December Ice Monday, Dec 9 2013 

Contrary to the expected, December around here tends more towards ice than snow.  This year, the long spell of close/below freezing has meant that our current winter weather is rather mild: it started as snow and is now sort of drizzle.

Other years, however, it comes as ice.  That ice can be pretty is in no way a redeeming feature.  It tends to prune trees in an unfortunate manner. Most of the native trees can adapt, hemlock and spruce simply droop, white pine unfortunately tends to drop branches, usually snapping off a few feet out from the main trunk.*  This doesn’t bother the tree, but people don’t care for it. Birches bend, until they don’t of course.  Oaks and Maples stand tall, unless they are unbalanced due to a combination of factors (unbalanced rapid growth, saturated ground, wind, etc.); they usually don’t drop branches in ice storms however.**  The truly vulnerable trees are the non-native ornamental ones which often have many narrowly branched limbs, such as Japanese Maples; sadly those tend to tear off at the trunk, making for a difficult pruning job afterwards.

This shows a light ice-load on the trees east of the house, you can see how the Norway Spruces in the background (which normally would be touching) have turned into individual ‘cones’ as the branches are weighed down.  The closest trees are pines, and you can just tell that the main branches do not flex at all, only the smaller branches under a few inches in diameter.  The Maples in the midground have not changed shape at all.


*Mature white pines, that is, the 70 ft plus monsters, such as the ones in the photo.  The limbs simply fracture, if you look at them afterwards there is very little tearing in the way you see on maple or ash.

**Look, All Trees can and do drop things in storms (don’t go dancing around in the woods without paying attention to what is above you!)

Balanced trees are important, some trees are more tolerant than others and can carry an uneven load: as is shown by this River Birch, which is quite one-sided, but it capable of bending in the main trunk:


However, there is always a possibility that they can carry the uneven load until they don’t: this double trunk Red Oak was about sixty years old, perfectly healthy.  It simply grew a bit too much due to the other side of the road being cleared two years previously, giving it much more light.  As you can see, there were no branches on the side facing away from the road.  Ice plus saturated ground plus a year of abundant extra growth and…thud.  (this was several years ago, the trees have since been aggressively pruned by the DOT)*


*Murphy’s Law being what it is, there was a car going past at the time.  The driver was fine, the car not so much.


Golden Rain or Gingkos Monday, Nov 4 2013 

We have two Gingkos, one about 120 years old and one about fifty.  Thankfully, both are males, so no fruit.  They are lovely trees, though the young one is too big for its space.  They are quite hardy in this area, but they have some quirks….  In the fall, if the temperature drops to a certain point, they drop ALL their leaves ALL at once (as in less than eight hours).  It doesn’t matter if they are still green or have turned gold, they will drop.

As it turns out, it would seem that 25 F is that temperature.  At least, yesterday both had essentially all their leaves.  Last night hit 25 F; this morning there was a gentle, steady patter of falling leaves.  By noon they were bare and the ground was carpeted several inches deep in leaves.  This year about eighty percent had turned, so it is a mostly gold carpet; but they are still a bit green and a bit soggy.  I will pick them up tomorrow.

The other quirk is that gingko leaves do not decompose easily.  Fallen leaves, if they have turned gold and dried out, can last several years in dry shade.  They are hydrophobic, even in a watered compost pile, they will form clumps that are literally bone dry despite being surrounded by soggy material.  If they are green when they fall, they will decompose…..much like banana peels will…. (i.e. suffocating slime) this is not desirable!  We pick them up, separated from the other leaves and create a pile which just sort of sits there.  We try to pick up only about half of the oak/maple/magnolia/beech leaves, leaving the rest as mulch; but we try to collect essentially all of the gingko leaves.

Light and Shadow Tuesday, Aug 27 2013 


‘Closed Canopy’ Wednesday, Aug 14 2013 

Technically, in a forest a fully mature stand is referred to as having a ‘closed canopy’: the tree has grown together and there is no open sky.  If viewed from above the two big oaks and the cucumber magnolia have a closed canopy.  You won’t see the north lawn in the summer from above no matter what you do.  However, trees like their space, they compete, they quarrel, and they do not happily share.  You can see the dividing line quite nicely in this photo, looking straight up: the magnolia is the left side, the oak the right (the third oak has a bit of the top left as well)


The Problem of Trees Sunday, Jun 30 2013 

I keep anticipating the sound of chainsaws over at our neighbours. They, like us, have large lawns and large old trees. Unlike us, they have not been at all lucky. We lost a few trees up by the house during the hurricane last year, but all but one were minor points in the landscape. Now down in the woods, near that old willow in the last post, it looks like a giant’s game of pick-up sticks: a set of black locusts going every which way (and all are hung). But those locusts were all exhbiting serious structural issues already. However, we haven’t* lost any of the trees on the lawn.
Our neighbours, however, have lost four sugar maples and big copper beech. None were outwardly problematic in their structure, but they were all about as big as they ought to get. I have some theories, unproven of course.
First: spacing, trees are evolved to work together. Their roots are intertwined, and if their canopies touch it would stand to reason that the wind loads are, if not less, at least distributed. Extremely wide spacing forces them to stand and fall alone. The trees on our lawn are much more closely spaced, creating a high closed canopy.
Secondly: competitive growth. One of the more interesting points a state forester mentioned to me once was the Sugar Maples are designed to grow in a dense forest situation. Put them in a full sun situation and they can grow too big, too full, and too fast overtaxing the strength of their wood and their roots. It stands to reason that certain other tree species might be better adapted to standing alone; anything requiring full sun to get started, or evolved to handle fire, or perhaps flooding?
Lastly: over-fertilization. Our neighbours fertilize their lawn, heavily, the previous owners never did. This also helps create lush growth in the trees. But, it would seem to me, if the tree is already as big as it ought to get, mechanically, than a sudden spurt of heavy new growth, which catches the wind and the water, might just be too much.
Theories anyway. Probably half-baked.

*I know, I know I just jinxed us, we’ll get a storm tonight and down they’ll come.

The Old Willow Saturday, Jun 29 2013 

Down below Julie’s Pond, there was a massive triple-trunk Black Willow. A few years ago, one trunk failed, during this year’s storms the other two finally went, first one and then the other in different storms. Each trunk was a solid 18 inch diameter, and they split off about 7 feet above the base. The ruined base made for a fun set of photos. For scale, the horizontal broken piece in the first photo was about 6 feet off the ground.



Forest Giants Monday, Apr 1 2013 

New England doesn’t really have giant trees; but we do tend to have any number of large and picturesque ones.  What always impresses me is why some of them can continue to stand.  This one, on the lane, is a big ash.  Its days are probably numbered because of the ever expanding road and the combined set of diseases and insects that are killing ashes.  These are bigger threats than the rather major structural failure.  For more than thirty years it has had the cavity in its base.  A few years ago, the spiral crack, splitting from the roots and curving up and around developed.  It creaks in the slightest wind, so there is probably quite a bit of movement.  However, since that crack developed it has weathered two hurricanes, several vicious thunderstorms, and any number of gusty, sustained wind days.  Any number of other, seemingly structurally sound, trees have failed in these events.  Would it surprise me to look out one day and see that it had finally ripped apart? No.  But it doesn’t surprise me to look out and see it still there.  Of course, when it does go it will be quite spectacular; the forces on it must be tremendous.  (for scale that road is a car and a half wide there, the wall is about 3 feet tall)




Japanese Maple in Snow Monday, Mar 25 2013 


Mountain Leaves Wednesday, Mar 6 2013 


Beech leaf in March, Yellow Mountain

Connecticut woods in winter Monday, Dec 31 2012 








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