February 12, 2014: Are your plants depressed? It's been a tough winter this year in western Oregon and, with the recent heavy snows, it's easy for your plants to start feeling depressed. But, before you start imagining me wearing a tin foil hat, I'm not talking about the mental kind of depression, I'm talking about the snow-bending-down-limbs kind of depression. This kind of depression, if left untreated, leads to limb breakage or permanent deformation.

As I gaze out at the 14" of snow that's fallen on my place, it's interesting to notice how various plants react to snow loads. The Douglas fir and western red cedar, as evergreens, catch a lot of snow and the branches are heavily laden and bending severely down, but their limb structure is such that they can do that without a lot of concern about breakage. As the snow melts and gets heavier , their springy branches shed the snow quicker than other plants. More upright branching plants, such as the Mugo pines and arborvitae in my yard, do not shed the snow very well and they end up bending and sometimes breaking. My rhododendrons seem to fare better but none are a tall (>6')upright variety, so that might make a difference.

There are whole scientific treatises, complete with gobs of formulas and graphs , written on snow and ice loads on trees. I've waded through one of them and, trust me , you don't want to go there. But , I garnered one interesting fact. Trees that are native to high snow areas, like the Cascades or the Rockies, adapt by having slower growth and greater branch deflection (droopiness, in plain English). They're built not to catch a lot of snow and shed it quickly. Many of the landscape plant materials we use have the opposite characteristics - fast growth and upright structure, which make them susceptible to the infrequent dumps of snow or ice storms we get here in the Pacific Northwest.

If your plants are depressed, the key to therapy is immediate action. It only takes a few hours of being bent over for the limbs or stem to be permanently deformed. Arborvitaes are particularly sensitive to bending. If you don't take care of them right away then no amount of pruning or propping is going to cover up the bare spot in the hedge. The prime therapeutic tool is a broom. Go out and knock the snow off the branches. (Here's where a tin foil hat is handy as it sheds snow well and, should you become buried, it's easier for rescuers, but not aliens, to see the shiny cone.)

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.

I originally started off this blog entry with the short intent to tell to knock the snow off your bushes, but I've gotten carried away and now it's sounding more like some longwinded scientific treatise, which it wouldn't properly be with graphs. So here's my graph:



January 19, 2014: Bigger than the blue whale, bigger than Godzilla, in fact the biggest organism in the world to date resides in Malheur National Forest of eastern Oregon. It's a fungus called aptly the Humongous Fungus by the Forest Service. It's estimated to cover 2,400 acres or 4 square miles in size. It's estimated to be over 2400 years old, but some say it may be as old as 8650 years old (making it also the world's oldest organism)

Fake!!Fake!!I get various trade related e-zines and this came in one as an article from my irrigation vendor. I've always had a fascination, which I'm sure I share with many, for the world's biggest things = the worldest biggest tree (the General Sherman in the Sierra's), the world's biggest chicken (Big Snow in Australia), the world's biggest chicken nugget (51 pounds from Secaucus,NJ, which unfortunately has been eaten now), but all these pale in comparison with the World's Biggest Living Organism.

The fungus, Armillaria ostyae, is from a genus of fungi that have had other contenders for world's biggest fungus. Collectively the genus goes by the name of "honey mushrooms" or the less appetizing appellation "shoestring root rot" . Far from being benign, the fungus attacks the roots of conifers and hardwoods as a parasite and slowly crawls its way under the bark eventually girdling the tree and killing it. Now, less you be expecting to see a giant mushroom towering and devouring trees, it will be disappointing to know that honey mushrooms are only about 2 to 4 inches tall and can only be seen for a week or two in the fall. The massive monster that is the body of the fungus is a web of fungal tendrils called mycelium that resides hidden in the soil. . . . . and that's probably the reason why there isn't a massive tourism industry developing around it.

The discovery of HuFu (my new name because I'm tired of typing humon . . . you know) is fairly recent (2008) and this year for some reason it's hitting the news everywhere. I am proud to say I have been an armchair tracker of big fungi for several decades. In the history of big fungi spotting, 1992 was a year without parallel. First one was found in Skamania County at the base of Mt Adams (1500 acres). Shortly afterward they discovered a bigger one in Colorado. Then the town of Crystal Falls, Michigan announced they had the world's largest fungus covering . . 35 acres. Maybe they do that new math in Michigan, but despite their somewhat dubious claim, they did an excellent job of cashing in on it. They feature an annual Humungous Fungus Festival (maybe they do new spelling there too) with attractions such as fungus fudge, fungus burgers, fungus tee shirts and many more fungus named products. Their fungus even had airtime on the David Letterman show.

I am proud that Oregon is home to the rightful title of world's largest organism. I am proud we have resisted its commercial exploitation. A simple Forest Service sign will do for us. I don't expect this will be the last we hear of giant fungi contenders. The Armillaria genus, with its 10 species, is common on every continent in the world, excepting Antarctica (and I really wish they'd stop calling Antarctica a continent 'cause you always having to make an exception for it). Someday a bigger fungus will be found and HuFu will be a has-been. But for now, Oregonians can take great pride, in our modest way. I think maybe even its the time Oregon thought of frying up a world record chicken nugget. I would go see that!



