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October 2014
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Peppers earned their space in the garden this year

Sweet Heat pepper. Photo courtesy Burpee.com

Sweet Heat pepper. Photo courtesy Burpee.com

For the first time in a few years, the peppers popped in my garden. This surprises me because it was a cool summer and we all know peppers like it hot.

The three peppers I grew were trial plants: Sweet Heat and Tangerine Dream from Burpee and Wonder Bell, a grafted pepper from Jung Seed.

Wonder Bell and Sweet Heat were the best producers among the three, however Tangerine Dream was still loaded with green fruit in mid October. Tangerine Dream, considered an edible ornamental pepper, was a good producer, but a bit slow to take on its namesake color.

Wonder Bell compares in production and size to California Wonder, a popular sweet pepper. Wonder Bell was completely disease free, a benefit, no doubt, of the grafting process. It also produced very well with a nice size, green fruit with lovely shades of orange red.

Sweet Heat also produced very well, quickly turning from green to red. The heat is mild, but more pronounced when the fruit is green. The heat fades a bit when the fruit turns red and sweetens up.

Tangerine Dream pepper. Photo courtesy Burpee.com

Tangerine Dream pepper. Photo courtesy Burpee.com

Each of these peppers was grown in 10-gallon Smart Pots and fertilized every two to three weeks with Authentic Haven Brand compost tea. The tea is made with dehydrated livestock manure, which steeps in a bucket of water for a few hours before use. I probably could have been more faithful with watering and fertilizing.

This is the year I realized that I have a lot more shade in my back yard. A neighbor’s redbud has grown significantly, casting deeper shadows in my sunny growing spots. But it is not doing well, showing symptoms of verticillium wilt disease, so it probably won’t be standing much longer.

And there’s a weedy mulberry that shades the garden from mid to late afternoon sun, so when the tree comes down this spring, the yard should have a lot more light.

Still, I’ll probably move some things around in the garden next year. I’ve already started by pulling out plants I’m tired of or that have outgrown their space. I tell people all of the time that I’m always rearranging the plants in my garden, but seldom rearrange the furniture in my house.

Wonder Bell pepper. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Wonder Bell pepper. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Shoes are tools, too

Right tools for the job, even for our feet. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Well-shod feet are great tools.  (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Even though I’ve been a gardener for a long time, it’s only been in the last five years or so that I’ve invested in tools for my feet.

A few things got me thinking about shoes and the garden.

  • Foot fatigue and pain from digging because tennis shoes aren’t built for this task. Lack of foot support in shoes.
  • Tracking dirt and mud in the crevices of shoes.
  • Working when conditions are wet or muddy, making wearing tennis shoes unpleasant.

I did some research, talked to gardeners and horticulturists about their preferences and ended up buying waterproof Keen oxfords. I’ve had about five pairs of these shoes and am thrilled with them. I’ve also got a pair of Merrell waterproof oxfords, but they are not as comfortable as the Keens.

Why do I bring this up? Because through gardening, we’ve learned the value of the right equipment for the job. Our feet are one of our greatest digging tools, so having them shod with the right gear only makes the job easier. So, go out there and plant a tree!

Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit

An exhibit of southwestern still life art begins Nov. 2 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The exhibit celebrates early 20th century artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe. Although southwestern landscapes, plants and artifacts are the exhibit’s theme, the museum’s collection includes one of O’Keeffe’s most famous works, “Jimson Weed.”

There are several lovely ornamental cultivars of jimson weed (D. metel), including single and double trumpet-like flowers. Common names for this plant are Devil’s trumpet or horn of plenty flower. A similar plant is Angel’s trumpet or Brugmansia.

Angel trumpet is tropical and must spend the winter indoors. Datura is an annual in our climate and can be grown easily from seed. Datura’s fragrant flowers open in evening.

