Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘dying pine trees

Looking Good

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I’m in the final countdown of days before leaving tomorrow for my annual vacation week of biking and camping with the Tour of Minnesota. I feel reasonably prepared, both mentally and physically. Yesterday, we worked on a few projects with immediate visual rewards on the landscape around our house and on our north loop trail to get everything looking good before I go.

We received notification from our county that it was time to have our septic system inspected and yesterday the tank was pumped and deemed to be in good working order. That’s always a relief to know. Cyndie and I mustered the initiative to use the occasion to clean up the overgrowth in our drain field.

I was reminded of our visit to Ian’s place in Portugal in 2010 when he and I cleared the bramble that had covered a spring he hadn’t seen in years. I uncovered an old tree stump that I had forgotten was there when we cleaned up the crazy tangle of things growing among the wild raspberry bushes since the last time we cut back the growth there.

After that was done I got out the diesel tractor and mowed down the thistle and poison ivy as well as the edges of our north loop trail. If I somehow avoid getting a rash after the wild thrashing of so much of the troublesome ivy it will be a big surprise to me.

Next, we spent time trimming branches near our backyard fire pit. I started with a pole saw that proved entirely inadequate and ultimately brought out the pole chainsaw and the big chainsaw to clear all that looked deserving. It is always interesting to discover there are more things to cut than we originally expected. Once you get in there and take out the first layer, the next obvious candidates suddenly pop into view.

While I had the main chainsaw out, I finally dispatched the last dying pine tree that was in the middle of the back yard.

Cyndie captured the shot just as the tree was falling. There is only one dying pine tree left back there now. It is on the side of the yard and doesn’t stand out as obviously so it can linger a while longer. We have already got enough branches to clean up after all the cutting that was accomplished yesterday.

Today, I will mow the grass with the lawn tractor to get this place looking its best before I leave Cyndie to deal with everything for a week.

That should be completed with plenty of time to spare for packing my things before Saturday’s departure. Despite having done this June week of biking and camping more than twenty times before, I still struggle with the decision making about what I really need to bring.

At this point, it sounds like the week is going to start out hot. That should make it easier to pack light.

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Necessary Evil

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One of the tasks I tend to delay more than any others is cutting down trees. There are times it needs to happen and times it probably should happen, but I struggle with knowing when an ailing tree honestly has no future. I usually choose to rely on time to make the status obvious.

Waiting comes at the expense of a perfect landscape view. Cyndie admitted to not enjoying the scene out across the deck that, from her vantage point, was always filled with the brown needles of another dying pine tree. I respect that.

Yesterday, we dispatched the fading relic. A necessary evil.

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Of course, I saved a portion of the trunk to serve as a platform for balanced rock art.

While I was at it, I also trimmed a section that looked like it had potential to become a future heart sculpture.

Do you see the beautiful pine heart hiding inside there that I see?

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Written by johnwhays

March 7, 2021 at 10:40 am

Wondering If

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While trimming the remaining grass around all the pine trees over the weekend, three things triggered a new hypothesis about our ongoing loss of red pines. I’m wondering if it might have something to do with girdling from the trees being root bound.

I did some searching to see if being root bound might contribute to the way so many of our red pines are coming out of the ground at about a 45° angle before eventually turning to grow straight up, but didn’t find any hint of that connection.

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Then, while writing to describe my latest discoveries to our regional DNR Forester, it struck me that the eighteen inches of heavy, wet snow that fell in May of 2013 tipped many of our trees, but not all of them. In fact, mainly the red pines leaned over. If they were planted without proper attention to the roots, well, a root bound tree would have a hard time standing straight under that kind of load in the wet ground.

While laboring to walk through the cut growth with the power trimmer on my shoulder, I stumbled over an old stump of a long-dead tree. I was curious about an obvious circular root growth, but just tossed it to the side.

Later, while trimming beneath pine branches, I caught a brief glimpse of a girdling root on one tree which triggered a memory of long ago, when we lost a tree in Eden Prairie to root girdling. It led me to go back and reclaim that old stump for a picture, finally thinking I might be on to something.

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It occurred to me that I should also take a picture of the girdling root I had just spotted on that live tree. I retraced my path to find it again, but to no avail.

I was hot, tired, sweaty, and covered with weeds and grass shrapnel. I didn’t have the energy or mental acuity to execute an intelligent search. I am confident it is out there somewhere, unless maybe it was just an optical illusion that my mind used to help guide me further along this theory I was concocting. I’ll allow for a possibility it was all in my head.

