Growing Apple Trees In Your Backyard

Nothing may be more rewarding than growing apples – a fruit everybody in the family can enjoy. So what does it take to grow tasty apples in your backyard?

To grow a healthy apple tree it requires a handful of things, which include: picking the right variety, location in your yard, planting it correctly, training and pruning your tree, fertilization and pest control.

Picking out the right variety and a healthy rootstock is important in your apple tree planting beginnings. The rootstock can be a seedling, which produces a full sized tree, or a rootstock, which can be size controlled and produces a smaller tree. Both produce a quality fruit. If you are limited in space, you may want to choose a rootstock. Rootstocks also reduce the time it takes for the tree to reach fruit-bearing age.  For best results, purchase a healthy 1-year-old nursery tree, 4 to 6 feet tall, with a good root system. A small tree with a good root system will transplant better than a large tree. When you get the tree, protect it from injury, drying out, freezing, and overheating. If the roots have dried somewhat, soak them in water for about 24 hours before planting. If you are unable to plant the tree immediately, there are two options:
•    1) Wrap the roots in plastic along with moist sawdust or newspaper, and place the tree in a refrigerator or cooler at 40 F. Never store the tree with fruit or vegetables, as ethylene gas from ripening foods can kill young trees.
•    2) “Heel-in” the tree. To heel-in a tree, dig a trench and place the tree roots evenly in it, cover the roots with soil, sawdust or peat, and water the tree thoroughly. The tree can be kept for several weeks using this method before permanently planting.

Next is choosing the right variety. Variety is based on fruit characteristics, bloom time and pollen compatibility. Ask your nursery about their varieties.

Pollination is also a consideration when purchasing an apple tree. Almost all apples trees cannot pollinate themselves or any flowers of the same apple variety. You will need to plant at least two varieties of apple trees together in order to maximize fruit production. Choose varieties with overlapping bloom dates. Some varieties produce sterile pollen and should never be used as pollinizers – these can include Winesap, Mutsu, Jonagold and Stayman.

Now for site selection. Test your soil before planting your apple tree. Your local County Extension office can help you test your soil sample and provide you with important information about how to care for your soil and tree. You can make changes to the soil before planting your tree, which could require adjusting the pH balance. Most soil amendments should be worked into a depth of 12 to 18 inches of where the tree will root – not just the planting hole. Some areas just aren’t good for planting trees, such as heavy or poorly drained soils and low spots.

You will also want to be aware of areas that have ‘frost pockets’ or where cold air settles in low-lying areas. Frost pockets can kill blossoms. You want good air circulation during early spring. Picking a higher site with a slope is recommended.

Apple trees also require full sun, therefore, be aware of your planting area and that it isn’t near large trees or buildings.  Animals can damage your apple tree as well so avoid planting near wooded areas or streams. If you are planting your apple tree in your lawn, be sure to remove the grass in a 4-foot diameter circle around the planting area. Grass will compete with young trees for nutrients.

Once your tree is planted, there will be a host of other considerations to keep it healthy such as pruning, watering, fertilization and pest control. But for now, you have made your first step in growing your own apples.

Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading tree service provider in Central Texas (Travis County and surrounding areas) offering services such as pruning and removals, cabling and bracing as well as arborist reports, diagnostics, pest management, fertilization and Austin tree service trusts. For more information please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.

How Agroforestry Works For Everyone

It is a term not commonly heard, it is agroforestry. The word means to intentionally combine agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems. Agroforestry takes advantage of the interactive benefits from combining trees and shrubs with crops and/or livestock. It is also defined as:

“Agroforestry is a collective name for land use systems and practices in which woody perennials are deliberately integrated with crops and/or animals on the same land management unit. The integration can be either in a spatial mixture or in a temporal sequence. There are normally both ecological and economic interactions between woody and non-woody components in agroforestry”. -World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) 1993″

How is agroforestry used? In many ways, they include:

