319 How to Plant and Care for a Shade Tree

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred

Tips for beginning and experienced gardeners. New, 30-minute (or less) episodes arrive every Tuesday and Friday. Fred Hoffman has been a U.C. Certifi...

Show Notes

Today, we cover the basics of correctly planting and caring for a shade tree. We chat with consulting arborist Gordon Mann, who reminds us, when it comes to choosing a spot to plant a shade tree, it’s all about the soil. Plus, he explains the importance of correct planting techniques, especially freeing up that tree’s root zone.
But there’s a lot more.  As Gordon explains, watering your trees correctly is a big part of the process of growing a shade tree. 

We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!

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Pictured:  Chinese Pistache Tree in the Autumn

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Gordon Mann, Consulting Arborist, websites:
Mann Made Resources
California Tree and Landscape Consulting

Find a Consulting arborist at:
International Society of Arboriculture
American Society of Consulting Arborists

Sacramento Tree Foundation - How To Plant a Tree
i-tree (tools for assessing trees)

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Show Transcript

319 TRANSCRIPT Shade Trees


Farmer Fred  0:00

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred is brought to you by Smart Pots, the original lightweight, long lasting fabric plant container. iI’s made in the USA! Visit smartpots.com/fred for more information and a special discount, that's smartpots.com/fred.


Farmer Fred

Welcome to the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. If you're just a beginning gardener, or you want good gardening information, you've come to the right spot.




Farmer Fred

For many gardeners, late March and all of April is planting time for perennials, shrubs and trees. Today, we cover the basics of correctly planting and caring for a shade tree. We chat with consulting arborist Gordon Mann, who reminds us, when it comes to choosing a spot to plant a shade tree, it’s all about the soil. Hmm, where have I heard that before?

Plus, he explains the importance of correct planting techniques, especially freeing up that tree’s root zone.

But there’s a lot more. As Gordon Mann will explain, raising a tree is much like raising a child. It takes years of diligence on your part to see good results. It’s all in Episode 319 of today’s Garden Basics - How to Plant and Care for a Shade Tree. We’re podcasting from Barking Dog Studios here in the beautiful Abutilon Jungle in Suburban Purgatory, it’s the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast, brought to you today by Smart Potsand Dave Wilson Nursery. Let’s go!


Farmer Fred

Do you have trees on your property? Well, trees are usually the largest and longest lived natural features on your property. Plus, they're worth a lot of money when you go to sell your home. So it pays to take care of the trees on your property. But do you know how? Well if you don't know how, that might be the time to call in a consulting arborist, especially if you think that there's going to be problems. if you see the tree leaning, or maybe branches are starting to break? Or there is some unusual shedding of bark or something like that? You want to call in a consulting arborist. Well, what is a consulting arborist? Let's check in with Gordon Mann, he happens to be a consulting arborist and he has a company called Mannmade Resources, serving Northern California for residences, businesses, and agencies. He’s been doing it for more than three decades, and he wants your trees to succeed. But the only way those trees can succeed is if you do the right thing, and treat them right. And as I've been saying on this program for how many years now, it's all about the soil. And that's so true when it comes with trees, as well. Gordon, a pleasure talking with you. And I hope we can shed some light for people to help them take better care of their trees.


Gordon Mann  2:53

Fred, I appreciate the opportunity to share some information with you. And actually I've been doing this for about 45 years. And seven years ago, Mann Made Resources shifted our consulting to California Tree and Landscape Consulting, Cal TLC. And that's where the consulting comes from. They also, in July, started the Institute for Soil Genomics, for very healthy community forests. And the idea is to help people learn how to get our soils back to their natural form.


Farmer Fred  3:27

And I bet right now people are wondering, well, wait a minute, what is a consulting arborist? So why don't you explain the difference between a regular arborist and a consulting arborist?


Gordon Mann  3:37

The consulting arborist should be someone with enough experience to come out and make an inspection on the property of the trees and figure out what any of the issues are that are impacting the tree health or the tree condition. Usually the consulting arborist is not part of a tree care company. Because most tree care company salespeople show up to your property to sell tree work. There are several of them that will give some consulting out. But their job is to sell tree care, otherwise, the company goes out of business. Nobody could just keep giving free information and stay in business for their careers. So we do charge for independent, unbiased inspections of the trees, and offer the most scientific ways to help the trees grow and stay healthy. Or, if the trees have some issues, how to treat the issues, instead of just saying the trees have to be trimmed or have to be removed. We give options and mitigation options for any issues on the property.


Farmer Fred  4:43

And just like you would visit a doctor regularly or a dentist regularly, if you have trees on your property, and especially if they're full grown trees that could be worth thousands of dollars when the time comes to sell your property, you might want to call in a consulting arborist every few years to just do a general survey of your urban forest.


