June 26, 2012: When my daughter was young I used to play a game with her friends and her. While walking through a park or the woods I would point to a tree and holler “Trees are worth money! 10 cents!” The child that correctly identified the tree got the dime or nickel or sometimes a whole quarter. I found the financial incentive to be great for teaching tree identification and besides, it made me feel like an arboreal Alex Trebec ( “You've chosen Conifers for 10 cents . . . )

The problems with financial education incentives are that the bar is continually pushed upwards. Nickels and dimes, soon became quarters and dollars, and in the teen years it became, “That’s a cascara. I want to borrow the car tonight. That’s Holodischus, ocean spray, I want my own telephone in my bedroom!” Being unable and unwilling to meet these EDO’s (extortionary debt obligations) the Tree Bank folded in short order.

Your trees are worth money though and there is a way that their value can be assessed. It’s called tree appraisal and it’s an organized methodology to derive a specific dollar value to a tree. Most often tree appraisal comes up when there has been damage to a tree – sometimes due to another party, sometimes due to a natural disaster. For example, someone’s car careens off the road and strikes a tree in your yard. Just like if your car was struck by another car and an insurance appraiser inspects the damage and derives a settlement dollar amount, a tree appraiser can inspect your tree and determine the extent of damage and the dollar value of that damage.

Tree appraisals are conducted by registered consulting arborists and certified arborists. One size does not fit all when it comes to tree appraisal. There are different methods that are applied and that is determined by what is most appropriate for the situation. I’ve done a couple of handfuls of appraisals over the years. They have ranged from the more garden variety of “a dump truck backed over my tree”, to 3 acres of hurricane damaged landscape, to an intentional tree murder by an adjoining landowner dumping diesel fuel on the roots of a tree.

In every appraisal situation the first question the appraiser must ask is what is the most appropriate method to use. The worth of a salmon at the fighting end of a fishing rod will not be its worth served at a posh restaurant grilled with lemon juice and olive oil and delicately seasoned with herbes de provence and perhaps some of them curlicued beet and carrot strips alongside for visual impression. Appraising the worth of a tree in the forest will not be the same as appraising the worth of a 100 year old Oregon oak that is the centerpiece of a landscape.

The appraisal menu has the following entrees:

- The Diameter Method: This is the method most often used in larger trees in the urban/suburban landscape. It often results in a larger dollar value. It is often used where litigation is involved to determine a claim amount.

- The Property Value Method: This method is used to determine the loss of property value resulting from the loss of trees. In the 3 acres of hurricane damage, I mentioned above, I knew Mother Nature was not going to pay for the damages. If any kind of financial redress was forthcoming, it would be from the loss in property value that might be claimed on a tax return. This appraisal really required three different professionals. An arborist knows tree values. A real estate appraiser knows property values. A tax accountant knows when and how you can claim it on your taxes. Each needs the input of the other for a valid claim.

- The Replacement Method: This method is used for smaller trees, ones that can be realistically replaced (say 8” diameter or less). It involves an estimate of the cost to remove the damaged tree and to replace with one of a similar size. This may involve professionals other than an arborist, such as a tree grower and/or landscape contractor, folks that regularly plant trees and can give accurate, up-to-date costs.

- The Crop Method: Used where the damaged tree is part of an agricultural crop - trees in a forestland or trees in a Christmas tree plantation, for example. I live in a stand of Doug fir. If someone trespasses and cuts down one of my fir, the law says I’m entitled to 3 times its worth as a sawlog delivered to the mill, and no one cares whether I’ve hugged that tree daily for years, it’s the centerpiece of my rural landscape or I was planning to be buried beneath it. It’s a timber tree.

Once an appropriate appraisal method has been chosen, the tree appraiser goes on site and inspects the tree. For the diameter method, the tree’s “DBH” (diameter breast height – 4 ½’ above the ground) is measured. From that is calculated the square inches in the truck and that is multiplied by a dollar value per sq. inch. That’s the base worth of the tree and then the arborist will begin knocking that down based on it’s species, condition and location.

