Sunday, November 24, 2019

Thanks, Trees!

Southern magnolia
While we are in this “season” of thankfulness, I’d like to remind folks about the many reasons why trees, and native trees in particular, are an important part of our environment. I used to discuss this topic every year at Arbor Day at my kids’ K-6 elementary school. Even the youngest kids were quite adept in thinking of a few basic reasons to be thankful for our trees:

Oxygen – this was usually the first answer shouted out. Our science programs appear to be doing an excellent job getting that point across.

Shade – in the hot Georgia summer, our students knew that having a tree to shade the house, shade the swing set, or even shade the car in the parking lot was a good thing.

Materials and Shelter – trees give us wood to make homes, furniture and paper as well as many other by-products. I tried to remind them that trees also provide homes for other creatures like birds and squirrels.

Food – the kids were always able to name fruits and nuts that come from trees when thinking of what trees do for us. I would also always mention that birds and squirrels get food from small fruits and nuts like acorns. I like to help them realize that humans are but a part of this world and that other creatures rely on trees as well.

Beauty – this was not always an item that the kids thought of, but they were more than happy to agree with it when I suggested it.

Erosion Control – the older kids would often think of this one on their own. We’d talk about how mudslides occur in some areas when too many trees have been removed.

Windbreaks and privacy – these are two additional reasons to appreciate trees, but they are not ones that we discussed with the kids. I think as houses get closer and closer together, more kids will probably be able to verbalize the privacy one!

These are all great reasons. The “oxygen” one in particular has encouraged people to plant almost anything because plants=oxygen and the more the better, right? That big stand of kudzu is just an oxygen factory!

As people have learned more, we’ve come to understand that trees have special relationships with some creatures even beyond what I’ve listed above. The leaves of some trees can have a “host” arrangement with certain bugs such that a decline in those trees can result in a decline in certain bugs.

Oakworm moths grow up on oak trees

Adding just any tree (or plant) will not support these bugs because this arrangement evolved over thousands of years. Supporting native insects requires that we support native trees because they evolved together. Oh, and do you know who appreciates an abundance of native insects? Birds!

As you take time to be thankful this week, be thankful for all our trees do for us and the critters around us. Should you have an opportunity to plant a tree (or replace one), please consider a regionally native tree for all the extra benefits it will bring. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Fall in Suburbia

Seeing fall color “in the wild” is fantastic but most of us spend the majority of our time within just a few miles of our house. And for many of us, those areas are business parks, shopping strips, and subdivision entrances – the hallmarks of suburbia. As I drove the 10-15 miles to visit the grandbaby this past weekend, I passed many of these landscaped areas, and I took note of what was displaying good fall color.

Red maples in a development

By far the most prevalent tree appears to be red maples (Acer rubrum) and they were in glorious form. I’ve written about parking lot maples before, so click over to this blog entry to see pictures and my opinions about which cultivars and hybrids you might be seeing. Sticking these guys into parking lots and along streets just might be the most successful native plant usage effort ever (although muhly grass is coming up in that department and is especially noticeable now). Red maple trees are handsome, the color is fantastic, and the debris (fallen leaves and fruits) is not cumbersome.

A nice parking lot mix: oaks and maples

Speaking of cumbersome debris, I really have to question the decision to use oaks in parking lots. I have written about this many times because I love to find new ones, but honestly, the acorns have got to be hazardous for customers! I hit up some of my favorite parking lots this past weekend to get acorns for a seed swap at the native plant society meeting. I see it as a service to old ladies to get those acorns out of the parking spaces for them. Oaks can have great color - goldens and reds - and you’re probably seeing some of them and will continue to as they change color through November. Here are some of my previous parking lot oak blogs if you’re wondering what’s out there:

Taxodium distichum near Marta
Some of the more unusual trees that I spotted in the area included a lovely group of sugar maples (Acer saccharum) at a neighborhood. The pure, clear orange color is always a good indicator, but the way they drop their leaves (starting at the top) and the dark trunk are two good clues too.

