Monday, April 15, 2019

Monarch Butterflies

Weather: It’s time to start counting the days since the last rain. The clouds that moved through this week were like the robin, just passing through for some other destiny.

There’s still snow in the Jémez from Tchicoma south.

Last useful rain: 3/21. Week’s low: 21 degrees F. Week’s high: 85 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Cherries, peaches, Bradford pears, purple leaf plums, flowering quince, forsythia, daffodils. Cherries get tall and tend to be planted behind houses.

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, tansy and purple mustards, western stickseed, native and common dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Sandcherries, vinca

What’s reviving/coming up in the area: Weeping willow, heath aster, wild lettuce, pigweed, needle grass

What’s reviving/coming up in my yard: Beauty bush, catmint, Maximilian sunflower

Tasks: Men are still getting their irrigation systems working. One was out with a shovel in his ditch, another was letting yellowish water bubble out onto the ground. One house had standing water in its yard one morning this year. A man was out with a hoe working in another field around noon.

I spent several days testing hoses before I installed them. The first batch, which was made in China, all had connectors that leaked at the fittings. The second batch, which was from the same company but made in this country, had one with a leaking connector and another that only delivered water for half its length. The ones I installed only had functional water holes on one side, so I have to move the hoses from the centers of the watered areas to the edges. I have no idea how they will actually work when it gets warm and there’s less humidity in the air.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, robin, butterflies, small bees, small black ants, first house flies.

I found a hornets’ nest in the dead sweet pea leaves I was removing. I picked it out with the tips of my nippers. A few minutes later there was rustling in the trash bag and I thought I saw wings. I kicked the bag away from me, so the opening was in the other direction. There are limits to my curiosity.

Weekly update: I started seeing small butterflies this week. They usually were flying at a distance and it was impossible to detect their color.

Then, it must have been Friday, I was walking in the drive when a flock rose and flew off in different directions. I wasn’t expecting them, and was so disoriented by their movement I couldn’t focus on a single one to identify it.

Saturday this happened again. This time I had a sense they were gray and orange, and in the area of the sandcherry which had come into bloom on Wednesday. Prunus besseyi is densely covered with small, fragrant, rose-shaped flowers.

Yesterday I moved more cautiously and saw a number on the shrub, sharing the space with small bees and house flies that also started hatching this week.

I don’t think they are monarch butterflies, but I don’t know enough about Lepidoptera to be sure. The only ones I recognize in this area are the white cabbage and yellow lettuce ones. The woman who sternly told me several years ago that the latter were sulphur butterflies, also said the small orange ones I’d seen were monarchs. However, every monarch I saw in Michigan was much larger and had more definite patterns. Wikipedia says their wingspan is 3.5" to 4". [1]

As a child I must have assumed butterflies were like plants. The eggs hatched in spring, the caterpillars were around in early summer, and the butterflies appeared later. That narrative matched my observations and the things I knew about the life cycle of insects.

That image was one reason I had such a problem recognizing the butterflies this week. It simply was too early in the season.

I’d seen headlines about more monarchs wintering over this past year in México, but hadn’t bothered to read them. When I went back to the stories I found Danaus plexippus go through several generations in a year spread over a number of geographic areas. The differences between what I see here and what I remembered from the north fit that biogeographic pattern.

The butterflies fly south in fall to winter in forests a little northwest of Mexico City, where the air is moist and temperatures rarely fall below freezing. [2] For a time, scientists assumed they were in a hibernating state in which they neither ate nor drank. A reserved area has been established in México and observers have found they do go out in the day to seek water. [3]

The ones that migrate begin moving north in late winter, and lay eggs in the south that begin hatching caterpillars in March. They, in turn, become butterflies in April. Adults feed on nectar, and follow their food supply north, so that each of the four generations hatched in a year lives farther north. [4]

I couldn’t discover anything about differences in physical size by region or season. However, research has been done on the coloration. Females are more amber colored, and males are more orange. [5] More important, those raised in warmer environments, like New Mexico, are lighter colored than those raised in the Midwest. [6]

I don’t know if the quality of the milkweed the caterpillars eat or the kinds of nectar eaten by adultsl has any impact on size. The larvae feed on a number of Asclepias species, and their nutritional quality may differ by environment. Moisture, soil, and temperature may all make a difference within a single species. Most of the research is done in the Midwest where the butterflies spend most of their time.

