Month: July 2014

The Case of the Distressed Ranch Trees (or How to Buy A Tree)

29 July 2014 Idea of the day “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

A friend of mine recently asked me about planting a new tree.  More about that in the next blog.  But it made me realize she first needed to know something about the prior step, how to buy a good tree.   I suddenly realized she and a lot of others should know about what I had found out about buying good trees from a ranch job I had been called about.

As some of you may be aware from a previous story of mine about the palm disease TPPD, I have a customer who owns the largest ranch in a county in mid-Florida.  He was very successful in the business of selling copiers, sold the company and has a beautiful Spanish-looking home overlooking his hacienda which he shares with his wife and visiting kids and grandchildren.  It’s beautiful.

They both love trees and so about three years ago decided to plant a colorful variety of species all around the house grounds, both flowering and usual varieties.  For flowering types they planted magnolias, redbuds, crape myrtles and tabebuia (pink and yellow trumpet trees) as well as a purple glory tree.   The area around the coral-orange-stucco Spanish ranch home is especially beautiful when the flowering trees dotting the yard bloom in rotation all spring long and into the summer.   Usual native trees like rich dark green American holly, weeping yaupon holly, winged elms and live oaks line the three foot brick circumference wall. The entire design was planned to be a large, beautiful tree-filled display all around the house in 360 degrees for  the next twenty years at least.

Except for one thing.  Tom the owner called me up one day.

“Bob, I don’t like the look of my house trees.  It’s their third year after planting and they look less healthy and vigorous this year than they did last year.  Could you come out and take a look at them?”

“Of course,” I said. I knew what he really meant by that was ‘I’m counting on you to come out here and use your detective arborist skills to figure out what the heck is wrong with my trees and fix them!’   I made an appointment right then to see him my first free day which was a Thursday.

Tom lives one and a half hours outside of the city out in Florida citrus country.  In fact, although he houses horses and a donkey and the ranch includes rolling hills, a pond and wide open alfalfa fields, the largest part of the estate is made up of acres and acres of orange groves, the main business of the ranch and one he thoroughly enjoys.  I took the back gravel road to his rear gate where the alfalfa hay customers come in, passed the barns, drove up to the paver driveway at the top of the hill where the elegant house stood, parked and rang the bell at the big iron gates.  Through the black wrought iron I could glimpse the luxurious semi-tropical gardens under a large screen enclosure surrounding a natural looking pool.  It was paradise.

Soon I saw Tom heading to open the gate and come outside to join me.
“Morning Bob,” he said with his usual gentle smile.  “Did you have a smooth trip up?”
“Had to fight going through some of the city morning rush hour traffic but I found some ways around it. It was great to get out to the open road.”
“Yep, that’s why I live out here,” he said smiling coyly. Then his attention shifted outward.  “Let me show you what I’m talking about with these trees.”

He had a good eye.  The trees weren’t dead.  But the magnolia foliage was not as full as you would expect.  Fewer leaves than usual. Some leaned a little. The oaks hadn’t grown as much as you’d expect in three years and some seemed to be listing.  The hollies were ok, but they were smaller.  The almost four-year-old flowering trees looked like they were still two years old – they just weren’t growing up as fast as you’d expect, some tilted and others looked a little lifeless.

“I’m most concerned about the magnolias.  I wonder if I goofed putting them in the lower part of the driveway.  They seem to be sagging the most.”

I had to agree with him.  They had been planted in one of the lowest spots around the yard and were clearly in moist soil after a rain.  Florida sandy soil generally drains well.  But maybe the soil here had more clay in it, which tends to hold water.   We would have to check it out.

I examined the planting of all the trees.  Ninety percent of the time, people plant trees too deeply and these were no exceptions.  The top roots need to be exposed to the oxygen in the air.   They need oxygen to digest the carbohydrates sent down from the photosynthesis factories in the leaves.

Who planted the trees?” I asked.

“The landscaping company that sold them to me.”

“Hmmm,” I mused.

“What’s that mean?” he asked a little anxiously.

“When trees get planted too deeply like these did, water typically flows down into the roots, they get too moist and can develop fungi.  In a worst case scenario, the roots then start to rot.”

Tom protested.
“But they are a landscaping company.  Don’t they know how to plant trees?”