Gordon Mann  5:03

I agree with you. And I'm not just trying to sell our work. Any asset that we have requires some kind of preventative maintenance or regular maintenance. We think about all the things in our homes and our cars, and we do things to take care of them. No one drives their car until the engine seizes because they never changed the oil. And trees, being a very valuable asset to our property and part of the community canopy, are very important and do need to be inspected occasionally. We help the property owners learn how to manage their trees structure and health in appropriate manner.


Farmer Fred  5:42

And to find a consulting arborist new near you, there are a couple of good resources out there that can help you pinpoint somebody locally who can help you out. I know there's the International Society of Arboriculture, with their website, treesaregood.com . That’s where you can find a list of arborists and consulting arborists. But also there's one specifically for finding a consulting arborist, the American Society of Consulting Arborists ( https://www.asca-consultants.org ).


Gordon Mann  6:07

Both those have arborists that are either certified or with ASCA registered. Consulting arborists can help you inspect the site and give you the information you need to take better care of your trees. And hopefully the person that comes out is talking to you about growing better trees and keeping the trees healthy. And helping you understand what we can do to avoid unplanned failures as much as possible. None of us are able to look completely below the ground. But we can look at differences in the site conditions, the tree trunks and sometimes the roots. What we normally do is we make as much assessment as we can from what we can visually see from the ground. And then, if we come up with some things that we need more information on, there's called advanced assessments, where people might go up in the air and climb the tree to do a aerial inspection and look at what's up in the branches close up or actually excavate the soil. So those of us without X-ray vision can actually see the roots. Also, we have things we can do like tomography or resistance drilling and find out what level of decay is in trunks that might have no apparent openings that we can see inside but sound hollow and we use a mallet to check the quality of the wood.


Farmer Fred  7:33

The American Society of Consulting Arborists, their website is asca-consultants.org . And we will have a link to both the American Society of Consulting Arborists and the International Society of Arboriculture in today's show notes as well, I know you've been going around giving presentations on tree health. And I'm amazed at the resiliency of trees. Even though, to the naked eye, they might appear to be healthy, they could be stressed, because they were started poorly and not the least of which is when they may have been planted, when the housing development you live in was finally landscaped. Usually, landscape goes in as the very last thing, after all the construction work. And that initial landscape is being installed on compacted soil and maybe very little topsoil just because of the construction process.


Gordon Mann  8:30

Yes, Fred. It's really sad how when we look at the difference in how trees have grown in our communities from 50 years ago to current times, they used to build individual houses, they didn't scrape the entire site of all the topsoil off and compact it so they can build the houses so they don't settle. And then they come in with four inches of topsoil and try and get the trees to grow. I hope some of your listeners have actually had the opportunity to walk into wildland areas, or forests. We have so many national forests in our area, and county forests and things like that, where we can actually see how trees grow naturally. And hopefully they walk across a duff layer. that is a tree's natural fertilizer, a natural way to restore the soils with the elements that it needs to function properly. So soils and soil genomics are very much like the human gut. There's so much more information now about the biomes and things going on in the human gut that help our bodies care for themselves. The soils are the exact same way. And there's so many fungi and bacteria in the soil that helped promote earthworms and other things that are happening in the soil that sometimes you need a microscope to look at. And when we scrape the organic matter off the top of the soil and we compact it, then it eliminates a lot of how those organisms can grow. It changes the soil porosity and permeability, it changes the soil aeration. And most people just think that tree roots need water. But roots need both air and water, because they're living cells, and cells need oxygen. And most of the microbiomes in the soil are not anaerobic. So they also need oxygen and air. At the institute we do actual soil tests, not the normal one that goes through the local cooperative extension agencies that some of the soil testing that is done that just talks about the elements in fertilizer, the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium and pH. But we actually look at up to 120,000, microorganisms, both bacteria and fungi, and what's missing, and it looks at what nutrients that are actually tied up in the soil and unavailable to the plant. Because the bacteria and fungi that help the roots that are extracted from the soil are damaged or missing. And the other thing humans do really well (unfortunately) is we clean our soil. We rake in the fall, removing the organic matter and all the leaves, taking any loose organic material off the soil. And those layers of leaves and organic matter does two things. It protects the soil from the sun. So otherwise it's soil that's kind of like a brick. So anytime you get water, it usually runs off until the soil gets so saturated that finally does soak in a little bit. Or it does just run off and it never goes deep into the soil. And because the soil is baked, the organic matter and the fungi and bacteria that are in the shallow areas of the soil that normally replenish the soil are actually either killed or lost. And we have very poor quality soils.