Notes on photographs: All taken 14 April 2019. I lopped off the sandcherry branches that were crossing my paths; its shape is still asymmetrical.

End notes:
1. Wikipedia. "Monarch Butterfly."
2. Wikipedia. "Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve."
3. "No Food for Five Months?" University of Wisconsin Arboretum Journey North website.
4. "Annual Life Cycle." University of Minnesota Monarch Lab website.

5. Andrew K. Davis, Jean Chi, Catherine Bradley, and Sonia Altizer. "The Redder the Better: Wing Color Predicts Flight Performance in Monarch Butterflies." PloS One, 25 July 2012.

6. Andrew K. Davis, Bethany D. Farrey, and Sonia Altizer. "Variation in Thermally Induced Melanism in Monarch Butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) from Three North American Populations." Journal of Thermal Biology 30:410–421:2005.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Toils of Spring

Weather: We returned to the state of being a passive stage set for acts of nature that are oblivious to us. Sunday a storm went through: it snowed in Los Alamos and Santa Fé, but not here. We had the wind, we had the clouds and misty air, but it was so warm nothing happened. At night, of course, we got the cold.

Again on Wednesday a front passed through, and we saw the clouds and felt the occasional wind gusts, but we’re not the actors. We’re not even the chorus. By Thursday, the ground was drying in places where no leaves trapped the earlier moisture.

Last useful rain: 3/21. Week’s low: 22 degrees F. Week’s high: 75 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Apricots, peaches, Bradford pears, purple leaf plum, forsythia, daffodils

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, tansy mustard, western stickseed, dandelions

Purple mustard (Chorispora tenella) is said to be an aggressive invader. It became noticeable in 2014, but stayed closer to town and the river. This year it’s taken over a number of yards a mile and a half away.

What’s blooming in my yard: Last of the violets

What’s reviving/coming up in the area: Four-winged salt bushes, bindweed, yellow yarrow

What’s reviving/coming up in my yard: Purple leaf sandcherry, buddleia, garlic, Johnson’s Blue geranium, sea lavender, lady bells, sidalcea, Rumanian sage

Last summer’s heat was more than some plants could take. The daylilies started wilting in July, and some had lost their leaves by late August. They’ve all come back. Likewise, the garlic chives only flourished where they got lots of water. This year they’ve returned to places they abandoned.

I had the tree trimmer cut dead wood out of the globe willow. It’s now putting out new branches from the trunk.

Tasks: The acequia is running. Friday there was water in the ditch, and two men were out with shovels clearing their sections. One field had standing water in furrows.

I continued doing clean-up that was postponed for two years by my thumb. The first year I did nothing to let it recover. Last year other things had greater priority than pruning the Apache plume.

The problem with pruning is the burn pile got huge. The winds were blowing loose branches back into the drive. This morning it finally was warm enough to turn on a hose early in the morning while it was still. The brush all disappeared, but the locust limb from last year and this year’s Siberian pea only turned to charcoal.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, small bees around peaches, small black ants. Some quail were reconnoitering my back porch today.

Weekly update: I began the worst job of the year yesterday. Testing and resetting the hoses reveals every one of my physical weaknesses. My lungs doesn’t much like bending down in the sun, my arms hate tugging on heavy hoses, and my thumb can’t unscrew and rescrew fittings.

The problems with replacing the soakers that sprouted holes got worse. I know I repeat myself, but the supply does get worse every year. Last year there were two brands available. The better one no longer is available in 25' lengths.

Supersizing has taken over the business. There are no new 25' regular hoses in the local stores. The ones available are ones that didn’t sell last year. It’s hard to even find 50' lengths. Now, they are pushing hoses that are 75' and 100' long. The problem with low water pressure is the longer the hose the less useful it is.

I ordered six of the cheaper soaker hoses. They came tied by heat-glued strips that are so tight they pinch the hoses, and never disappear. I laid them out on the drive, because, if I don’t make them lay flat for a couple days before I install them, they never will. No two were the same length, and the longest was a foot longer than the shortest.

Some day this week I’ll screw and unscrew each one to a garden hose to test them for holes. I learned last year this particular brand was prone to arrive with flaws.

