Strangler Tomato!

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Twining petiole on a tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum). Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

I just noticed the oddest phenomenon on one of my tomato plants (All-America Selections Winner grape tomato ‘Celano’). One of its petioles* has wrapped itself around the wire of my tomato cage. Not just a sort of lazy, accidental twist, but a thorough wrap around … and it’s a tight cling. Obviously, this leaf has no intention of letting go of its support!  

*Actually, to be perfectly correct, it is a “petiolule” that’s doing the clasping, since it’s not the leaf’s main petiole, but a secondary one, attached to a leaflet.

Now, tomatoes are essentially climbing plants, as anyone growing an indeterminate tomato can confirm, but they’re usually considered scramblers: in nature, they lean on other plants and mix with their host’s stems in order to hoist themselves up. Gardeners usually tie them to a stake or let them ramble in and out of a tomato cage. I’d never heard of one with twining petioles, nor had I ever seen one. Until now! 

The potato vine (Solanum laxa) sometimes produces twining petioles. Photo: Sandra Knapp, A Revision of the Dulcamaroid Clade of Solanum

I was unable to find any other twining petioles on that tomato plant nor on any of my other tomato plants. However, the “twining petiole” phenomenon is not unknown among the tomato’s relatives (the nightshade or Solanaceae family). Its cousin the potato vine (Solanum jasminoides, now S. laxa), sometimes also produces twining petioles. 

Clematis are experts at climbing using twining petioles. Photo: Clematis virginiana wildflowergardener.wordpress.com

Of course, clematis (Clematis spp.) which are not related to tomatoes, are well known for their twining petioles and a few other plants, like climbing ferns (Lygodium spp.), produce them as well, although it’s a fairly rare phenomenon. 

Twining petioles on tomatoes are apparently something extremely unusual. Have any of you see a twining petiole on your tomato plants?

Success With the World’s Worst Houseplant

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Underpotted sprouting coconuts sold as houseplants were all the rage 6 or 7 years ago. Photo: gardengoodsdirect.com

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog which I entitled Possibly the World’s Worst Houseplant, in which I suggested the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) might just be the worst houseplant ever. It was, at the time, being sold as an easy-to-grow houseplant in the form of a sprouted coconut with a few grasslike juvenile leaves.

Sprouting coconuts generally decline very quickly under average indoor conditions. Photo: Capnspleen, reddit.com

My experience is that such plants inevitably fail fairly quickly, unable to thrive under the poor light, insufficient heat, dry air and subsequent spider mite infestation (spider mites, Tetranychus urticae, come out in droves on palms grown in dry air) that occurs in the average home. Besides, who has the room for a plant with 13 foot (4 meter) fronds? Even botanical gardens fail with this species in their tropical greenhouses. What hope could such a plant possibly have in the average home?

Damien Lekatis’ happy coconut palm. Photo: Damien Lekatis

Well, wouldn’t you know someone would prove me wrong? Damien Lekatis, of Montreal, recently sent me a picture of his 7-year-old coconut palm, repotted into a large pot, obviously doing very well, with fronds even starting to split and look palmlike. 

Daniel attributes his success to watering with aquarium water, then adds. “I think that the constant movement caused by the ceiling fan (it’s on all the time) and the humid heat from the old-school radiators are helpful. Electric radiators would probably dry it out.” He lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada where “our winters are crazy brutal and last about 5 months. Summers are humid and hot.”

I’d like to add the huge sunny window likely didn’t hurt, either, nor did removing it from the confinement of a small pot and replanting it into large tub! 

Three-year old coconut palms in the tropics typically have fully formed pinnate fronds and have started to form a stipe. Photo: http://www.touristmaker.com

Do note the palm has remained in its juvenile form. The original coconut is still visible at the base and the fronds, which start out simple on a sprouting coconut and should be fully pinnate at seven years, are just transitioning to that form. Plus, there is no visible stipe (trunk) while a coconut palm of age of 7 years growing on a sunny tropical beach would normally have a thick stipe some 6 feet (2 m) high and would likely be producing a few coconuts. 

