Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parasitic Winter Insects Threaten California Fruit Trees

California fruit trees are subject to a wide range of nasty winter insect infestations. While these trees may look dormant, there may actually be another world of teeming parasitic life just below the bark. Never trust appearances- it may take years before an infestation is successfully detected and by then it may be too late to salvage the tree’s health. The following threats to fruit tree health can all be successfully treated during the dormant winter months:

San Jose Scale – This particular type of scale is perhaps the most widely recognized and damaging scale insect pests found throughout California. Ornamental, shade, and fruit trees are included as part of this parasite’s list of hosts, along with more than 60 other plants. That is some serious reach. These scales are circular, convex, and grayish black and generally thrive in populations which proliferate long before symptoms are generally visible. 

Mites – Blister mites often invade pear trees, feeding on leaves and even developing fruit. The damage done can impair the functioning of leaves, but the effects are not just aesthetic. The ugly yellow “blisters” left by these pests are breeding grounds for their young. Blister mites  can only be treated during the dormant season with a thorough tree spray.

Twig Borer – Apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, and prune trees are all at risk for damage by this steel gray moth, which can grow up to half an inch long. The larvae of these borers will burrow deep down into young shoots, making it difficult to train young trees particularly. Larvae will also feed on the stems of fruits causing them to be off grade. 

Aphids – Aphids attack a wide variety of fruit and nut trees throughout the orchards of California each year. These pests can reproduce asexually, or without a mate, meaning that populations can grow uncontrollably without the proper intervention. These insects feed primarily on groups of stems and leaves. Eggs hatch in early spring but can easily be killed in the overwintering phase with a professional tree spraying during the dormant winter months.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Redecorate For Wildlife - Feed Wild Birds

Now that the holiday season is over, it’s time to start taking down the lights and decorations that adorn our trees and shrubs. Soon we will be left with nothing but bare branches until the leaves come in during the spring, left with nothing to do until the all-important tree maintenance season. Wouldn’t it be nice to fill that empty space with something beautiful and beneficial to local wildlife? Consider swapping out those holiday ornaments for some tasty bird snacks that look great and are definitely fun to make!

Popcorn Garland

Remember sitting at home on those chilly winter evenings stringing popcorn garland to adorn the tree? Well, that favorite family activity can be adapted to entice all kinds of winter birds to your yard. These attractive and nutritious decorations simply require threading your standard unsalted popcorn through a string of raffia with a large needle. Raffia is attractive and durable, but also safe for birds to peck. To make the popcorn more appealing, you can roll the kernels in peanut butter and coat with all-natural wild bird feed, or even tie sprays of millet for a more ornamental approach.

Seed Bulbs

This one takes inspiration from the decorative bulbs often hung on holiday trees. Spruce up your hedges with pinecones rolled in black sunflower, corn, millet seed, and safflower for a colorful outdoor ornament. Remember to hang any decoration with raffia, which will degrade over time unlike fishing wire which presents an entanglement hazard. If you want to get creative, hang festive looking apple rings for color, or hollowed out half oranges filled with unsalted peanuts.

Be Creative!

Anything that is safe for birds to eat can be smeared with peanut butter and covered in quality birdseed. This may include stale bagels and grapes that have gone past their prime. To really spice up your gorgeous trees, add sections of winterberry, staff vine, and holly sprigs. Birds will seek out anything fresh and full of moisture- since water is much harder to come by in the winter than food is. Regardless, your outdoor visitors will absolutely love livening up your property with the cheerful chirping of full bellies!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Easy Tree Stump Removal

Okay, so, the title of this article is kind of a joke. There is no such thing as quick or simple removal without contacting a lawn care professional. Unfortunately, tree stumps can take up huge amounts of space in a potential garden- so their existence can be quite a burden until they finally degrade years later. So how can we accomplish the daunting task of removing an unsightly stump? Either you can gather up the commitment to take care of the headache yourself, or you can hire somebody to do the job for you. Whichever way you choose to take back your yard, you will enjoy the freedom to plant a new tree, extend your garden, or just enjoy soft luscious grass.

