July 14, 2016: It's a good year for fruit in the Willamette Valley and, in this election summer, it is important that every owner of fruit tree(s) come together, regardless of their affiliations, and support their trees . . . particularly apples, plums, pears, peaches (the heavier fruits). Just yesterday I lost half of a venerable plum tree when a major limb broke off due to a bumper crop of plums.
Cut sapling & 2 x 4 propsCut sapling & 2 x 4 props
Go out and look at your fruit trees now! If they are starting to bend over from fruit, prop them up NOW! A fruit tree prop can be as simple a 2 x 4 or 2 x 2 with a small piece nailed to the top as a tee and cut to a length to jam between the ground and the limb. I've used forked saplings I've cut from my forest.PVC schedule 40 pipe works. You also can buy fancier and more aesthetic looking manufactured telescoping prop poles such as Prop-A-Crop.
The important thing is to act now. Fruit tree owner apathy and disengagement is a major threat to a free and functioning home orchard. It is imperative for every American fruit tree owner to support and uphold our tree's right to bear fruit and to do so without the constraints and strictures of any government or foreign power. But that means we must bear that responsibility responsibly ourselves. Our fruit liberties depend upon an informed and engaged fruit populace.
PVC Sch, 40 pipe gaily decorated with flagging tapePVC Sch, 40 pipe gaily decorated with flagging tape


July 13, 2016: "A dog, a kid, and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they be." That's an old Appalachian saying. Let me say, right away, that I DO NOT agree with that . . . at least the first two targets. The third, the walnut, well there may be something to that.

First of all, to be fair to the people of Appalachia, they did not originate this cruel and insensitive adage. It passed to the colonies from Old England and from Europe and varied slightly in that the dog and the kid were sometimes replaced by similarly defenseless targets such as mules, horses, and women. The walnut it appears has never been substituted for anything else over time.

I'm fascinated with how agricultural adages evolved. It obviously starts with observation of results. Along the way, it may be accompanied by insightful or hokey reasoning, but in the end does science eventually back it up? In the case of the walnut tree, it does.(the dog and kid part of it was probably thrown in there by some child beating, animal abusing jerk of a forebear).

Walnut whippingWalnut whipping"Whipping walnuts" was a procedure where the trunks were beaten with long sticks and the result was often greater walnut production the next year. Walnuts were not the only trees to suffer at the hands of trunk mutilators. In the Deep South, pecan growers would take logging chains and beat their pecans trees for better pecan production. In Oregon, some holly growers would shoot their trees with bird shot to increase the next year's amount of holly berries for their Christmas greens trade. Apple and pear growers cut strips of bark off their trees in a process called "ringing" to reduce vegetative growth while increasing future fruit production.

The most commonly held reasoning of the time was that by mutilating the trunk of a tree you "scared" theBark ringingBark ringing tree into producing more fruit. Increased flowering (from which comes fruiting) was the tree's response, a last ditch effort at propagation before the tree mutilator returned. Wow, if trees went to the movies and Alfred Hitchcock was a tree, I can see a whole different, and more terrifying version of Psycho here. But trees don't go to the movies (and it's probably a good thing 'cause you'd never see anything if you sat in the back row) and they don't respond to anthropomorphic (ascribing human qualities to non-human things) reasons such as fear, thinking. or the desire to have some last minute propagation fling. There is physiology behind the responses of plants and it is the science that is behind the adage that is fascinating.

Plants, with the exception of mosses and liverworts, have a vascular system. For that matter, we have a vascular system -our arteries, veins and heart that move blood through our body. Vascular plants have xylem and phloem that move sap through their bodies. The xylem moves water and dissolved nutrients from roots to leaves and shoots. In trees (except for palms) It's located in the sapwood, the outermost and newest laid rings of wood. The phloem moves food (sugars) made by the leaves down to the live growing portions of the trees - the trunk cambium and the root tips. This phloem is located in the inner bark which lies just underneath the outer bark.

So when someone with a big stick or logging chain or shotgun comes up to a tree and whams it upside the trunk, it damages the phloem. Food can then not pass through the injured tissue and more of it remains in the top of the tree, where the new surplus is then put to use in flower buds and subsequent fruit production. The tree will attempt to regrow new tissue with phloem over the damaged area to reconnect the system. This new growth is called callus tissue. Since there are more photosynthates (food) trapped above the damage, there is more callus growth there often causing a swelling above the damage. I've seen this a lot, particularly with unintentional tree mutilation such as tree staking.

Ever plant a tree and to keep it from falling over in a high wind you drive a wooden stake or two into the Girdling due to StakingGirdling due to Stakingground and then tie the stake to the tree trunk and then walk away and forget it? Eventually that tree tie begins to girdle the trunk and constrict the phloem as it expands outward and you have the same effect as whacking it with a chain. If I had a low fat, decaf, caramel macchiato for every customer's tree I removed from careless tree staking, I'd be hanging out in Starbucks for a couple of weeks. Come to think of it, I have noticed an increased growth above my belt line over the past ten years. Maybe my belt is girdling me and it time to switch to suspenders.