Native plant seminar

Migrating monarch butterflies rely on late-blooming, native perennials, such as goldenrod. ©lunamama58/Morguefile.com

Migrating monarch butterflies rely on late-blooming, native perennials, such as goldenrod.
©lunamama58/Morguefile.com

“Embracing Indiana’s Conservation Challenges” is the theme of this year’s annual conference of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society, Nov. 1 in Bloomington at the Monroe County Convention Center.

Early registration discounts apply if you register before Oct. 15. For details, inpaws.org.

Among the speakers is Lincoln Brower, a professor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia and lifelong monarch butterfly researcher, who will speak about his favorite insect.

 

 

Freeze tomatoes and peppers, but leave the stinkbugs outdoors

freeze peppers and peppers freezing (2 photos) Slice the peppers, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, move peppers to a plastic bag and return to the freezer. Nothing could be easier. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Slice the peppers, place on a cookie sheet and freeze. When frozen, move peppers to a plastic bag and return to the freezer. Nothing could be easier. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

The last gasps of the growing season yield an onslaught of tomatoes and peppers and these are vegetables that don’t keep very well without some type of preservation.

After reading Minnesota garden writer Rhonda Fleming Hayes‘ column a few weeks ago, I decided to freeze them. Easy peasy.

Frozen pepper slices ready for the freezer. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Frozen pepper slices ready for the freezer. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

I placed slices of peppers and tomatoes on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. Once frozen, I slide the slices off of the cookie sheet into plastic bags put them in the freezer. The frozen peppers and tomatoes can be used in chili, soup and sauces.

For more information about preserving your food at home, check out Purdue Extension’s programs, http://bit.ly/1vovIHl

If you don’t want to mess with freezing, canning or dehydrating your vegetables, you can share your bounty with soup kitchens and food pantries around the city and state. Here are a few:

  • Society of St. Vincent dePaul, www.svdpindy.org
  • Gleaners Food Bank, www.gleaners.org
  • Second Helpings, http://www.secondhelpings.org
  • Julian Center Food Pantry, http://bit.ly/1xtGJJD
  • Feeding America, http://bit.ly/1pBG0gt
  • Food Pantries, www.foodpantries.org/ci/in-indianapolis.

 

They’re Back!

The Rescue stink bug trap works, but it won’t catch all of these Asian invaders, which want to get into your house.

The Rescue stink bug trap works, but it won’t catch all of these Asian invaders, which want to get into your house.

The brown marmorated stink bugs are back at this this year, working diligently to get into our homes. This is the second year these Asian imports have shown up in significant numbers in Indiana. They are brown bugs, about the size of a dime. They look like shields with legs and emit a cilantro-like smell when threatened or killed.

“I can’t tell you how many I’ve had in the house since last summer,” Julie Iverson, a Marion County Master Gardener, posted on Facebook. “One scared the living daylights out of me when I was reading in bed the other night. Yikes!”

On Sept. 20, I installed a Rescue brand trap, which works on pheromones to attract the sinkers. The trap covers draws from a 30-foot area. Normally, I’m not very enthused about traps, such as for Japanese beetles, because they are so effective. But bug experts I’ve talked to say the stink bug trap is slightly better because it pulls from a smaller area. Hopefully, it will get the bugs in your yard and not pull them in from the neighborhood. And though effective, the trap will never catch all of the stink bugs. I hate to think how many make it into my house. A while back, there were two sitting on the button to turn on my radio.

October garden checklist

Indoors

  • Keep poinsettia in dark for 15 hours a day for eight to 10 weeks until red bracts begin to show.
  • "(C)

    Houseplants may drop leaves, especially if they spent the summer outdoors. This a natural reaction to reduced light.

  • Water indoor plants less frequently and discontinue fertilizing as growth slows or stops.