Do it Yourself

The stump removal process begins with our favorite tool: the chain saw. The stump should be cut down as close to the ground as possible to remove the excess wood. After you are left with just a small amount of stump it is time to drill a few holes to fill with nitrogen fertilizer. Then it’s time to soak the entire area, roots and all, with water before covering with a tarp. Mulch and stones will keep the tarp in place while providing the perfect atmosphere for moisture and decomposition. Now it’s time to kick back and remain patient. This method only speeds up the natural decaying process of the tree stump- reducing the decomposition period by years! Of course, there is a much faster way to get the job done…

Choose a Professional

Yeah, as much as we all love the entire idea of DIY, sometimes you just have to give in to the people with the right tools. A tree service professional should have no problem undertaking the task of stump grinding, which means that your month long job could be completed in just hours! What these professionals do is utilize a powerful piece of machinery that will grind away the stump and remaining roots, leaving the ground fertile and ready for beautiful new growth. What’s left behind after stump grinding is basically all-natural mulch. Homeowners often go this route so that they can avoid the stench of rotting trunk hanging around the yard for months. To be honest- I don’t blame them!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Care for Potted Evergreens

The holiday season is almost over, and green households all over the nation will soon be left with potted evergreens and no idea what to do with them during remainder of winter. Fortunately, the process of overwintering an evergreen is an inexpensive weekend project will ensure your investment is protected even during the harshest weather. Nobody wants to spend all winter fretting over his or her dying evergreen, so prepare your tree for the worst!

Choosing a Spot

Find an area of your yard that provides protection from harsh western winds and potentially damaging southern sun, erecting a trellis or wind barrier if nothing else is available. Make sure that your chosen location is far away from any roads or sidewalks that will be treated with salt because these plants are extremely sensitive to the substance- even in the air.

Overwintering the Evergreen

Even plastic pots can shatter because of freezing temperature, which is why the container of an overwintered evergreen must be buried in the ground. This will keep temperatures stable and the roots will remain safe. Be sure that the hole is just deep enough for the edges of the container to be level with the ground to prevent water accumulation, and make the area flat with some loose soil and autumn leaves.

Maintenance and Care

Since moisture loss is a real danger to potted evergreens it’s important to keep an eye out for those above-freezing days on which it would be safe to water the plant. If the plant is sustaining too much damage from the cold climate, it may be necessary to wrap the entire tree in a burlap sack. If the weather is just too extreme, the pot and plant may be moved inside a dark garage or a cold cellar. Your evergreens will certainly appreciate the effort and will live to see another beautiful spring!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Growing Citrus Trees Indoors

Dwarf fruit trees are sometimes all it takes to bring the tropics indoors for the winter. The fresh scent of citrus could provide just the right pick-me-up for any stale interior, while providing all of the benefits of a garden right in the home. Growing these little trees is a bit trickier than raising the average houseplant but the yields will prove to be worth the effort!

Choosing a Citrus Tree

Your choice of tree should take into account factors like sunshine availability, space, and upkeep. Trees that produce sour fruit often require less sunlight than other species. If you’re looking for a tree that will produce edible delicious goodies, choose something like the Sunquat or Papaya, both of which produce fruit that can be eaten straight off the tree. If aesthetics are more important, the Calamondin Orange will produce fragrant flowers and sour ornamental fruit, which can be used in marmalade or left to hang for months. Before planting a tree, consider all of the possibilities: it's likely that your citrus will outlive any plant you've owned before!

Potting a Citrus Tree

Drainage is very important but easily forgotten. Those who choose to keep indoor trees often focus more on the visual design of the pot while forgetting all about functionality. If the planter you choose doesn’t have drainage holes, simply keep the tree in a simple drainable pot inside of the larger one. Make sure to place a layer of gravel or broken pottery underneath the soil, which should preferably be light and airy. Larger trees may eventually be placed on a platform with wheels, to make trimming and pruning a little easier.