Because of the science behind the adage, we can now see that beating some fruit and nut trees may indeed make them better, for fruit production, at least. And, I might further point out, that since dogs and kids do not have xylem and phloem then beating them is patently absurd, most ineffective and without scientific basis.

Observant reader that you are, you're probably wondering whether such trunk torture techniques are harmful to the tree. The answer to that is yes. Those same sugars that are trapped in the crown are not Girdling due to PartakingGirdling due to Partakinggetting to the roots. A healthy tree has a lot of stored food in its roots and may be able to stand it for a year or several, but eventually when it runs out of food the root dies. It also depends on the severity and extent of phloem damage. Is it 50%, 70%, 100% of the circumference of the phloem damaged? Some young apple trees can withstand 90% ring barking once. It also depends of tree species, vigor, age - a lot of variables and from what I've been able to garner there's not a lot of research out there on this topic.

Beware and be aware of the wanton beating of your fruit and nut trees. In the case of old non-producing trees, it may be an alternative to try before the final solution of removal.


July 7 2016: Let's talk about decline. Not my own, but of trees. The #1 cause of tree decline and death in the urban/suburban environment is due to soil compaction. It's a slow and insidious process that can take years, in some cases, to manifest itself and often by the time it's noticed it's too late for meaningful corrective action.

I recently have personally experienced decline (again, not me personally, but my trees). Some Douglas firs that I have been parking trailers, trucks, cars, tractors, etc under their shady boughs for 16 years have been exhibiting signs of decline. Typical signs of decline, in conifers, due to soil compaction are loss of lower branches and dropping of interior needles leaving just the needles on the ends of branches. They slowly die from the bottom up and the inside out. It's interesting that deciduous trees generally have just the opposite progression of compaction symptoms - they die from the outside in (ends of branches drop leaves first) and the top down (branch dieback).

Here's how soil compaction works to debilitate a tree. As soil becomes compressed from the weight of something on top of it , like trailers, trucks, cars etc. it squeezes out and smashes the pore space through which roots grow. The roots of a tree must grow continually. If they cannot grow, they will die and as they die that affects the crown (what's aboveground) of the tree. As the crown dies, then there is less food produced to sustain remaining roots. It can be a slow deadly spiral. In conifers, such as my Douglas firs, by the time you notice the signs of compaction decline, the final demise of the tree occurs quickly, within a year or two.

I'm feeling distraught that not only do I have several large trees that I will have to remove but that as an arborist I did not have the foresight to foresee that before parking my fleet underneath them. Not bright. Ah, physician heal thyself. And so, I've become inspired to sensitize people to the dangers of compaction decline and since this is a big urban problem, I thought I'd go more urban with my message. I've written a rap song. It is my first and perhaps a little technically rough around the edges.


(Imagine a strong hip-hop beat in the background. Say similar to Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, or Lawrence Welk)

I can see da forest, but I can't see my trees.
I doctor other people's, but not my tree's disease

Compaction is the action from which there's no retraction

It takes ages, man, to happen, while you freakin' or you chillin'
Your parking lot be real tight , but your trees you do be killin'

Compaction is the action from which there's no retraction

Them roots you cannot see, but they will not take a slammin'
The soil gets compacted and da roots be smashed and crammin'

Compaction is the action from which there's no retraction

My firs are losing needles and they're looking really dead
My homies in the wood see this, they'll think I lost street cred

Compaction is the action from which there's no retraction

Da crime of decline is messing wid my mind
I done the crime, I'll do the time, I wish I weren't so blind.

Compaction is the action from which there's no retraction

So listen fool to this golden rule
Don't park no wheels where the roots can feels . ... .it.




June 16, 2016: It has recently come to my attention that all the not-so-boring botanists I have highlighted in the past have been men. In my own defense, I'd like to say it was myself that brought this to my attention and in the interest of fairness and parity I should like to highlight some female botanists and that is just what I will do in this new series - Bold, Bodacious Babes of Botany (or BBB of Botany).

Considering that your typical male not-so-boring botanist of the past could devote their lives to trekking the far reaches of the planet searching for rare flora and getting their names splashed about the botanical news rags of the day. All the while unencumbered by things like child birth, child rearing, care giving , and all that other stuff women were responsible for back then, it's no wonder that most people (or, let's be honest now, men) have not heard of the achievements of women botanists of yore. That's why I was determined to discover the BBB's of Botany through an intensive, all-day, self study on the internet course in women's botanical studies. And I found them. And I'm proud to present my first bold, bodacious babe of botany - Ynes Mexia.

What's really bodacious about Ynes was that she didn't even start her career as a botanist until she 55. 55! When I was 55 I was crossing off the years left till retirement.