Farmer Fred  11:52

Earlier on, you mentioned the word, “duff”. And some people are probably thinking, why is he talking about a fictional beer from “The Simpsons?” Duff is another word for mulch, and it's the fallen leaves and the small branches that basically carpet a forest floor. That is their mulch, it's an actual mulch, just like we're always talking about the benefits of mulching your garden because it moderates soil temperature, it moderates soil moisture loss. It helps aerate the soil; as it breaks down, it builds up the microbiology in the soil. And also, when you get a heavy rainstorm, that layer of mulch can also help break up the impact of the water on the soil. Because on bare soil when it rains really hard, it actually compacts the soil more, removing the air. So that duff layer - that mulch layer - helps that water more slowly trickle into the soil. So the water penetrates deeper, too. Besides, don't rake your forest. Maybe reconsider those leaves that are falling from your trees every fall. I've gotten into the habit of collecting the neighborhood oak leaves and grinding them up with either my mulching mower or my string trimmer and spreading the chopped leaves around my garden to help improve the soil during the winter. I’ll do that if I'm not planting a cover crop.


Gordon Mann  13:10

Yeah, Fred, you've got such a great method, the least expensive way to care for your soils. Most tree care companies, when they grind up the chips, we can still get them to drop them off at our house for almost for free, without having to haul them away to the dump. And wood chips around trees are the best. And the natural organic matter of whether it's a crop, a plant, or a bush or a tree is what those plants are used to growing in normal nature. And as humans, we think we're doing the right thing by pulling them out. And we have this great behavior as humans of treating everything like they're human. We do all these similes and things of how nature would act as a human is probably a better way to put that, and it's not correct. And there's also some new mulch products out there that people can use such as nut husks, and hazelnuts and maybe butternut. We don't want to use walnuts because they have some allelopathy to them which can be a little bit aggressive to other competing plants. But the other mulches are creating a nice mulch layer that we can put over the soil and actually do the breakdown of organic matter like you're talking about. And unfortunately when we add mulch, it's not a one time and you’re done. We have to add mulch again after it breaks down. But that's what helps keep the soil in a well functioning condition.


Farmer Fred  14:38

You've been going around doing demonstrations and talks about Healthy Soil for Healthy Trees. And you talk about the basic building blocks for cultivating a healthy tree life. What's in that soil for a healthy tree? Water, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, manganese zinc, copper, boron, Molybdenum.


Gordon Mann  15:00

Yeah, there's excellent polysaccharides, ESPs, and more.


Farmer Fred  15:07

But what's interesting is all of those soil elements can be accomplished with adding organic matter. Directly.


Gordon Mann  15:16

Humans are so used to taking two tablets and call me in the morning and give me a pill to take care of what I'm doing that we think that by fertilizing our trees, we're helping with the exact same thing.


Farmer Fred  15:28

Now we're not talking fruit trees here. We're talking ornamental trees.


Gordon Mann  15:32

Ornamental trees, right. Okay. And  even fruit trees, there's some fertilizers that are specific towards improving the fruit production. And that's different than just trying to throw extra nitrogen and stuff in the soil to get it to grow faster.


Farmer Fred  15:47

And we have talked about nitrogen on this program about how it does spur new weak growth that's very attractive to insect activity and not necessarily good insects either. And the same is true, if you start adding fertilizer to a tree that doesn't need fertilizer. iI it's got that layer of leaves on the ground, that's enough to feed that tree, isn't it?


Gordon Mann  16:12

It usually is. And again, because we start with soil that was not natural, and then we're changing it, that some of the things in the soil are not there. And trees typically only need two things, water and organic matter. The organic matter will break down and improve the soils and help the roots do their job and help them break down what's in the soil, and free up the elements that they need to grow. And by creating enough organic matter, which builds up the bacteria and the fungi in the soil, and the biodiversity helps the trees be more healthy. But typically, the humans think we want something to turn around overnight. And so we don't give the soil the chance to do the long term development that it needs. That's going to eliminate the need to do all these shots of nutrients that we get from fertilizers.


Farmer Fred  17:05

Let's talk about your travels throughout Northern California and assessing, especially, backyard trees and residential trees. What are most of the problems you're seeing associated with those trees?


Gordon Mann  17:18

it was probably what we saw that was a result of the drought. The wonderful (not really) way the state of California manages its water, instead of trying to help people be educated and they say, “we all have to use less water”. And we all have to do these things properly and deep watering our trees and not so much throwing the shallow water on the turf, and not relying on how much rain we get each year to how we are going to behave. Unfortunately, that's what the state does. And so when people tell you, you have to stop watering their grass, they also stopped watering their trees. One of the things we designed was what we called stealth tree watering, where we have people dig a 12 inch wide excavation of their lawn and put a soaker hose in that spiral excavation, covering it with mulch, and then very slowly turning on the water so it bleeds out very slowly and drips into the ground and actually does go into the soil without greening up the grass next to it. The mulch helps cover it, so no one can see it, and they can keep their trees alive. Because as soon as people cut off the water to their lawns, they're cutting off the water to their trees as well. And unfortunately, most of the trees have learned to rely on that water from the turf watering.