1.    Alley Cropping – This is a form of cropping applied by farmers to combat soil erosion. This helps increase the diversity of farmland as a means for crop diversification. In this practice, crops are planted in strips in the alleys formed between rows of trees or shrubs.  With this type of planting, crops are given shade in hot, dry environments, thus reducing water loss. This also helps retain soil moisture and provides a wildlife habitat. The trees used in this system can produce fruit, fuelwood, fodder or trimmings that can be converted into mulch. Fine hardwoods such as walnut, oak, ash and pecan are favored species in alley cropping systems, which can give a potentially high-value in lumber.
2.    Forest Farming – This is also known as ‘shade systems’. This system integrates the cultivation of both timber and non-timber forest products in a forest setting. With forest farming, the farmer cultivates high value specialty crops under the protection of a forest canopy. These crops include ginseng, shiitake mushrooms, decorative ferns that are sold for medicinal, culinary and ornamental use.
3.    Riparian Buffer and Integrated Riparian Management – Riparian forest buffers are natural or re-established streamside forests made up of tree, shrub and grass plantings. These plantings are placed along lakes, streams, rivers and wetlands in order to enhance and protect aquatic and riparian resources as well as generate income from timber and non-timber forest products.  Plantings also buffer non-point source pollution of waterways from adjacent lands and reduce bank erosion.
4.    SilvoPasture – Silvopasture combines trees with forage and livestock production. Trees are managed for high-value sawlogs and shade for livestock and forage. Conifers or hardwoods for timber or Christmas trees are often planted. Some nut and fruit orchards may also be grazed.
5.    Windbreaks – Planting trees in a linear fashion helps enhance crop production, protect people and livestock while benefiting soil. Field windbreaks protect wind-sensitive crops and control erosion, and increase bee pollination and pesticide effectiveness. Livestock windbreaks help reduce animal stress and mortality, reduce feed consumption, and help reduce visual impacts and odors. Living snowfences keep roads clean of drifting snow and increase driving safety. They can also spread snow evenly across a field, increasing spring soil moisture.

Agroforesty is also used to keep down dust, odors, reduce noise, provide green space or visual aesthetics, enhance wildlife habitat and offers carbon sequestration.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.

Defining Hardiness Zones

When buying a tree or plant, you will notice an indicator on the tag of that tree or plant stating its hardiness zone. So what is a hardiness zone? It is defined as a geographic area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone. These zones were first developed by the United States Department of Agriculture and have been updated as late as 2006 to compensate for global warming.

The USDA first issued its standardized hardiness zone map in 1960, and revised it in 1965. A new map was issued in 1990, based on U.S. and Canadian data from 1974 through 1986 (and 1971-1984 for Mexico). The new 1990 map included divided temperature zones broken into five-degree a/b zones for greater accuracy.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, the Plant Hardiness Zones divide the United States and Canada into 11 areas based on a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference in the average annual minimum temperature. (The United States falls within Zones 2 through 10). For example, the lowest average temperature in Zone 2 is -50 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit, while the minimum average temperature in zone 10 is +30 to +40 degrees Fahrenheit. If a range of zones, for example, zones 4-9, is indicated, the tree or perennial is known to be hardy in zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Suitable hardiness means a plant can be expected to grow in the zone’s temperature extremes, as determined by the lowest average annual temperature.

There are many benefits as well as drawbacks to the hardiness zone system. One drawback is that the zones do not incorporate summer heat levels into their zone determination, which means places that have extreme heat and cold could be marked for its cold zone and neglect the heat factor. Hardiness zones also do not take into account the reliability of the snow cover. Snow can act as an insulator against extreme cold, protecting the root system of hiberating plants. If snow is consistently covering the ground, it can actually lower the temperature of what the roots are exposed to.

Many factors are taken into consideration when planting trees and plants that hardiness zones do not incorporate. Some of them are: soil moisture, humidity, the number of days of frost, and the risk of a rare catastrophic cold snap.  For farmers, the probability of getting a particularly severe low temperature could be very detrimental and the knowledge of this could be more useful than just average conditions.

The last drawback of the system is the fact that although a plant will survive under particular lower temperatures, it does not mean it will flower sufficiently. For a tree to flower it requires vernalization or a particular duration of low temperatures.  Some publications are integrating such information into their hardiness zone maps. This additional information can include precipitation, wind patterns, elevation and length and structure of the growing season.

The National Arbor Day Foundation in the United States recently completed an extensive updating of U.S. Hardiness Zones in 2006. The maps include the most recent 15 years of data from more than 5,000 National Climatic Data Centers across the United States.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.

The Most Colorful Tree- Rainbow Eucalyptus

When we think of trees and color, we typically imagine the tree’s leaves. But there is a tree known for its colorful bark. And unlike any other tree, the bark is made up of brilliant fluorescent colors, giving the tree the name Rainbow Eucalyptus.

