Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weed Out Invasive Missouri Trees

Ozark National Park - Vintage Photo
The state of Missouri may have one of the best conservation departments in the country, but not even these professionals can completely eradicate the threat of invasive trees by themselves. Preserving the thousands of spectacular Midwest conservation areas requires the utmost cooperation between wildlife officials and Missouri citizens, starting with the most important piece of the puzzle: homeowners.

As buds begin to break open this spring, be on the lookout for one of many detrimental invasive species that could pop up in your yard. Undesirable seeds can be carried from miles around, and could eventually end up in one of Missouri’s prized conservation areas where the MDC is involved with an expensive and never-ending battle against invasives that threaten the biodiversity of our state.

Callery Pear

The callery pear remains one of the most popular ornamental trees in Missouri despite the fact that they spread like wildfire. These highly tolerant plants take over and replace native varieties because they have no natural checks and balances within the ecosystem. Once thought to be sterile, callery pears actually crossbreed with similar varieties to create thorny, unattractive nuisances that require heavy tree maintenance.

Amur Maple and Norway Maple

The Amur and Norway maple is another set of invasive species that can thank unknowing homeowners for their devastating spread. Both are loved for their hardy nature and ornamental properties, but these trees are known as invasive in much of the Midwest. The Norway maple is especially malicious: these trees actually secrete a chemical that kills undergrowth, resulting in barren and muddy forest floors. Homeowners who plant these trees run the risk of pulling up new sprouts for years to come – the same can unfortunately be said for the entire neighborhood.

Missouri is truly blessed with a spectacular variety of native specie that should not be taken for granted. Most invasive species have not even documented yet: the public rarely recognizes them until a major outbreak has occurred, when it is already too late. Certified arborists and local service professionals should be able to identify and remove any “pest trees” on your property – a priceless step toward conserving Missouri wildlife.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Watch Out For Common Springtime Sycamore Pests and Diseases

Homeowners that are lucky enough to own a mature American sycamore knows that these trees are a grand, hardy species that offers much to appreciate in a landscape. These excellent shade trees grow tall and strong even in harsh city environments, providing a spectacular display of foliage and characteristic painterly bark.

Ornamental benefits are only one reason that homeowners rightfully grieve the loss of a prized sycamore. This species is incredibly long lived (the second oldest in the world dates back to the 1700s) and easily become the familiar and comforting focal point of a landscape. 

Springtime can be a spectacular season for the American sycamore, but wet and rainy weather also bring on a whole slew of pests and diseases. Be on the lookout for the following top two threats and keep the number of a tree service professional or certified arborist handy! 

Adult Sycamore Leaf Beetle
Sycamore Leaf Beetle

Often identified by extreme defoliation, a severe infestation of the sycamore leaf beetle and can eventually lead to a reduction in tree strength and vitality. Studies conducted on sycamores in Alabama observed that newly hatched spring larvae consume the highest amount of foliage.

As the weather begins to warm, be on the watch for the bronze-colored adult beetles feeding on tender leaf veins especially on young or newly transplanted sycamores. 


Frequent rains and cool temperatures invite the highly unattractive fungal disease Anthracnose. This condition appears as small spots along the veins of the leaves. These spots can grow to become big ugly red, black, or brown patches – sometimes infecting and killing off small shoots and branches. Usually this fungus is not fatal, but can eventually cause defoliation and may need to receive treatment with a carefully chosen fungicide spray

Pay close attention to vulnerable American sycamores this spring – and be prepared to contact a tree professional if there is ever any doubt! Prevention, maintenance, and early treatment can save a homeowner a tremendous amount on tree removal services.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Beautiful Benefits of Tree Mulch!

Tree owners carry a lot of responsibility on their shoulders: health, appearance, and legal obligations should always be taken into consideration! However, a few new mulching tips and tricks will ensure the trees on your property will not only make your greenscape the envy of neighbors but may also significantly increase property value. Proper mulching will protect many vulnerable species from harsh conditions and drought. Your trees will reciprocate the effort with increased longevity.
Not every tree needs mulch, but some love it!

Getting Started

Mulching consists of a few simple steps. Clear the grass around the tree, out to the end of the farthest protruding branches if the situation permits - the root system of the tree extends beyond just the base! You should then cover this cleared area around the tree with two to four inches of loosely arranged organic matter such as shredded leaves or natural compost.