Farmer Fred  18:38

And that tree may not even be in the turf and may be adjacent to it. But a tree's roots can travel a long way. And they'll go a long way to find water.


Gordon Mann  18:46

Correct. And one of the problems we have with most of our nursery stock is that they're grown in containers. And more people are trying to use air pruning to stop the roots from circling. But as soon as we pull a tree out of a container, we can see all the roots that have circled. And if we're fortunate, and the people growing it every time they moved it from a smaller container to the next larger one, they actually did root pruning to get rid of the circling roots. The only roots we have to deal with at planting are that last layer of circling roots where we have to either prune them or something because they don't just go. “I’m free!, I'm out of the container!”. They stay right where they're at, even after we pull them out. And the people that just stick it in the ground like a wine cork, the tree roots are  going to continue to grow in a circle. And the first thing I do when I visit people's property with young trees is I give the tree a little shake. I grab it anywhere from 12 to 30 inches above the ground and wiggle it. And if I can see the container-sized soil moving in the ground, the tree is not rooting well. And the choices we have then are: we can root prune it right then, if it's been really recent, we could pull it out and transplant it. Or we could try transplanting it if it’s been in the ground for a while as well as root pruning it and replanting it with a much more healthy structural root system.


Farmer Fred  20:09

We’ll have link in the show notes today about the correct way to plant a tree. And you have to pay attention to the hole, I think the The old saying is dig a $10 hole for a $5 tree or something along those lines. But basically, that hole should be wide, not necessarily deep, but wide. And when you plant that tree, too, maybe if those roots are going round and round in that root ball, is to score the root ball with a sharp object on four sides and maybe across the bottom, and try to spread the roots out so that they will go out and help fill in that space that you just dug out like a six foot diameter, maybe 10-12 inches deep, it depends on the size of the container that you're planting. And by the way, don't plant your trees in containers. Take them out of the container first.


Gordon Mann  20:56

Yes, and you know, it's really interesting, the Sacramento Tree Foundation has had this pedestal method of planting trees pretty much for the last 30 years. And when I brought that up at the industry standards meeting, my co workers and my professionals around the country called it a boutique planting method, which kind of shocked me, because our volunteers do that all the time with very little training. When you dig the hole too deep and put the soil back on it, we can't compact it to the type of aerated density that it was before we excavated it. And so the tree will settle. And one of the number one ways to kill trees is to plant them too deep. So the pedestal method is we take the tree out of the container, we measure what the depth of the root ball is, then we dig where the tree is going to go to only that height or even that height less one inch. And then around the outside of where that pedestal for the tree is going to sit, you can go as crazy as you want. With your excavation,  we usually recommend at least two times the root ball diameter, but you can go 3-4-5 times the root diameter and outside of the pedestal, you can dig deeper. And if you have a hard pan outside the pedestal, you could punch through the hard pan so the water can actually drain through the planting hole. And you can create a really wonderful environment for your tree to grow. And because we're talking about organic matter and things, a lot of the soils we have don't have organic matter. And that's where the mulch we're putting on comes in. And then we water the tree. The only roots the tree has, whether it's evolved in burlap or a container, is the roots that are moved on to the site. So we have to keep that root ball moist. And then we have to slowly expand the moisture outside the root ball so the roots can grow outside the root ball. And the more we loosen and break up the soil and the digging those bigger holes, the better the air and water can actually flow in what was the original compacted soils in most developed neighborhoods or sites.


Farmer Fred  23:07

Many people when they're planting a tree, they want to do the tree a favor, and they buy some really nice potting soil or potting mix, and they don't reuse the native soil there. Instead they'll just fill up the hole with potting mix, that can be a negative can’t it?


Gordon Mann  23:25

It can be. The bigger the hole you dig and the more you mix in some of the potting soil so you increase some of the organic matter and that really large site, the better off it is. Because as the roots do grow with the soil genomics and biomes, they pull those things with them and they keep moving them through the soil. But I wouldn't replace it completely. I would just mix in some organic matter, maybe up to eight or 10% at the maximum,  into the soils. And I would do it over the entire area that I dig out, a really large area, and that may help the tree establish a little faster.


Farmer Fred  24:06

And you mentioned, too, that you add mulch. But that mulch is only a top dressing, Correct?


Gordon Mann  24:10

Correct. If you're  using topsoil, it usually is a combination of a silt- loam, which will have both clay and loam in it. It will have some organic matter as well that is light. You don't want heavier organic matter. You do want lighter organic matter and then you add more to the surface and let it slowly get broken down and move through the soil.


