Loving trees is good for the spirit.

Recently, Andrew Carmichael, a Master Gardeners who is also a certified arborist among many other accomplishments provided our monthly meeting education lecture.  He spoke about the aesthetics of trees and about how if you really love trees you will both care about them and care for them. I was in total agreement with his views on trees. The next day, my Linden Garden Club had a nurseryman speaker who also advocated for planting trees that do well in the Central Valley especially for colorful fall foliage. It was a week for a tree lover to be re-inspired by information on trees to grow and how best to care for them.

My affection for trees began as a child on a 165 acre farm in New Jersey. We had a forty-acre woodlot and when I got home from school, I put on my work duds and with my dog went to the woodlot to enjoy nature and especially the trees. There were tulip poplars, red oaks, white oaks, blackjack oaks, pin oaks, persimmons, flowering dogwood, white cedars and others as well as a white pine/Norway spruce Christmas tree plantation that my father had planted in 1944 on some land that was no longer farmed due to erosion.

I also remember one large, dead American chestnut that still stood upright like a white bleached ghost in the forest. It was a casualty of chestnut blight caused by a fungus organism accidentally introduced in 1904 on some nursery stock. It spread rapidly and killed an estimated four billion of one of the best trees in our native forests by 1940. Chestnut wood was good for furniture, rail fences, lumber, and the chestnuts were good “roasting by the fire.”  The tree was also a good shade tree as recognized in Longfellow’s poem: ‘The Village Blacksmith:  Under a spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands’. My father, who witnessed the whole sad chestnut blight saga unfold, informed me about why the dead ghost chestnut tree was in our woodlot as well as how important chestnut trees had been.

Chinese chestnuts were introduced for providing edible chestnuts but do not replace other qualities of the American chestnut. For many years there have been efforts to breed a disease-resistant American chestnut and recent efforts at genetic engineering will hopefully bring back this wonderful tree: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/08/save-iconic-american-chestnut-researchers-plan-introduction-genetically-engineered-tree.

Here are some thoughts on planting and caring for our trees. Plant them in the right place which is a basic gardening axiom: “right plant right place.”  Don’t plant a potentially large tree close to your home, power lines or other service lines. See PG and E guidelines for trees: https://www.pge.com/pge_global/common/pdfs/safety/yard-safety/powerlines-and-trees/Bay-Area-Small-Trees.pdf.  I would avoid trees vulnerable to diseases or pests such as the Bradford Pear which is susceptible to fireblight. The American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) produces spiny seed fruit “gumballs” that are no fun to step on or rake up by the hundreds. I recently removed one for that and other reasons, although I did enjoy the fall foliage and the shade. I have yet to choose a replacement, but there are lots of good fall foliage trees to enjoy and there is now a sterile, non-fruiting sweetgum variety ‘Rotundiloba’ which ends the gumball problem.

Japanese maples can show a range of fall colorsHybrids of silver and red maples have been developed that are good for fall foliage and a red maple is more drought tolerant than these hybrids which have glowing names such as: ‘October Glory’, ‘Autumn Blaze’, ‘Autumn Fantasy’.  They are all about 50 feet and 30 feet wide. October Glory’s leaves stay on the tree later into the fall than other cultivars. Ginkgo biloba is an ancient tree that has proven to be a colorful fall foliage tree and it is resistant to pollution and pests though it grows slowly. Chinese pistache, crepe myrtles, ash, Eastern redbuds and tupelos are some moderate-sized trees with colorful foliage.

When planting a tree it is best to plant on a small undisturbed soil pedestal under the root ball to assure that the tree does not sink to a depth below where it was planted in the nursery; very important for grafted fruit trees. Also, do not add soil amendments but use native soil in the planting hole so that roots are encouraged to spread.

Joyce Kilmer, a romantic poet killed in WWI, expressed well my sentiment on trees: “I think that I shall never see/ a poem lovely as a tree.”  May all your trees be colorful, fruitful, shadeful and poetic.

If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can be found on our website:  http://sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US/

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