Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Sustainable Tree for Christmas

When you imagine a sustainable Christmas tree, you probably think of a plastic tree that can be reused from year to year. In all reality the greenest way to go is all natural. That's right, in order to have a sustainable Christmas I am suggesting that your family goes out to cut down a tree. Sounds counter intuitive? There are several good reasons to skip the false and go straight for what nature so graciously gave us.

Downfall of the Reusable Tree

Although this seems like it would be a great green Christmas idea, those fake trees are actually made of PVC (a petroleum product) that becomes tattered and dusty over the years. The majority of imitation pines purchased for the holidays are actually thrown out after just two years! Since they are made of plastic the tree will end up taking up space in a landfill forever. That's right, discarded artificial trees are made of material that will never degrade despite the expensive resources that went into the production.

Keepin' It Real

Real pines are grown primarily on farms, where they mature for several years before being cut down. The entire time that these trees are growing they are creating fresh oxygen and habitats for local creatures. With the rise of artificial trees these farms are being put out of business and the property ends up being paved over or turned into a less sustainable industry. Live Christmas trees can be purchased and potted whole to be replanted in your own yard, turning that seasonal decoration into a lifetime investment. Another benefit of real trees is that they they are often mulched and recycled in many communities, going to a better use than a landfill.

Wishing for a Green Christmas

This year, instead of dusting off the old PVC pre-lit tree, go on a family adventure to a Christmas tree farm. Everybody gets to work together to pick out the most beautiful live tree that will fill your home with a fresh pine scent that just can't be bought in a can. Technology often improves our life, but this Christmas let's get back to the basics. A live tree is a sustainable tree- nature's gift to us for the holidays.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Trees as Crime Deterrent: You Wouldn’t Believe It!

You’ve probably come to hundreds of conclusions about why your neighborhood is plagued with constant acts of crime and vandalism. It could be a new seedy venue that opened nearby, or a recent rise in poverty rates, but why your neighborhood and not the next one over? According to the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific NW and Southern Research Stations it could be because your street is not lined with big, luxurious trees

Wait… What?

It’s absolutely true! The study, which encompassed 2,813 family homes, showed that neighborhoods with large trees were less likely to have been the victims of crime or theft. It may seem like a very strange coincidence but there is actually a dead simple common-sense reason that this phenomenon occurs. A neighborhood that is full of large street trees often has the appearance of being properly cared for, and therefore more likely to have security measures in place. Since this connection occurs on a primarily subconscious level, the actual economic level of the area often holds little persuasion over this gut assumption.

Before you rush out to plant some trees, consider that since this is simply a trend but definitely not foolproof. In fact, the same study also came to the conclusion that an abundance of SMALL trees or shrubs will actually raise the crime rate by making the area a more appealing place to hide. This effect can easily be cured by routine pruning and careful placement. Just another reason to contact a professional before planting anything that could hurt your property value!

Environmentalists are always learning delightful new facts about the positive benefits of native trees and a healthy ecosystem, but I’d never have thought that home security would be one of them. Of course, the slightly improved chances are no reason to forego an alarm system but it certainly is nice to know the multitude of ways that our investments pay off.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Moving Potted Plants Indoors for the Winter

Perhaps you have invested in a new species of potted plant, or maybe you have recently purchased your first one, but what will happen to your root-bound friend when the temperatures outside drop to an inhospitable level? Big or small, you can’t just haul your potted tree indoors without a little bit of preparation. If the transition is made incorrectly your formerly flourishing foliage may begin to whither away before your eyes even if you aren’t doing anything different from when you first bought it. 


It may not seem like your potted tree need a new pot quite yet, but if you think you will need to change it within the next year go ahead and do it now. Upgrading to a larger pot may become necessary in the winter, forcing you to expose the tree’s delicate roots to the extreme winter climate when you do change to a larger pot. 

Go ahead and prune your potted trees, removing all dead plant matter that could obstruct the scant amounts of indoor window sun. Be careful not to make any shocking changes, since any transport (even short distances!) are already traumatic enough for any live plant. Sometimes declining health of an indoor tree is a sign of root shock from moving, not from improper care. 

Moving the Tree

This is the important part. Large potted plants can weigh more than can be safely carried, and even smaller trees can be rather cumbersome to transport without damage. Rent or invest in a plant dolly that has plenty of rooms for fragile branches, and wrap a sheet around the tree so that nothing snags on the door. A doily or mat should be placed on carpet to prevent permanent dents and a felt pad is great to protect hardwood from scratches. 