Farmer Fred  24:33

Yeah, we should point out, too, that if you're adding compost to that hole, even if it's just eight or 10%, Compost tends to break down, so it's going to settle. So you do not want to plant compost beneath the tree. You want that pedestal to be on the native soil I would think.


Gordon Mann  24:50

Native, unexcavated soil. You want that to be unbroken up. Because as soon as we loosen it up and put it back in the hole it does settle. All the people that do root grinding and all that they take the wood in the dirt, they grind it up, pulverized, and they usually mound it. And then within a couple of years that mound is level because that stuff naturally settles.


Farmer Fred  25:13

Which is exactly why you need to replace mulch every few years because  it's  really a living thing, and it's breaking down. iI’s feeding the soil. So you're really helping out your trees and your shrubs, when you do use a natural mulch, like chipped and shredded tree branches. Now one good tip I know for planting that tree at the correct level where you want about one inch of the existing soil ball of the tree from the container above grade, is to lay your shovel across the hole and then when you place that tree soil ball on that pedestal, you want that top one inch of the existing soil ball to be just about a little bit higher than your shovel.


Gordon Mann  25:55

Yes. And also once you take the tree out of the containers, sometimes the root ball starts to disintegrate. That's what soil does. It falls apart. It's not supposed to be packed together like a clay thing you make pottery out of . And so by having it higher, if you do get a little bit of the bottom to fall away, you still won’t plant the tree too deep.




Farmer Fred  26:19

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Farmer Fred

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Farmer Fred

We're talking about how to plant a tree and a lot more, with consulting arborist Gordon Mann. And one of the topics that comes up whenever it involves tree planting is, you want a tree for privacy? Can you do that? Let's find out how.


Farmer Fred

And I guess we should get into one reason why people like to plant trees, is for privacy. I remember years ago during a technical advisory committee meeting at the Sacramento Tree Foundation, there was this rush to try to find tall growing, fast growing, narrow trees for compact backyards to give people the privacy they wanted. And usually as a result, and this has been going on for 30-40 years, they tend to plant the trees too close together, in their attempt to try to get instant privacy.


Gordon Mann  29:31

Yes. And even landscape architects, they're taking a site that has nothing and trying to make it look attractive. They're going to put the trees very close together just because you want it to look nice. Otherwise it looks like a desert, with a couple of trees on it. And so they do put things together. The only benefit about that is because they have so much irrigation for the initial trees, that for the ones we're going to keep on the site over time to grow, they already have irrigation in place. Because they have additional irrigation for trees that will probably be removed, because they're over planted. And they're growing the canopies together.


Farmer Fred  30:05

And that’s causing all sorts of other problems too, usually with fences, because they tend to plan that row for a privacy screen way too close to a fence line.


Gordon Mann  30:16

Yes. And, again, we think about what we're doing from our side of the fence, and not the other side of the fence. And if you're a property owner, and your tree is going on to my property, I have the right to prune it back to the fence line, as long as I don't kill the tree. And don't do too aggressive pruning. And if you want to keep the tree with the kind of balanced canopy or a balanced crown, it should be planted a little bit in from  the edge of the fence plus then, the roots are going to have less impact on the neighbors. And if I do have to do root pruning and put a barrier in, earlier in the trees life, I do that. And the farther from the trunk I do that, the more natural root system I'm going to have with that tree as it grows bigger. The worst time to root prune is when the tree has got large woody roots. Because if we cut that root close to the tree, everything that extends outward from the point we cut is lost.


Farmer Fred  31:09

Yeah, and sometimes those trees could be supporting each other.


Gordon Mann  31:13

Yes, sometimes the roots do graft together. But the biggest thing is, when we do work on our trees, we want to avoid unplanned failures. We can do things to improve the soil and do things to help improve the health of the tree. Sometimes we do add some fertilizers with our organic matter. But for the most part, we can try and keep these trees growing, especially with water and organic matter. But we can't stop unplanned failures once we've taken away the structural support the tree has. And one way you can look at this with a great model is you can put a wineglass on a cocktail plate or on a dinner plate. And they take trees out of the field, filled grown trees and ball and burlap them, they're basically taking the tree that was the cocktail plate and coming out with the wineglass with a champagne flute base. And we start pruning. If you chip away the base of wine glass or a champagne flute, you'll see how literally how little you would have to take off for that thing to fall over. The only difference between that model and a tree is the fluid or wineglass fall in the direction of the chipping, and the tree falls away from the root pruning, usually.


Farmer Fred  32:21

Let's take our pruning talk above the soil level and talk about what people are doing to their trees, as far as pruning goes. A lot of people don't know the difference between a heading cut and a thinning cut when it comes to pruning. And most people are just doing heading cuts, chopping a tree willy nilly to get to the height they want, with little regard for the health of the branch that's left over, which usually when you do that, you end up with many, many more branches coming out of that cut that are all more weakly attached.