So, Damien, you have proved me wrong. But I still don’t think that coconut palms make good houseplants. Damien has been very lucky and proven himself very skillful!

The period when sprouted coconuts in pots were being sold cheaply everywhere seems to be over. If you want to try Daniel’s method without breaking the bank, you might have to obtain a still-husked coconut and sprout it yourself.

Garlic Scapes: The Forgotten Vegetable

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Yep, those garlic scapes you’ve been cutting off are perfectly edible! Photo: http://www.bonappetit.com

If you’re into growing hardneck garlic (Allium sativum ophioscordon), you may be missing half the harvest. 

Many gardeners don’t realize that the plant’s scape is perfectly edible and even delicious … and that harvesting it actually helps to give you a bigger garlic bulb later in the summer. 

What Is a Garlic Scape?

Twisty, curly garlic scapes. Photo: http://www.freshcityfarms.com

Now, a garlic scape (stem) is a curious thing. It originates under the ground, rising from the old bulb now starting to produce offsets (cloves), and starts to grow up through the plant’s leaves. It heads straight for the sky at first, then it begins to twist. It does a full circle, then a second one, a true loop the loop any roller coaster would be proud of. Then, apparently realizing the ridiculousness of the idea, it straightens up. However, the oddity of it isn’t over. 

The flowers never open, but the bulbils are there and can be harvested. Photo: goingtoseed.wordpress.com

The bud at its tip soon starts to swell. Hey, the flowers are coming, right? Wrong! When the spathe (envelope) splits open, there isn’t an open flower to be seen. Instead, the umbel is full of tiny green flower buds that simply abort and little bulbs called bulbils. 

So, where is the pollination, the crossing of two different garlics via the transfer of pollen, the thing bees do? And the seeds “carrying the mixed genes of both parents” which our high school biology course taught us to expect? It just doesn’t happen, except maybe in a laboratory.

Somehow, over the course of its evolution as a vegetable (garlic is a garden plant not found in the wild), it “forgot” how to reproduce via seed and now instead produces perfect replicas of itself in the form of bulbils. You can plant these bulbils and grow (eventually) more garlic plants, but that takes three years, so most gardeners instead plant garlic cloves (divisions of the bulb) for a harvest the following year. Faster. Simpler.

In other words, pretty much nobody wants the bulbils, meaning the scape is essentially useless to the production of garlic bulbs. Worse yet, letting the scape mature reduces the size of the bulb the plant is producing, as it wastes precious energy in engendering worthless bulbils. Bummer!

Harvesting the Scape

Cut off the scapes just where they emerge from the leaves. Photo: gardenpunchlist.blogspot.com

But you can save the day by removing the scape before it “goes to seed” (produces bulbils). Just cut it off at the base, right above the uppermost leaf. Good riddance! And you’ll now get bigger garlic bulbs with bigger cloves inside. But don’t toss it into the compost. Eat it! 

Sauteed garlic scapes and mushrooms. Photo: fromthefamilytable.com

In early summer, when the stem has done one and a half to two turns and is still tender, cut it off. Bring it into the house and cook it up. You’ll discover you have a whole new vegetable: tasty, sweet and definitely garlicky, but not as strong as a garlic clove. Think of it as being like a green onion, something you can chop up and use raw in salads and soups, grill, bake, fry, boil or steam as a vegetable, or use in all sorts of recipes, from omelets to pizza. 

Pickled garlic scapes. Photo: puttingupwiththeturnbulls.com

If you have a lot, you can store the scapes in the fridge for up to three weeks. More than a lot? Freeze or pickle them. You’ll discover a whole new way of cooking when you start using garlic scapes!

Oops, I Waited Too Long!

If you’re too late and the scape of your garlic plant starts to straighten, it will soon become tough and stringy, not worth harvesting for the kitchen. Still, removing it remains worthwhile. Remember, when you cut it off, the plant redirects what energy it has left into producing a bigger, better bulb.

So, you now have a nearly woody garlic scape you can’t eat. Just toss it into the compost … and harvest earlier next year!