If I receive a response from our Forester that lends credence to my thinking, I’ll undertake a more organized research expedition through that grove of pines again.

I realized, in afterthought, that my tired searching was mainly focused on looking at the leaning red pines, in support of my hypothesis. Maybe the root I noticed had yet to cause a problem, and was on one of the trees that still looked just fine.

It all definitely has me wondering. Did these red pines have already compromised root systems when they were all planted? There are several stumps still in the back yard from trees I cut off at ground level after they died. I could always exhume those remains to collect a little more evidence.

Put that on the “someday” list. For now, I’m going to wait to see if our DNR Forester thinks my latest findings could possibly explain our red pines slowly dying, year after year.

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Written by johnwhays

July 31, 2018 at 6:00 am

Disappearing House

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Two years ago, in the springtime, I mounted a bird house on the tall stump of a pine tree that had died, and then I took a picture of it.

Even then, two tiny volunteer tree sprouts can be seen making an appearance at the base.

When squirrels bury acorns, trees often follow. When oaks sprout, we are not in a hurry to remove them, even when they appear in locations that may not be ideal. Who doesn’t want more oak trees surrounding them?

The same can’t be said for the scourge of box elder, common buckthorn, and thorny American plum that overtake all the neglected spaces along property lines and ditches. When they try to spread their way into our managed grounds, they meet with swift action.

This is what two years of oak growth looks like when you let nature do its thing:

Where did the bird house go?

It is reaching the point where some serious pruning is warranted to convert this little oak shrub into a future healthy tree.

While I’m on the subject of trees, I will report a surprising turn of events for a lot of the long needle pine trees that were looking like goners last year. Many have produced an amazing effort to sprout green needles on almost all of the lower portions that looked completely dead last fall.

For the previous several years, the pines would try to sprout new growth on the dead-looking lower branches in the spring, but it proved futile in just a matter of weeks afterward.

This summer they seem to be enduring just fine. Temporary reprieve? Or, signs of hope for a future full-recovery?

We’re going to imagine it a step toward recovery. It is helping me to understand the amazing resilience of growing things, and justifies my tendency to be slow in making decisions about giving up on plants without giving them the potential of another season to get over whatever might be dragging them down.

Maybe soon I will be able to remove the bird house from the stump and hang it from a branch in a new maturing oak tree in our front yard. Not that I think that pine stump will be making a comeback anytime in the future.

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Written by johnwhays

August 10, 2017 at 6:00 am

Bitter Discovery

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There is a tree beside the shop garage with a canopy that overhangs a significant portion of the roof. There is no mistaking that it is a nut-tree, because this time of year it starts dropping its fruit with a bang. If they hit just right, it can make a sound like a shot from a rifle. Even if they don’t hit just right, the clank is unpleasantly startling if you are close, and surprisingly loud if you are further away.

That initial report is followed by an amusing rattle as the seed pod rolls down the slant of the metal roof. You can hear them gaining speed as they approach the edge, where they then drop down to another metal roof that covers the entry door, before rolling off that surface to the ground.

The driveway in front of the garage is getting littered with nuts, so I decided to collect a few of them. I was under the impression that this tree was just like the many other nut trees on our property, butternut trees. Since the nuts of the butternut tree are known for having a good flavor, every fall I feel like we should be collecting them for use somehow.

We did take a crack at it the first year we were here, but while waiting for them to dry out, they got all funky and we threw them away. I wanted to try again. I encouraged Cyndie to start collecting them and look up ways to prepare them for consumption.dscn5203e

A day later she was asking me to look into it, because these didn’t look like the pictures she was finding for butternuts.

Sure enough, I quickly discovered these were not butternuts. This tree is a bitternut hickory, providing just the opposite of good flavor. I think it is funny that it took me this many years to figure out it was a different nut.

While researching a comparison of the two types of trees I stumbled upon an alarming detail about the butternut tree. It produces a toxin that can stunt growth or even kill certain susceptible plants in the vicinity of its roots.

Included in the list of susceptible plants: white pine and red pine.

Could that be what has been taking out our pines?

Plenty of the details match what we have witnessed in the last few years.

If I find out cedar trees can tolerate the toxin, that’s what I’d like to plant in place of those lost pines.

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Written by johnwhays

September 23, 2016 at 6:00 am