Gordon Mann  32:54

They’re more weakly attached and are growing so close together that they can't grow to maturity without pushing on each other. One of the features of that is occluded bark, where they grow on and smash into each other. And then when those tree branches actually fail, you can examine the top and see there was no connection in the top anywhere from a quarter to a half of the way those branches are touching each other. The best way to prune a tree is to allow it to grow naturally. And because we're allowing our trees to grow mostly in open areas, they're growing a little wider than they would and taller and skinnier than they would in the forest when they might be close together. And so what you really want to do is you want to take away the end weights on some of the branches. That reduces the loading. When we get branch failures, it's because the weight and loading of the branch is stronger than the attachment. So we have those heavily over-pruned trees that are basically the hard heading cuts. And the branches that sprout together are now thinned out, the attachment is not complete as I explained earlier, and so at some point they do fail, which is really unfortunate because when the branches break without pruning, we lost all our pruning options. We now have this sheared off branch we have to see if we can take away the shearing and still get the branch to grow. And then once the the new branches do sprout out the shoots sprout out, we have to prune to manage them. And most nurseries, they grow trees. They take a baby tree and make it look like a mature tree. They strip up all the branches on the lower bark to a tuft on the top, where they've topped the tree. When we get bigger woody branches and we make these large heading cuts and topping cuts. The likelihood of decay is much greater because the trees don't heal. They seal or cover and take so long for their wound wood and are calloused to grow over those pruning wounds that they expose that open wood to decay which then can get into the tree and cause constructional problems over the life of the tree.

The other thing I'd love to talk about is people have heard plant the right tree in the right place. That to me is a mantra from all the electric companies that have to prune to clear their wires. As a way to avoid expending money pruning trees for their wire clearance, what really has to happen is, trees are actually a wonderful community or an individual asset. What the we want to do is we want to figure out why we're growing the tree to begin with, then we're going to grow the right tree in the right place for the right purpose. So if we want the tree for shade, or for screen, or for flower, or for fruit, they've done the iTree studies, which is probably since 2003, we've been getting results from iTree. It's a free computerized program that the Forest Service has sponsored with some of the research grants. And it's shown us that from the first zero to seven years of a tree growing, we don't get any benefits from the tree, we're investing money and time. And because the canopy is so small, we don't get any benefits back. The leaves are the worker bees on the trees, and the leaves are what do the photosynthesis and do the shade and the air quality. The tree from seven to 15 years starts to break even on his return on investments, then for 15 or 20 years, we're starting to get a little bit and 20 years to maturity the tree is just pouring back the benefits with the crown size. And so if we can't grow the tree to maturity, we're never really achieving those benefits. So the idea is how do we locate the tree so we move away from the competing infrastructure and utilities. So if I have to fix a sidewalk, or if I have to fix a curb, or have to fix a underground line, whether it's electrical, water, sewer, gas communications, I can do those repairs without having to cut so many roots that I have to take the tree out, then I can grow that tree to maturity and still take care of all my infrastructure. So the idea is that we figure out why we want to plant the tree, then we figured out what space we have, then we determine which potential trees we could plant in that space. Then we look at the characteristics of those trees, Evergreen or deciduous, nice flowers, nice fall color through it, if we're doing it for crops. And then we pick those trees and we actually try and have some diversity. So we don't have rows and rows of the same trees. Because those of us that have heard of Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight, emerald ash borer, eucalyptus borers and lerp psyllids, they're usually attracted to one species. So if we have a row of species, we just create a smorgasbord for either a current insect or an invasive insect. And if we look at the City of Milwaukee, they have some of the best records and best research from some great research professors in Wisconsin. When Milwaukee got hit with their Dutch elm disease in the 1970s, it took until about 2020, about 50 years, for the canopy to restore itself that was lost by the loss of all their elm trees. And if you look at the emerald ash borer, cities in the Midwest and the Northeast and southern Canada, they're going to be 30 to 50 years to restore their canopies that are lost from all the emerald ash borer damage to their  ash canopies. And so what we really try to do is to get some diversity in place. Maybe not have more than two like trees in a row. Find trees that have similar canopies, and crown shapes and fall color, and have a little bit of diversity in the species. But it's similar a uniformity as humans seem to need.


Farmer Fred  38:47

And don't forget to maybe throw a few native trees into that mix as well.



Gordon Mann  38:51

Yes, and native trees are a great thing to have, and we have a great history with them. But as soon as we take that site, and scrape all the soil off and compact it, there's no guarantee that native species are gonna do any better than any other tree. And if you look at the number of native trees we have in any ecosystem, if you only have two or three native trees, we can have diversity, if we have 10 or 12 native trees and we have a great palette to work from. And we can share native trees with a few introduced trees and have a wonderful, natural and an attractive landscape.