It’s only after I replace the hoses that leak so badly they deliver no water that I can begin the next task: bending down to get them to lay flat again so the water goes where it’s needed.

I know I say it every year, but American corporations really have forgotten there serve more important functions than paying bonuses to executives who make the cost-cutting and marketing decisions. Buying up the competitors insulates them from the consequences of their actions. Nature does not protect me from them.

Notes on photographs: All taken 7 April 2019.
1. Peach (Prunus persica) in full bloom.
2. Globe willow (Salix matsudana umbraculifera) sprouts.
3. Remains of black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) in burn pile.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Bags of Stones

Weather: The decent weather of the past few weeks turned rococo this week. First, it got way too warm, up to the high 70s from Tuesday to Thursday. Then, as always happens when the weather’s abnormally warm, cold air began blowing through yesterday. It brought snow to Los Alamos and Santa Fé, but so far all we’ve had here is wind and gray skies. The temperatures in the low 40s apparently haven’t created conditions to force precipitation.

Last useful rain: 3/21. Week’s low: 23 degrees F. Week’s high: 78 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Apricots, first peaches, pear, purple leaf plum, forsythia

My largest apricot was fragrant on Monday; it’s the first time since it was planted in 2007 that the flowers have lasted long enough to reach that stage. Blossoms on the first trees to bloom in the area began turning brown Thursday, perhaps from the cold morning temperatures, while other trees that waited a week were still white on Friday. Usually, plants begin to bloom near the river first, and gradually work their way up to my yard. The apricots showed no such pattern. I suspect the first trees to bloom, like mine, were grown in some out-of-state nursery, while the later trees were grown from pits of locally acclimated parents.

What’s blooming beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, purple and tansy mustards, dandelions

What’s blooming in my yard: Bradford pear, male cottonwood, violets

What’s reviving/coming up in the area: Siberian elms, leatherleaf globemallow, winterfat, golden hairy aster

What’s reviving/coming up in my yard: Spirea, choke cherry, flowering and fruiting crab apples, snowball, privet, lilacs, Siberian peas, blue flax, Mexican hats

Tasks: Saw a man out with a rototiller on Monday.

I spent the week cutting dead stems on Maximilian sunflowers that line a fence, then collapse over the walk in August. I usually do this in mid or late summer, but hadn’t done anything since I hurt my thumb in 2016. It always takes time because the stems have to be cut: if they’re broken off the dead wood brings the roots with it. I used to do this sitting on the ground with pruners. This time I used loppers to remove the long stems, and then sat on the ground and cleared the debris. I could spend less time bending over the loppers than I could sitting, but the loppers use my hands and arms, while the pruners use my thumb.

Animal sightings: Chickadees, small bees around apricots, small black ant hills appearing

Weekly update: Gravel is the cheap answer to building roads, and because it’s cheap it requires more maintenance than concrete or whatever the black paving material is. The stones gradually sink into the earth from the weight of passing vehicles. I put some rocks down this spring in an area that was still thawing, and half of them disappeared.

Last summer another problem developed. My neighbors killed some winterfat that was blocking the way past their main gate, and the loosened sand blew down on top of the gravel in front of my gate. It raised the level enough that the horizontal post on the gate couldn’t clear. At the time, I raked enough away to solve the problem.

Only, of course, it was a temporary fix. When the ground froze this winter it heaved just enough that the gate wouldn’t clear for months.

One thing you learn is it is far easier to hire someone to do a big job than a small one. If I wanted my drive rebuilt or needed a mason to build a long wall, I would have some problems but probably would eventually have found someone. All I needed was replacement gravel and a short retaining wall. For that, I was on my own.

I bought some pavers because they were the cheapest and lightest weight blocks available, and piled them uphill from the path of my gate. No mortar. It would function, but wouldn’t stand someone trying to use it as a step. Of course, some deliveryman has already tried to use it as a shortcut.

I discovered one of the local big boxes sells bags of rocks from Arizona. I bought the pea gravel to put under the gate, because of the low clearance.

The rocks were dirty. I don’t mean filled with seeds, like the base course from the local quarries, but muddy. Since it was sold by the bag, and not by weight, it didn’t mean the company was inflating its product. But, it did mean that, when it rained, I was going to have mud where I least needed it.