Considerations for Placement

Just because your plant thrived great outdoors doesn’t meant that it got full sunlight all day. Try to mimic the same sun patterns indoors that your potted tree is used to. A sudden change can really impact your tree’s health, although it’s not likely to kill the thing if you’re planning on a permanent arrangement. Large trees can be hard to spray for pests so ensure the chosen area is easily accessible to you, but impossible for pets to reach. 
With a little planning and forethought your potted tree should have no problems making the change. Many of these tips also apply for the move back outdoors which can be twice as cumbersome if your plant grows quickly! Any supplies needed for placement, moving, or maintenance can be recommended by your local tree care professional so you can have the right tools for job!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What You DIDN’T Know About the North Carolina State Tree

So you thought you knew your state trivia, huh? The longleaf pine has been a lasting testament to the strength, endurance, and rich history of North Carolina- standing tall over the state like proud monuments to lasting peace. Stands of these majestic trees cover much of the Southeastern United States paying tribute to the phrase “of the marsh” from which this pine’s scientific name of “pinus palustris” is derived. Besides the beauty and hardiness of this species what do we really know about this type of tree which once sustained our coast’s great navies? You may be surprised after contemplating these three facts that you most likely didn’t know about the history and nature of this special North Carolina tree.

1. The state tree is actually invasive to some parts of NC!

Before mainstream settlement of the Piedmont of North Carolina, the plateau was covered by a diverse forest consisting of various hardwoods including oaks, sycamores, and ashes. These trees were valued for their high value as lumber and were commercially cleared in vast amounts over generations. The longleaf pine had room to expand and have remained ever since. The climate of the region has actually changed because of this phenomenon: the area is now much more dry and arid because of the lack of hardwood forest canopy to create humidity!

2. The longleaf pine used to share the spotlight. 

Another surprising fact about the longleaf is that it was never originally the state tree. It shared the glory with an array of different pine species. In fact, the General Assembly of 1963 honored eight different types of pine equally. The loblolly, pitch, shortleaf, and pond are just a few examples of other indigenous trees that were part of this distinction. Each native species of pine carried it’s own role in turning North Carolina into the home of a very successful building industry and, more recently, a booming Christmas Tree producing state.

3. The longleaf pine now has TWICE the spotlight!

Did you know that the longleaf pine is also the state tree of Alabama? This species once covered over 90 million acres in the Southeastern United States but less than 3 million acres are currently thriving today. Similar to the state tree situation of NC, Alabama’s state legislature originally declared every pine to be equally important in the eyes of history. In 1997 the longleaf was specified, bringing it twice the attention! In my opinion, this species is formidable enough to be shared by countless states as an important icon of America’s industrial strength.

So whether you are a North Carolina or Alabama longleaf pine fan, be sure to give your special trees extra loving maintenance now that you know how truly unique they are. Each and every tree is important to a homeowner but any NC native has extra reason to take a second look at their unique state tree.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Have a Green Thanksgiving

What is a better way to give “thanks” for our bountiful resources than by reducing the amount of environmental impact caused by the holidays? Surveys suggest that household waste increases more than 25% just between Thanksgiving and New Years. Going green doesn’t have to put a damper on the traditional aspects of the holidays: our ancestors were pretty green without even knowing it. Before the days of refrigerated semi-trucks and chemical preservatives people tended not to waste resources the way our culture tends to. That’s why it has become a growing trend to get back to the basics while still enjoying rich Thanksgiving traditions. 

Here are just a few simple ways to enjoy the holidays while saving money and celebrating sustainably: 

Eat, Drink, and be Merry

Just be thoughtful about how you do it. Purchase locally what you can because transportation used to haul out of season foods cross country around Thanksgiving makes it a wonder more of us don’t experience smoggy Christmases. Farmers markets are always hopping in the autumn making it easier than ever to serve delicious sustainable local food. Choosing organic can ensure that your leftover scraps will make great garden compost- another green benefit that arises without cutting out the enjoyable tradition of gorging ourselves. 

Make the Occasion Beautiful

Homemade decorations don’t have to look like third-grade classroom projects. Local trees can lend a hand when it comes to adding elegance to the table. Acorns may be used to adorn napkin ties or even centerpieces while dried leaves make creative place cards. Use long, flexible sticks collected from autumn tree pruning to create festive fall wreaths. Avoid using disposable plates for small gatherings and instead break out the fine china for the adults. Water costs can be saved by washing the dishes all at once to give our water supplies a much needed break as well. 