My Garlic Didn’t Produce a Scape

That’s because only hard-necked garlic (A. sativum ophioscordum) does so. This is the garlic usually grown in regions with cold winters. Soft-necked garlic (A. sativum sativum), typically the garlic grown where winters are mild, doesn’t produce a scape at all, or only very rarely. So, with soft-necked garlic, you have no scape to pick. Just learn to live with it! 

But Something Is Eating My Garlic Scapes!

Leek moth damage to a garlic scape. Not much to eat here! Photo: veggiepatchreimagined.blogspot.com.

Yes, and that would be the leek moth (Acrolepiopsis assectella, syn. Acroplepia assectella), a pest whose larvae love to munch on the stems, leaves and bulbs of different alliums (leeks, onion, garlic, etc.). It’s found throughout Europe and Asia and has recently set up shop in southeastern Canada (Ontario and Quebec) and northeastern United States (New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine) where it is spreading fast. So, if you don’t have it, you may well one day.

You can read more about this new pest here: Leek Moth: Coming Soon to an Onion Near You!

You’re not going to want to eat a wormy garlic scape, so forget the “cook it up” bit above, but you should still cut the scape off to reap the benefits of a larger bulb. Do so early, as soon as you see any damage. That way, if you remove the scape while the grub is still on or in it, that’s one less pest that might descend into the bulb and ruin it.


Garlic scapes: a vegetable you won’t regret discovering!

Dog Vomit Slime Mold: A Surprising Garden Visitor

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Slime mold surrounding a basil plant. Photo from reader Hugo Levesque

Strange things happen in gardens all the time, but one of the strangest is when yours is visited by slime mold. 

The most common species is dog vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica), a worthy description given its amorphous mossy-lumpy yellow to whitish appearance. It’s also called scrambled egg slime mold or flowers of tan (because it grows on bark used in tanning leather). In Latvian, it’s called “raganu spļāviens” or “witches’ spit”. Various other languages have similar names.

Something Completely Different

Dog vomit slime mold was long considered a fungus, but is now known to be something quite different, belonging to a phylum within the Protista Kingdom (neither plant nor animal) known as Myxomycetes (a word I would be incapable of spelling if my life depended on it: thank heavens for copy-pasting!)

Time-lapse photography of dog vomit slime mold. Video: Daniel Brunner

Unlike fungus, dog vomit slime mold moves about like an amoeba, slithering slowly at night so that on any given morning it’s never quite where it was the day before, nor is it in exactly the same shape. The term for this phase is “plasmodium”. 

You saw the movie, now recreate it in your own backyard! Ill.: The Criterion Collection.

Its wandering, engulfing habit even inspired a movie: The Blob (1958 and again in 1988), in which a creeping, unstoppable gel engulfed an entire town. The real stuff is much smaller, forming a mass rarely much more than 2 to 24 inches (5 to 60 cm) wide. There aren’t many towns that small.

Widely Distributed

Color varies from white to orange, even pink or purple. Photo: @UTPlantDoc

Dog vomit slime mold is found worldwide, largely in forests and other shady, moist areas. And it loves similar sites in gardens, notably in decaying plant material, such as wood-based mulches and grass clippings. It is normally harmless to people* and plants, living mostly on bacteria, molds and fungi. 

*Its spores have been known to trigger hay fever and asthma in susceptible people, but that is very rare. 

In fact, dog vomit slime mold is actually edible. In parts of Mexico, it’s collected and scrambled with eggs in a dish called “caca de luna” (I’ll let you guess the meaning of that). Honestly, caca de luna doesn’t sound too appetizing to me. 

Eventually, after a few days or a few weeks, dog vomit slime mold seems to slow down and dry up. This is the sporulation phase. Spores will be carried off by the wind or transported by beetles to start a new colony elsewhere.

What to Do About It?

Dog vomit slime mold in a lawn. Photo: Master Gardeners of Spokane County

Actually, you don’t need to do anything. It’s harmless to your garden plants, although low-lying leaves covered in it for too long may turn pale, and will eventually go away on its own. Keeping conditions drier will help prevent it from recurring. 

If it bothers you, rake it under, blast it off with spray from the garden hose or pick it up with a shovel and drop it into the compost. If it’s in a lawn, mow it down.