Nov . 8, 2013: I learned a new word today. If you don't use a new word, you lose it. In fact, some educational psychologists say you must hear and use a new word at least 35 times before it becomes a kept portion of your vocabulary. The word I learned is "psithurism" (1) (sith-err-iz-um) which is the sound the wind makes when moving through trees. How on earth, I thought, am I going to manage to use the word "psithurism" (2) thirty five times in conversation or in prose. Perhaps in a greeting, "Good morning! Such a nice day with a gentle psithurism (3) in the air". But then folks might look at me a little odd and I'm not expecting to greet 35 people psithurectically (4) anytime soon. But then it struck me - my blog! On a blog you can subject the world or your reader(s-maybe) to all manners of repetition. Yes I will blog about psithurism (5). Psithurisms (6) a good idea, I think.

I discovered this word (psithurism (7)) on an online seminar for arborists. The author of the online article (on psithursim (8)) talked about how the great bards of the past, Longfellow, Thoreau, Liu Chi had been inspired to write great prose and poetry by the sound of wind moving through the trees (psithurism (9)). How they had waxed poetically about how the trunk, form and leaf texture of a tree affects it's tonal, or shall I say psithurectic (10) properties. How we arborists might want to look at the technical side of psithurism (11). How one group of people hear the wind (psithurism (12)) . . . . . I'm getting tired of this as , I'm sure, are you, so let's get it over with - psithurism, psithurism, psithurism, psithurism x 20) . Anyways, how one group of people hear the wind and anaylze it's effects on our soul, and another, like we arborists, analyze it's effects. Perhaps there's a little bit of scientist trapped in a poet's soul and a little bit of poet in the scientist.

Is there a difference in the psithurism (36) of a Doug fir forest, with its short needles and dense crown and a lodgepole pine forest with its large needles and open crowns? Does rough bark make more noise than smooth bark? Does an oak in summer sound different than an oak in winter? I don't know. But then I've never stopped and taken the time to psithurize (37) the moment. Next time I'm pruning a tree I believe I will.



January 13, 2013: So back to the three things we have to do with stormwater: collect, convey and dispose.

Collecting precipitation hasn't changed much over the years. It falls on our roofs and is captured by gutters or it falls on the ground and the soil captures it. Unless your home is located inside the Tacoma Dome, that's still going to be the way most water is collected. Nothing is going to change much there. Let's look at what we can do to convey the water that's collected: 1) on the roof and 2) in the soil.

On the roof (and I'm assuming it's a roof with gutters), that water is going to be conveyed into downspouts. An alternative to ugly downspouts are rain chains. While traditional downspouts are a closed system, rain chains open the stormwater to the air so there may be some water splash and in very cold weather you can end up with an ice pillar. You also have to recollect the water at the bottom of the rain chain if you want to continue to convey it someplace. A single rain chain will accommodate about 30 linear feet of gutter. Rain chains are also more expensive than traditional gutter downspouts, but they never clog. My recommendation is to use rain chains where they will be seen and keep traditional gutters where they won't be seen.

When the water gets to the bottom of the downspout or rain chain we have to figure out what we're going to do about it. Do we want to reuse that water? Do we want to convey it somewhere else where it may be beneficial? Do we want to convey it somewhere else and just get rid of it?

Traditionally, that stormwater has been conveyed by underground pipes to the sewer system and thence to the sewage treatment plant. It's a terrible waste of good water and a big cost to taxpayers. Ah, how much friendlier to the environment and the next bond levy for a new sewer plant it would be to utilize that water on-site.

Reusing it means irrigating on demand. Rainwater harvesting it's called. In an earlier blog, I pontificated on the advantages and disadvantages of rainwater harvesting and I won't flog that blog again except to point out that in the Pacific Northwest we have ample rainwater resources, but not when we need them in summer (when we need to irrigate). That means storage. The more rainwater you need to irrigate, the larger the storage you need. A 55 gallon rain barrel at the end of a gutter might last a week or two during the summer for the average yard (not counting turf). We can also convey that rainwater to a more elaborate storage container such as an inground cistern tank or an aboveground one.

If we instead wish to convey that water to where it can do some future good, then there are a variety of methods we can use. One of the most popular these days is the rain garden. In the simplest terms, the rain garden is a depression that is constructed as a temporary storage of rainwater. The idea is for the water to be held and percolate into the soil and when planted it's providing an attractive semi-irrigated part of the landscape. The key to a functional rain garden is that it be sized for amount of water it will collect, designed and constructed to promote soil percolation, and planted with plants that can tolerate water extremes (remember we get rain in winter, not in summer). Proper selection and use of native plants that have adapted to just such a watering scheme is key. The rain garden is not the place to display your marigolds and petunias.

What about drainage solutions in the surrounding landscape. You first have to ask the question of where is the water coming from. Well rain, of course! But, is it just what falls on the ground or is there water directed from the roof or runoff from your neighbor's hillside? Identifying the sources will help choose the drainage solution.