Let me create a scenario to illustrate. That hypothetical Doug fir that I mentioned above, let’s say it front and center in my suburban landscape, a key element of the landscape. A dastardly neighbor uphill of me, secretly cuts down the tree one dark night to get a better view. Forensic scientists are able to match the wood fiber of the trunk to the wood fibers inside the neighbor’s chainsaw and we have captured the culprit. Unfortunately, tree murder is not a jailable offense, and instead we take this butcher to court.

This was a large Doug fir, 36” DBH. It’s cross sectional area is 1018 square inches. At $60/sq. in. that’s $61,180!!! Holy Sequoia! But now we have to figure in other factors. First, there is the species factor.]Species factor is based on the desireability of a species for a given area. Does it grow well? Is it prone to disease and insect problems. Does it have pleasing form, flower or fruit? This is a very subjective judgement and to keep it a little more objective tree appraisers as a group through the CTLA (Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers) have published guidelines for judging these factors. Douglas fir have a species rating between 65-85%. Let’s pick the middle – 75%. Now the tree’s value becomes $61, 180 x 70% or $45,885.

The second factor is the condition factor, how healthy was this tree. This tree was healthy but it wasn’t perfect. It had a long lightening scar running down the trunk, it had some dead branches, but the trunk was sound and without signs of decay. The arborist rates it @70% of perfect. 70% of $45,885 = $32,119.

The last factor is the site location factor. It rates how prominent and important the tree was in the landscape. Was is a focal point in the front yard? Was it one of several in the backyard? Did George Washington sleep underneath it? The CTLA appraisal handbook gives a range of 80-90% for residences. This tree was prominent , but Washington didn’t sleep under it, only the owner when he was locked out one night. The arborist rates it at 80%. Now $32,119 x 805 = $25, 695. That’s still a big chunk of change for that tree.

Now it’s a matter for the court to take that appraisal information and determine a settlement amount. There is a lot of room for subjective judgement and it is the responsibility of the arborist to document the reasons why they chose the factor amounts that they did. Two different arborists may come up with two different appraisals and it can often be a matter of dueling arborists (one for the plaintiff and one for the defendant) in a court of law.

If we take the same Doug fir and transport it to my rural woodlot. The neighbor this time cuts it down wrongfully for firewood. The value of that tree delivered as logs to the sawmill is about $450. Triple that due to the Oregon timber trespass law and that neighbor will owe $1350. That’s a long ways from the 26K for the suburban landscape tree.

So you’re trees are worth money and usually more than you think. A good reason to take care of them .


May 13, 2012: On this Mother’s Day, I would like to reflect on worms. Is there anything more wholesome and American than earthworms? Mom, apple pie and earthworms! They (the worms ,that is) help churn our gardens up, create soil structure and tilth, deposit organic matter. They are the symbol of Mother Nature and her quiet powerful ways of restoring the earth and natural balance . . . or are they?

I was recently reading an article on an online seminar website for arborists (for short, concise and informative articles on trees and the business of caring for them, I highly recommend ) about earthworms. Though the article did say that earthworms had many benefits for the garden and agricultural land, they weren’t so great for trees and were particularly damaging for forestland. “Heresy!” I cried. Surely this is foreign plot to destroy our faith in these annelid angels, our soil borne buddies. Upon further research, I did indeed discover that foreigners are involved. They are our earthworms! Apart from places in the Southeast and Southwest US, all the earthworms in the northern half of the US and all of Canada are foreign, introduced from Europe or Asia over the hundreds of years of colonization, settlement, agriculture and anglers. All the earthworms that were native to most of North America were exterminated by the glaciers of the Ice Age. Ah man! Another cherished notion shattered by biological truth.

In our vegetable gardens and in agricultural lands, these foreigners are still beneficial, for the reasons I stated before. They have a remarkable capacity to take raw organic matter and convert it to readily useable nutrients in a fairly short period of time. They build soil structure where soil structure is needed – disturbed ecosystems which , no matter how beautiful or serene, your garden is. Those characteristics, however, are not ideal for forestland and by extension the trees in our gardens or streets which are still essentially forest trees placed into non-forest areas.