Avoid Couch Potato Syndrome

It may seem like a great idea to take a nap in front of the tube after a filling meal and good conversation. Instead, attempt to get the family outside to enjoy the fresh air before the winter chills set in. The fall can be a great time for planting trees which can be a great way to show young ones appreciation for the environment and the importance of giving back. Playing football instead of watching it is a great idea to blow off some steam and avoid some of those excess pounds of holiday “thanks”.

John F. Kennedy said it the best: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” Our families and friends are worthy of celebration during the holidays, but so is the environment that makes it all possible. Going green for Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean forfeiting our favorite holiday traditions- it means adapting them in ways that creates a real display of giving thanks.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Maintaining a Drought Resistant Lawn in San Antonio

San Antonio watering bans can get pretty strict in times of drought. The laws make sense, but they can be a pain for a homeowner or business owner to keep good looking lawns when you can only water once a week. One alternative is xerixcaping, creating ornamental grass-free lawns, or even making an edible landscape. For those who aren’t green thumbed or have a budget to think about, simply choosing a different type of grass can eliminate the need for constant watering and keep those brown spots out.

High Shade

Horseherb is a great variety for difficult to handle areas. It can handle high amounts of shade, constant foot traffic, and can be mowed if desired. Although this variety doesn’t get very tall, some owners still prefer the appearance of a freshly trimmed lawn. The one major issue with this groundcover is that it invades every inch of space, from your lawn to your neighbors, with almost no way to combat it from coming back after you have switched. Pruning or trimming trees to raise the canopy may let a little light filter through for more desirable strains of shade tolerant grass such as St. Augustine. 

Mixed Shade

Originally a weed, Dichondra makes a very attractive groundcover for areas that don’t take grass well. In the shade or sun, this velvety groundcover has broad leaves that cover the ground like carpet. As long as there is decent drainage, the Dichondra is hardy without needing much mowing. Zoysia needs a deep watering every two or so weeks, but also works great in dappled shade.  

Low/No Shade

Buffalo grass is a great idea for those who don’t need lush greenery and would rather save money and maintenance. It needs more than six hours of direct sun a day. It’s Texas native and doesn’t need any additional water. Since it is native, buffalo grass is meant to live with several other types of grasses. You may have weed problems, this is one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly options available to San Antonio. Blue grama is another native variety that is beautiful, soft, and stands up against a neighbor’s invasive Bermuda grass lawn.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beware -- Popular Species that are Actually Invasive!

The eastern United States is the perfect target for these attractive varieties of rapidly spreading and difficult to control plants. Every species on the following list are being willingly introduced by the hundreds of thousands each year to landscapes from Texas to North Carolina for their vigor and tasteful appearance, but many homeowners don’t realize their mistake until years later when the land clearing professionals must be called in. Being familiar with these harmless looking varieties can prevent your yard from being the next victim.  The expensive damage done to home landscaping is nothing compared to the invasion that is being suffered by millions of acres of prized Eastern forest. 

Chinese Privet 

The famous hardy hedges of Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia are an iconic and historical living monument for Bulldog fans, but outside of the stadium they are considered a weed that must be constantly and vigorously eradicated. These “shrubs” can become trees that can grow up to 20 feet tall, producing extremely hard to remove stumps. Since the fruit produced by these shrubs lack a significant amount of nutritional value for wildlife, birds tend to eat more than usually necessary which spreads these fast growing nuisances at an alarming rate. Regardless, they are increasingly popular in Georgia suburbs where garden-savvy neighbors have to take on the task of pulling up new sprouts every few days. 


Exotic varieties of Wisteria are bought throughout the southeast, from Texas to North Carolina, where they proliferate much to the distress of these unknowing homeowners. These destructive beauties are known to “infest” trees, girdling them with thick vines and choking off growth. Quick spreading, any tiny bit of root system left behind is likely to sprout more the next growing season. In order to successfully maintain an exotic Wisteria vine, you must be able to mow around each side and heavily pruned in the fall. American wisteria is not as attractive but is a wonderful native substitute. 

Bradford Pear

Originally marketed as a sterile decorative tree, these short-term investments ended up being popular for lining streets and parkways. The years passed, and a tendency of the tree to self-destruct during high winds or snowfall quickly changed the minds of city planners. It was unfortunately much too late and the Bradford pear had already become a popular flowering tree for many residential landscapes. 