Or bring the neighborhood kids over for a look-see: it’s a fascinating “creature” (am I allowed to use that term?) that will teach them something about the persistence of life. And they’ll love the name dog vomit slime mold!

5 Most Common Uses of Rainwater in Landscape Irrigation

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Rain barrel at the Ecological Solar House, Montreal. Photo: Benoït Rochon, Wikimedia Commons

By Emily Bartels

With the increasing water scarcity in some parts of the world, farmers and homeowners have developed new techniques to harvest rainwater for irrigation. Rainwater harvesting is not a new concept, as people have been collecting rainwater for thousands of years.

Collecting rainwater by any method helps farmers and homeowners to use it for irrigation when the groundwater becomes scarce. Over time, springs dry up and rivers become polluted, making water scarce and unsuitable for irrigation.

Rainwater is a pure and natural source of water. Therefore, harvesting rainwater for irrigation can become essential. It is especially useful in locations that experience scarcity of groundwater. Let’s explore the ways to use rainwater in landscape irrigation.

Rainwater Barrels

Rainwater barrels. Photo: Flickr

This method is the most common and the one many people are familiar with. It requires the installation of barrels under the gutter drain to collect rainwater from the roof. You can use a new or recycled barrel for the collection of rainwater.

Pros:

  • Easy to apply to any place of residence.
  • Barrels are available at various home improvement stores.
  • Barrels do not take up much space, so they can fit in any area.

Cons

  • The capacity of a barrel is usually only 50 to 100 gallons (227 to 455 liters).
  • Due to limited capacity, you may need a large number of barrels.

Dry System

Dry system. Ill.: blog.enduraplas.com

This method is a type of rain barrel configuration, but involves more storage volume. Essentially, the collection line empties directly into the top of the tank, so it “dries up” after each rain event.

Pros:

  • It can store large amounts of rainwater.
  • Ideal for climates where rains come as large storms.
  • May be cheaper to implement.
  • Less complicated system than a wet system, so easier to maintain.

Cons

  • The storage tank has to be located next to your house.

Wet System

Wet system. Ill.: blog.enduraplas.com

This method involves underground collection pipes that connect multiple downspouts to different channels. Rainwater fills the underground pipeline, and the water will rise into the vertical pipeline until it is pushed into the tank by water pressure. Underground and above-ground collection pipes must have a waterproof connection. Since it depends on water column pressure, the tank inlet has to be installed at a height lower than the lowest gutter.

Pros:

  • A wet system can collect rainwater from the entire collection surface.
  • Ability to collect from multiple channels and downspouts.
  • The tank may be located far away from your home.

Cons

  • Is more expensive to install due to underground pipes.
  • There should be sufficient space between the gutter and the tank inlet.

Uses of Rainwater irrigation

Rainwater can be used for the irrigation of crops, gardens, farms, and landscapes. These are the most common uses of rainwater in landscape irrigation.

Lawn Irrigation

Photo: Pikist

There are lawns at homes, commercial complexes, parks, and resorts. Homeowners, resort owners, and business owners use collected rainwater for lawn irrigation. It is especially useful where the groundwater is low and cannot be used for regular garden irrigation. You can harvest rainwater in large containers during periods of rain and use it for lawn watering during periods of drought. Sprinkler irrigation systems are best for lawn irrigation, as they consume less water.

Watering Gardens

Homeowners and landscape owners also use rainwater for watering plants and shrubs in their gardens. As the cost of water increases, it is best to make use of rainwater for garden irrigation. Using rainwater can be highly useful for garden irrigation if you install an irrigation system that consumes low water levels. However, it is essential to set up a rainwater harvesting system in such as way to use rainwater for your garden plants.

Crop Irrigation

Irrigation pond. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Crops need the highest amount of irrigation as they are grown in large quantities by farmers and agriculture businesses. In locations where water resources are scarce, rainwater harvesting can be a boon for farmers and agriculture. However, as farms and crops require large amounts of water, farmers will need to store rainwater in large ponds or reservoirs to use it later for irrigation of their fields.