Plastic and other un-compostable materials can interfere with the exchange of gases between the soil and air, as well as the transfer of water and should not be used. Take care to leave about two inches of space around the base that is free of mulch - if material is placed too close to the trunk, it will adversely affect health by encouraging decay.

What Else is Mulch Used For?

Mulch helps to insulate the soil, protecting it from harsh weather conditions that vary from extreme temperatures while keeping the roots moist even when the soil is abnormally dry. This practice helps to prevent weeds that can act as competition against the trees roots. Proper technique also allows homeowners to avoid mechanical damage that can occur during lawn maintenance. The soil will benefit due to less traffic, decreasing the effect of soil compaction while providing more oxygen - allowing water to flow effortlessly through the soil surrounding the tree.

Mulch is not necessary for every species or in every climate, so make sure to contact a tree service professional if there is any doubt! Better safe than sorry!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fighting the Good Fight: Eradicate Privet Naturally

Chinese Privet Hedge
The Chinese privet is one case where looks certainly are not everything! Although it is infamously invasive to the southeastern United States, many homeowners choose this species because of the rapid growth, dense foliage, and good looks.

Unfortunately, two out of three of these benefits end up biting the hand that feeds! Chinese privet certainly grows fast and with dense cover – which can quickly overcome a yard and eventually causes a nuisance to the entire neighborhood.

Removal and eradication are known to be all but impossible: it requires dedication, patience, and plenty of manpower. Because this species is exotic to the southeast, there are no pests or plants to keep growth in check.

Beating Back the Bush

The removal process for Chinese privet begins the same as any other shrub: all branches and shoots are to be pruned and removed, with only enough of the stump left to make for a good handle. While some homeowners prefer to chop a few cuts into the stump and apply chemical herbicides, this cannot always be accomplished in sensitive ecosystems or near other valuable plants and trees.

These rough cuts can still be left behind to encourage pests and rot to infect, and eventually kill, the stump. Otherwise, manual removal can be accomplished with standard garden tools, but every piece of root must be removed to prevent new sections from growing. Be aware the privet is still vulnerable to crown root rot – play this card to your advantage!

(Almost) Never-Ending Upkeep

The berries of the invasive Chinese privet carry very little value in terms of nutrition, causing hungry birds to consume more than necessary. These unwitting carriers can spread these seeds for miles! New sprouts will pop up periodically, and must be removed as soon as possible. We have heard of homeowners fighting the privet battle for more than thirty years this way! That’s why many people choose to call in a tree service professional! But if you’re dedicated, privet eradication is possible on a do-it-yourself basis!

Remember that Chinese privet is incredibly fond of disturbed soil: that means that the site of a removed privet stump is just perfect for new shoots! Keep an eye out for any new “volunteers”. If the site of removal is close to established trees, gardens, or building structures consider taking advantage of a local tree care professional to assess the options available.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is My Evergreen Tree Dead or Dying?

Healthy Needles
Many homeowners prize their evergreen trees for providing critical wind shields and beautiful foliage all throughout the winter. For these reasons, it can be especially devastating to lose one. Knowing the difference between an injured, diseased, dying, or dead tree can save valuable time and effort – and may potentially even save the tree.

Evergreen Losing Needles

Though it is normal for evergreens to lose needles each year, it is easy to see when the shedding process is not proceeding normally. If more than one third of the interior needles have turned brown and dropped off, or if the young tender needles on the ends of the branches are dying, the chances are your tree is suffering from a disease or pest. Needle blight is the most common cause, but overwatering and root rot can cause the same symptoms.

Discoloration of Evergreen Needles

If the needles are brown, but have not fallen off, there still may be some chance for revival. Brown needles commonly appear during the winter from moisture loss and even sun scald. Buds are rarely affected and the plant will likely green up again in the spring, but a certified arborist should be consulted to check to pests or disease. White needles may be caused by scale, a fungus that can kill young trees and may damage older trees. Many tree care professionals offer tree spraying services especially for the common threats in your area.