“You’d be surprised.  Were they from the city or local.”

“Local.  I don’t even know if they’re still in business.  Why?”  he asked.

“Small country companies can be less knowledgeable about technical details than a company that has to routinely meet large city client standards.

But here’s what I see.  Our last two years have been normal precipitation years, no drought and no floods particularly, and I wouldn’t expect excessively wet soil on top of a hill like here where the house is.  Structurally the trees look fine  above ground which means they were probably Florida Grade #1, but this is a designation which only rates their above ground quality. I don’t see any signs of insects or leaf fungus.  You have nice mulch beds around all the trees so they’ve been protected against mower and weed wacker damage and are less likely to be sprayed by a harmful pesticide for weeds.    In addition the mulch helps keep competing weeds and grasses down, so I don’t suspect nutrient competition from those in your case.

“Besides,” he added “I’ve had all the trees fertilized once a year.”

“Yep, that should be more than satisfactory for young trees,” I assured him. I didn’t really see any signs of the obvious damage one would see from pesticides,  but I had to check all possibilities. “Do your lawn people use spray or liquid pesticides?”

“No, I’ve told them to stay away from the house with pesticides and herbicides.  I have them pull weeds.”

“Good for you,” I said nodding. “Well  we have a bit of a mystery at this point.  But here’s what we need to do.  I want to check out the soil, see if a foot down it’s full of clay and water and what the roots look like.  I’m going to have one of my men come up in a few days with an air spade.”

“What’s that?” he inquired.

“It’s a wand driven by an air compressor that “digs” up the dirt around a tree with air pressure without hurting the roots.  It will let us see if it’s all wet a foot down or what.  We’ll see whether the soil is sandy, which would mean good drainage, or  intermediate loamy which would be all right, or full of clay and holding water. And we’ll get to see if we have rotten roots.”

“Ok, let’s do it,” he said.  I wrote up the Work Order estimate, he signed it and we made plans for the air spade work the following Monday.

That Monday afternoon I was in my office when I got a call from the air spade guy.  Of course I was  curious.
“Well, is it soaking wet clay and water down there with rotting roots?”

“Nope,” he said.  “Pretty sandy soil. Pretty dry. The roots aren’t rotting. But you wouldn’t believe what I’m finding with the roots.”

“What?” I asked pointedly.

“It’s hard to describe.  I’m just going to send you some photos by my cell phone,” he said.

“Can you do it right away?”  I urged.

“Sure. I’ve air spaded about fifteen trees.  They all have the same look.  You’ll be amazed.”

Tapping my fingers on my desk, I waited until the photos finally arrived. One, two, three popped up.  Every one was from a viewpoint above the roots looking down.  Every one showed twisted, girdled roots wrapped around and choking each other. Instead of a nice open star-shaped spreading root pattern like you would see in nature, the roots looked like a mass of knotted rope!

I called Tom right away.

“I just got the photo results from the air spading.  I found your problem. I’ll come up tomorrow to show you and explain it all.  It’s tougher without a tree in front of us.”

“Sure, I’ll see you tomorrow morning!”

*          *           *
I arrived the next morning and Tom was already out in the yard.
“I’ve been looking at the excavating that your man did. But I don’t quite see the problem,” he said.

I took him over to one of the magnolias he was most concerned about.

“See those convoluted, twisted roots?” I asked.

“Yeah, isn’t that normal?”

“It might be “normal” when you buy trees from the nursery the landscapers use.  But it’s not normal or natural in nature,” I told him.  “Tree roots not only need unrestricted flow to transfer water and nutrients but they need to spread out like a star to create good support for the tree.  You see all those trees that are leaning?  That’s because they don’t have adequate root support.  The ball of roots is rocking in the soil.  And these trees aren’t getting the nutrients and water they need because the girdling, twisted roots are acting like tourniquets and cutting off their ability to flow!”

“But how did they get like this?” Tom asked intently.

“I did some study last night.  Five years ago, to answer that kind of question that was coming as a complaint more often, the University of Florida started research of nursery practices.  They found that nurseries are creating poor root structure in their new trees.   Most critically they are damaging roots by keeping them in closed pots too long.  The roots hit the side of the pot, start circling or girdling the other roots and get all twisted up. The nursery finally switches to a larger pot.  They grow again and six months or a year later the roots hit the sides of this new closed pot and the same girdling occurs further out.  This can happen three or four times before the tree ends up in the pot that it gets sold in. With all the soil around it, you can’t see what the roots are like inside the root ball, even if you take it out of the pot.