This can be expensive for small farmers and agriculture businesses. Irrigating the farms with rainwater requires investing in rain harvesting and an irrigation system, but later it can save a lot of money and helps enhance the crop yields.

Compost Formation

Water is necessary for proper decomposition in the compost pile. Often people start a compost pile, then forget to water, which leads to improper compost formation. So, try to start the compost when rainwater is available, whether it is direct rain from the sky or harvested for garden irrigation.

Rainwater is also better than tap water for creating compost tea. 

Rinsing Vegetables in the Garden

If you have a vegetable garden, you’re aware that vegetables have dirt on them when you harvest them. You can use rainwater for rinsing the vegetables in the garden itself to remove most of the soil and leave it in the garden. Since rainwater is not necessarily potable, you’ll need to rinse them again with tap water in the kitchen before preparing them.

Water Conservation

Rainwater harvesting can help us conserve water in the areas where the ground water level is negligible or too low to pump out of the ground. In addition to irrigation, rainwater can be used for home use, industrial use and even for drinking after purification treatment. Also, rainwater harvesting is not limited to locations with scarce water resources. It can be used in any part of the world receiving rainfall for some months of the year.

Final Words

Rain is the primary source of fresh water on earth. It is good for irrigation, home use, and many other uses. Some countries use rainwater for drinking after treating it with various purification methods. Plants, crops, shrubs, and trees flourish better with rainwater than tap water, as rainwater contains all the natural minerals required for their growth. However, users need to invest in a rainwater harvesting system and low consumption irrigation equipment to make best use of this resource.

Author: Emily Bartels is a content writer at The Irrigation Shop.
She enjoys writing on various topics mainly associated with home improvement, gardening, technology and gadgets. 

Staking Houseplants: Success at Last?

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Photo: Hiclipart.com, clipart library & http://www.vecteezy.com

I’ve been struggling with staking the houseplants I put outside for the summer for 40 years. 

I put most of my (hundreds of) houseplants outside for the summer so they can soak up a bit of extra sun compared to what they get indoors and most do just fine there. When I can get them to stand up, that is. But it’s always been a struggle keeping the tall ones from getting knocked over by the wind and spilling soil everywhere, breaking branches or leaves and damaging the smaller plants they fall on.

With a balcony, at least there’s a railing you can attach tall plants to. Photo: http://www.recognizealeader.com

Even when I first started doing this as a student on the balcony of my shared apartment, those bigger plants – the indoor trees – would end up crashing down. There I learned to fix them with garden twine to the balcony railing, solving the problem. If I did it correctly, up they stayed.

When I moved into a ground-floor apartment, then later a house, things didn’t go as well. The first strong wind – often coming the very day I moved them out – and down they would come. Some plants have fallen so often that there is a sort of history of flopping you can trace in their various broken and shortened branches.

I tried adding gravel to pots for extra weight, both to the bottom and the top. They still blew over. Photo: Daniel Gasteiger, http://www.dailyitem.com

I tried just about everything I could think of. Planting them in heavier pots or pots with added (heavy) gravel, placing the pot inside a larger pot and filling it with gravel, nailing the pots to the ground with huge spikes (you’d be amazed at how little those giant spikes helped in any way!), etc. Nothing was successful enough to be worth mentioning.

Container stabilizers might work… if you could get them! Photo: http://www.amleo.com

I tried to mail order plant container stabilizers, such as seen in certain nurseries, but they always seemed to be out of stock of the sizes I wanted. Besides, they were awfully expensive.

Miscellaneous method: I fixed this ultra-heavy Anthurium to my outdoor plant stand using bungee cords. It isn’t very graceful, but it works. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

Note that I’m not talking about hurricanes or tornados here. I’m sure no houseplant would resist their force. (Fortunately, neither are very likely where I live.) All I want to do is to get tall houseplants to stand up to normal windy days and that should be within the realm of what is possible.

Pot-in-Pot

Pot-in-pot planting may work for more compact plants, but it doesn’t prevent tall ones from blowing over. Photo: lifehacker.com

I tried the pot-in-pot method once: digging a hole in the garden, setting a pot to be left there permanently, then dropping a houseplant into the “double pot”. I did in for only one plant, since it was such a lot of work. 