General landscape

  • Continue watering gardens, shrubs and trees if rainfall doesn’t reach an inch or more every week or 10 days. It’s important for plants to go into cold weather with adequate moisture.
  • Erect physical barriers around woody plants and trees if rabbits, rodents or deer are a problem. Metal mesh (1/4-inch) hardware cloth is good for this. Pull mulch away from trunks to discourage rodents from making a winter home there.
  • Spray evergreens, including newly planted ones, with an antidesiccant when temperature is above 40 degrees F. These products protect plants from drying out.
  • Rake or shred tree leaves, especially large ones like maple and sycamore, to prevent them from matting down and smothering grass. Compost leaves and other plant debris.
  • Continue mowing lawn as needed.
  • Remove plant debris from the garden to protect next year’s plantings from insect and disease build up.
  • (C) Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

    (C) Photo Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

    Cut back perennials, such as daylily, iris and peony or other plants that have been damaged by frosts or freezes.

  • Prepare new beds now for planting next spring. The soil is usually easier to work in the falland fall-prepared beds allow for earlier plantings inspring. Beds may be mulched with compost, chopped leaves or other organic material during the winter, if desired. Avoid fall tilling when there’s a chance of soil erosion.
  • Apply a layer of organic materials to garden beds in the fall. This includes rotted or composted manure, compost, chopped leaves or a slow-release organic fertilizer.
  • Plant, divide or transplant perennials.
  • Have soil ready to mound on roses for winter protection. Do not mound or cover roses until after the leaves drop and the soil is near freezing, usually late November or early December.
  • Dig tender garden bulbs for winter storage. Gladiolus corms should be dug when leaves begin to yellow. Caladiums and tuberous begonias should be dug before a killing frost. Dig canna and dahlia roots after a heavy frost. Allow to air dry, pack in dry peat moss or vermiculite and store incool location.
  • Continue planting spring bulbs as long assoil can be worked. Make sure to water well.

 

Vegetables and fruits

  • Harvest root crops and store in a cold (32 degree) humid location. Storing produce in perforated plastic bags is a convenient and easy way to increase humidity.
  • Harvest Brussels sprouts as they develop in the axils of the leaves from the bottom of the stem. The sprouts will continue to develop up the stem.
  • 'Baby Bear' pumpkin. Photo courtesy Un. of Minnesota Extension

    ‘Baby Bear’ pumpkin. Photo courtesy Un. of Minnesota Extension

    Harvest pumpkins and winter squash before frost, but when the rind is hard and fully colored. Store in a cool location until ready to use.

  • Harvest gourds when stems begin to brown and dry. Cure at 70 to 80 degrees two to four weeks.
  • Harvest mature, green tomatoes before frost and ripen indoors in the dark.
  • Asparagus top growth should not be removed until foliage yellows. Let foliage stand over winter to collect snow for insulation and moisture.
  • Apply mulch to strawberries to prevent winter injury or kill to crowns.
  • Strawberry plants need protection from winter extremes. Apply winter protection when plants are dormantbut before temperatures drop below 20 degrees, usually late November or early December.

Harvest, houseplants, composting and lawns top of mind in fall

At the end of the season harvest tomatoes and peppers to finish ripening indoors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

At the end of the season harvest tomatoes and peppers to finish ripening indoors. (C) Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

If you haven’t already, start bringing in houseplants that spent the summer outdoors. Temperatures have fallen into the 50s some nights, and that’s the indicator that houseplants need to head back indoors.

Give them a shower with the hose to knock off any six-legged hitchhikers before bringing them in. If you have plants already indoors, consider segregating for a week or so the ones moving in to make sure there are no diseases or insects that will spread.

A few days ago, I snipped off all of the tomatoes that had started to turn creamy or white to finish ripening indoors. Then, I pulled the plants. A lot of gardeners toss their tomato plants in the trash rather than the compost pile because of concerns about diseases, such a verticillium wilt or a blight. If the compost pile does not get hot enough, diseases, insects and weed seeds may not be destroyed. Problems can be spread throughout the garden when incomplete compost is used in planting or as a mulch. Here’s a good EPA guide for composting at home: http://1.usa.gov/1rqJUOZ.

