The Angel Oak Tree

3/16/2015




My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the Angel Oak Tree located on John’s Island in South Carolina in February 2014 and again in February 2015.

This Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) pre-dates, by at least a century, the cotton plantations of this region making it one of the oldest living organisms east of the Mississippi.  Our first visit was just after an ice storm had moved through the area and the arborists who were monitoring the tree and had responsibility for its care, had set up temporary metal poles to support the large branches just prior to the storm.  During our arrival we observed that all the poles were bent.   

Since our visit coincided with the arborist’s project, we were able to engage him in conversation and learned that the poles had become compromised with the added weight of the ice from the recent storms. It was fascinating to watch these professionals painstakingly and with much trepidation replace the temporary braces with the more permanent.  So much at stake in the care of this highly valued tree.  We discovered that the care of this tree is very precise with monitoring practices for insects, cabling large branches, prescription fertilization, and pruning. 


On our follow-up trip this year we observed that the temporary poles were replaced by more permanent wooden “telephone poles” to anchor and stabilize these massive branches.  The tree is in outstanding health with a great shape and form.  With the care it receives and its general health, the Angel Oak will probably provide future generations many more years to enjoy its beauty.

Meadows

8/11/2011

On a recent trip to Storm King Arts Center - a 500 acre sculpture garden, we viewed the extensive use of meadows as a canvas for large-scale art installations. The ecology of native meadows consists of using predominately grasses with perennial forbs (herbaceous plants). Meadows can be established by removing all unwanted vegetation, usually with a herbicide or hand cultivation. Once the area has been prepared, in many cases, the seeding can be done by hand with a selected mixture determined by existing site conditions. Some of the more commonly used native plants are Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) Senna (Senna marilandica) and Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia fulgida). Meadows generally take 2-3 years to become fully established. Once matured, they provide a habitat for wild life, and an opportunity to practice low maintenance techniques. This would mean no need for fertilization, and just mowing the meadow in early spring before growth resumes. In some states burning is permitted in early spring, which is the most ideal method in cleansing and invigorating the meadow. Meadows are dynamic, changing, ecologically sound, nurturing, and of great value when considering land use.

Mulching With Compost

4/11/2011


Using manure and compost creates more diversity in the soil which is better for plants than traditional hard wood mulches and fertilizer programs.

It's commonly known the many benefits of hard wood mulches such as moisture retention, moderating soil temperatures, and weed suppression; however, one of the guiding principles to good landscape health is diversity. A diverse landscape is one with various types of plant material that attract different forms of wildlife.

Below ground we want to employ the principle of diversity with the existing soil microorganisms. There are countless decomposers in the soil like fungi, bacteria, earth worms, and arthropods that create an environment that helps sustain plants. These diverse players also build healthy sustainable landscape environments.

Traditionally, landscape professionals and homeowners have been applying a hardwood chip mulch. These materials have a high Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) ratio -about (100:1). The decomposers described earlier that have a great impact on plant health require carbon and nitrogen as a food source to survive. Plants also need carbon and nitrogen to survive. The decomposing organisms or microbes break down organic forms of nitrogen (mulches, compost) to make it available to the plants. Materials with high C:N ratios do not contain enough nitrogen to fully support microbial growth. Hence, microorganisms rob available soil nitrogen from plants in order to break down mulch. This leads to plant nitrogen deficiency, and nitrogen is the main element necessary for plant growth.

Conversely, compost (yard waste, manure) has a very low C:N ratio. Far less carbon to nitrogen - about (30:1). The lower C:N ratio of compost contains more nitrogen than is required to support microbial activity; therefore making more nitrogen available to the plants.

Diversity occurs by incorporating compost into the soil system, which attracts different decomposers than you find in hardwood mulches; thus reducing the traditional need for fertilizers and chemical treatments of properties. It is these new microbial players that provide the different nutrients needed in the landscape. Nutrients that, in the past, have been provided by commercial means. It is important to remember that diversity leads to stability.