Unfortunately today 95% of nurseries do nothing special to ensure natural star-shaped root growth and so have this problem unless they are sold fast.  If you buy from a usual nursery, you have about a 50/50 chance of getting a tree with bad root structure that will leave you with a wilting tree in three years.  You can shave (and should) the worst of the circling roots on the outside of the ball to somewhat improve the structure but apparently your landscaper didn’t even do that.  But this recommended practice doesn’t do anything to change the previous girdled roots at the previous smaller pot sizes.  So when you plant the tree, it might look fine for the first two years as the tree uses the nutrients in the root ball and before the roots are too big to start choking each other.  It’s common to see this type of problem about the third year, just as you are seeing now.”

“You mean I paid about $100,000 to buy these trees and have them all planted and you’re telling me they were defective from the start and not even planted right – too deep and not root-shaved?!” Tom asked astonished.

“I’m afraid so,” I said morosely.  “I guess you could sue the landscaper.  But they’ll say it was the nursery’s fault, that they didn’t know they were being sold trees with defectivce root systems. The nursery will say they just do what everybody else does. Sadly they’re almost right.

Because of problems like this, in the last few years a handful of tree farms who have followed the research science closely are doing what you have to do to develop great root systems in tree nurseries.

The procedures required include  (1) introducing special root fungi at initial seed start up to maximize the roots’ ability to absorb water and nutrients, (2) using special containers called “air pots” with lattice spaces throughout so the roots don’t hit walls and girdle but instead self-prune when they go through a hole and hit the air which encourages root branching back to the stem (3) shaving outer roots at every pot size transfer and (4) taking the soil off the top lateral roots to expose the top support roots to the oxygen they need  instead of getting smothered.

The bottom line, Tom, is unless you buy your trees from one of these ACT or RPG associated farms that is known to really follow all the above procedures, you run a high chance of buying a tree that may look pretty and structurally sound above the ground to earn even a Florida Grade #1 designation, but whose root system is headed for failure about the third year after planting.  I wish we had known you then. But truthfully, this science was barely known back then, so even if we had known you we may not have been able to prevent this.”

Tom stared into space digesting this costly shock.  Fortunately he could probably absorb it financially – but it was still a huge loss.  And how much more was it going to take to fix the bad trees?

“So do I need to remove all these trees?” he asked.

“I talked your situation over with a few colleagues last night and here is what we concluded.  First of all, not every one of the new trees has a bad root system, even if a majority do.  Secondly, we will prune the worst of the choking roots now when we have them exposed which will give them a little better chance. Third, let us apply liquid organic compost and liquid minerals to help their vigor. Fourth, we’re going to air-spade remove the smothering “volcanic mulching” they shoved against the trunks keeping the roots from getting oxygen.   But the cost to replace the trees is so expensive that we’d recommend you just watch them closely and only replace the ones that get very distressed or start to lean too weakly.  The strongest ones might just find a way to recover.”

“I guess that’s what I’ll do.  Sounds the most reasonable.  Well thanks for all your detective work,” Tom said shaking my hand and simultaneously still shaking his head in disbelief.  What a lesson.

I hope you, the tree-buying public, can use this knowledge to improve your chances of getting not only a structurally Grade #1 tree above-ground but also an excellent root system below-ground so your tree will survive strong and vigorously for years. Find out from an experience, informed organic arborist who knows who the best root farms are in your area where to buy your trees from – or take your chances.  If you can’t find such a farm nearby, your next best option is to study online what a good root system looks like and then knock off some dirt from the root ball of a tree you want to buy to see what the root structure looks like.




Reuters misunderstands death of George Harrison pine tree in Griffith Park

22 July 2014  Idea of the day “True self-discovery begins where your comfort zone ends.” Adam Braun, author of The Promise of a Pencil

Reuters newswire just reported that a pine tree planted in 2001 in Griffith Park in Los Angeles to commemorate the passing of the Beatle George Harrison was killed by pine bark beetles.  Kinda ironic beetles would get a Beatle tree, eh?