Concern about the spread of disease and insects holds for other plants in the garden, too. If your perennials have shown any sign of a problem, such as premature leaf browning or aphid damage, cut them back and remove any fallen leaves. If the plant seems to have the same problem every year, consider pulling it out and planting something else. Life is too short to fret about uncooperative, high maintenance, worrisome plants.

A blue green pumpkin sits amid mini cabbages for a fall planting. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A blue green pumpkin sits amid mini cabbages for a fall planting. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp 

While you are at it, pot up a fall container. Garden centers have a decent selection of annuals that tolerate lower temperatures, including pansies, osteospermum, petunias and calibrachoa. These are good companions for ornamental cabbage, kale and grasses, Swiss chard, mums and asters. Add a pumpkin, gourd or ornamental corn for more seasonal flair.

September is the best month to fertilize the lawn. Everyone thinks it’s sometime in spring, but at that time, the grass is greening up and growing anyway because of warmer temperatures. Fertilizing in spring increases mowing duties.

Fertilizer SpreaderFertilizing the lawn in September, and again in November, encourages good root development, which translates into a thick, healthy lawn that naturally crowds out weeds. I use Ringer Lawn Restore, an organic fertilizer, but there are other products formulated for fall application.

Lastly, perform an act of hope and faith and plant a few spring blooming bulbs. You’ll be glad you did when the snow melts and tulips, daffodils and other spring flowers harken another growing season.

Favorite shrub companions for the perennial garden

The American beautyberry serves as a food source for songbirds. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

The American beautyberry serves as a food source for songbirds. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service

Noted horticulturist and author Stephanie Cohen blew into town a couple of weeks ago to talk about companion shrubs for her favorite plants, perennials.

Shrubs provide the texture and structure for perennials, which fade in and out with the season. Cohen, known affectionately as the Perennial Diva, discussed more than 50 woody plants that work well with perennials. Her talk was sponsored by the Indianapolis Museum of Art Horticultural Society.

Experienced gardeners know that shrubs are less maintenance than most perennials. “We’re a maturing population, so the (plant) choices we make are important,” said Cohen, a retired horticulture professor. Very few people are just doing perennials beds nowadays. Gardeners mix perennials with herbs, shrubs, annuals and containers. “This makes a more interesting garden.”

From Cohen’s list of plants, here are three of my favorites.

Dwarf fothergilla (F. gardenii) has white, lightly honey-scented, bottlebrush-like flowers in spring. In summer, the foliage has a blue green look, and in fall, the leaves turn a brilliant red or orange. This native is hardy throughout Indiana, dwarf fothergilla gets about 3 feet tall and wide. Does fine in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. This is a good companion for spring-blooming bulbs and perennials. “If I had only shrub to pick, this would be the one,” Cohen said.

The Eastern U.S. native fothergilla blooms in spring, making it a perfect companion for tulips, daffodils and other bulbs. © Kongxinzhu/iStockphoto.com

The Eastern U.S. native fothergilla blooms in spring, making it a perfect companion for tulips, daffodils and other bulbs. © Kongxinzhu/iStockphoto.com

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana or C. dichotoma) sports beautiful clusters of purple berries on nicely arched branches this time of year. In summer, the shrub presents a graceful backdrop to perennials, waiting patiently for its time to shine. Beautyberry does best in full sun, but tolerates part shade. Size ranges from about 4 to 8 feet tall and wide, depending on the cultivar. Works well with summer-blooming and early fall-blooming perennials. The top part is killed by winter temperatures, so I usually cut beautyberry back close to the ground in spring. It quickly bounces back to bloom and berry.