Farmer Fred  39:26

And again, we will use the term Hydrozoning, where you want to match up the watering requirements for the plants that you are irrigating.


Gordon Mann  39:33

Correct . It’s that just the not the hydrozone, it is the availability of water. In California, we get no natural rain typically from April till October. We might get occasional rain. We're getting more a little bit the last couple of years, but they've just been a spritzer. And the rest of the time and with the heat we get, it’s getting up into the 90s and the triple digits. That water evaporates out, and the trees do evapotranspiration pretty quickly. And so most of the artificial and supplemental watering that we do has to be repeated on a weekly to every two week basis. And that watering should be very slow and deep. Watering that goes deep into the soil and is put on under the mulch. And then the mulch helps reduce the evapotranspiration and evaporation from the soils that you talked about earlier, and helps the tree go longer between irrigation applications.


Farmer Fred  40:29

And again, that spiral you mentioned is a great idea where you are laying down either a soaker hose are an inline drip irrigation tubing in a spiral that gets wider and wider as it goes out so that the whole drip line of the tree, if you will, which extends from the trunk to the outer leaves, has the availability of water. Putting  one little drip emitter next to the trunk of the tree is not doing the tree any good. It's like you mentioned earlier, that whole area needs equal amounts of water.


Gordon Mann  41:02

Yeah, one of the designs we've used when we were working with landscape architects is you actually could do concentric rings of drip hose as you talked about. Or you could use a bubbler and you create a basin. So that buffer fills the basin. And you start out with the basin right over the root ball so the ball stays alive and slowly enlarge the basin as the tree grows, because  it's not a Ronco grill, set it and forget it. It's a living thing that needs constant attention and maintenance. And hopefully if we do it right, we're putting in small inputs. And as the tree gets bigger and bigger, we get more and more benefits from it.


Farmer Fred  41:43

Now folks, you can take this conversation about trees and apply it to your children, by the way, that same rules apply.


Gordon Mann  41:50

Absolutely Fred. you know, we don't just birth a child. We don't just plant trees, we grow them and we raise them. And you're 100% on that.


Farmer Fred  41:58

Exactly. You want your trees to help take care of you when you're old.  Is there anything we didn't talk about that you want to talk about?


Gordon Mann  42:06

Last thing I would say is that you mentioned the term “thinning” earlier about pruning and thinning cuts. In 2017, we extracted the word thinning from the industry standards, because humans have this thing that the trees need to be thinned. The leaves on the tree are the worker bees, and they perform everything. And  since their worker bees, if we compare the trees to a corporation, we have workers and productivity. If we take away a third of the foliage, and we were General Motors or Dodge or Ford, we just got rid of our nightshift. If we take away two thirds of the foliage, we got rid of our night shift and the swing shifts. And those cruel people that top the trees, we got rid of all our workers. Who's going to build the cars? Who's gonna do the photosynthesis? The trees can't go to the union hall and bring on new workers. The way they restore their leaves is they sprout from usually buds, and some are adventitious. And some are their buds that are on the trunk and on the branches. And they sprout from those. And they're trying to restore the number of workers that they lost. And the attachments from the sprouts are usually weakly attached because branches and trunks - the way they grow - Dr. Alex Shigo showed us this back since 1977, or 78, that the trees they overlap and their tissue overlaps from the trunk to the branches. And that's what holds those branches on so tightly. And when we do the the heading cuts or the topping cuts and we get these sprouts, the branches are only attached by one or two years into these spots. And it takes if they grow really fast that they're trying to do to produce the foliage they are weakly attached and they can fail. So the idea is to get rid of the word thinning from our vocabulary. And talk about only remove a branch for a specific reason for either the health of the tree or the structural integrity of the tree, or one of our human important needs like clearance for fire prevention, damage on homes, for visibility of traffic signals and street signs, and for making sure that we're not getting slapped in the face when we're looking down at our cell phones while we walk and figuring out a way to manage the way the trees grow. We allow them to grow by only removing anywhere from five to 18 to 20% of the foliage at any annual pruning on the tree, unless it's a really critical need. And trees that maybe haven't grown in a long time have the risk of a branch failing, because the branch failing takes away our pruning options. Whereas pruning well and keeping the natural shape of the tree looking like a tree full of foliage and dense foliage is the best way to grow the trees.


Farmer Fred  44:56

So, what did we learn from Gordon Mann, consulting arborist, today? Well, it's Farmer Fred Garden Rule number seven, “everything you know is wrong”. Because just like in this little conversation here, what terms don't lead to correct pruning work? Things that we've been saying for years, like remove dying branches, remove diseased branches, remove crossing branches, and thin your trees. Basically, hold on. And what Gordon is saying is only prune what is necessarily good to prune.