Except they got it wrong, like many people do who assume that beetles are often the nasty critters that kill trees. But these insects are usually being maligned!

Occasionally there is the rare case of a beetle, for example the exotic red bay ambrosia beetle imported from China which has “killed” red bay trees from Savannah, Georgia, (where it first entered the country via pallets at the port used for shipping) all the way down to Miami-Dade County.  Here is one of the last living red bays in the Tampa Bay area I saw on a bicycle ride this morning still living but being attacked by the red bay ambrosia beetle.  I’m going to miss the red bays.  When you crack its leaves you get a wonderful spicy, pungent aroma used in exotic food recipes known as “bay spice”.
One of the last red bays in Tampa Bay still alive but being attacked by ambrosia beetle  2nd red bay mostly dead from laurel wilt
A first cousin to the red bay tree, the avocado tree, is also attacked by this bug – although the beetle prefers red bays –   and the entire avocado industry in southern Florida is currently in worried battle against it, very concerned that the Florida avocado industry could go extinct because of the invader.  After oranges, avocados are the second biggest fruit industry in Florida.

In this case it is a fungus that actually kills the tree, not the beetle.  But the ambrosia beetle brings the laurel wilt fungus with it, is attracted to the red bay, swamp pay, sassafras and avocado trees (all members of the Laurel tree family), bores into and injects the fungi into the trees which clog up its veins and vessels (xylem and phloem), making it impossible for the tree to uptake enough water and minerals and killing them within five to eleven weeks.

But in this case, the pine bark beetles were just doing their job – cleaning up decayed wood in the environment.  It’s a similar function to vultures cleaning up decaying carrion in the environment.  Vultures didn’t cause the death of the animals, they’re just the garbage crew.

The actual cause of the death of the George Harrison pine tree was the drought that California has been going through for years.  Once the 12 ft. young tree succumbed to the lack of water, the pine bark beetles could smell it was dead and came in to clean up.  Another tree is planned to be planted for Harrison in the same spot.

So don’t be so ready to blame tree death on Beatles . . . errr I mean . . . beetles!

To GMO or not to GMO

21 July 2014  Idea of the day “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”  George Bernard Shaw

Today’s blog is only about trees from a related issue. But I’m hearing more and more concern about GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) in articles and talk so I thought a quick note was worthwhile to add a little sanity to the discussion.

The related issue is the extensive use of Roundup weed killer we have seen kill trees.  It is also the most popular weed killer used by agricultural concerns primarily on GMO sugar beets, feed corn, soy and wheat crops.  Papaya is another high use crop.   Roundup residue and its after-compounds are showing up in these main foods of the Western diet because these GMO crops are “protected” from pests by the Roundup but supposedly not affected by it.

The controversy rages among the contending sides from fanatical GMO protesters to just as fanatical agricultural business defenders.  In November 2013 54% of Washington state residents believed the business interests’ claims that food would go way up in price if GMO labeling was required and thus the voters turned down an initiative to require labelling of GMO foods.

The true facts at this stage are somewhere in the middle.

1) You can always find a study that fits your pre-conceived idea.  But it is still debatable that GMO’s in themselves are harmful.  In fact they seem to be solving some real problems in creative ways. Others say there is no actual increase in productivity because the GMO crops require so much more expense in energy, fertilizers, water and pesticides and their cultivation has horrible side effects.  Search out the stories yourself.

2) The real problem seems to be first with the Roundup and other similar glyphosate compounds which the chemical companies claim are the “ideal safe pesticide” that won’t hurt the GMO plant because of a gene added to resist the glyphosate.   Recent studies are proving otherwise.   See   Roundup inhibits necessary key enzymes in our bodies which detoxify foreign chemicals the body ingests.  The resulting vulnerability has been linked to subsequent occurences of obesity, autism, Parkinson’s, heart disease, depression, infertility and cancer.   For example, prior to Roundup the rate of autism in the general population was 1 in 10,000 in 1970.  Today it is 1 in 68.  Specifically, the graph of the increase in the use of Roundup exactly corresponds to the increase in autism.   There is a large study being done on Roundup that is due to be completed and results announced  in 2015.  Additionally, while it is still the herbicide of choice for many  farmers, overuse is now creating superweeds increasingly resistant to it.   A better solution clearly needs to be found.

