Lawn Tree Traditions: Greening up the Neighborhood

mother and son

Mother and son

If you drop by this week, you’ll see Christmas trees up and down the block. Our neighborhood has an extensive and coordinated effort to display cut Christmas trees on our lawn each year. The trees go up the first week of December and come down New Year’s day. I’m the block captain for our street.

We try to make it a family affair, but now that our boys are teens, their interest wanes.  This year my older son did the heavy lifting along with his dad, dropping trees at each house while I drove the truck.  My youngest son asked if he could stay in bed!  So it goes.

the muscle

The Muscle

Our neighbor, Greg lends us his truck for deliveries.  I get to dust off my manual transmission driving skills once a year.  It keeps me in the game.

christmas tree bundles

Ready for delivery

The Bay Area is diverse.  Not all neighbors celebrate this tradition.  When I was a young, I wondered why one or two people wouldn’t want a tree in their yard.  Then I grew up and understood that the world is full of different religions and cultures and it all made sense.  We see Menorah in neighboring windows and understand others simply don’t embrace the ritual.  It’s a great time of year to pause and reflect on the richness of diversity.

We have an artificial tree indoors, and a cut tree on the lawn.  I wrote about the pros and cons of real vs fake last year.  You can read more about that here.

Do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you display a tree?  Real or fake…or both?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, below.

Organized at Heart

I’m posting a series of articles featuring organizing around the holidays this month on my blog Organized at Heart. If the subject interests you, please go take a peak. Today’s blog: Holiday Storage: The Case of the Shrinking House. 

Of note: Wikipedia has a wonderful and detailed article on the origins of the decorated Christmas tree.  I’m always learning something new on that site and must remember to make my annual donation accordingly.

Magnolia vs Scale: This Tree has Game

tulip magnolia March 2012

Tulip Magnolia
March, 2012 BC (Before Scale)

All is not lost!

Last week I wrote about my struggling tulip Magnolia. It’s infested with scale, a nasty soft scale insect.  It’s been a problem for two seasons.  You can continue reading, or pop over to this page to view graphic photos.

Did you go look? It’s not pretty, is it?

I met with a certified arborist today to discuss the tree’s plight. The arborist nodded and said ‘yes it’s a problem,’ and agreed that gardens with tulip magnolias frequently harbor scale.  He went on to say the problem is systemic and that most treatments don’t work.

He did, however suggest a fairly new product that has recently shown promise.  Bayer Tree and Shrub Protect and Feed.   It’s applied at the roots so no spraying.  Further, it’s supposed to have minimal impact on beneficial insects, always a concern. I’m going to give it a try.  He said improvement wouldn’t happen ‘over night’ but that with time, it may help.  He noted the green shoots on the tree and the lack of mold as two good signs.  Apparently all my scraping and washing helped.

Two hours worth of scale removal.

Two hours worth of scale removal.

The arborist also approved of the banding  my husband banded did last summer.  It’s an ant barrier, a sticky substance that the ants won’t cross.  Since ants protect the scale in order to harvest the secreted honeydew, it’s another step toward protecting the tree.

Hope, renewed.

In other news…

Special thanks to Betsy of What’s Green With Betsy!?! and Pauline of The Contented Crafter for including me in there list of recommended bloggers.  I’ll write more about this later in the week.

Slugs and Scales and Disgusting Tales

snail and scale

Magnolia covered in scale

The title didn’t scare you off?

You thought we were safely passed Halloween and all things creepy?

What’s creepy about this photo isn’t the snail but the scale…all over my struggling Magnolia.  Two seasons of effort to remove it and it’s back, bigger and badder then ever.  Gross.

scale infestation

Scale infestation

Last year, when the tree was dormant, I spent an hour literally scraping all the visible scale from the tree. I went back over the branches with warm water, wiping down any residue. I went back two days later, removing what I missed.

The tree bloomed, but the scale came right back. Over the spring and summer, it spread to the entire tree, dripping sticky honeydew all over the shrubs below.

I hate giving up on this tree, but if I don’t remedy the problem, the scale will kill the tree.

I placed a call today to a certified arborist for a professional consultation. Ian Geddes has been a great help over the years, thinning and pruning tall trees, removing tree stumps and consulting on the health of our trees. I appreciate their expert advice.

snail in Magnolia

Just passing through

Now to get your mind off these creepy pictures, I’ll leave you with this: Dylan looking adorable on our hike earlier this week.

Dylan

Dylan

Addendum:

After I hit the publish button, WordPress told me this was my 500th post on Gardening Nirvana.  Instead of celebrating with flowers and fruit, I give you scale.

So it goes when you blog about a slice of life.  Please don’t hold it against me.  Alys

The Colors of Fall: Our Own Special Tree

colorful leaves

Colorful leaves

New England states are known for stunning displays of fall color.  My husband and I crossed the country by train one year so we could enjoy the spectacular (and fleeting) beauty.

We also had the good sense to plant our own fall color in the strip of land between the street and the sidewalk.  Though there were four beautiful trees growing in the back yard when we bought our house in 1996, we didn’t have a single tree out front.

August, 1996

Planting the tree
August, 1996

We planted two that first year, and have since planted a couple more.   The Magnolia shows off in early spring with huge, snowy-white flowers but the fall belongs to the splendid Chinese Pistache.