To first see the Rainbow Eucalyptus, you might think somebody vandalized the tree or poured paint all over it. How can a tree have so many bright, almost fluorescent colors on it? But the bark is authentic.  The Rainbow Eucalyptus, also called Eucalyptus deglupta, Mindanao Gum and Rainbow Gum, is naturally found in the Northern Hemisphere. It naturally grows in New Britain, New Guinea, Ceram, Sulawesi and Mindanoa. Others grow the tree and cultivate it now around the world for its pulpwood, which is used in paper.

Of course the tree is also grown for ornamental purposes. The bark, which is patchy and sheds at different times, is bright green, blue, purple, orange, yellow and then maroon, each colors showing its aging process.  The tree grows almost 100 feet tall.

This eucalyptus can be grown in the United States in warmer climates. The Hardiness Zone for these trees is 9-11, 26 to 28 degrees, but only for brief periods. The tree does require warmth, has a low tolerance for intense or prolonged frost and requires an abundance of water. If growing the E. Deglupta in a container NEVER let it dry out, as it can prove fatal – these trees do dry out quite quickly.  For landscaping purposes, many plant their rainbow eucalyptus near freshwater ponds, lakes or canals. Mature trees can survive in drier areas but they do their best when having access to abundant moisture.

The eucalyptus is an evergreen. It also requires full sun to light shade, but of course prefers full sun. The tree is easy to keep fertilized and is not fussy about food, fertilizing yearly is sufficient. The eucalyptus also is adaptable to different soils, but likes soils that are well drained.

The E. deglupta, like other eucalyptus, are mostly pest free. An occasional mealybug or aphid may appear or even a caterpillar or leafcutting bee, but these trees typically can be grown without pest damage.

The Eucalyptus tree on its own has been a valuable resource as it grows fast and under many conditions. There are over 600 species of Eucalypts. Many of these trees are good for fuelwood and pole production. Because the tree grows so fast, it can build up stresses and lead to distortion, which makes it difficult to cut into potential timber. Eucalyptus is also resistant to termites which means it doesn’t have to be treated, as other wood might – thus helping the environment. On the downside, these trees require a lot of water. It is suggested not to plant them near food crops and plants that also need a lot of light and water as they will compete with each other. The benefit of this tree being a water hog is that it is sometimes used to drain swamps, which in turn reduces the risk of malaria.

Eucalypts belong to the family Myrtaceae. The flowers tend to be groups into inflorescences (with the exception of E.globulus which has single flowers). Bark varies from ribbed to the smooth and can be distinctly deciduous.  The leaves are also variable in both shape and color.

The Eucalyptus tree is also known for its fragrant oil. The oil can be used for cleaning and functions as a natural insecticide.

Each Eucalyptus tree has its own look and offerings. As for the Rainbow Euclapytus, it is mostly known for just being quite unique.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.

Preparing Your Trees For Summer Storms

When it comes to protecting trees and plants, people often think winter takes the hardest toll. But summer and the storms that can come with it – from wind to strong rains, can be just as hard on trees as ice. Depending on your region, the wind and rain can actually be quite devastating to trees, if you are not prepared.

Most trees can biologically adapt themselves to wind and ice during an average annual growing season due to the fact trees can sway in the wind and these movements strengthen the woody material developing the stem and limbs. But, during the spring and summer months, many areas receive strong rainstorms, lightening and wind. The winds shift sometimes bringing in violent thunderstorms and occasionally tornados in some areas. Other areas have hail and flooding to deal with. Whatever the situation, it is most likely to make your trees vulnerable. Heavy rains cause healthy roots to weaken their hold. Winds can snap brittle branches.

There are typically six ways a tree is damaged by a storm. They include blowing down from the wind, stem failure, crown twist, root failure, branch failure and lightening strike.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), which is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, states that “Three-fourths of the damage that trees incur during storms is predictable and preventable.” Even one’s best efforts cannot prepare a tree to withstand the fiercest of winds, however, there is a lot of preparation you can and should do to greatly diminish potential storm damage to your trees. This usually requires watching for defects and vulnerabilities in trees and addressing them right away.