Gordon Mann  45:26

When we write the specs to say remove dead, dying, frothing, diseased branches. So if you have a dead branch, you may want to only prune it back a little bit and leave some habitat, sometimes dead branches do that, or you can remove the dead branch because it's not going to impact the health of the tree. But a dying branch, say 10% of the branches dying, you gave me permission to take out the whole branch even though he had removed the 10% of dead branches. Diseased branches, we have anthracnose, and powdery mildew. And you have a diseased branch with those and you gave me permission to go ahead and remove all those branches. Basically, you're getting a topped tree when you thought you wanted a nicely prune trees. Crossing branches are what depends on your perspective, you look at the tree from the top and every branch is crossing, it's really crossing and robbing branches. And you want to try and first reduce some of those loading weights that gets it to separate from the robbing. Or if they're crossing and the branches are covering the same area where we need the leaves to grow, maybe remove one or two of the one of the two branches or a pair of branches. But removing crossing branches, I can remove all of them, or both of them. And then the last one would be  thinning again, you're just taking branches out of the tree, and the tree is gonna regrow those because it has to grow. And we used to say in the industry standards that you don't remove more than 25% of the foliage. And all the pruning specification said remove up to 25% of the foliage. Really, we want to remove anywhere up to five percent to 12 to 18% maximum, depending on the needs of the species of the tree. And we only want to remove the branches that have to for it and weight loading or critical safety issues. And that's a different approach than just go ahead and thin every tree to 25% and make it look like got a haircut at the barber. One of the best analogies I can relate to is for those of us that have significant others that one of us goes to the barber and the other goes to a hairstylist. I go to a barber and  first I pointed to a picture on the wall to have him cut all my hair off like the guy in the picture. And when I walk out of the barbershop everybody knows I got a haircut. When my lovely wife walks out of the hairstylist, she's probably paid 10 times what I pay, and she comes out and she goes, “What do you think?” And like I say, “Okay, what did they do? Your hair looks great.” Which supermodel do you want to look like? They don't look like an army sergeant that just came out of boot camp. They look like a nice head of hair with a beautiful style. And when my friends come out of hairstylist, their hair doesn't look like it's been cut. It just looks very attractive. And if we can kind of prune our trees that way, I think we’d be way ahead.


Farmer Fred  48:13

I hope you have a comfortable couch to sleep on.


Gordon Mann  48:16

I know.


Farmer Fred  48:19

We've been talking with Gordon Mann. He is a consulting arborist with the California Tree and Landscape Consulting firm. He has a website called Mannandtrees.com. If you don't know your trees, if you don't know what kind they are, if you have questions about your trees, it pays to invest into a consulting arborist. Gordon Mann, thanks for setting us straight on trees today.


Gordon Mann  48:45

Absolutely, Fred, I always enjoy your show. And I really appreciate all you do to educate our public in these areas. And I'm glad you share your podcast with whoever can go online and listen to you.




Farmer Fred  49:01

The Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast has a lot of information posted at each episode in the show notes. Maybe you'd rather read the episode then listen to it. That's not a problem. We have a complete transcript posted and you can find that link in the show notes or read it on our homepage, gardenbasics.net That's where you can find all the previous episodes of the Garden Basics with Farmer Fred podcast. There, you can leave a message or link up with our social media pages, including our YouTube video page. And at Gardenbasics.net., click on the tab at the top of the page to read the Garden Basics’ “Beyond the Basics” newsletter, plus in the show notes there are links to any products or books mentioned during the show, as well as other helpful links for even more information. Want to leave us a question? Again, check the links at gardenbasics.net.  And when you click on any episode at GardenBasics.net, you're going to find a link to Speakpipe.com, where you can leave us an audio question without making a phone call. You can go to them directly, at speakpipe.com/gardenbasics. You want to call us or text us? We have that number posted at Garden basics.net . Spoiler alert, it's 916-292-8964 916-292-8964. Email? Sure! Send it along with your pictures to Fred at farmerfred.com. Or again go to gardenbasics.net to get that link. And if you send us a question, be sure to tell us where you're gardening. Because as I am fond of saying, All gardening is local. Find it all at GardenBasics.net.


Farmer Fred

Garden Basics with Farmer Fred comes out every Tuesday and Friday, and it's brought to you by Smart Pots and Dave Wilson Nursery. Garden Basics. It's available wherever podcasts are handed out. For more information about the podcast, visit our website, gardenbasics.net. And that's where you can find out about the free, Garden Basics newsletter, “Beyond the Garden Basics”. And thank you so much for listening!


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