3) The successful organic bacterium strains of Bt have been successfully used to  get crops to ward off insects themselves.  But the introduction of GMO’s has made some of the Bt strains now become toxic because of the  genetic changes.

4) Another real concern about the introduction of GMO’s has been the large  food companies using their patented GMO seeds to take over the food supply and not allow farmers to save their seed for the next season.  This makes them less able to survive financially as the big corporate giants get bigger.   This problem is made worse by the fact that even if you don’t use the GMO seed, their genetic material drifts in the wind, “infects” other crop lands and suddenly they claim you are legally required to buy your seed from the large patent-holding corporations.  This has put farmers in developing countries like Mexico and India out of business.  Additionally once a farmer commits to GMO’s, the special herbicides are required so that chemical companies like Monsanto, Dow and Bayer benefit hugely.

5) Europe has for a long time refused to allow GMO’s.  This was not because of any overreaching wisdom of the European governments or its people, but turns out to have been more the result of an agricultural trade war with the United States ever since World War II.  Europe understandably didn’t want the big US companies controlling its food supply.   But now the original US companies’ GMO patents are starting to expire. European scientists and their large companies are starting to develop a European GMO system of their own so they can control their food supply and make a lot of money themselves.

There is some evidence that GMO’s might be raising crop yields.  But at what expense remains a serious question as indicated above.  Ultimately the best solution will benefit the largest portion of the global environment – crop yields, ecological health, waterways, animal life and human populations – not just special interests like a few large food and chemical corporations.

A Big Laurel Oak in Strange Trouble

14 July 2014  Idea of the day “The way to crush the bourgeoisie middle-class is to grind them between the millstones of taxation and inflation.”   Vladimir Lenin

On various early mornings and summer evenings I ride my bicycle on a nice ride of a few miles to a local park, around the lake a few times and back.  It’s always interesting to me to watch the trees change with the seasons.  There is almost always a tree I hadn’t noticed before, or hadn’t immediately recognized, that then from that point on becomes a friend.

Such were the two young twin trees, sitting along the bank of the lake, occasionally covered by high water.  They had been barren all winter and spring and were hard to identify without foliage.  I wondered if they were dead.  But sure enough in late spring they started sprouting green.  Without the leaves I really didn’t know what they were.  After close examination each week, and finally seeing the little helicopter-blade seed pods called samaras (similar to those on maples but smaller) appearing on the branches, I realized they were young white ash.  Now I watch my new friends like a hawk for changes.  Indeed they are late bloomers, even here in a semi-tropical climate.

But it was on a ride back after the sun had set one recent summer evening that even in the dusk I realized a large oak I passed (one that I had taken for granted for years) had something weird going on with it. It didn’t feel healthy, even in the dark.  There were spider webs in big balls on some branch tips.  I made a mental note to check it out in the daylight.

A few days later I went by and sure enough it was looking very distressed with maybe 80% of its leaves brown.  It was a large laurel oak, about 45 inches in diameter.  I have observed in Central Florida that the diameter in inches measured at breast height often was a pretty good indicator of the number of years old the laurel oaks were.   This species in this climate grows about an inch a year – unless it or the grass around it has been fertilized extensively over the years which causes it to grow extra fast.  In those cases you have to take from 10% to 30% off your age guess.

But this neighborhood had homes built around the late 1960’s and early 1970’s so 45 years wasn’t a bad estimate at all.  And in an urban environment laurel oaks only live to be about 45 – 55 years old.  Then they typically start losing their leaves at the tips.  I call it “tree balding”, just like our heads lose their hair.  A little later limbs start dying, especially if they’ve been over pruned or otherwise injured. Then the limbs start falling and all of a sudden the homeowner is aware of the tree’s decline because larger limbs start falling on the roof or vehicles below. (In contrast, the laurel oak’s cousin, the Southern live oak, can live to be 300 years old!)
Here is a photo of what I saw.
Dying oak tree

I decided to knock on the door and talk to the residents to find out if they had any clues as to whether this tree which had been green a month ago had had any shocks that  might have caused it to suddenly have 80% of its leaves brown with spider web balls in some of the branches.

