Shiver Me Timbers!

Recent high winds in the midwest cleared a lot of fall leaves out of the landscape and  absolved some people from raking duties. I’m going to have to go out and collect some leaves to use for my composting efforts and vegetable garden because they all blew away to some fortunate beneficiary of the blustery weather. Aside from the transfer of foliage to another zip code by the high winds, wind storms can do a lot of damage to trees. Shiver me timbers! In storm tossed seas as the boat would rock the supports and the masts would creak, move and shake you can picture the wooden peg leg pirates to exclaim “Shiver me Timbers! With the timber in our landscapes the damage can reveal the advanced aging of some trees in a condition called “shade tree decline”. Sometimes the decline isn’t evident until a weather event like a wind storm or heavy wet snow. In other cases wind can be “nature’s pruner”……if trees aren’t properly maintained and pruned nature will take out weak, old or crossing branches or in the case of a top heavy dense canopy topple the entire tree roots and all. This was evident in France in December of 1999 when thousands of trees were damaged or destroyed by hurricane-like winds. Trees planted by Marie Antoinette, the Corsican pine of Napoleon and other rare species. One tree that survived  both the French Revolution and the 1999 storm ( Crème de la crème….sorry couldn’t resist) toppled under high winds last year. Sacré bleu! The 82 foot high beech tree planted in 1786 could no longer support the weight of a 72 foot span of branches. As the French say “C’est la vie” (such is life).  Trees have a life span and this tree lived a good life. Trees biologically adapt themselves to withstand destructive events which are usually in the form of blow-down, stem failure, crown twist or rot, root failure, branch failure, weight or lightening strike. The trees as they grow develop spiral reinforcements by means of fiber spirals giving them strong buffeting resolve against destructive events. That said, everyone has their breaking point right? This is most true when age or disease are factors. Remember that Fall into November is a great time to plant new trees to replace old or toppled trees. When planting stake the trees to buffet some of the wind. Place the stakes out from the tree to the drip line….not next to the tree. The reason is that from a young age wind can be a friend to trees. What I mean is that some sway in the wind provides movement that strengthens woody material in the developing trunk and stems…..some “give and take” so to speak. I believe the stakes also help the root system properly develop by providing support to avoid up-rooting during establishment. As the leaves fall off (or blow away) remember to feed trees at this time for healthy roots in a soil that is still warm enough for absorption of nutrients giving your tree a healthy start next spring. “Vive la difference” you’ll see next year as you train the next generation of trees this fall……

Rick Vuyst