A bumblebee burrows in for the night on a blue mist spirea. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A bumblebee burrows in for the night on a blue mist spirea. © Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Blue mist spirea or bluebeard (Caryopteris x clandonensis) is another late-season bloomer, presenting itself as a companion to asters and the fall-color of ornamental grasses. This is an aromatic shrub that attracts bees and butterflies to its tufts of blue flowers along slightly upright branches. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil. This is another shrub I cut back to the ground in early spring.

Cohen returns to Indiana Oct. 4

Cohen will be back in Indiana for Hendricks County Master Gardeners 2014 Adventures in Gardening. She’ll talk about Native Perennials: Sustainable, Colorful and Wonderful and Perennials from Spring to Fall.

What’s that plant, insect or disease? There’s an app for that!

 

purdue apps edit

You know how it is. You’re on a walk and you see a plant and wonder what it is. Or, one of the plants in the garden starts to look really bad. Is it an insect, disease or something else?

There’s help for these and other questions right on your smart phone. Here’s the rundown.

Purdue University has released a handful of helpful apps, each costing $0.99, available at iTunes or Android stores.

Purdue Perennial Doctor identifies insects and diseases of 100 of the most commonly planted perennials in the Midwest and eastern United States. You plug in the plant name from a list, say it’s a disease of flowers, leaves, stems or crown. The app pulls up what the likely cause might be.

For instance, say you have brown spots on peony leaves. You tell the app that it’s a leaf problem and it will show images of the diseases or insects that affect peony foliage and offer tips on what to do. Purdue Annual Doctor, Tree Doctor and Tomato Doctor work the same way.

Purdue’s Plant Diagnostic Sample Submission allows you to send a photo of the problem to the Pest Diagnostic Laboratory for identification and remedies. There’s an $11 submission fee. Submissions can be digital or you can mail a sample of the plant. For more details: www.ppdl.purdue.edu/ppdl/services.html.

Marion County Master Gardener AnswerLine is a free resource. You can call (317) 271-9292 with your questions. Master Gardener volunteers research the problem and call you back within a day or two.

Or, you can email your questions to marionmg@purdue.edu. Emailing gives you the opportunity to include photos to help Master Gardeners solve the problem. Make sure the photos are in focus and show enough of the plant to help identify it, such as leaves, flowers and branching characteristics. The photos also should be large enough, about 500KB so they can be expanded to help with identification.

Garden Compass is a free app to identify plants, pests and diseases. You take a photo of the problem, give as much information as possible, such as locale and what you observe. Provide a close-up image of the foliage, branching or other identifying characteristics. It’s frequently difficult to identify a plant or problem from a photo taken far away. The photo is sent to an expert in your region to help identify the problem and make suggestions on what to do.

Dahlias perk up the late-summer garden

A pink Art Nouveau grabs the center of attention amid Purple Haze dahlias.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

A pink Art Nouveau grabs the center of attention amid Purple Haze dahlias.© Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp

Dahlias have never been a favorite of mine, mainly because they always seemed persnickety — prone to mildew, rot and spider mites to name a few challenges.

But this year, Longfield Gardens offered to send me some samples of these tender tubers, and, well, you can never have too many plants to try.

I was about a month late when I planted them up in containers in June. Even though July was cool, the plants took off and started their season of bloom. And did they ever. Maybe enough to change my mind.

For one thing, they are still going strong, long after other annuals have taken on a tired look. They likely will keep blooming until frost. And no sign of mildew, although a little damage from mites.

Dahlias come in many colors, forms and sizes, as large as dinner plates, which usually need staking, and others more diminutive.

Mine are border anemone dahlias, reaching 18 to 24 inches tall with flowers a bit bigger than a golf ball. Although not long-stemmed, they are tall enough for small cut flower arrangements.

When it comes to fall, we have two options: leave them in the ground and let nature take them, or dig the tubers for winter storage.

If digging, wait until the tops of dahlias are killed by frost. Discard any damaged tubers. Rinse the soil from the healthy tubers. Many dahlia experts recommend treating tubers with a fungicide, such as sulfur powder, before storing. Allow to dry, wrap in plastic or place in bags of wood shavings or similar material. Store the tubers out of light, where they won’t freeze or get so warm the they sprout.