Here’s the rub. While in your vegetable garden, worms can create better infiltration for the soil, but in the forest it does the opposite. In the forest, it is the forest duff layer, the accumulation of leaves, branches, Forest with duffForest with duffdead chipmunks, etc., that creates a layer that builds the soil and increases infiltration and decreases erosion. It’s a slow process that takes years through the actions primarily of fungi. Worms however can take an entire season of leaves and decompose them in 1 year. Rather than a slow transition, it’s a rapid one and it results in no duff layer. The duff layer is critical to many species of flora and fauna. For many forest wildflowers, such as trillium, trout lilles and mayflowers, it’s the difference that allows them to survive or not. Forest ecosystemsForest withut duffForest withut duff are changed by the presence of earthworms. As duff disappears from the forest floor, then the seeds from larger seeded trees such as oaks are no longer able to hide from predators and disappear. The microfauna such as insects, spiders, amphibians that depend of the cover of the duff are now imperiled also.

For urban/suburban trees in the landscape, research is starting to suggest that earthworms will not cause a visible decline or death, but they do cause water stress in trees – just another stress in the already stressful life of an urban/suburban tree.

The good news is that worms don’t travel much on their own. They can spread about ½ mile/100 years. Less than a snails pace. But as with many exotics, its less about how they will naturally spread than how we will help them spread. Between compassionate anglers dumping their unused nightcrawlers by the side of their favorite forest stream to vermicomposters dumping worm compost on their newly planted trees the foreign invader is aided and abetted by us. As Pogo would say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
At least one state, Minnesota, has recognized the foreign peril and has a state statue making it illegal to dump worms in the wild. They even have their own worm homeland defense webpage, What can you do to stem the tide of these slimy invaders?

- Dispose of worm bait in the trash not the woods.

- If you must use vermicompost on trees, freeze it solid first.

If I have been unduly harsh on earthworms, it’s because I’m feeling a little betrayed, like when I found out last year that Santa Claus was really my parents. Worms are good in the vegetable garden or flower beds or the crop field – disturbed environments (or at least until new research proves otherwise), but they’re not around trees. I think what disturbs me also is that the natural world is not very simple. When you think you’ve got a handle on it, you probably haven’t. No saints or sinners in the natural world, just things doing their thing.

There’s still Mom and apple pie left. . . . but is apple pie a native or an exotic? . . . I don’t want to go there today.


April 28, 2012: It appears, by all I’ve observed, that spring has come this year to the Willamette Valley and that is, historically, been followed by summer. Our springs are capricious, to be kind, or schizophrenic, to be less kind. One day the sun comes out and it soars into the 80’s and the next four it’s raining and in the 40’s. No mild, benign transition for us. And when summer comes, as it has historically, it will be Suddenly Summer. No ambiguity, just hot and dry.

So, in this time when it appears to be spring, it’s a good idea to start up our irrigation system, get it ship-shape and ready, and perhaps reflect on the meaning of life. Let’s first start with talking about starting your irrigation system up. I’ll reveal the meaning of life later.

Your irrigation system has been winterized, as it should be. There have been winters that really haven’t necessitated winterization. Our ground only freezes a couple of inches deep at best and a well installed irrigation system is at least 12” deep everywhere, but not all irrigation systems are well installed. To not winterize a system is to bait the gods and that’s seldom a wise strategy. In winterization, the water flow to your irrigation system has been shut off at a main irrigation shutoff valve or at your irrigation backflow. The irrigation lines are probably also drained through the use of manual drain valves located at low points in the irrigation system or have been blown out by the use of compressed air.

The spring startup is turning the water back on, pressurizing the lines, and seeing if everything works. Sounds pretty simple and is . . . . if done properly. So here are some steps to reviving your irrigation again.

1)Before you turn the water on, first locate your drain valves and shut them. They’re typically located in 6” diameter round plastic boxes with green lids. Sometimes they can be located in the boxes that your irrigation valves are in, just upstream of the valves.

2)Now to turn on the water – sssllloooowwwllllyyyy crack open the main shutoff valve or turn one of the ball valves on your backflow. Fully and quickly opening a valve sends a wall of pressurized water racing down pipes that can blow them apart or at least weaken the joints for later failure. As you crack open the valve, you’ll hear the whine of water as it squeezes through the small opening you’ve made. It’s screaming to be let go and bring life to your landscape , but you must be strong! Do not let it fully escape! Go in the house and have a cup of coffee, watch a game, or read Wordsworth, anything that will occupy 15-20 minutes. If you come out and it’s no longer screaming for freedom, then the water has filled the pipes and is satisfied and you may and must fully open the valve. Partially open valves will cause a lack of pressure in your sprinkler system.