For a great source of compost go to http://www.rt34landscape.com/

Xeroiscaping

11/17/2010

On a recent trip to Denver Botanical Gardens, I observed the relationship between plants and water usage. As you may remember, this past summer we had many days of over 90 degrees with long stretches of no rainfall and restrictions on water usage. This type of occurrence happens every 8-10 years in NJ, but water usage could become more of a problem in the future if supply becomes limited. Some of the things that can be done in the landscape to conserve water are as follows:


1. Mulching of landscape beds.

2. Adding compost to soil prior to planting.

3. Drip irrigation for efficient use of water.

4. Proper plant selection.

5. Reduction of turfgrass usage.


Colorado receives less than 10 inches of rainfall per year; therefore, plant selection is key. Many of the plants growing in the botanical garden were native in nature and therefore, have adapted to low water consumption. In our state of NJ, we have wide ranging choices of native plants as well as exotic plants that grow successfully here. Both natives and exotics have adaptations for drought stress.



One group of plants that offer these special adaptations are ornamental grasses. Grasses offer a vertical element of varying heights, textures, colors, dimensions, and movement to the landscape. And with their deep root system, they are able to claim moisture below the soil profile.

Recycling in the Landscape

10/24/2010


We're all familiar with the term recycling as we do it everyday with our newspapers, cans, bottles, etc. Part of the "green movement" is also recycling in the landscape. Carbon is the basic element necessary for all plant life to develop. Trees, shrubs, perennials, and vines all have varying percentages of carbon in their plant tissue. As these materials decompose the debris is generally broken down in the environment overtime. Recycling these vital nutrients into the soil, provides restoring nourishment for plants.
One common practice that can be done is to recycle the fallen leaves and other small debris that fall on the lawn at this time of year with the use of your lawn mower. Simply mow the leaves and debris into your lawn. This process accelerates decomposition by shredding organic matter into small pieces that infiltrate into the turf canopy. You are essentially feeding your lawn providing food sources for micro organisms and reducing the need to fertilize. So put your rakes away.

September is for rejuvenating the lawn

9/15/2010




The heat is finally gone and the cool, crisp air of fall is upon us. This change in seasons ushers in a new set of landscape practices critical for the health of your landscape. First thing we need to do is aerate and fertilize that stressed lawn that probably looks like a burned out field by now. Aeration extracts and loosens the soil so as to decompact the lawn from all the abuse it took throughout the year. Aeration can improve root growth, increase soil microorganism, and help prevent fertilizer run-off. Aerators can be rented at any landscape supply store and are very easy to use. Along with aerating the lawn you should also apply fertilizer in the fall in order to help the turf recover from the summer stress and to store food supplies for the winter monthes. These are just a few things to consider when you stare out your window onto that once beautifully green lawn you used to have, but with a little work you can easily bring it back to life.

Tulips and Their Garden Use

4/25/2010

One true sign that we are well into spring is the colorful display of Tulips, which represent the largest and most significant group of bulbs. Flowering from mid-April to mid-May, almost every color and bi-color forms are represented. What is confusing to many people is the classification of Tulips and how it relates to their longevity. For example, many of the hybrid forms that have resulted in controlled crosses such as
Single Early, Triumph, Single Late, and Darwin Hybrid types
need to be cultivated as annuals. They bloom for one season then the entire bulb is removed and you reorder new Tulips each fall for a new spring display. The above mentioned types are best used in bedding displays where they are planted in large masses in highly visible areas.
There are other native-origin forms of Tulips known as botanic types. They fall under the categories of Kaufmanniana, Fosteriana, Greigii, and Bakeri. These bulbs are used for their uniqueness and are less showy than the hybrid forms, but naturalize and provide years of enjoyment as perennials. The botanic types are best used in existing perennial gardens flowering in small drifts that disappear as the perennial garden unfolds later in the spring. When using Tulips it's important to understand the various classifications and how they can best be utilized in the landscape.