Many of the cultivars produced today are no longer sterile, and produce fruit which propagate the trees at a rate that is uncontrollable. You can find these ornamental pears spreading along ditches, and seedlings that infiltrate neighborhoods produce sprouts with thorny undesirable traits. Flowering dogwoods are a wonderful native variety if you don’t want to a tree removal service for one or more weather-destroyed Bradford Pears.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Indoor Potted Trees to Clean Air

So many of us are primarily concerned with the air quality outdoors, but what about the air that we must breathe inside of our homes? Most homeowners would be disgusted to discover that the stale air trapped in our houses can actually be up to ten times more harmful than the polluted air outdoors. This is because all of the plastics and chemicals that we use on surfaces and furniture are always degrading very slowly, releasing potentially toxic gases into our breathing space. There are very few ways to avoid this, but keeping healthy indoor plants and trees can help to keep the contaminants under control.

While the country is preparing to close up the windows and doors in order to keep precious winter heat inside, homeowners are also trapping the harmful environmental contaminants that come from within our very own homes. Unfortunately, the lack of proper cold weather ventilation can cause all sorts of bacterial growth that just adds to the chemical contaminants that are already hiding in carpets, household products, and upholstery. 

Top Air Purifying Trees for the Home

We mostly talk about planting trees outdoors here at THTL, but there is actually an abundance of beautiful and hardy indoor varieties that will add a decorative flair while cleansing airborne impurities. One of my personal favorites happens to be the Madagascar dragon tree, which can grow to be a good couple feet tall but is still perfect for small areas that don’t get very much light. They are one of the hardiest varieties available and are heralded for their excellent trainability. 

Areca palms are another great indoor tree species that displays beautiful arching tropical leaves and graceful stalks. These are significantly larger than dragon trees and take up much more horizontal space, making them just as decorative as they are useful for filtering air. It’s impossible not to think about carefree breezes and lazy days when viewing this very exotic palm. 

For those who do not like tropical looking plants a great alternative is found with the weeping fig tree. These indoor plants are extremely tasteful and are often sold with beautiful intertwining trunks. The leaves are broad and flat, which improves the ability of the plant to absorb airborne contaminants. These small trees will adapt to the size of pot you keep it in, making them extremely versatile and perfect for any area with proper light availability. 

Where to Find Indoor Trees?

Indoor trees can be found at almost any home improvement store or can be ordered online. They make great gifts and a few select native varieties can even be transplanted outdoors later with the help of a tree service professional.  There is no reason to stand another winter stuck indoors with little to no fresh air, breathing in all of the contaminants and remnants of household cleaners and products. Purchasing an indoor tree is great for nature lovers who don’t want to give up lush greenery for a shade of winter gray.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Native Missouri Trees for Saint Louis

The city of St. Louis forestry department plants up to 5000 trees every year in order to keep air, water, and visual appearance of the city fresh and clean. But what can your average Joe really do in response to such constructive action? Match it! Now, I’m not suggesting that every single citizen goes out and plants thousands of trees, but each neighborhood planting just one tree can really add up and eventually we can double or triple the great start provided by the forestry department. Knowing which trees to plant and how to maintain each variety may seem a little difficult. Fortunately, Missouri provides the perfect home to hundreds of beautiful native varieties. 

Sugar Maple
Sugar maples are responsible for much of the beautiful fall foliage that St. Louis is practically famous for. In fact, the range of colors that the sugar maple is capable of is very nearly a rainbow, some flaunting almost violet leaves. While these trees are slow in growing, they could eventually reach up to 115 feet tall proving a wonderful investment that is sure to increase the value of any home with the space to grow one. Keeping in mind the location will ensure no trimming will be necessary in the future. 

Flowering Dogwood
The cornus florida is the state tree of Missouri, and has always proved a popular choice for homeowners who want to add a bit of soft decoration to existing landscapes. The abundant flowers are usually white, but can be pink or even red depending on the variety you purchase. The fruits produced from flowering dogwoods are an important source of food for hundreds of species of local birds. 

The native catalpa speciosa has found its place around many homes in the area. These beautiful trees feature large flowers, and should not be planted near roadways because of the slick petals. Long pods of fruit hang from the trees and are considered very decorative, although some find them unattractive. The attractiveness of the large whorled leaves is undisputed though, which lends to this species overwhelming popularity.

Whichever variety of native tree you are planning to plant, consider the location of the species. A local tree service should be able to give you information about planting locations so you won’t have to pay tree maintenance fees later. Planning and proper care are both necessary to ensure that your new hardy native variety will remain a part of your home for the years to come.