3)If you have drip irrigation in your irrigation system, your next step is to find the drip irrigation valve box(s). These will be rectangular boxes (~11 x 17”) and they house the electric valve, a pressure regulator and a drip filter. It’s the drip filter we’re looking for and it resembles an inverted extra large wafer ice cream cone (not the pointy sugar cones but the flat bottomed wafer kind except the bottom isn’t flat, it’s rounded and . . would you excuse me for a minute?) . . . . Thank you for your patience. I had sudden irresistible craving. That drip filter cover will unscrew from its base and underneath will be a round mesh screen. Take this out and wash the slimy green algae, sediment or whatever off the screen with a garden hose and reinstall.

Now check the ends of your drip laterals, the black or brown pipe that delivers the water to your drip emitters. These lines, in normal operation, are usually closed with a screwable cap or a plastic figure eight end closure. You want to make sure the ends of the lines are open so that water may pour through them and flush the system out when the drip valve first comes on. Drip systems depend on water without sediment in it that can clog the tiny orifices of emitters. Flushing out sediment through the lateral pipes is an excellent way to keep your drip functioning properly.

4) Now you’re ready to test the valves. Go to your irrigation controller and manually, from the controller, turn each zone on in sequence. There’s usually a manual advance button on the controller but there’s a lot of different irrigation controllers out there. You may need to find the manual to figure out how to turn on your valves. As you fire off each zone, go out and observe it in action. Are all the heads popping up? Are they spraying exactly where they should be and not overspraying? Do you see water gurgling out of the ground? Now’s the time to note any problems, by zone, you see and also to mark them (I use cute little multi-colored irrigation flags to mark trouble spots, but any kind of stake will do).

5) Close back up the ends of the drip laterals.

6) If there no problems, then life is good. Enjoy your spring. If not, then it’s time for repair and that’s another article.

And now the meaning of life. I, uh . . . well . . . I uh have no idea what the meaning of life is. I led you on. I knew, no I thought, that you’d never read an article so banal as just how to turn on your irrigation system. In that thought I did you, gentle reader, a disservice and for that I am sorry.

If, however, you know the meaning of life, please let me know. For this fall I must write of irrigation winterization and that will command either a greater truth or a larger lie to get folks to read that.


March 21, 2012: Did you know you could predict when to plant your vegetable garden just by feeling the bumps in your skull? Through phrenology . . . wait a minute, wait a minute . . . ah, my spelling is off. It’s phenology and it is the observation of nature’s timing, rather than calendar timing, to determine the best time for planting. For our agrarian ancestors, it was the only way you timed planting and resulted in many pithy aphorisms that were remarkably accurate.

“Plant peas when peepers peep” (When the spring peeper emerged from hibernation, the soil was probably warm enough to plant)

“When the lilacs leaf out, plant lettuce, peas, and other cool season crops”

“Plant potatoes when the dandelions bloom”

“Prune your roses when the crocus bloom”

“Plant seeds when you can pull your trousers down and sit on bare ground” (Though the intent of this, I’m sure, is to judge soil temperature by contrast with skin temperature and not to promote garden flashing. I would recommend that one times this with the phases of the moon and only do it at night when there is no moon)

The calendar is an artificial timeline. It makes no comparison between weather and plant habits. Everyone has a calendar though and everyone can read it, so it makes a handy, though inaccurate, reference for when to do things in the garden. The other problem with a calendar is that is ignores microclimates.

I live in a small valley nestled in the foothills of the Coast Range. I affectionately call it “Little Siberia”. I’m at least 3-4 weeks behind Portland (a mere 30 miles away) in weather and have had frosts as late as the first week of June. Planting recommendations for the Willamette Valley just don’t work for me, so when it comes to my vegetable garden, I guess. Sometimes I’m close and sometimes I’m not. You can get pretty good at guessing and eventually become accurate, if what you’re guessing about is relatively consistent and predictable. But weather, as shown by our local weather stations, is not very predictable.