A young woman  answered the door with a pleasant smile.   I introduced myself as an arborist that rides his bicycle past the home regularly and had noticed the tree suddenly looking in bad condition.  It turned out they were an Albanian family and the father, Mark, the owner of the home, spoke broken English but  understood me well.  His daughter Alba and her husband John spoke excellent English.

“Yes!  We’re worried about our tree!” Alba exclaimed.  “It’s just suddenly gone downhill and we’re so sad. It shades the house and is our only large tree on the property and we don’t want to lose it.  What could it be?!”

“I’m curious too,” I told her.  “Do you mind if I examine it a bit?” I asked.

“No, please go ahead!” she responded immediately.   John pointed to another laurel oak across the street.

“That one looks strong.   Why is it so healthy and this one’s not?”

I smiled and tapped him on his muscular chest.

“Same reason you look so strong and healthy.  You’re young just like that tree.   Your tree here is like your grandfather!”  He smiled in understanding.

I looked up.  My first suspicion was a lightening strike.  Lightning damage can quickly send a tree into decline if the tree already has other weaknesses.  This was the summer lightning season and the Tampa Bay area is one of the most active lightning areas in the United States.  (Nonetheless, I had recently seen an article interviewing the president of the National Lightning Safety Council Richard Kithil denying like many locals claim that Tampa is the lightning capital of the country.  He said strikes actually vary each year from city to city. Other hotbeds include Houston, the arc from North Carolina to New Orleans, New England, the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains.  There really is no single way to quantify it  precisely.  Strikes? Strokes? Storm days? Deaths?  Intensity?   How do you measure? The number of days of thunderstorms DOES put the Tampa Bay area at the top but that doesn’t necessarily mean the most lightning.  But the area of the most ground flash density each year is usually in the Southwest area of Florida between Orlando, Tampa and Fort Myers.)

I continued looking far up into the 60 ft. high grand old laurel oak.  I walked round and round it with my neck craned upwards and my eyes searching.  Not only could I not find any typical wound anywhere in the upper or lower canopy, but there was absolutely no sign of the classic tell tale exit wound near the base of the tree where lightning almost always goes to ground.

“I don’t think it’s a lightning strike that caused this.  I don’t see any physical wound whatsoever.”

“Well what else could it be?” John wondered.

Especially with my recent case of finding oak leaves going brown like this being caused by the over-used weed killing chemical Metsulfuron Methyl, I asked them if they or any yard man had been spraying weed killers around the lawn or tree.

“No, no,” Mark the father said. “We don’t like to use chemicals on the plants or the grass.”  The other two nodded in agreement.

“Well good for you.”   I looked again at the overall age of the tree and then did a close examination of the roots at the base and I found it.

“Look at this,” I said pointing at roots on the far side of the tree.  There in front of us were three roots which were split, decayed and rotten.   I squatted down next to them and pulled a bit of the upper decayed wood away, uncovering a moving, squirming mass of brown and white gooey figures inside the root.

“EEEK! YUCK!” Alba shrieked.  Under the dead wood I had pulled away were at least two varieties of scavenger insects, including termites swarming in the wood like worms.

“They’re just doing their job of cleaning up the dead wood in the environment,” I said.  “You know who killed this tree?”

“Who? Who?” they all asked together ready to chase down and berate the perpetrator.

I smiled.

“Well . . .  you did,” I stated matter-of-factly.

“What, what?” Alba said a little thrown off. “We would never kill this tree. We love it!”  John nodded while frowning, as did Mark.

” Yes, I’m sure you have loved the tree.  But here’s how it happened.  There is almost never one thing that kills a tree.  Strong trees will even resist lightning strikes.  It takes an accumulation of several stressors, similar to the way a person’s health deteriorates from eating the wrong foods, not doing work they like, not exercising, having money worries, fighting with a relative, not getting enough sleep.  Then suddenly a bug comes around and they’re sick.

First, the tree was getting older with less energy reserves to fight back stressors.  Secondly, see how you let the grass grow right up to the trunk base with no mulch bed around it to protect it from lawn mowers and weed wackers?  Thirdly when you let grass grow that close around a tree, it competes with the tree for nutrients in the soil.  The grass robs the tree of some of its water, minerals and organic compost left by leaves, worms and insects so the tree’s energy reserves and immune system isn’t as strong as it could be.”

I pointed back at the decaying, split roots.