Well, great idea, but in my garden, it turned out to be a total waste of time. I’m sure it would work fine with short and medium-height plants, but it failed for me with my tall test plant. The soil around the double pot, freshly disturbed, was simply no match for the weight of a plant pushed by the wind and determined to fall flat on its face. On the very first windy day, the plant was down on ground and the double pot had fallen with it, having pulled itself out of the ground, launching soil everywhere. 

The pot-in-pot method would probably work better if you put the double pot in a year ahead and let the soil settle around it before daring to insert a tall, top-heavy plant into it, but after this first failure, plus the fact that digging holes in my tree-root laden soil is already insanely difficult, I didn’t have the courage to try again.

Planting Boxes

I do have one partial solution that works fine.

My deck’s built-in flower boxes hold medium-sized plants quite nicely. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

When I built my deck, I included deep wooden flower boxes I could simply drop my houseplants into, pot and all. The boxes are not just set onto the deck, where they too could be knocked over, but are built right into it, solid as a rock. This works fine for small to even fairly tall plants (I put bricks underneath the smaller ones to raise their pots somewhat), but the biggest ones – my indoor trees, some of which are taller than I am – are now in pots far too wide to fit into the flower boxes. 

Ficus elastica held up by plant stakes. Photo: laidbackgardener.blog

So, this year I tried something new – and something so obvious I should have thought of it years ago! I set the plants in the garden and hammered plastic-covered metal plant stakes into the ground on either side. Then I used garden twine to tie them to the stakes. Quite tightly, but without strangling the stem or trunk. The stakes are flexible, so bend a bit and both the stakes and the plants move in the wind to a certain degree, which is fine by me. So far, the pots haven’t moved and all the plants are still upright, even after a night of 90 km/h (56 mph) gusts. And there is no damage to the stems (I could always adjust the tightness of the twine if necessary).

Well, are all fine but one. I have an enormous and very heavy croton (Codiaeum variegatum) with a trunk about 2½ inches (6,35 cm) thick that started to slip sideways after the very first storm. So, I put in a 3rd stake behind it and now it’s doing fine.

OK, so my staking process won’t win a prize for elegance, but at least it works. 

Your Solutions?

What techniques have you developed for staking your houseplants while they’re outside? You can send me photos and an explanation at laidbackgardener@gmail.com and I’ll try to incorporate the more ingenious ones into a future blog.

What are Tree Watering Bags?

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Tree watering Bag. Photo: http://www.treegator.com

You’ve probably seen them on young trees planted by your municipality and maybe you wondered what they were. They usually look like a tall brown, green or black soft plastic pyramid placed around the trunk of a newly planted tree. If so, they’ll likely be called tree watering bags or tree bags.

If it looks like a doughnut, it’s a tree ring. Photo: amazon.com

Sometimes though they’re like a plastic doughnut that fits around the base of the tree, in which case you can expect them to be called tree rings or tree watering rings. 

Designed to Moisten

And of course, the word “watering” gives away the whole story: they’re designed to water young trees during the critical early period after they are first planted. The bag or ring releases water slowly through tiny perforations, so it keeps the root ball evenly moist while the tree settles in, helping to prevent transplant shock and drought stress.

Most tree bags hold 20 gallons (75 liters) of water, enough for a typical young tree. Tree rings vary from 5 to 32 gallons (19 to 121 liters). Expect to pay some $20 per bag.

Tree bags used in a city park. Photo: http://www.chainsawjournal.com

Municipalities like them, because they don’t have to send out staff to water newly planted trees two or three times a week if the weather is hot and dry. And filling a tree bag/ring takes less time than a thorough watering. But home gardeners also find them handy, especially if you’re not home often enough to hand water. Or if you’re just plain lazy (I certainly have no problems with that!)

How to Use a Tree Bag

The idea is certainly simple enough.

First, wrap the bag around the base of the tree, placing it directly on top of the mulch. The surface needs to be fairly level for the bag to drain properly.