Phenology is particularly important these days as long range weather patterns are changing due to climate change. If you happen to be a climate change doubter, then I suggest trying phrenology, the science of examining your skull for bumps and holes in it to determine your personality traits. It doesn’t help with when to plant your vegetable garden, but will tell you if you’re more likely to pull your trousers down and sit on bare ground.

For climate change believers, climate change forecasters are predicting a warmer, drier future for Oregon. Average temperatures are expected to rise 3-7 degrees F. by century end. I would welcome a little more warmth here in Little Siberia, but I realize that for every quick convenience Nature may supply there are big consequences elsewhere. How this will affect plants and the animal and human communities that depend on them we don’t know, but recording what is occurring in nature and when will help us understand it as we enter into it. And you and I can be part of it.

I have discovered a wonderful website called Project Budburst, . This is, according to their website:

“a national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants (plant phenophases). Project BudBurst participants make careful observations of these plant phenophases. The data are being collected in a consistent manner across the country so that scientists can use the data to learn more about the responsiveness of individual plant species to changes in climate locally, regionally, and nationally. Thousands of people from all 50 states have participated. Project BudBurst began in 2007 in response to requests from people like you who wanted to make a meaningful contribution to understanding changes in our environment.”

I’ve signed up! I’m reporting on Doug fir, bigleaf maple and Oregon grape. Now, when I go out to the shop to load up trucks in the morning, instead of noticing that a gutter needs fixing or I’ve got to get on the roof and spread de-mosser, I can notice whether the bigleaf maple buds have swollen or Oregon grape is flowering. Though my buildings may fall down around my ears in the future, I’m sure I’ll be more relaxed and in tune with my surroundings, and when the day comes that okra can be grown in my valley, I’ll be the first to know when.



March 18, 2012: Of the not-so-boring botanists, none is less boring or more not so boring, in my humble opinion, than the Scottish plant explorer, George Forrest. Called the Indiana Jones of Scotland, he out-Indiana-ed the movie character, and besides what kind of name is “Indiana”? I mean just how exciting and adventuresome is the Hoosier state, really?

George Forrest was born in Scotland in 1873. He was one of a handful of plant hunters that participated in the golden age of the professional plant hunter.

There are thousands of species of plants to be found in gardens across North America and Europe that came from China. Southwest China has a climate not so dissimilar to the UK and temperate North America (and in particular the Pacific Northwest). Until 1860, China was closed to foreigners . As the interior of China began opening up to western missionaries and diplomats , they began discovering and shipping home plants unknown to western gardens. Long before there were Chinese electronics or running shoes in our homes, there were Chinese plants in our gardens. There’s an excellent chance that there’s a rhododendron, azalea or primula in your garden right now that’s Chinese in origin. There are over 900 species of rhododendrons that originate in the Far East, as opposed to 4 from Europe and 27 from North America.

From 1860 to around 1890, most of the plant collection and introductions were done by amateurs – missionaries, diplomats, doctors , and the like. In the 1890’s, a professional breed of plant collector, the commercial plant hunter, arrived in China. These were botanists in the paid employ of arboreta, commercial nurseries, and wealthy patrons and were sent into the remotest areas of the Far East to discover and return with new plants. The wildest, remotest and most dangerous of these areas was southwestern China, where it borders Tibet , Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam – the province of Yunnan.

After spending 10 years as a miner in the Australian gold rush, George Forrest was employed by a wealthy English cotton merchant to lead a plant hunting expedition to the wilderness border of Yunnan and Tibet. In 1904, he arrived at the town of Talifu in Yunnan and spent the next 6 months organizing the expedition and learning the language and customs of the native people. He had a genuine respect of the people of the region, going so far as inoculating thousands of people out of his own pocket when a smallpox epidemic broke out.

The next year, Forrest lead his expedition further into the mountains near the Tibet border. I can tell you from personal experience (of watching a YouTube), these mountains aren’t for creampuffs. Narrow, deep gorges; steep, thickety mountain slopes and extremes in weather that range from permanent ice fields to tropical monsoons that make trekking through this region an arduous task. It also makes this area one of the greatest centers of plant diversity on the planet. Of the 30,000 species of higher plants found throughout China, 17,000 exist in Yunnan of which 2500 are endemic to the province. For a commercial plant hunter , that makes a gold mine.