Evergreen Tree Dying From Bottom Up

While many pests and diseases begin killing trees from the top to bottom, there are several reasons that an evergreen may be dying from the bottom-up. Many times, the bottom of an evergreen will start to die out simply from lack of sunlight – this is completely normal, and no reason to panic. Another less attractive possibility is the Diplodia tip blight, which manifests as dead branches scattered throughout the tree.

As you can see, there are many natural causes for unattractive needle shedding or discoloration, but for each benign causation there may be a few equally malevolent possibilities. The best bet is to always contact a certified arborist first, or call a reliable tree service professional to come and assess the tree in question.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Companion Planting for Organic Fruit Tree Care

Organic gardeners and environmentally conscious homeowners will do anything possible to avoid spraying trees with synthetic chemical compounds - especially fruit trees. Thankfully, anyone has the potential to combat common tree health problems while increasing yields with a simple method called companion planting.

What is Companion Planting?

Companion planting is a technique that takes advantage of the natural properties of certain plants, flowers, and weeds to combat pests and disease. Although it requires a little preliminary research and an understanding of local plant life, companion planting is one of the cheapest and most ecologically friendly methods of tree maintenance.

The key is to plant only native companions to avoid the threat of overgrowth or attraction of unfamiliar bugs and predators.

Naturally Improve Soil and Deter Pests

Many gardeners and homeowners have a somewhat unreasonable fear of weeds – spending hours uprooting and destroying each and every one. Next time, carefully select the varieties that are less of a nuisance and consider leaving them behind. Many small weeds present no competition to nearby native trees, and their presence and lifecycle actually help to improve soil conditions by preventing compaction and increasing water and air penetration.

Clover is a popular choice for companion planting with fruit trees – it provides essential nitrogen for neighboring plants, while inhibiting aphid spread by attracting desirable ground beetles. The flowers are also one of the main nectar sources for honeybees. Garlic is another popular favorite: it’s not only delicious, but also helps to accumulate sulfur as a natural fungicide to protect from diseases. Comfrey accumulates phosphorus, potassium, and calcium while keeping the soil rich and moist.

So, want to save money on maintenance, fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides by next year? Start researching native companion plants to improve tree health today! Whether you want to plant a new tree or rejuvenate an old one, there is no such thing as too late to introduce some beneficial plant life companions!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids: Trees and Spring

Fresh spring air, blooming flowers, busy wildlife, and bright soft grass make a wonderful playground for children - but convincing kids to get a nice healthy dose of the outdoors each day is a whole different story! Despite the enticing indoor entertainment options available to today’s youth, there remain plenty of great outdoor ideas that can only be enjoyed once a year: during the beautiful season in which life awakens!

1. Flowerblossom Flipbook

Flipbooks are collections of pictures that, when flipped through rapidly, produce the illusion of an animated picture. There are two ways to tie this fun little project in with springtime environmental education. One involves technology: youngsters may be supervised with a camera, taking one picture of the same emerging tree bud or flower blossom each day. With a little editing and cropping by mom or dad, the flipbook will look fantastic.

An alternative (since cameras are not toys!) can be to show children how to sketch out the bud or blossom each day to the same effect. Not only will a curious young mind learn about a crucial function of plant life, but the neat little keepsake will delight family members and friends.

2. Spring Scavenger Hunt

Do you know anything about the native plants and wildlife in your backyard? Send energy-packed kids outside with an illustrated list of natural objects to find. This may include objects that can be gathered or even immovable items that can be noted by location. Some good ideas for a scavenger list may be: species-specific seed pods, leafs of different sizes, beneficial insect hideouts, and any other safe objects that are native to the ecosystem of your yard. This is the perfect chance to open a dialogue about how all organic matter, living or dead, plays a specific role in the life cycle of the environment.

3. Plant a Tree

Parents who have never successfully planted a tree before may find this experience will be educational for all involved. Not only is the choice of species extremely important, but so are the location and surrounding objects. The family’s need for shade or wind block may also play a role here. While children may not be able to be involved in the grunt work, there are still many choices and small tasks associated with planting a tree that any kid would be proud to be a part of.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Choosing the Right Maple Tree Species

A red maple in spring
Maple trees are a wildly popular and prolific species, treasured by sightseers and nature enthusiasts everywhere. Those who grew up in the Midwest can remember the fun seed pods that turn into “helicopters” when thrown into the air - just one of the few free pleasures left to youth. But not every maple is created equal; the decision of which maple species to plant at home takes time and research to make.