“So when you were mowing the grass, you didn’t see the roots or bother to avoid them.   See where this root was hit here, this root was cut here and they let in fungi and decay.  There’s even a newly sliced root here from the mower.  Roots are vital transmitters of water and nutrients so when they get decayed and dead like these, so-called “root disease” sets in, the insects sense it and that puts the tree under stress for real.

Finally, the hot summer weather just began three weeks ago, creating extra pulling demands for water up from the roots up through the limbs and out through the leaves.  It’s perspiring, except in a tree arborists call it “transpiration”.  The tree needs extra water in the summer but its aging, decaying root system is no longer able to pull up all the water and nutrients it needs – and so you see the leaves going 80% brown and the tree dying just like you’ve seen it do.”

“Oh nooo!” Alba moaned. “Isn’t there something you can do?”

“Yes, there are some things I can do.  First of all start giving it lots of extra water.  Then pull all the grass and weeds away from the trunk in a four foot radius at least all around it.  Put about 2″ of mulch on top to hold the water in, keep the weeds down and keep the machinery away.  Then I can give it microinjections of nutrients and vitamins all around the base which is like a 2 month booster shot.  Next I can use a wand to  inject a liquid organic compost into the root system which will steadily improve the root uptake over 2 – 8 months. I can also put radial trenches into the soil all around the tree shaped like spokes in a wheel and fill the trenches with rich organic humates, sea kelp, worm castings, root enhancers and the like and this is a longer term boost for 8 months to 1 1/2 years.  It takes a while for this to get up into the tree’s system.  Then I can do it again.

But all that isn’t cheap.  It’s really a question of how much money do you want to spend to keep grandpa tree breathing on a ventilator in the hospital?  Sometimes it’s just best to let him go . . .”

“Oooh,” Alba sighed with her eyes getting moist. “I don’t know if I’m ready to let him go.”  She paused. “Well let us think about it. . . ”

“Sure,” I said, “Whatever you all decide is fine with me.  We can treat him or take him down.”  I wrote it all up on an estimate form for them and told them I’d check with them in a few weeks to see what they had decided.

We will see.  What do you think they’ll decide?

THREE WEEK LATER REPORT  – Well despite the young woman’s claimed heartfelt feelings for wanting to preserve the tree, she’s done nothing since I originally talked to them, not even watered it more.   I can understand not having the money to treat it or remove it right away, but don’t you think if she really loved the tree she would at least remove the weeds around the base, put some inexpensive mulch around it and water it extra?    Next time I see her I should ask her why she hasn’t.

Answers to the Tree ID Quizzes

12 July 2014    Idea of the Day  “A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.”  G. Gordon Liddy

Did anybody identify more than two or three of the items I’ve had on quizzes for identification?

My June 21 blog entitled “Mystery Quiz – Name That Tree!” had no winners although there were a few guesses.  You almost need to be from the southeast US to recognize it.  Those oval smooth-edged leaves are from the black gum, also called the black tupelo.  This tree, Nyssa sylvatica, is usually found around or in swampy land, has a big broad vase-like trunk base and beautiful red leaves in autumn.  Although a non-commercial grade of honey can be acquired from it, it is not valued or often used.  This is NOT the rare, super-high quality Tupelo Honey from the southeastern Georgia, northern Florida swamps that comes from its cousin the white tupelo, Nyssa ogeche, which Van Morrison sang of so classically “She’s as sweet as Tupelo Honey . . . ”  But the black tupelo is a nice variety in central and northern Florida swamps all the way up to Virginia and as west as Louisiana.

In the July 4th blog with Florida summer flowering trees, nobody wrote in any winning ID on these either but I’m sure many of you got at least a few of them. 

#1 of course is the crape myrtle, Natchez variety – probably the largest and most commonly seen variety in central Florida, sometimes seen as tall as 30 ft !

#2 as you could see when hovering over is the beautiful mid-summer Yellow Poinciana.   Mature trees get as large as oaks and their yellow blooms can be seen for miles in July and August !

#3 is its cousin the Dwarf Poinciana which only gets 12 to 15 ft. high but is still beautiful with its red and golden flowers.

#4 is a mid-summer late remnant of the purple Jacaranda flowers which are most strong during April to May.