The City of San Jose requires a permit before planting a tree in the sidewalk strip, the space between the sidewalk and the street.  They provide a list of “approved” street trees.  Approved trees must have non-invasive roots, non-staining fruit and other good-neighbor qualities.  In the past, neighboring streets sported Liquidambar trees.  They’re pretty but a nuisance when planted curbside.  Invasive roots lift the sidewalks, causing myriad tripping hazards, and the seed pods are hard enough to twist an ankle when stepped on.  I remember getting them caught in the wheels of the boys’ s stroller and later in the undercarriage of scooters.  One by one, homeowners removed the Liquidambar, leaving neighborhoods bereft of trees.

A few years back the trend reversed, and once again families are planting trees.

Planting a tree is an act of hope and optimism.  It also says “I’m here to stay!”  My family moved a lot when I was a child, and I moved even more during college and my early working career.  The same was true for my husband. Planting a tree outside our front window said  “we plan to stay awhile.”

chinese pistache newly planted

August, 1996

chinese pistache spring

Spring, 2011

Now and again my husband grumbles that our tree is not as tall or as full as the one across the street.  I immediately come to our trees’ defense and assure him that it’s just fine.  BK (before kids) we used to measure the tree’s height each year.  We settled into life raising two boys, and measured their growth each year instead.

Winter Views of the Pistache

Growing boys, sleeping tree

Now we have three strapping teenagers (two boys and one tree) and all three are taller than me.  The colors of fall, and our beautiful tree, are an introspective time to reflect.

chinese pistache

November 12, 2013

hummer in pistache

This little hummingbird sang while I raked

A Room with a View

 kitchen window

Kitchen Window: Before and after

The best part of my kitchen is the view. Sure the counter tops are nice and who doesn’t like a dishwasher, but the view out my front window makes the room.

When we remodeled nine years ago, the contractor suggested lowering the window to the height of the counters. Who knew that dropping it just a few inches could make such a difference?  The lowered window invites the outdoors in. I have a direct view of the Chinese Pistache, a lovely tree that sheds leaves each fall. It’s one of those trees that’s gorgeous year round, though particularly stunning in the early autumn months.

Pistache in the Fall

Pistache in the Fall

Improving on my view, I added a small, triangular flower garden in the corner of the lawn. I knew the flowers would lift my spirits, but didn’t realize the number of birds it would attract.  What a treat to hear them singing in nearby trees, then watching them swoop down for seeds.

flower garden

Flowers near the lawn

Rounding out my extraordinary view are the hummingbirds that visit throughout the day. I found a feeder that suction-cups to the window, and placed it high enough to keep them safe from predators, but low enough for maximum viewing. We worried they would stop coming when we hung the awning in the spring, but they were back within minutes, swooping under the awning for a quick meal. I’ve been known to swoop in for a sugary treat myself, so I should have had more faith.

hummingbird feeder collage

Picture me on the other side of the glass smiling at this little hummingbird.

Do you have a favorite room with a view?

Snails and Scale: A Winning Combination?

No!

Scale and Snail

Scale to the left, snail to the right,

No, I’m pretty sure it’s not a winning combination.  For now, however, it’s what we’ve got.  Ugh.

We had a major infestation last summer, with little to do for it while the tree was blooming. I pruned close to 30% of the branches, removing the worst of the infestation. Then, we waited.

Early this year, while the tree was dormant, I worked at removing all traces of the pest.  Once I’d scraped away the hard scale, I took a bucket of warm soapy water, and wiped down every single branch, removing the black, sooty scale as well.  I checked the tree the following day, removing what I’d missed.

Scale Removal

They’re back!  The infestation isn’t *as* bad, but it’s back nonetheless.

The interesting turn of events is the snails.  I counted six or seven of them as I inspected the tree.  I was momentarily hopeful.  Could it be that this garden pest would actually snack on the scale?

Snail on a Tulip Magnolia

That was a long climb to slime a flower

Scale encrusted branch

Scale encrusted branch

Snail on a branch

Snail making tracks

Snail at apex of tree

Y do you ask?

DSC_0063

Nope!  My research tells me they eat fruit, leaves, even paper, but not scale.  Boo!

If you’re looking for pet snails, these are free for the asking. Time to move on to plan C.

Pruning the Fruit Tree: Living to Tell the Tale

Four in one fruit cocktail tree

Four-in-one fruit cocktail tree

My fruit tree ‘cheat sheet’  told me to get out there and prune by the end of January. The four-in-one fruit cocktail tree is still relatively young, so good pruning is key to the tree’s long-term success. This time last year my son was adamant that I not prune the tree, worried that I would kill it. I read him a long article, published by one of the universities, on the importance of pruning in the first five years of the tree’s life. He would have none of it. Finally he relented, as long as I pruned the tree when he wasn’t looking.

What a difference a year makes. Playing Minecraft with a good friend today took precedence over anything I was doing. I quickly pruned the tree while my husband kept a hand on the ladder. Today was dry and clear, but cold.  I wanted to get the job done and he wanted to get back indoors.

Last spring, I tried to put a net over the tree to protect the fruit from marauding squirrels. I managed to partially cover the tree, but then one of the legs of the ladder sunk into the soft soil, sending me backward into the shrubs.  I skinned my chin, bruised my back side, broke the ladder and damaged my ego. It’s called learning the hard way.

Fresh Cuts, new buds

Fresh cuts, new buds

Generally speaking, I enjoy pruning, but not when I’m ten feet off the ground.  I’m glad the job is done for another year. I started the weekend with a bump on the head after ‘gracefully’ tripping over a warped mat in the garage. No sense adding injury to injury.

Did you do any big chores this weekend?

Good things to come

Good things to come

Fresh lumber for the fairy garden fence

Lumber for the fairy garden fence