A Sad Case Of “Apple Scab”

There’s a little crab apple tree in the side yard of our place in Stonington.  I feel sorry for it.  The tree seems to struggle and has never produced fruit or flowers during the time we’ve had the place.  It has remained small and spindly despite my best efforts to help it grow.  I’ve tried watering it liberally, and I’ve driven those tree fertilizer spikes into the area around the tree to try to give it nutrients.  Unfortunately, it remains stunted.  It may just be that the rocky soil isn’t good for a tree.

This year, a kind of white discoloration appeared on some of the leaves on the tree.  In trying to figure out what it was, I learned something kind of cool about the University of Maine.  The U of M Cooperative Extension offers the services of a plant disease diagnostic lab that will test any sample you send and let you know what the problem is.  You just clip off some leaves that show the problem, put them in a plastic bag, give them your name and address and email information, and send the sample off to Orono, Maine for analysis. 

We took advantage of the service to send in some clippings from the little tree for examination and testing.  Yesterday we received a report from one of the scientists working at the lab — about a week after we sent it off.  That’s pretty impressive, and much appreciated.

The news about our little tree was bad and good.  The bad news is that the tree now has to deal with a fungal condition called venturia inequalis, which is commonly known as “apple scab.”  It’s not exactly an attractive name, but then fungal conditions typically don’t get lyrical monikers.  According to the report, “apple scab” is common on apple trees that have not been bred for resistance to the fungus — so now we know that the little tree lacks good breeding, in addition to its other issues.  The good news is that the condition isn’t fatal, or even all that serious.  The diagnostics lab scientist does not recommend fungicide, and simply recommends raking and disposing of the leaves after they drop from the tree this fall.  And a University of Massachusetts website identified in the diagnostics report says we can hope that the tree will be better next spring.    

So we’ve learned something neat about how the University of Maine serves the surrounding community, and confirmed that our little tree’s bout with “apple scab” means it has another challenge to contend with.  And now we can only hope that the little tree, like everything else, will be better — much better — in 2021. 

Pear Scare

I admit that when spring-time comes — if it ever comes, that is — I’m a sucker for flowering trees.  In this part of the country, that most likely means pear trees, bursting with delicate white flowers.  In many suburban neighborhoods, landscapers have long been planting Bradford pear trees as ornamental touches, almost as a matter of course.

But is planting so many pear trees a good idea?

29906170001_5341939690001_5155595095001-vsThis guy is one of an increasing number of people who argue that it isn’t a good idea, and we’ve got to stop.  He notes that while pear trees are very tempting when you’re trying to turn what used to be a farm field into something that looks more like an attractive neighborhood — because they grow incredibly quickly, and flower besides — they aren’t a viable long-term solutions for any yard.  Bradford pears have one of the weakest branch structures of any tree, with a trunk that splits into a V, besides.  The trees grow like Topsy, to be sure, but ultimately a strong storm will come along and the trees will break apart.  That’s exactly what happened to the pear trees in our old house in New Albany.  We were just lucky that the limbs crashed into the yard, rather than knocking down part of the house.

But apparently there’s more to it than just having to cut down a split tree and figure out what to do with the stump.  Bradford pears were supposed to be sterile, but they actually aren’t.  They’ve cross-pollinated with other varieties of pear trees, apparently causing a proliferation of pears in some neighborhoods — and, in so doing, they are crowding out other, native trees that might not have those fine blossoms, but are sturdier are more suited to the environment.  Even worse, some of the pears being produced as a result of the cross-pollination are thorny monstrosities that are almost impossible to get rid of. That’s why Ohio has put Bradford pears on the list of invasive species that can’t be sold in the Buckeye State.

So if you’re going to do some landscaping, consider whether you really want to plant that Bradford pear, or for that matter any ornamental pear tree.  It turns out that those white flowers come at too high a price.

Tree Fail

When we moved in to our house we had our back yard landscaped.  Kish hates direct sunlight, so a key element of the design was a new tree planted at one corner of the patio.  It was supposed to grow tall, leaf out, and provide lots of the glorious shade that Kish likes so well.

For the first year and a half, things went according to plan.  The tree grew like crazy and looked to be doing fine.  Then late last summer, the tree started to visibly struggle.  Beginning at the top of the tree, the leaves wilted and died.  We hoped that the tree would recover this spring, but the top half remained dead and the only new leaves appeared at the base of the tree trunk.  As a last-ditch salvage effort, the landscapers cut off the dead top part of the tree — leaving us with the pathetic looking elongated stump shown above — in hopes it would spur new growth at the bottom of the tree.  Unfortunately, that effort also failed.  Our little tree has given up the ghost.

I like trees.  I hate to see them struggle and I hate to see them die.  This tree death is particularly weird because there’s no apparent cause.  It wasn’t struck by lightning, and every other plant and shrub in our back yard is thriving.  I guess sometimes death just happens.

I’ll miss our little tree.

Tree, Sky, And Shadow

The fine Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, teaches that beauty can be found just about anywhere — in skyscrapers, in flowers, in barns, in the rugged landscape of New Mexico . . . and in trees. So when I left the museum and saw this tree framed against the adobe walls of the museum, with the sunshine etching an intricate shadow on the wall, I had to let my inner O’Keeffe snap this photo.