Gold has its hazards in mining and plant gold, in this instance, had an army of bloodthirsty Tibetan warrior priests intent on gouging out George’s eyes and every other foreigner at the moment. In the year before Forrest started his expedition, the British in India invaded Tibet. Tibet (then a nominal Chinese protectorate) had refused to trade with Great Britain and wanted to be left alone. No one should be allowed to be left alone and the obvious solution to the British was to invade the country and kill a whole bunch of people, which they did and it worked. Tibet was brought to its knees and signed an exclusive trade agreement. Later, the British realized that Tibet really didn’t have a lot of stuff that the British were interested in trading for, but that’s not the point, it’s the principle.

As a landscape contractor, winter sales are usually slow. I thought, though only briefly mind you, what if I used the British approach to trade in my business? Maybe I could show up outside a prospective client’s house with a field howitzer. “Give me the contract to your landscape work, or I’ll blow it and your family up!’ That might just be the solution to the winter doldrums most landscape businesses have, but on further cogitation I concluded it might not be the best sales ploy. Bad for word of mouth and Angies List referrals. Might work for big countries, but probably not for small businesses. . . . . Let me just take this opportunity to assure to my past, current and future customers that I pledge never to show up at your home with a howitzer and would further recommend to you that you never hire any other landscape contractor that does. . . . but I digress.

So, unbeknownst to Forrest, he has now entered an area filled with bent-out-of-shape Buddhists and as stories begin streaming in of atrocities and massacres of foreigners and Chinese Christian converts , it becomes clear it’s much too hot for picking primulas. It’s time to get out. Forrest, along with 2 French Jesuit priests, and a group of Chinese (about 80 in number) make a break to far off Talifu. . . but it is too late. The escape path is blocked and a horde of screaming, painted Tibetan lamas descend on the party. Only 2 escape, one of which is George Forrest. The 2 French priests were captured and tortured for 4 days before dying.

Forrest spends the next three weeks evading the rampaging rinpoches and their ferocious Tibetan mastiffs Travelling alone and living off of whatever he could forage, he traversed snow cap mountains and ice fields, through near impenetrable rhododendron thickets, up and down and up and down and sometimes backtracking when he ran into a patrol. He eventually made it to a native village where the local chieftain took pity on him and disguised him as a Tibetan. In this disguise, he eventually reached the safety of the Chinese town of Talifu.

Having an army of crazed zealots wanting to dismember you out of anger, or perhaps to encourage trade, would cause the average person to give up on plant hunting and turn to say, bargain hunting on Craigslist instead, but not George Forrest. It seems he spent no more time in Talifu recuperating from his ordeals than it takes to have a couple of stiff drinks and some Chinese haggis and then he set out on another plant hunting expedition the other way towards Burma. This time he went with an Englishman, George Litton. Their two months of slogging through insect ridden jungles resulted in Litton contracting malaria and dying on return. But the plant hunting season wasn’t done and there was no time for moping or mourning for Forrest. He set out again on another hunting expedition. This time back towards Tibet! Maybe those lethal lamas had gotten it all out of their systems by then. Other than catching malaria on the trip, no further drama occurred.

George Forrest returned to China for 6 more expeditions. He discovered 1200 new plants to science. Those included new rhododendron, azalea, primrose, hemerocallis (daylily), iris, camellia, buddleia, berberis, aster, deutzia, allium, acer (maple) and conifer species that are found in our gardens today.

It seems George was more into doing than he was into talking. He wrote very little narrative about his exploits. He claimed he would do that in his retirement. Between his last expedition and starting his own retirement web blog, Forrest dropped dead of a massive heart attack while hunting in the Chinese bush in 1932.

For those of us in the green trade with timid and unexciting lives, George Forrest’s exploits are an inspiration to live near the edge. Most of my plant hunting expeditions are to my local nurseries. But . . sometimes when strolling through the rhododendron section . . . . .I can feel eyes watching me. Is that a Tibetan headdress poking out the top of that Rhododendron giganteum? Good God! Does that sales associate approaching me have a Tibetan war axe in their hand? Quick! I’ll hide under these Primula malacoides on the bargain bench. I will survive this nursery visit! I will get out alive!

F & P