Another shopping center had invested in bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) trees. As a deciduous conifer it offers a lovely bit of fall color. I was surprised one year to find a row of black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) trees at a business park. The fall color was so deeply red and consistent that I am sure they are cultivars. Like the red maples, leaf drop would be very unobtrusive and the birds eat all the fruits before they ever hit the ground.

So while you’re running errands or going to work, have a look at what’s planted nearby. I’m always grateful for every native tree that gets the job over a crape myrtle or other import. Like our yards, these areas can help provide a little more native back into the mix for the local ecosystem.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Let's Fall, Y'all

I love Georgia's fall foliage colors. Where I live in the Piedmont, we are far north enough to have a beautiful mix of colors in November. The color can be fairly long-lasting when you consider the progression of colors among the various hardwoods.

Fall 2019 

We start with the orange of Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and the brilliant reds (and yellows) of red maple (Acer rubrum). Red maple has a particularly striking range of colors. The picture above, taken this week at a lake in Canton, GA, is probably mostly if not all red maples because they are often found at lake edges around here.

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
While the maples are still showy, the sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) leaves start to turn. They also have quite a range, often on the same tree: pinks and yellows with hints of orange and purple. Tall hickories (Carya sp.) also light up the woodland areas with yellow and gold, fading to burnt butter as they finish.

Poking around the roadside edges are bright sumacs (Rhus sp.) and pines draped with muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) vines turning soft yellow. The grape leaves show up well against the green of the pines. A serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) or two also reveals itself along the sunny edges, it's small but bright leaves finally giving it away. The star-shaped leaves of sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) color up in an amazing range of colors along the roads too: yellow to pink-red to deep purple.

It will be later in November that the oaks (Quercus sp.) and American beeches (Fagus grandifolia) finally turn in rich shades of gold, red, and brown. Paired with the green of the pine trees, they make for beautiful displays along the hills and ridges of North Georgia.

I've written about fall color before in previous blogs with examples of specific colors (in case you're trying to identify something you've seen) and ideas for adding fall color to your landscape:

Yellow Fall Foliage

Orange, Red and Purple Fall Foliage

Fall Color in 2018 (lots of links in this one)

Dependable Fall Color for your Landscape

Another part of the same lake 2019 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Fertilizer, Bird Food, and Mulch

Pawpaw leaves ready to fall
Did you know there is a magical product that can deliver all these things: fertilizer, bird food, and mulch? It’s an all-natural mulch, keeping the roots of your trees and shrubs not just moist but also cool or warm as needed. Insects like to nestle in it, providing opportunities for birds to find a snack or a meal. Over time it breaks down, providing a slow-release fertilizer to all the plants around. Best of all, this product is free! All you have to do is manage it. It’s called leaves.

I am pleased that the message of ‘leaving the leaves’ is getting around these days and for a variety of reasons. My Facebook news feed might be a little skewed given how many environmental groups that I follow, but I see that the message is also being picked up and distributed by local communities and news outlets.

A thick layer of leaves in the forest in a state park (not a lawn)

Where possible, gently move leaves from sidewalks and lawns using soft rakes, brooms (brooms even work on lawns), and even your hands. Avoid using blowers and lawn mowers that might harm overwintering insects with fast speeds and cutting blades. It is helpful if you have deep beds or semi-natural areas to contain them (this might be a good time to consider reducing the lawn!) If you have nowhere to put them, consider gently bagging them and offering them to friends or local community gardens.

In early fall, I sweep just enough down the driveway to walk

While some folks are even recommending that leaves simply be left on the lawn, that’s not always possible and might damage it if the quantity is heavy. Consider it though, especially once you’ve dealt with the initial drop and only a few more have fallen.

So sit back, watch the leaves turn nice colors and fall and then just do as little as you can in dealing with them. There will be benefits to you and nature too. Oh, and tell the others too!

An example of leaves that can be left on the lawn