Citrus Tree Upkeep

Bright, direct light is recommended for most species of dwarf citrus tree. In the summer months, these dwarf varieties can enjoy some outdoor sun. Although your indoor plant may produce plenty of pretty blossoms, not all of them will produce fruit without a gentle helping hand. If you’ve gone a couple seasons with no results, try taking a dry paintbrush and gently transferring pollen from one flower to the next. By keeping your citrus happy and healthy, you’ll be enjoying limitless fruit all year long from the comfort of your own home!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Preventing Winter Tree Damage

Winter tree damage can come in many forms: from minor headaches to expensive disasters. Many people keep a close eye on their gardens, but many homeowners falsely believe that trees can hold their own during the harsh cold season. Even if you have already prepared your trees extensively for winter it’s difficult to predict how each year’s changing weather is going to effect your investments and property. The hardiest and most established of trees still face significant damage if the homeowner doesn’t keep a keen eye.

Inspection- Better Late than Never

It may seem like mid-December is a bad time to be thinking about potential winter tree damage, but the standard rule still applies: bad luck is impossible to prepare for. Take a special look at aged, leaning, or previously damaged trees as they are the most susceptible to the forces of wintery nature. Exposed and isolated trees in residential landscapes are often the biggest risk, so keep note of damages sustained over previous years. 

Common Threats

Ice Damage: Frozen water can affect trees in many different ways. Cracks can become filled with moisture and then burst open to create a huge crack. Weight is also another issue for many trees, whether it is due to an accumulation of snow or ice. Be aware of how low the branches are hanging over power lines, because branches are surprisingly flexible and can cause expensive damages that may result in lawsuits against the property owner. Make sure that a tree service professional is contacted for emergency winter trimming if there is any possibility that power lines may be affected. 

Winter Moths: For the past ten years, homeowners on the south coast have experienced a rather startling increase in invasive tan moths which swarm windows and headlights during the early December months. These pests land on trees and deposit eggs- their offspring are responsible for defoliating and ultimately killing hundreds of thousands of acres of trees each year. The larvae feed on the tender buds of springtime trees. Late winter is a great time to begin spraying trees for this pest, although winter birds like cardinals are thought to enjoy the otherwise unwelcome guest.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unusual Green Christmas Gift Ideas

It may seem like every website on the internet comes out with a green gifts guide every single year, full of products that may look great, but aren’t really that green. I’ll tell you why: although a product was “responsibly crafted” with “recycled materials”, they’re still going to have to ship it a great distance to get where it’s going. Nothing against the products- they’re usually wonderful and unique gift ideas. But those who really want to go green for the holidays need to be a little more creative.


Don’t you hate it when you’re trying to shop for somebody that seems to have it all? An environmentally friendly solution to this common dilemma is to forego the traditional gift altogether. That sounds crazy, right? Instead of actually wrapping a present this year, a great alternative is to purchase tickets to a local event, or a gift card to a nearby restaurant. 

Not only will these experiences last much longer in the memories of the recipient but the travel required for them to get to their destination will take a load off the environment compared to the shipping and manufacturing resources consumed with a traditional gift. This could be a great chance to stimulate the local economy while showing support for grassroots businesses of the area! Local businesses are already hard-hit during the holiday season, when consumers choose to buy from lower-cost mainstream retailers.

From the Heart

Hand-made gifts have a bad reputation for being cheesy, but that’s only because of the immediate mental images that depict macaroni-postcards and popsicle-stick picture frames. These gifts are cute coming from a kid and unfortunately that’s not the impression that most of us want to make. Instead of going the craft route, try a more thoughtful idea. Collecting pictures of the recipient and making a scrap book using recycled scrap paper, or creating a gift basket full of candles, homemade candy, and dried aromatic local flowers may be a great choice. 

Don’t forget the power of words: instead of sending out the usual Christmas card, make your next batch personal and special. Even if you can’t write poems or draw, a funny story or anecdote from shared experiences may make the recipient smile with a gift from the past. A checklist of favors that can be claimed at any time, including babysitting, lawn care, or dog-walking duty, can really mean a lot to busy working couples or the elderly recipient of the family. Those who haven’t broken into the green lifestyle yet may appreciate a few seeds and a little equipment to start a garden.


If you just can’t avoid purchasing a store-bought item as a Christmas gift, at least make the giving experience a little more green. Wrapping paper often contains harmful dyes or foils that can pollute the environment in the case that any escapes the dump. Recycling paper is always possible but why not recycle something that you already have instead? The comic section of the newspaper is a great idea for young ones, but any other section can be spiced up with a little bit of ribbon for a nostalgic effect. 