#5 is the gorgeous Royal Poinciana another from the poinciana family and this one is drop-dead beautiful.  It is most commonly seen in South Florida but there are examples around Central Florida that dot the landscape with brilliant red from June to July.  Its five petal flower has a fifth petal which isn’t red like the others, but is a beautiful paisley print on a white background.  Whoever created this flower design was a very creative artist!

#6 is the Goldenrain tree  Koelreuteria paniculata that is light, bright yellow in September and then changes colors like a chamelion to the salmon red you see as the backdrop to my blog heading. It’s also known for the jadera bugs it attracts – harmless but strange looking black and red bugs that like its seeds. You can see it here

#7 is the standard-sized Schefflera. I’ve seen the red fruit stalks already in bloom in early July this year!

#8 is the beautiful White Geiger tree.  It also has a beautiful red-orange variety, but this one is striking in its own right and sometimes will flower for months at a time.

#9 is a Washingtonian fan palm,  also called a Mexican fan palm, its fall flower stalks in full bright orange-red bloom.

#10a is a summer occurrence and #10b is what it looks like for two weeks in February, early March.  This is the semi-tropical Pink Tabebuia, Tabebuia impetiginosa,also called the Pink Trumpet tree or in the Caribbean simply the Ipe tree.  In full bloom, especially when hit by sunlight, it just knocks you out driving down the street!   It has a cousin the Yellow Tabebulia or Yellow Trumpet which has a similarly shaped flower but coarser leaves which is usually smaller but equally striking in early spring. 

#11 is the stunning Silk Floss tree, Ceiba speciosa, a cousin of the kapok tree.  In summer it grows big bunches of floss which used to be used in life preservers and cushions.  Around October in Florida, all its leaves fall off but the pink to lavender flowers all come out in a glorious array.  It’s native to the rainforests of South America. 

I left out a few Central Florida flowering trees I would have liked to have included – like the Purple Glory tree (late summer) and the Silk Cotton tree (bright red in spring) which are two more trees that are just stunning when in bloom.
Hope you enjoyed this little overview!

What’s your Florida tree IQ from their summer flowers?

4 July 2014   Idea of the Day  “97% of people who quit chasing their dreams are hired by the 3% that didn’t.” Unknown

I love Florida trees that have showy summer flowers so much I thought I’d show eleven here and let you see how many you can get right. Answers next week. I’ll name a winner if I get several players. (Nobody has yet correctly identified the tree leaves I left about ten days ago! Any takers?)

#1 Let’s start with an easy one! If you know the cultivar variety, it’s a bonus point. It blooms from May through October, probably
the longest lasting Florida tree flower.

#2 This one blooms big time all over the county starting early July and going through August. It’s a knockout when you spot it driving down the road.

#3 This is an attractive small tree that blooms in July and August. Sometimes it can be all golden flowers, sometimes a mix of red orange and golden, as shown here.

#4 This one has its entire canopy ablaze in all lavender color without many leaves in April and May, but here is an amazing one  in mid-August still blooming, more than any other I’ve ever seen this late.

August jacaranda in Dunedin


#5 This one starts blooming in June and goes well into August. Some call it the most beautiful tree in the world! Notice one of the five petals isn’t just red, it’s a paisley print! And its seed pods are about a foot long and very exotic looking.

#6 This one is another knockout in September! And then changes colors entirely in October! Clue – it’s the tree of my blog logo shown in the latter October there.

#7 This is a real eye-catcher from about early mid-July through September, long red flower stalks.

#8 This one is more common in South Florida, but shows up here in Central Florida as long as it didn’t freeze too long last winter. And its flowers are gorgeous.  I don’t know about global warming, but Florida is definitely warming.  Ten years ago winters were too cold in the Clearwater area for this one to show up.  Now it’s popping up as the last five winters along the coast haven’t gotten below 34 degrees!

#9 Ever seen a palm in gaudy flower bloom in October! Beautiful isn’t it?  What kind is it?
Medjool or sylvester!

#10 What’s this spring flowering tree doing blooming in late October?!

And here is a mature one 30 ft. high (not many around) in full glory in late February!

#11 And perhaps my favorite! I’ve even blown it up and printed it on canvas for sale. It blooms in October for a few weeks and manifests a characteristic palmate 5 leaf structure.