Born of a Mexican diplomat father and an Anglo-American mother in 1870, she spent her childhood and teen years in the US and then moved to Mexico with her father to take care of him in the last ten years of his life. Shortly after her father's death in 1896, she married a Spanish-German merchant and also began a long legal battle to claim the family's inheritance (a hacienda and poultry business) from her father's mistress. In the end, she won in 1904 but then her first husband died.

Ynes married a second time, but to a real schmuck. He ran her family poultry business into the ground and she divorced him after a year and went to San Francisco, where she became a social worker. In 1921 she started attending classes at UC Berkeley and became active in the Sierra Club. A class in botany sparked a keen interest and in 1925, at the age of 55, she accompanied a woman botanist on a field collection trip to western Mexico. On that trip, she fell off a cliff and about died, but it didn't stop this BBB of Botany. She went collecting to Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile. She traveled the length of the Amazon from its mouth to its source in a canoe with 3 guys and guide, which I'm guessing was also a guy. She also spent 3 months with a remote indigenous Amazonian tribe, then she climbed Mt. McKinley, probably to cool off.

For 12 years she was on the move, collecting plant specimens which she sold to private collectors and institutions to fund the next collecting expedition. Colleagues described her as tough, resilient, sometimes remarkably charming, sometimes impetuous and difficult, always generous. She is credited to having discovered as many as 50 new plant species and two new genera of plants.

Ynes died in 1938 of lung cancer. She left much of her money to further scientific pursuit, including money to the mammologist, Vernon Bailey, who developed one of the first humane live traps, a precursor to the Havahart trap.

She was one bold, bodacious, botany babe.


April 28, 2016: When I was growing up, my father and I never had a serious conversation about verticilium wilt. We had other conversations, which I'm sure he felt were more important, but we never talked about that. I do not blame him for I never had the same conversation with my child. I guess as parents we rationalize by thinking it's not that important or its too delicate a topic, and let the moment, which may never return again, pass by. They will figure it out on their own we think. And some day they will, but wouldn't it have been nice if we could have prepared them for it.

If I had that moment back again, here's the conversation I would have:

FATHER : Sit down a minute, kid. I want to have a talk and I think you're old enough now that you'll understand. Is that OK?

KID: (Nods)

FATHER: You're growing up so fast! Soon you'll be leaving home to start a life of your own. You may have a garden, some property or perhaps just a nearby park, but it is my hope that you will find and fall in love with trees. Love is what makes us human. It gives us the potential to really see ourselves and the potential of others. Where there is the warmth, light and life of love, there is also the darker opposite lurking -cold, dark, death - the two sides of a coin. It is a fact that we must acknowledge but not necessarily dampen that which makes us human. If you happen to fall in love with one of more than 350 species of trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials or vegetable crops, then that dark side may well come in the form of verticilium wilt, a disease that can cripple and often kill a plant.

I know this is disturbing to hear , but it's really important to both of us that you understand. I'd like to tell you how this might happen and what are the signs that it may be coming. Is that OK?

KID: (Nods)

FATHER: Verticilium wilt is a fungus disease that lives in the soil. It can live unseen and undetected by mortal eye for up to 14 years in the soil. It invades a plant through the roots and will travel to the xylem, the water conductive tissue of the plant. There it will grow and flourish and block water conduction to the leaves. It causes the leaves to wilt and die, which leads to branch dieback and eventually crown death. As leaves die, the roots that supply them die for lack of food. In trees, this process can go on for several years before tree death can occur.

There are a number of other diseases and environmental disorders that can cause branch dieback. One of the ways to identify that V. wilt is taking place is to slice a newly wilted twig diagonally. You will see olive-brown, brown or black streaks in the sapwood (the last few rings of growth).

(Father sighs. Wipes some moisture from his eye and looks away out the window)

I once had a big leaf maple I was very fond of. It was old and venerable and shaded the yard. We had a summer that was very, very dry followed by a very, very wet winter and the next spring I found some dead Sapwood streaksSapwood streaksbranches in my beloved. The next summer over half the branches died and that winter it blew over taking out a chunk of the garage There was little in my power I could do, except repair the garage.

Once a tree has verticilium, there are no effective treatments for it. One can prolong or temporarily reduce the effect by watering the tree during droughts but there is no un-inevitabling the inevitable. Does that make sense?

KID: (Nods)

FATHER: Here in the Pacific Northwest it is our maples, elms, ashes and cherries that are some of the most susceptible. In my opinion verticilium is everywhere in the soil. It can't be avoided. Healthy, relatively stress free trees seldom show signs of it so reducing drought stress or overly soggy soils can help where practical. If replacing a verticilium killed tree, do not put another susceptible species back. You're just asking for heart ache then.

I guess what I'm saying is that the things we love will eventually die. Let not the hurt of that keep you from loving.

Hey! HEY! Will you please take your Ipod earbuds out! I don't understand how you can hear a word I'm saying!

KID: Whatever.

FATHER: Well, I'm glad we had this little talk. Love you, now.

F & P