Message from this Landscaper: Notes of my Learnings and Observations this past year.
Warming and Cooling
Growing up many years ago I always heard that we were over do for some version of an ice age. We would be getting a little colder or a lot colder, they weren’t quite sure, but it would mostly be a slow steady decline. Think of the pictures of people in the 1700’s Frost Fairs (skating) on the Thames River in London. The signs to look for would be when the Earth’s wobble would reach a degree that would mean the Earth would absorb less heat from the sun. Well, indeed, scientists are reporting that degree of wobble is happening as I write this. The Earth is absorbing fewer sun rays as a result of the wobble. The outer layers of the atmosphere are getting colder as we absorb less heat from the sun, and only the troposphere, (about the first nine miles) is getting warmer. At the same time, scientists are reporting that the sun is sending us less energy-heat (as it does from time to time) which also will usually cause the earth to cool slightly. So, the climate change we are experiencing down here on the surface is overcoming what would be a cooling period, a mini ice age. Ironic, maybe.
Boston is currently about 25% trees. We have made a commitment to be 35% trees and also, we have increased our maintenance budget to save older trees. This is important because older trees store so much more carbon than smaller younger trees.
You may have seen the article in the NYT’s about how some trees are increasing the volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) in the air (think ozone). This happens mostly near and in our big cities as the heat builds. Both daytime and nighttime heat contribute to this.
Trees emit the VOC’s to attract pollinators and repel insects. Sunny, hot days are the worst. We emit the most VOC’s through burning fossil fuels. The conundrum here is that oaks, poplar and willows produce the most VOC’s and they are the best trees in terms supporting birds, beneficial insects and critters. I know I’d rather keep the trees and see how human beings can cut down our emissions.
Pollinators, Birds, and Spraying Our Yards
Reports show that insects continue to be on a decline. And, not surprisingly the number of birds and the size of those birds, continue to decline. Several agencies in the US and worldwide have what is called “pollinator alerts.”
Some of the Culprits:
1) We continue to build in areas that were once were wild and open
2) We clear cut properties (going just about wall to wall with lawns)
3) We plant too many non-native plants and
4) We spray our yards
All of these common home owner practices contribute to pollinator decline and displacement.
Let’s dig into spraying practices for a moment:
Take winter moth and gypsy moth as examples. Say we have an oak tree being eaten by one of them. Seems like a good idea to spray, right?
But here’s the catch: There are 534 other moths and butterfly’s species on that oak tree here in New England. Then add the birds that nest there and other birds that come to eat there. An oak tree is the largest bird, insect and mammal supermarket in New England by a wide margin.
When we spray that tree for gypsy or winter moth, all the above 534 moths, caterpillars, butterflies and insects die. Birds may die or get sick. Then those and other visiting birds coming to eat, having eaten eat the dying caterpillars and moths get sick, have mutant offspring and or die themselves over time. Yikes. It does not happen right away of course, but over time there is a cumulative effect.
In addition, winter moth in particular is in decline from the bio controls that the state has put out. There are some small pockets of winter moth left but they are very much in decline.
For Gypsy moth, as long as we have rain the last two-weeks of May and the first two weeks of June, the Gypsy moth stays very much controlled. They, too, have been in decline the last three years due to more rain in the late spring.
This is why I no longer recommend with a few exceptions spraying trees for pests during the growing season.
How you can make a difference?
Experiment next year:
- Cut back 25%-50% on your spraying and see how that works.
- Spray every other year. It takes 3-4 years for a healthy tree to die from yearly early defoliation. No healthy tree will die from being defoliated one year.
I used to advise clients not have a bird feeder, as it brings the birds out of their native eating habit. Now, given how much we are poisoning the birds, I recommend having bird feeders so you know the birds are getting something non-toxic to eat.
Birds love to nest in conifers. They provide good protection from the hawks. That said, spraying horticultural oil in March and then again in October-November when birds are gone, is OK. On some of our properties we mark the conifers with nests so spraying companies and homeowners know not to spray those trees during the growing season. Those birds are also valuable, as they eat the beetles and weevils that can cause those conifers some issues.
Sometimes people will say it is a safe to use a systemic pesticide. I don’t agree. A systemic just means that the solution spreads throughout the whole plant by spraying, soil drenching or injecting a plant, and that solution kills whatever was attacking the plant for the whole growing season. What happens is that the tree or shrub becomes a toxic bomb to whoever comes and visits the plant for the whole growing season.
Can I protect or spray anything? YES
- You can do hort oil early spring and mid-fall to suffocate targeted pests when all the beneficial insects are gone.
- You can spray leaves to make them taste bad so insects don’t want to eat them. This is especially true with perennials and annuals. We can also use the opportunity to observe & listen; what is nature telling us by showing us these conditions?
- Use a spray that will only kill what is on the plant that day.
I had a great experience out in western Massachusetts this past winter. I was out hiking in the woods though a snow-covered forest. Besides the upper and mid canopy trees, there were saplings just about everywhere of hemlocks, oaks, spruces, firs and beeches all starting out. Near a pond I could see the work some trees beavers had done the previous fall on some old trees. There were very few signs of invasive plants in the area. It was so nice to see all the mix of saplings trees. People were ice fishing on the pond. This particular forest is well hunted, so deer move though it and don’t get the staying time to eat most of the young trees. Here inside 495, I rarely see those tree seedlings growing in our area anymore. The deer eat them before they can grow big enough. It is mostly the invasive trees, shrubs and vines that grow fast enough to survive all the deer eating’s. Hunters (who I think kind of still have a bad reputation) can be an important part of the ecological balance. Thank you for reading this far; Now something for the soul & the heart.
The snow began slowly,
a soft and easy sprinkling
then clouds of flakes
in the baskets of the wind
and the branches of the trees –
oh, so pretty.
through the growing stillness,
as the flakes
prickled the path,
then covered it,
as in curds and drifts,
as the wind grew stronger,
shaping its work less delicately,
taking greater steps
over the hills
and through the trees
until, finally, we were cold,
and far from home.
We turned and followed our long shadows back to the house,
stamped our feet,
went inside, and shut the door.
Through the window we could see
how far away it was to the gates of April.
Let the fire now put on its red hat and sing to us.
Bless your heart Mary, thank you for all the great poems.