Great Tree

IMG_6385I freely confess it:  I am a big fan of trees.  I’m not sure exactly why, but there is something about them that is deeply, intuitively appealing.  Some deeply ingrained, inherited memory from our distant, arboreal past, perhaps?

And when I run across a truly great tree — like this one found at one corner of Schiller Park — I can’t help but stand in mute admiration, taking in the leafy canopy, the stout trunk, and particularly the powerful and graceful arc of one impossibly long limb stretching out to shade the grass beneath.  It’s the kind of tree you could sit beneath on a warm summer’s day and happily study on a daydreamy afternoon.

Really, who doesn’t like trees?

Taking Down Trees

IMG_6222Lately they’ve been taking down trees along the Yantis Loop and Route 62.  It’s a sad occasion for the walkers, cyclists, and joggers who use the path.

For the most part, the now-missing trees weren’t the kind of beautiful, spreading trees about which Joyce Kilmer might wax rhapsodic.  Instead, many were what Kish would call “field trees” — the kind of scrawny trees that farmers might use to visibly mark the boundaries between one field and another.  Still, they provided some shade, protection from the elements, screening from the roadway and the noise of passing cars, and the sense that you were walking through a rustling tunnel of green leafiness.

Now they are gone, and there are just sorry, straw-covered spots on the ground where the trees once stood.  As I said, it’s a sad occasion.

The Biggest Tree In The ‘Hood

IMG_3718When we moved to New Albany in 1996, we planted a small pine tree in our back yard.  At that time, our neighborhood was basically a bare expanse with some houses here and there, and the little conifer was part of an effort to add some texture and definition to our neck of North of Woods.

Every year since then, without fail, the little pine tree has grown a few feet.  Now it is a little tree no longer.  I’m not sure exactly how tall it has grown — 40 feet?  50 feet? — but it is the tallest tree in the ‘hood, and towers over our back yard.  It’s hard to believe it once was little, but time has a way of having that kind of effect on things.

It works with birthdays, too — you remember the little sapling, and the next thing you know it is fully developed, mature, and holding its own in the forest of life.

A Thorn Tree And Its Questions

Every day, on our morning walk, the dogs and I pass a terrible tree of thorns.

It is a fearsome tree.  From its trunk far up into its branches, it is bursting with clusters of two- and three-inch long razor-sharp thorns.  If you tried to shinny up the tree, you’d be punctured in a hundred places before you got up into the branches.  It’s the ultimate form of protection against an unwanted tree invasion.

The thorn defense is formidable, but why does it exist?  I always understood thorns, and other biological and botanical defense mechanisms, to develop through the process of evolution and natural selection.  For some reason, trees with thorns must have been better suited to surviving than trees that weren’t bristling with dagger-like projections — but why?  Were there once bears in our sleepy suburban neighborhood, or other large, thick-furred mammals who were a threat to the tree and could only be discouraged by such long, sharp thorns?  And what kind of threat did they pose that required such menacing defenses?  Were they eating something the tree produced, or stripping its bark?

The thorn tree gives no answers.  It just stands there, silent and dreadful, posing its thorny questions with no obvious answers in the vicinity.

Branches Aflame

Our fall colors are really starting to emerge in central Ohio; we’ll continue to have blazing arboreal beauty until a big storm knocks the leaves to the ground.

The sugar maples on the streets of our neighborhood are particularly striking right now, with leaves like tufts of flame burning brightly on the tree limbs.

The Tree That Wouldn’t Die

We  used to have two pear trees in the middle of the arced flower beds around our patio.  They were the same kind of trees, planted at the same time.  Some years ago one of them was taken down by a storm.  Two years ago the other one began to split in two and had to be chopped down, leaving us with no shade and two stumps in our flower bed where we now perch flower pots.

The first tree that fell just died.  It left a stump and roots behind, but they promptly began to rot away and now break apart easily into spongy shards when nicked by a shovel.  The other tree, however, refuses to give up the ghost.  Two years later, it still clings to life as best it can, sending up dozens of leafy shoots from its rock hard roots.  The shoots grow up among the flowers and through the shrubs framing the rear of the flower bed, and because they are harming the shrubs and interfering with the flowers, I snip them all off at ground level — and then, a month or two later, I do the same thing over again.

As this process has repeated itself I’ve developed a grudging respect for this feisty tree that refuses to accept its unfortunate fate.  Now I feel somewhat guilty when I take out my clipper and cut down the shoots.  I guess some trees, like some people, are just more stubborn than others.

Treeless and Shadeless

The tree removal crew came by this morning and quickly and professionally removed our doomed, split-down-the-center tree.  First they clipped off the branches, then they lopped off the limbs, then they sawed off the trunk at ground level, and finally they raked up the leaves and twigs.  By 2 p.m. they were done.

Our patio now sits naked, treeless and shadeless, exposed to the sun and its beating rays, and in our sawdust-strewn left flower bed a bright tan stump sits where  a mighty tree (or at least a reasonably sized one) once grew.   With the removal of that one tree, our patio has a completely different feel to it.  It will take some time to get used to the change.