Zip the two sides around the trunk. Photo: Walmart

Most models have a zipper so you can simply zip the two sides together from the base to the top so it hugs the trunk.

If it’s a larger tree with a thick trunk, say 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) in diameter, use two bags and zip them together.

Double tree bag being filled with water. Photo: http://www.treegator.com

Now insert a hose into the opening at the top of the bag and start filling with water. As it fills, lift occasionally to remove any folds so the bag fills out entirely. You can add a dilute fertilizer to the water if you want, although modern arborists no longer recommend using starter fertilizers on young trees.

Fill to capacity, remove the hose and close the opening if there is a flap or plug provided for that purpose.

Most will drain slowly over a 5 to 9-hour period.

In most cases, this will keep the soil evenly moist for 5 to 7 days, then you refill it. 

For small trees, you would usually keep the tree bag active for the entire first season, spring through fall. On larger caliper trees, which often have a harder time settling in, or any tree that seems to be struggling, a second season of slow watering may be necessary.

Obviously, you can use tree bags again and again. Just drain well before you store them for future use. 

Check on the product’s label to see if it can stored in below-freezing temperatures. Many do need to be brought into a frost-free spot for the winter.

Tree Rings

Tree watering rings can be made of hard or soft plastic. Photo: http://www.gardeners.com

Tree rings are used in a similar fashion, although there’s no zipper. However, they’re lower and wider than tree bags, so need more horizontal space, up to about 40 inches (1 m). Also, since they are only about 6 inches (15 cm) high, they can also be used on shrubs with multiple branches at the base rather than a single trunk.

So Far, So Good

These tree bags are good for busy parks departments and neglectful gardeners. They save considerably on water usage as well and help prevent over and underwatering. Also, they keep the soil cooler, a boon to young tree roots in hot summer climates.

The Downside

Handy though they may be, tree bags and rings aren’t perfect.

First, they often don’t hold enough water for larger caliper trees, although, as mentioned above, some models can be doubled up to help cope with this problem.

And you also have to remove them from around the trees and drain them for the winter, even if you’ll be using them on the same tree for a second season, so that’s an extra step.

Ideally, you’d water out to the drip line, as with this soaker hose system. Ill.: investfromthegroundup.org

Thirdly, watering just around the trunk isn’t ideal. It would be better to water thoroughly out beyond the original root ball and out to the dripline to encourage roots to spread normally, that is, in an outward direction. This will help prevent girdling (when tree roots wrap around the trunk and strangle the tree). In clay or loamy soils, the tree bag may be able to compensate for that flaw to a certain degree, as moisture tends to spread out as well as down, but it won’t in sandy soils, where water just goes down. Again, this is going to be more of a problem on large caliper trees. 

On the other hand, if you’re not going to be around to water more carefully, certainly a tree bag is better than letting a young tree’s roots dry out!

And some gardeners tend to forget to water when there’s a tree bag or ring sitting out in plain view, looking as if it’s doing something important. You just have to remember that these tools do need some maintenance and therefore that watering every 5 to 7 days will still be necessary. 


Tree watering bags and tree watering rings: they may be just what you need to add to your arsenal of tree care products.

Mowing Tools Can Be a Tree’s Worst Enemy!

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Lawn mowers and weed trimmers can seriously damage young trunks. Ill.: Clipart Max & gumtree.com.au, montage: laidbackgardener.blog

Probably the worst enemies of young trees are the lawn mower and weed trimmer! That’s because the bark of young trees is still very thin and therefore fragile. Bumping against the bark, especially repeatedly, with heavy machinery often causes injuries that heal poorly and can cause long-term problems, sometimes even leading to the loss of the tree a decade or more later.

Tree with trimmer damage. Photo: thepostnewspaper.net

Note that these injuries are not always external and therefore visible immediately. Just as a person can have an effusion of blood under the skin which becomes a bruise, the injury to the tree following a blow is often under the bark. It is only later (sometimes years later) when the bark swells or detaches from the trunk or when fungi form that the gardener realizes there was even a problem. In some neighborhoods, most trees have this sort of damage… and many are slowly dying!

