fight in the fields and in the orchards. We shall never ever surrender."

F & P