In past years, I’ve moved dahlias, pot and all, to my basement for the winter, where they go dormant and require no water. In spring, I move the pot to my enclosed porch to acclimate the plants to more light and begin watering. They go outdoors in mid May.

In early April, take the tubers out of winter storage and plant in pots and place in a bright area indoors. Fertilize with a water-soluble product, according to label directions. In mid May, transplant dahlias outdoors in the garden or in containers. Dahlias do best in full sun or light shade in well-drained soil.

For more information about growing dahlias, check out the American Dahlia Society. Elkhart has the only Indiana chapter.

September garden checklist

Indoors

  • (C) iStockphoto

    (C) iStockphoto

    Dig and repot herbs growing outdoors, or take cuttings to pot up and grow indoors.

  • Bring houseplants that spent the summer outdoors back indoors before night temperatures fall below 55 degrees. Gradually decrease light to acclimate plants and help reduce leaf drop. Check for insects and disease before putting them with other plants.
  • Plants, such as tuberous and waxed begonias, impatiens, fuschia and geraniums, may be dug from the ground or containers and repotted for indoor enjoyment during the winter. Cuttings also may be taken, rooted in a growing medium and repotted for the winter.
  • Thanksgiving or Christmas cactus can be forced into bloom. Provide plants 15 hours of complete darkness each day for about eight weeks. Keep temperature at about 60 to 65 degrees.
  • Poinsettias should be kept in complete darkness for 15 hours daily from about Oct. 1 to about Dec. 10.
  • Begin stocking up gardening supplies before they are removed for the season from retailers’ shelves. Pots, potting mixes, fertilizers and other products may be harder to find later in the season.

General landscape

  • Evergreen needle drop. Photo courtesy Un. of Nebraska Extension

    Evergreen needle drop. Photo courtesy Un. of Nebraska Extension

    Don’t be alarmed if evergreens, especially white pine and arborvitae, drop needles. All evergreens shed needles at some time, but not all at once like deciduous plants do.

  • Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer to lawns at the rate of 1 pound actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Here’s more info on taking care of established lawns.
  • Plant container-grown or balled-and-burlapped nursery stock. Mulch well and keep newly planted stock well watered until the ground freezes.
  • Reseed bare spots or put in new lawns using a good quality seed mixture. Fall is the best time to do lawn repairs or put in a new one.
  • Early fall is a good time to apply broadleaf weed killers. Follow label directions and spray on a calm day to prevent drift.
  • Continue watering gardens, shrubs and trees if rainfall doesn’t reach an inch or more every week or 10 days. It’s important for plants to go into cold weather with adequate moisture.
  • Prepare new beds now for planting next spring. The soil is usually easier to work in the falland fall-prepared beds allow for earlier plantings inspring. Beds may be mulched with compost, chopped leaves or other organic material during the winter, if desired. Avoid fall tilling when there’s a chance of soil erosion.
  • Apply a layer of organic materials to garden beds in the fall. This includes rotted or composted manure, compost, chopped leaves or a slow-release organic fertilizer.
  • Plant, transplant or divide peonies, daylilies, poppies, iris, phlox and other perennials.
  • Order spring-flowering bulbs or purchase locally. Begin planting them at the end of the month. Planting too early can cause top growth to sprout before winter; allow four to six weeks for good root formation before ground freezes.
  • Dig tender bulbs, such as cannas, caladiums, tuberous begonias and gladiolus, before frost. Air dry and store in dry peat moss or vermiculite.
  • Cut flowers in the garden for drying and use in everlasting arrangements. Strawflower, statice, baby’s breath, celosia and other plants can be hung upside down in a well-ventilated dry area.