For water to move on top on or in the soil, there has to be a slope (2% minimum). Sometimes we can contour the landscape surfaces to promote slope for drainage. That's often what's done around the foundation of your house to get water away from it. But when there is no slope in a landscape you have go underground to create a slope. This is done by trenching and installing drain tile, a generic term for flexible pipe with holes in it that water can seep into and flow down. The drain tile is sloped and it must lead ultimately to someplace where it is disposed. On flat ground that ends up being a big hole in the ground that either has a collection tank or is filled with drain rock, called a rock sump or, more erroneously, a French drain.

The most typical drainage problems I get called upon for is lawn drainage. The most frequent complaint being that lawn is so wet in the winter it can't be used for anything - the kids can't play on it, the dog comes in tracking mud all over the house, please make my lawn dry in the winter, or at least not a swamp. If ripping out the lawn, re-contouring the surface, and re-installing the lawn is not an option (and it is usually not due to expense and topography), then trenching and installing drain tile is the most feasible solution. These underground pipes are usually installed in a pattern that resembles a candleabra or herringbones. The tighter the soil, such as clay, the tighter the pattern. Drain tile installation is not cheap. It can run from $5-$11 a lineal foot. If the lawn has an irrigation system in it, it makes it an extra challenge(cost) to install drain tile. No matter what marvels I may be able to achieve with drain tile, I can't promise your lawn will be as dry a billiards table in the winter.

There is another alternative to solving drainage issues I haven't spoken about and that's what I call "re-purposing". That is accepting the way the world drains (or rather your yard) and finding another acceptable purpose for it. Perhaps that chronically wet area can be made into an aesthetically pleasing wetland, bog garden, or rain garden. Can a soggy area of the lawn be re-purposed to a shrub bed?

Wither the water goes. You can change it or find a way to live with it. That's something you, with the help of your local landscape professional can decide


Nov. 22, 2012: After our week of torrential rains, it's nice to get a brief respite before the next deluge. It's also a great time to find drainage problems. Unfortunately, it's not a great time to fix drainage problems. Most drainage issues involve excavation and excavation of saturated soils cause a whole set of challenges.

There is the challenge of access. Most drainage work involves digging and that's best done by a piece of equipment such as a trencher or a mini-excavator. Getting that machinery to where it has to work without tearing up the surrounding ground is a problem. It can be done by laying out mats of plywood or rubber for the machinery to traverse, but its extra time and its extra cost.

There is also the issue of yards with fences and gates too narrow for a trencher to get through. I once installed a lawn drainage system where myself and the crew dug and wheelbarrowed 5 tons of wet clay out of the backyard through a narrow gate. I made a solemn pledge to my back never to do that again.

There is the challenge of compaction. Many drainage problems are compounded by the fact that the soil infiltration rate (how quickly water enters into and percolates through it) is impaired by compaction. On the fine silt and clay soils that we have in much of Washington County, compaction is compounded by the soil being saturated. When excavation work takes place on these saturated soils we may be doing more compaction harm than we're doing drainage good.

I'm a guy of substance, meaning I tip the scales at over 200 pounds. When I go tromping over the soil I exert a force of about 26-27 PSI (pounds per square foot). A 3000 lb. pickup truck will exert the same amount of force on the soil. No, I am not as large as a truck, but compaction pressure is a factor of weight over the area of distribution. The narrow area of impact made by my heel as I walk has the same force as the truck which distributes its weight over 4 tire points. I wear rubber boots when I'm doing drainage work, but if I wore stiletto high heels I would have a compaction force of 9000 PSI! That's one (of several) reasons I don't wear high heels on the work site.

There is the challenge of where do you take the water. When it comes to drainage there are 3 things we have to do with the water. We have to collect it, convey it and dispose of it. All three can be a challenge but the disposal is probably top on my list.

First and foremost, you cannot dispose of your excess water onto your neighbor's property. That causes lawsuits. In many municipalities, you are not allowed to dump it into the street or storm sewer system (some may require a permit). You need to find a place on-site to dispose of it. Finding a place in your yard for a rain garden or a dry well can be a challenge. In short, with excess water in the landscape you are redistributing it to another area of the landscape where it will be less of a problem. With creative drainage solutions that water might just end up being an asset rather than a liability.

Conveyance of your landscape water can be a challenge, if you have a flat site. For water to move, there has to be a slope involved. At least 2%, if we're talking about water flowing over the surface of the ground. On a flat yard, the water just sits. You either have to change the surface so you get slope or you have to create an underground slope by installing sloping drain tile. You still have to dispose of it someplace, which can be a challenge.

Perhaps you've noticed I've used the word "challenge" alot. Challenge is a wonderfully positive word to use when you really mean pain in the tukhis and that's what doing landscape drainage work in the winter is, a real . . . . challenge. But when the ground is dry, ah that's a different story! Great things can be accomplished in drainage with less cost and less destruction.

Well, like the winter rains, I have gone on and on and it's time to convey this article to a proper disposal. In short (thank God!), when the ground is wet, see whither it goes; when dry, fix whither it goes. There are many creative and sustainable solutions for drainage and I will touch on some in Part II of this soggy saga.

Keep dry.

F & P