Here are some defects to watch out for that makes trees more vulnerable to wind and other severities of the weather:
•    Dead wood is number one. This kind of wood is unpredictable because it is brittle, and cannot give under pressure like living tree branches. What dead wood do you have in your trees that needs to be removed?
•    Cracks are clear indicators of potential branch failure, where there will be splitting sooner or later.
•    Poor tree composition (branch structure). This one is difficult for the average person to identify, but you can start by looking for excessive leaning, long horizontal limbs, crossing branches that rub against each other and create wounds, and narrow crotches (V-shaped instead of U-shaped). Trees with two trunks or leaders that are of identical diameter and have a narrow crotch need special care. To prevent splitting, choose one to be made dominant by stunting the growth of the other through pruning (called subordination).
•    Decay, as evidenced by fungal growth or hollow cavities, is a sign of weakness.
•    Pests can exacerbate a tree’s health problems, but they typically target trees that are already sickly.
•    Root problems, such as stem-girdling roots, while sometimes harder to detect, have the most impact on a tree’s inability to stay upright. Weak roots and a thick canopy is the deadliest combination during a storm.
•    A thick canopy. Can you see some sky through the tree? Keeping your trees thin is the single most important thing to do to “storm-proof” them. Quite simply put: the thicker a tree is, the more susceptible it is to damage in heavy winds. Even for a tree that is otherwise perfectly healthy, overly dense foliage poses a safety hazard during stormy weather. A dense canopy will not allow the wind to easily pass through, and the resistance to wind can cause branches to break or even bring the entire tree down. This especially applies to weight at the ends of branches, which is why stripping only the lower parts of the branches is not adequate (and leaves the tree with a funny lion-tailed look).

If you have identified problems in your trees such as the above, contact a professional arborist or tree specialist to help you detail out a plan in addressing your trees health and finding ways to strengthen them if possible, before storms cause more damage.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.

Trees And How They Make Streets Safer

Trees have been known to have hundreds of benefits. But who would guess that they can make streets safer. And despite the fact many traffic engineers have felt that trees are dangerous for motorists as they narrow lanes and  obstruction things like parked cars, other engineers have proven this theory wrong. How?

Studies have been made on the correlation between streets and accidents and streets that are wide open and streets that are tree lined. It has been shown that streets that are wide-open seem to encourage motorists to speed and therefore with speeding comes more accidents. On the flip side, streets that are tree-lined encourage motorists to slow down and drive more cautiously – which of course means fewer accidents.

It seems, trees provide visual cues to drivers about their speed and send signals back to them for potential of collisions, which in turn makes the driver slow down. Trees also create physical barriers between motorists and pedestrians and trees seem to make drivers calmer.  As for their other benefits, trees give shade on hot days, absorb exhaust, produce oxygen and can even extend the life of pavement by 40 to 60 percent.

Eric Dumbaugh, an assistant professor of transportation at Texas A&M is the man who decided to prove his theory of how trees created safety rather than detriment on streets. He published his findings in the Summer 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. Among the cases cited in his JAPA article are these:

* A study of five arterial roadways in downtown Toronto found that mid-block car crashes declined between 5 and 20 percent in areas where there were elements such as trees or concrete planters along the road.

* Urban village areas in New Hampshire containing on-street parking and pedestrian-friendly roadside treatments were two times less likely to experience a crash than the purportedly safer roadways preferred by most transportation engineers.

* A study of two-lane roadways found that although wide shoulders were associated with reductions in single-vehicle, fixed-object crashes, they were also associated with a statistically significant increase in total crashes. A rise in multiple-vehicle crashes offset the decline in fixed-object crashes.

* An examination of Colonial Drive (State Route 50), which connects the north end of downtown Orlando to the suburbs, found fewer serious mid-block crashes on the livable section than on a comparison conventional roadway. According to Dumbaugh, the conventional roadway also was associated with more injuries to pedestrians and bicyclists.

Dumbaugh followed up his experiment with an article on findings he examined safety on three routes- State Routes 15 and 44 in DeLand, Florida, and State Route 40 in Ocala, Florida. Each of these routes have pedestrian-friendly designs along parts of their length and conventional designs along other sections. Dumbaugh discovered that the pedestrian-friendly segments experience 40 percent fewer crashes than comparison roadways.

Having this information has helped city governments integrate more trees into their landscapes, an idea they have liked all along, not only for safety reasons but also because for planners, streets are more than throughways for traffic. They are also public places where people walk, shop, meet and engage in various social and recreational activities. This in turn creates pedestrian friendly streets that are highly desired by homebuyers, thus driving the value of homes up.

Trees have value in nature as well as in public places, aesthetically, environmentally and now for safety.

About the Author: Andrew Johnson is the owner of Central Texas Tree Care, a leading provider of Austin tree services in Central Texas. Certified ISA Austin arborist services including: tree trimming, tree removal, tree care and stump removal. For more information on Austin tree service please visit http://www.centraltexastreecare.com.