Vegetables and fruits

  • Dig onions and garlic after tops fall overand necks begin to dry.
  • Plant radishes, sets for green onions, lettuce and spinach for fall harvest.
  • Thin fall crops, such as lettuce and carrots, that were planted earlier.
  • Harvest tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, melons and sweet potatoes before frost; cover plants with blankets, newspapers (no plastic) to protect from light frost.
  • 'Honey Bear' acorn squash. Photo courtesy All-America Selections

    ‘Honey Bear’ acorn squash. Photo courtesy All-America Selections

    Harvest winter squash when mature (skin is tough) with deep, solid color, but beforehard frost.

  • Harvest apples, pears, grapes, ever-bearing strawberries and raspberries.
  • Remove raspberry canes after they bear fruit.
  • Keeparea around apple (including crabapple) and other fruit trees clean of fallen fruit, twigs and leaves to reduce insects and disease carryover.
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Be on the lookout for risky trees

Ornamental pear trees develop multiple trunks. These large branches are notorious for splitting and falling during storms. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Ornamental pear trees develop multiple trunks. These large branches are notorious for splitting and falling during storms. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Fresh from a meeting of 400 member of Garden Writers Association in Pittsburgh, I thought I’d share what I learned in a class, Recognizing At-Risk Trees by Bob Polomski, a professor of forestry and urban forestry at Clemson University.

“I created this seven-point check up list to teach tree owners how to examine their trees for defects that are likely to lead to failure and possibly cause injury or damage,” he said. In tree talk, failure means a tree or limb falls.

A silver maple with cracks and crevices threatens two houses. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/vine and Branch

A silver maple with cracks and crevices threatens two houses. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch

First, stand far enough away from your trees so you can look up into the canopies.

1. Dead or hanging branches larger than 2-inch diameter should be removed immediately to prevent them from falling and damage objects and people below.

A tree limb threatens a home. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

A tree limb threatens a home. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

2. Is the tree leaning? “If you see exposed roots or a mound of soil near its base, the tree may be an imminent hazard that requires immediate action,” Polomski said.

Second, walk up to the tree and closely examine the branches and trunk.

3. Are there multiple trunks and leaders? Look for cracks or splits in branches that are co-dominant. Wishbone-like trunks of equal diameter may separate during wind and ice storms. Ornamental pears are prime examples of multiple trunks that split during storms.

4. Inspect where large branches meet the trunk. Look for cracks or splits. Remove the branches before a storm does, Polomski said.

Deep cracks in the trunk indicate serious risks and should be check by a certified arborist. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Deep cracks in the trunk indicate serious risks and should be check by a certified arborist. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

5. Use a pencil or stick to measure the depth of cracks or splits. If the crack extends into the wood beyond the bark, call a certified arborist to inspect the tree.

6. Look for cavities, cankers, mushrooms and other malformations of the trunk. These indicate dead and decaying wood. Call a certified arborist to assess the condition and potential risk of the tree.

Be on the look out for cavities and the formation of fungus, which indicates dead or dying wood. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch

Be on the look out for cavities and the formation of fungus, which indicates dead or dying wood. Photo courtesy Jud Scott/Vine and Branch

Third, inspect the base of the tree.

7. Look for damage from rodents, trimmers or mowers at the base of the tree. Is there a mound of soil or cracked dirt near the main root? Do roots encircle the tree? Consult with a certified arborist to help solve the problem.

Landscape work severed the roots on one side of a pine tree, causing it to lift out of the ground and threaten the nearby house. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Landscape work severed the roots on one side of a pine tree, causing it to lift out of the ground and threaten the nearby house. Photo courtesy Tom Tyler/Bartlett Tree Experts

Why does this matter?

The last thing you want is for a tree to fall on your house, the neighbor’s or crash into cars on the street. A common argument for putting off tree work is the expense. It’s a balance, that’s for sure, but it’s likely more expensive to repair the house, replace the car, pay hospital bills or worse, than regular basic tree care.

Lastly, always work with a certified arborist.