Even an Amateur Scientist can learn a lot from looking
Help! I belong to a group that must do a science project
on shade trees. Any ideas? - L.E. -
Congratulations, it's a commendable goal in a field that needs
the contribution that such projects can make, which is to open the
eyes and change the perspective of all parties involved. For
instance, both those who do and those who view a project report on
how trees respond to being planted at varying depths are likely to
learn that it is a serious mistake to plant trees too high above
ground, like molehills, and even worse to plant them too
Use standard scientific method to look into such a topic and
then illustrate what you did and learned. That is, observe a
phenomenon, formulate a hypothesis to explain what you see, use
that hypothesis to predict other phenomena, and then perform tests
to confirm or rule out the hypothesis.
For instance, you may observe that trees of the same species
often grow at different rates. Investigation will reveal that you
can record these growth rates by measuring the length of twigs that
grew this year, and even learn to see how much a branch grew over
the past several years.
After observation on your own and research in Arboriculture
books and journals you may hypothesize that slowed growth goes with
a tree being planted too deeply -- with its root flare, that point
where straight trunk flares into main roots, buried below grade. So
you test your hunch by locating a number of trees of a given
species, then collecting twigs, taking photos and measuring to
record the growth rate and relative depth of planting of each tree.
Then you display and report your results.
Here are some misunderstood and frequently mishandled aspects of
growing a shade tree, along with some clues on where to find
research data or subjects. From each can spring dozens of possible
Trees with smaller diameter trunks transplant more readily and
normal growth more quickly than transplants with larger trunks.
One might record the growth rates of small trees -- "whips" -- just
planted this year in a nursery field by a knowledgeable grower such
as a local nursery and compare that to the growth rates of larger
trees of the same species planted this year on a golf course or
other favorable site.
Mulch should be applied over the roots but not against the trunk
of a tree. One can compare the growth rates, and check for
discolored, rotted bark at the bases of trees mulched in each
Trees grow faster than people think they do. Beeches, oaks,
ginkgos and others are mistakenly assumed to be slow growers, and
so are sometimes overlooked as potential shade trees. Researching
the expected growth rate and then sampling actual growth can be an
eye opener. (What's
Coming Up 50 helps you determine growth rate.)
Burlap, wire cages and all cords are impediments to root growth
and should be removed. Slow root growth means slower branch growth
and greater incidence of trouble. Trees known to have been planted
with cages, cords and burlap intact can be located easily -- the
challenge will be to find comparison trees of the same species,
Trees should not be staked unless they are planted in extremely
windy sites, in shifting soils on slopes or as bare root trees.
Find trees that were not staked and record the incidence of leaning
or toppling. Investigate trees that were staked and record the
incidence of injuries related to the staking, such as girdling by
wires and chafing.
The bark of trees is a fragile but very important defense
system, which can be injured in many ways. This can slow the trees
growth and cause other problems. Trees bark exposed to weed
whipping, mower collision, high pressure water torture by
sprinklers can be examined and growth rate and health of those
trees compared to trees more fortunate.
Have you battled bindweed?
I offer no new advice, today. Thoroughness, regularity and
persistence are still the only way to beat this pernicious
perennial weed that twines up, over and through our plants to
smother them with elongated heart shaped leaves even while
beguiling us with white trumpet type flowers. However, since it
does little good to cry and few of us care to implement the more
successful strategy of moving to a new home on a site free of
bindweed, we may as well have some fun with the topic.
So, report in, bindweed warriors. If you've beaten it, tell us
how long it took and what tactics you employed. If you've been
fighting it for a number of years and see improvement even though
you haven't won a sure victory, tell me what I should tell those
just entering the fray what they're in for. I'll try to devise
appropriate awards for both the person who's battled it the longest
and the one who beat it the fastest. To those interested in
applying for longest-running war, be advised that you have to do
better than the five years currently under discussion by Cathy.
Green thumbs up
to incredibly light, warm silk long johns, available in both
feminine white and masculine black at stores that sell camping
gear. In terms of getting ahead and staying ahead of yard work
there are no more productive times than in November and April.
Edging, weeding, pruning, dividing and mulching get done most
quickly, stay done longest, have the least negative impact on
desirable plants and the best impact on your physical condition on
those late fall and early spring days when you may feel it's just
too chilly to be out there. So don some appropriate clothing and
get out this weekend!
Green thumbs down
to gardening according to the rules as stated by "experts" who
know so little about the area that they may believe we grow polar
bears and permafrost here. If you've read we can't plant after mid-
October or your plants will "heave," check the author's
credentials. Be sure that the person you get information from has
working knowledge from your state, not just their own, local
Originally published 11/1/03