Unique Maple Benefits

Depending on the desired location and traits, some maples serve several purposes quite well. Striped maple or moosewood stands up to shade well, growing only up to about 33 tall – making this the perfect species of tree to grow under power lines in certain cases with careful tree maintenance. Red maples make a great ornamental tree, especially as the blazing fall colors begin to develop. These native beauties can grow up to 75 feet tall and provide ample shade.

Avoid Undesirable Traits

Sometimes it can be difficult to spot the weakness of a tree for all the benefits and beauty the same species may contain. For example, the striped maple species mentioned above has plenty of distinguishing features: one of which is soft bark that can buckle under ice or strain. While this may be fine in temperate climates, it certainly will not do well in others. The Norway maple is one species that should be avoided in many areas despite the good traits: these maples are one of many invasive species that are difficult to contain once planted!

How can a landowner ensure they are planting a beneficial species of maple tree, instead of one that could be potentially harmful? Consulting with a certified arborist or tree service professional can take some of the guesswork out of tree planting – and the effort may save precious time and money in the future!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

How to Store Trees Prior To Planting

The sunlight is beginning to stick around longer each day, making gardeners and homeowners equally giddy about their new arrivals. Now is the time to begin ordering for the spring planting season – but what are green-thumbs to do if the new trees show up at an inconvenient time?

Root Ball

Although a hardy method of shipping and transporting trees, root balled stock still needs to be treated with care. The extra soil tends to make these saplings much heavier and more prone to being dropped or injured. Do not use plastic to cover the root balls, but instead use canvas, peat moss, etc. The ball should be kept moist and unfrozen.

Containerized Trees

Some trees, whether bare root or root ball, are packaged in a way that will stand up for several weeks in a cool area. Be sure to find out from the nursery or shipping company what the exact instructions for care may be. If left to get too warm, trees may begin to break dormancy and must be removed from packaging and either potted or transplanted immediately.

Bare Root

Storing bare root trees has always proved to be much more difficult than handling root balls or potted varieties. Dormant trees have a couple of reliable options. If it will be a few weeks before tree planting, make sure to soak the roots for an hour or so in water – let them get a nice, long drink. A cool garage or shady corner outdoors will work for storage, but roots should be misted occasionally to keep moist. If a tree arrives that has already broken dormancy an executive decision will be required: it must be heeled in outdoors or potted. The pot will need to be covered with mulch, leaves, or snow to be kept insulated in the chilly late winter and early spring.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reducing, Using, and Removing Kudzu

Once referred to as the “King of the South”, kudzu has become more of a destructive tyrant. Introduced to Pennsylvania in 1976, this invasive vine was originally a gift from the Japanese government to commemorate the 100th birthday of the US. Hailed as a revolutionary erosion control method, this plant became a popular crop with support from the Soil Conservation Corps.

Despite the good intentions, kudzu has become an expensive burden to much of the southwestern United States. Practically invincible, it can take a homeowner up to ten years to eliminate these rapidly spreading vines – provided that surrounding property owners take the same measures!

If You Can’t Beat It – Eat It!

Although seen as a largely useless plant, kudzu is actually quite nutritious and considered a delicacy to areas that have not yet been overrun by smothering tendrils. Kudzu is actually a legume, and the roots, flowers, and young leaves can all be used to make some delicious treats. From blooming tea to crispy fried leaves – this plant is well worth culinary experimentation since it will not be going anywhere any time soon!

Making Killer Compost

Notorious for overtaking beautiful stands of native trees, running over carefully tended gardens like wild fire, and literally climbing up the walls of local homes – it may be surprising to find out that kudzu can be used for good instead of the evil it is so widely known for. Trimming back the vines is necessary for removal anyways, so why not remove the edible parts and compost the rest? If you have a chipper or shredder, this plant will make fine compost that can be used once your garden is finally free of this aggravating weed.

Professional Removal

If you’re tired of winning small battles and want to end the war – it may be time to finally give in and call a local tree service or kudzu removal professional. Any southern landscape service worth their salt have the tools, expertise, and trained eye necessary to rid your property of this invasive monster weed once and for all! Every day that the vines are allowed to grow is another chance for the Kudzu to throw down new roots – not a pretty prospect!