Don’t be afraid to urge your family and friends to use this advice when buying for you as well. Many environmentalists don’t know how to handle receiving a totally un-green gift, so save your friends and family the wasted money. Of course a gift can never go unappreciated, but why not give a little something back to the environment while you’re at it?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pruning Fruit Trees in Late Winter

According to an extension horticulture specialist at North Carolina State University, winter pruning is extremely important to the growth of a young fruit tree. Growers that neglect annual training and pruning find themselves with short-lived trees that produce lower quality fruit. Failing to care for the framework of the tree can result in serious limb breakage under a heavy load of snow or fruit. Since fruit trees in the Northeast should not be pruned after July (due to potential winter damage), it’s important to take advantage of the increased growth potential that winter trimming offers.

Which to Trim and Why?

Summer and winter pruning have very different effects on fruit trees. Winter pruning, also known as dormant pruning, is an invigorating process that can spurs growth but reduces the fruit bounty of the next season. That’s why only young, relatively untrained fruit trees need a vigorous winter trim- it will prepare them to bear larger loads later in life. Older trees can benefit from a little work as well, but keep in mind that new growth on an established tree often causes more trouble than it’s worth. The reason that this growth spurt occurs after winter pruning is because the trees are still in their dormant stage, so the level of energy doesn’t decrease despite the removal of nutrient-consuming shoots. This extra energy shows up in the spring in the form of rapid growth.

When to Trim Fruit Trees

Pruning should begin as late in the winter as possible, because cold weather injury could pose a real threat to a newly trimmed tree. Those who are unfamiliar with winter pruning should seek the advice of a local tree maintenance professional who can advise on proper technique to decrease the chances of damage. Apple and pecan can be pruned the earliest. The typical rule of thumb for other types of fruit bearing trees is to prune the latest blooming first, and the earliest blooming trees last. Age is a significant issue to the health of a tree during pruning, as well, since younger trees are more susceptible to winter injury of any type.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

How to Attract Winter Birds

Nothing makes a chilly winter morning brighter than a yard full of colorful chirping birds. Those who don’t seem to get any wild visitors may wonder how to persuade our feathered friends to make an appearance. The truth is that they’ll come running (well, flying) once you set out the right incentives. Even those who live in the city don’t have to miss out on unexpected seasonal company. In fact, no matter where you live winter birds often have the hardest time finding quality food and water and will certainly appreciate your generous resources. Whether you are decorating a balcony window or a yard, it’s cheap and easy to attract a variety of cheerful species that will be your own personal choir for the holidays.  


In much of North America the winter nights are long, days are short, and food is scarce for local wildlife. Insects are generally dead or dormant, inaccessible to birds that eat them at their number one fat and caloric intake. Hanging bites to eat from your native trees will encourage the spread of seeds and berries to the local ecosystem after the bird takes off, while providing safe windbreak in the mean time. Ensuring that winter bird needs are met will keep local populations well-fed and healthy, for your enjoyment on frosty winter days with the family or over a cup of coffee.


To attract a wide variety of bird, you’ll need an equally diverse availability of seed. Cheap mixes should be avoided, because the cost is still much too high for the low-quality content. Fillers are often used that the birds don’t eat, which becomes food for squirrels or just rots on the ground. Black sunflower seeds are great for attracting all kinds of birds, including blue jays, goldfinches, chickadees, and cardinals. Suet is a fatty byproduct of beef or venison, unfit for human consumption but perfect for wild birds. It must always be hung as not to attract other mammals. Bird feeders can be constructed out of household waste, like two-liter bottles or biodegradable cardboard tubes.


Winter birds often suffer more from lack of fresh, unfrozen water than they do from scarcity of food. A solar powered heater can be purchased for traditional birdbaths. Heat lamps are perfect for the occasional melt, if the birdbath is located under a closed roof. The hassle can be eliminated by simply pouring some warm water over the ice when the sun is the strongest and watch as the birds congregate for a nice drink and dip!

Attracting winter birds is made much easier by simply providing the all-around complete package. Planting hardy evergreen trees will ensure that birds thrive for your company and enjoyment all year long. Winter isn't the only time that our feathery friends can benefit from a little helping hand, but it certainly isn't a bad time to start.