Tree trunk guard made from drainage pipe. This one is extra high, also protecting the trunk from vole damage during a snowy winter. Photo: http://www.familyhandyman.com
Commercial trunk guard. Photo: http://www.grainger.com


Fortunately, this is easy to prevent. For one thing, you can place a barrier, often called a trunk guard, around the trunk of any young tree planted in a lawn. Several types are available in garden centers, but you can also make your own from a simple piece of drainage pipe, slit along one side that you can place around the trunk.

A circle of mulch will protect a young tree. Photo: Phil Crockett

Better yet, however, simply surround the young tree with … anything but a lawn that will need mowing! That could be a circle of mulch, a ground cover or a flower bed planted at its base. That way neither the mower nor the trimmer will ever have to get near the trunk!

Article adapted from one published on July 14, 2014.

1900-Year-Old-Tree Discovered in China

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Many news sources worldwide recently reported the discovery of a 1900-year-old “pine” in Sichuan Province, southwest China. It’s a giant of a tree, six stories tall, with a girth of 7.5 m (25 feet) and roots reaching more than 50 m (164 feet) in all directions. The hollow trunk so large seven men can stand up inside it, but the discoverers, a group of foresters, say it is healthy and in no particular danger. Chinese officials expect it to become a local tourist attraction and are setting up means to protect it.

This is far from the oldest individual tree in the world. One contender for that title is a bristlecone pine tree (Pinus longaeva) in California’s White Mountain range nicknamed Methuselah that is over 4,700 years old. (For more ancient trees and plants, read The World’s Oldest Plants.)

Also, as anyone who knows conifers can clearly see, the tree is not a pine (Pinus spp.) and, in fact, looks nothing like a pine. I’m not an expert on oriental conifers, but I would guess it’s probably a hemlock (Tsuga). Perhaps a reader can clarify the situation?

Images from 8 News NOW Las Vegas

My Squash Plants Only Produce Male Flowers

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Squash plant with male flower. Photo: extension.unh.edu

Question: I think something is wrong with my squash plants. They produce only male flowers. 

C. Carmichael

Answer: Just be patient: the female flowers will come.

Squash such as zucchinis and pumpkins, as well as most other cucurbits (cucumbers, melons, watermelons, etc.), produce unisexual flowers—separate male and female flowers—on the same plant. 

Male flower on the left, female, with its swollen ovary, on the right. Photo: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org

The two can be readily told apart by ovary in the form of the future fruit (round, long, crookneck, etc.) found at the base of female flowers. Only female flowers. The males have no ovary and produce, of course, no fruit, but are vital as they provide the pollen needed by the female flowers to produce fruit.

Ma Nature produces male flowers first to start to attract pollinators. Producing male flowers requires little energy and they are produced abundantly. Each lasts but a day, but new ones replace them. So, after a few weeks of male-only flowers, pollinating insects such as bees will hopefully have become accustomed to visiting the flowers daily to pick up pollen and nectar. That way, when the first female flowers appear, there’ll be bees ready to pollinate them. 

So … just wait. The female flowers are on their way!

In the Absence of Pollinators

But what if you’re not seeing bees visiting your squash flowers? First, you do have to look in the morning: squash flowers are pretty much morning bloomers. And adverse weather—heavy rain, extreme heat, unusual cold, etc.—can keep bees away. Also, don’t water on mornings when the plant has female flowers … or if you do water, water only the soil, not the blooms. With that female flower only opening for one day, you do not want to discourage pollinators on that one occasion! 

These improperly pollinated fruits were aborted. Photo: J. Allen, uconnladybug.wordpress.com

It takes up to 12 bee visits to properly pollinate a squash flower. If bees are not visiting regularly, you have a problem, as improperly pollinated fruits will abort and drop off.

Hand pollination may be necessary. Photo: sendjoelletter

That’s why hand pollination is useful and may even be necessary. In fact, many gardeners find they obtain earlier and more numerous fruits when they hand pollinate, largely because that way, more pollen is applied and therefore fewer fruits abort. Read Be Like a Bee and Pollinate Your Curcubits to learn how to hand pollinate your squash flowers.