My Yard December - Water Trees

If you didn’t have time for tree care this year, it’s not too late. Fall is the ideal time of the year to prepare woody plants for harsh weather ahead. The winter dormancy of trees is dramatic and often misunderstood. A common myth is that trees essentially go to sleep for winter after leaf drop. In reality trees experience some of their most dramatic growth and vigor from September through December, most of it occurring invisibly below ground, but of critical importance to spring growth.
        With dry winds, subzero temperatures and potential fluctuations of 50 degrees on any given day, trees face a harsh environment. Food reserves stored in twigs, branches and roots must be carefully conserved, as well as moisture, which is also consumed and necessary all winter long. What can you do to help your trees through the Nebraska winter ahead of us?

  • Water trees and shrubs during periods of low moisture, as is the case this fall. Trees less than 10 years old are particularly vulnerable. Water only when soil is not frozen and temperatures are above 40 degrees. You can use sprinklers, soaker hoses, spray wands or buckets with small holes drilled in the bottom to slowly disperse water. As a general rule, apply about 10 gallons of water per tree during dry periods, concentrating it under the drip line or canopy.Identify your trees’ needs and potential health issues before problems arise and focus your time on the most useful activities.

  • Consult. Know and understand your limits and consult with a certified arborist as needed, particularly for large, mature trees. Find arborists online from the Nebraska Arborists Association or the International Society of Arboriculture.

  • Mulch around the base of trees with groundcovers or with 4 inches of organic wood chips. Extend to the edge of the dripline on smaller trees, and as far as feasible on larger trees. A circle of 6-8 feet is ideal for most. Do NOT pile mulch against the trunk, which can cause long-term damage and potential death.

  • Remove or correct structural faults and dead wood, making smaller cuts to minimize wounding and exposure of heartwood. Prune damaged and declining twigs and branches to a healthy lateral branch.

  • Aerate soils if they are compacted or poorly drained, but avoid damaging tree roots.

  • Protect recently planted trees with immature bark with paper tree wrap, and use tree tubes or guards to protect them from mechanical and animal damage. (Rabbit and squirrel damage can be severe over winter so this protection can pay big dividends.)

  • Recycle leaves and yard debris into mulch or compost for healthy, nutrient-rich “living” soil. Using mulching mowers and adding moisture can help speed the breakdown.

Trees are important investments that provide enormous social, economic and environmental benefits. Investing in them in fall can yield large returns next spring.              Eric Berg


My Yard November - Use the leaves

Fall is right around the corner, as well as the falling leaves that go with it. The old saying is “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” An autumn adaptation might be “if life gives you leaves, make compost.” Composting has a long list of benefits and minimal effort and patience are greatly rewarded.
        Composting takes advantage of a natural process, nature’s way of transforming plant “waste” into what gardeners often refer to as “black gold”. The finished product is the perfect soil amendment for gardens, planting beds and even lawns. It adds valuable nutrients released safely over an extended time. Compost also does a wonderful job of improving the structure and increasing water holding capacity, drainage and aeration of the soil, plus it serves as a buffer to soil pH. Another benefit is the addition of beneficial organisms that have been shown to improve a plant’s ability to deal with insect and disease attacks. Compost simply makes the soil much more productive.
        The environmental benefits list is also long. If you don’t compost it’s likely you bag all the yard waste and pay to have it hauled away, then drive to the garden center to buy soil amendments and fertilizers. By composting you reduce or eliminate the substantial energy, pollution and packaging waste involved with those steps. Compost also serves as a carbon sink, keeping carbon in the soil where it is an asset, rather than in the atmosphere where it is a liability.
       Composting works whether you are ambitious or…not. Putting in the extra work of precise mixing and frequent turning speeds up the process, but if you’d rather not, patience is rewarded with the same final product. Either way, compost happens.
        Any plant material can be used to make compost. Ideally you will have a 1:1 ratio of high carbon “browns” (dry leaves, wood chips, straw) and high nitrogen “greens” (kitchen and garden scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds), all slightly damp. Warm weather speeds up the process while cold weather slows or stops it.
        Short or long on materials? That’s a perfect time to get to know your neighbor or even your local coffee shop. Also, if you have room, it’s great to store leaves to use to mix with your kitchen scraps all year round.
        As soon as you start your mix a whole range of critters go to work for you, including bacteria, fungi, millipedes, pillbugs and earthworms. The army of workers you get depends on the components and conditions of your mix. High volume, fresh mixes with plenty of nitrogen and appropriate moisture will get hot from bacterial activity. Smaller, older and high carbon mixes will be cooler with larger creatures, like pillbugs, doing most of the work.
        Done properly, compost does not create unpleasant aromas. A sopping wet pile of grass clippings will stink (anaerobic bacteria), while a damp, not wet, balanced mix of “browns” and “greens” will not.
        You can speed up the process by frequently aerating (mixing) your compost pile and adding water if dry. Taking these steps will get you finished compost in as few as two months. If you’d rather not go to the trouble—don’t. Be patient and you will have compost in a season or two, again, depending on the components and condition of your mix. Chopped, damp maple leaves decompose rapidly while whole, dry oak leaves seem to last a lifetime.
        Your compost is complete when it’s broken down to mostly tiny, dark pieces with an earthy aroma. Put it to use by incorporating into your garden soil or planting beds or using as a potting mix. It can also be beneficial when used as a light topdressing on turfgrass. So consider avoiding the hassle and expense of bagging and trashing all those leaves this fall and instead look at them as the valuable resource they are.
             Kendall Weyers