Sep 24

An Ounce of Prevention

A couple of weeks ago I suggested waiting until the first killing frost before digging up the tender bulbs. At the time I did not anticipate that the frost would be accompanied by six inches of snow.

Fortunately the soil has remained warm despite the freezing night temperatures so the tubers and bulbs should all be good. So far I have not lost a single plant; well that isn’t a true statement. TheBartlettpear tree split in half, and now it is just a memory.

When we are injured our wounds heal. When plants are injured their wounds seal. Within the tree bark there are growth cells called meristems. These cells are active at the branch and root tips and are responsible for the growth we see during the summer. Inactive or latent meristems are at the nodes where branches attach to the tree. They become active when the branch is pruned to quickly build a callus over to cut, the callus looks like a bagel.

When tree bark is damaged, the exposed wood is in a world of hurt because it contains no living cells. Between the bark and the wood is a layer of tissue called the cambium, this is the live part of the tree during the growing season. At the end of very season it dies and becomes another ring of wood.

Wood serves only two purposes; it is the water highway from the roots to the leaves, and it holds up the tree. So the importance of sealing the wound is evident, if the wood rots the tree falls; simple as that.

If you had serious tree damage, where large sections of bark and wood ripped off when a branch broke; then you should consider taking the tree down. Disaster may not occur for several years, but in the interim you are inviting nothing but trouble in the form of insects and disease.

If the wounds are small or the branch has only partially separated from the trunk consult an arborist. I’ve seen successful surgeries incorporating some woodscrews, lag bolts and wire, but you and I are not qualified to make that call. As I said in a previous article; spending a little money now will save a lot of money and aggravation later when you have to call the insurance company.

What is important for your yard right now is cleaning up any mess caused be the snow storm. The snow matted down the leaves of peony and other herbaceous plants and it only took a few days for the bad guys to move into their winter homes. We need to put up a “No Vacancy” sign by cutting back this year’s growth and tossing it into the compost bin.

When I wrote earlier about not losing a single plant, I meant the tender bulbs; so far they are all coming up okay. I only wish I could say the same about the appliances in the house after the power surge passed through. Darn Trees.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, attributed to Ben Franklin, but even he acknowledged the proverbs found in his “Poor Richard’s Almanack” were gleaned from the “wisdom of the ages and nations.” I think about that quote often, especially these past few years when severe storms damaged and toppled trees, destroyed property and left so many homes without power.

In my profession, I have been Valued Analyzed, Valued Engineered, Quality Circled, Total Quality Managed, Integrated Processed Teamed and Six-Sigmaed. I’ve thought outside, inside, over and under the box; and I’ve drawn so many fishbone charts that I almost gave up seafood. I predict that after all of the special committees complete their exhaustive studies; the root cause (no pun intended) of the problem related to broken power lines will be the trees.

We plant trees with all kinds of good intentions. We might prepare the soil prior to planting and coddle it as a sapling, but then we ignore and abuse it. What we forget is that a tree is a plant, a really big plant but still a plant. It requires the same cultivating support we would give to our hydrangeas or roses. Serious damage to small plants that are quickly addressed by us are delayed or ignored on a tree. We down play the damage do not have the time to repair it our self, or the resources to pay someone else to repair it. We just forget all about it, that is, until a devastating event occurs.

Trees planted under or next to power lines do screen them from our view. As they grow into the lines however Towns and utility companies are forced to prune the branches, usually to the detriment of the tree. The pruning is performed to protect the wires, not for the health and beauty of the tree. Damage from automobiles or lawnmowers, pruning incorrectly, or removing large diameter limbs can prevent wounds from sealing. Over time, exposure to the elements and insects rot the wood, and then the birds and animals hollow it out to make a shelter. All that weight above the hollow and nothing to support it. “What happened to the lights?”

Trees planted next to the house do look nice and provide shade in summer. As they reach their mature size however droppings from overhanging branches damage the roof and siding, the roots destroy the driveway, crack the foundation or grow into and clog the sewer line.

And we leave groups of volunteers alone because we want that woodland effect or they create privacy, blocking the view from the street. As they grow, the upper branches shade out and kill off the lower branches; the trunks never achieving full width potential. When they reach their mature height they look like a bunch of pencils, tall and skinny. They are also top heavy and are easily knocked over by high winds.

The end result of all of this usually turns out bad for the tree and our wallet. Before winter, do yourself a favor and inspect your trees. Prune, repair or remove them now while you are in control. It will be a lot cheaper and certainly less painful than a telephone call to the insurance company.

Storing tender bulbs – All good things come to an end, and with tender bulbs the end coincides with the first killing frost. I cannot believe that my dahlia are still going strong; heck it’s the end of October and we are still picking peppers, can you believe that?

But in a few weeks it will all be over except for the clean-up. So if you grew begonia, caladium, calla, canna, elephant ear, dahlia or gladiola this year and want to save the bulbs for next year then this is your call to action.

 Some bulbs, gladiola, have already finished their growth cycle and can be pulled immediately. Shake off the soil and wash the balance off in a bucket of bleach water (1/2 cup to a gallon of water). Then remove the stem leaving about one-inch attached to the bulb. Let the bulbs cure for a couple of weeks in a warm dry location and store in paper bags without packing material.

Begonia, caladium and calla are approaching the finish with their leave turning yellow, it is your call to pull them now or wait for the frost. The frost will turn the foliage into something like cooked spinach, so I prefer to dig them up now. I clean the caladium and calla as I did the gladiola, I do not wash the begonia bulb. All of these bulbs are cured with the stems attached. In a few weeks they will dry and easily detach from the bulb, at that time, I store the caladium and calla in sawdust and the begonia in peat.

The canna bulb is really a thick rhizome that grows in all directions from the base of the plant. Some people just dig up the plant in the morning, shake off the soil, let them dry in the sun all day and then store it as is in an open box. I personally am not interested in the little crawly things that are in the soil wintering in my basement, so I hose off as much of the soil as I can before bringing them. At the end of the day, I store them in an open container packed with sawdust. If you grew canna in containers and plan to grow them there again, you can just remove the stems and store them as is.

Elephant ear are a toss-up, you can pull them now or wait until after the frost. After you clean and wash the bulb cut the foliage back as far as you can. The stems are a lot thicker so it takes longer for them to dry, that’s okay you can leave them on the bulb. Store them in an open container in sawdust.

I use a long handled fork to loosen the soil around the dahlia before I pull the plant. The tubers are like potatoes, having a narrow neck attaching them to the stem. The neck connects the tuber to a tiny bump on the base of the stem that is next year’s plant. If the neck breaks, the tuber is worthless.

I leave enough stem on the plant to use as a handle while I clean and wash the tubers. Then I dry the plant outdoors upside down to allow water to drain out of the stem. I bring them inside that night and the next day store them packed in peat in a covered but not air tight container.

All of the bulbs should be stored at a temperature between 40 and 60 degrees. Come March you will have happy rested bulbs ready to start another season.

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