Every few years, some of my neighbors refresh their drives by having truck loads of base course delivered and crews with wide rakes spreading it. Only the gravel’s for sale. You have to supply the labor yourself.

I went back to the big box to buy some of the river rock, but it had been picked over and the only bags left were way back in a space under a shelf. When I asked an employee for some help, he told me he always tells customers to bring their own help because he’s too short staffed.

There are times when I wish my hair were completely gray so I could lay the grandmother’s guilt trip on people. As it was, I was left wondering if I was supposed to grease his hand to get some help.

The river rock, like the pebbles, came with bits of the river. The rocks no doubt were a different variety and color than the local ones, but the dirt was red. If I were creating a zen garden I might have created geometric patterns. However, I was being more utilitarian. I emptied a bag into my wheel barrow and used a small hoe to pull some out where the existing rocks had sunk.

For the time, the worst of my problems are solved. I’ll probably spend the rest of the summer going back to the big box every week or so and buying a few more bags of pebbles to spread in the thin areas that were impassable during the thaw period.

Notes on photographs: All pictures were taken 30 March 2019.
1. The retaining wall built with piled pavers with pea pebbles in front.

2. Pond rock that I placed in a wet area where part of it sank.

3. The gate with the low hanging post. If it didn’t drag, then the wood would have. I gouged a narrow trench under its path and spread pea pebbles under it.

4. The red, muddy river rock mixed with the local base course in the drive.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Rites of Spring

Weather: Rain Thursday night, with only a few bouts of high winds.

Last useful rain: 3/21. Week’s low: 28 degrees F. Week’s high: 64 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming: Apricots, tansy mustard

What’s reviving/coming up in the area: Globe willows, Japanese honeysuckle

What’s reviving/coming up beyond the walls and fences: Shoulders were green before the rain last week, probably tansy mustard and cheat grass; alfalfa, western stickseed, stickleaf, broom snakeweed, goat’s beard, and purple asters are up in my yard.

What’s reviving/coming up in my yard: Roses beginning to leaf, potentillas, tulips, daffodils, daylilies, bouncing Bess, Maltese cross, chrysanthemums, coreopsis, tansy, white yarrow, Shasta daisies

Tasks: It’s ditch cleanup time; one burned the banks of his ditch, another group were in their bank clearing debris yesterday.

Animal sightings: Quail, chickadees, small bees around apricots, small black ants

Weekly update: It’s been a disconcertingly normal winter and spring. While it got colder than usual in December, there was snow on the ground that lingered until temperatures warmed a little in January. The ground was saturated while the snow melted and the lower layers were still frozen, but that problem passed by the time we had more snow and rain. The winds have only been high a few times.

Last week the chickadees returned. One was keeping watch while the others moved into my neighbor’s metal building. It compensated for the lost black locust by perching on the highest branch on one of the remaining Siberian peas.

I heard the sounds of geese a couple weeks ago, then saw the flock back in the yard of near the river. This time a white chicken was with them.

The quail also have returned. One was perched on the utility wire on Thursday.

Plants have been emerging in the same places in the same order as previous years. The globe willows began to show a haze a couple weeks ago, and the color has gotten brighter and more uniform since on area trees. My tree is always slower. The bright chartreuse leaves are still laying prone along the branches.

The plants that invade other beds are all back before their prey: the golden spur columbine, winecup mallow, garlic chives, purple asters, dandelions, alfalfa, and Queen Anne’s lace. They actually appear before the more traditional weeds. Even before I can think about seeds, I’ve been out with a spade and trowel digging out unwanted volunteers.

The first flowers of the year are opening, the tansy mustard and the apricots. Nothing kills the mustard, but as soon as the apricots appear one begins to wonder when the next frost will come, and if the white flowers again will be sacrificed to the weather.

Will the year continue to be normal, or will this be of those rare seasons when the trees bear fruit? At least the bees have returned and are doing their part.

Notes on photographs: All take 3/24/19.
1. Daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) sprouting from last year’s dead matter.
2. Bearded Dutch iris (Iris germanica) emerging.
3. Apricot (Prunus armeniaca) blooming near a one-seeded juniper (Juniperus Monosperma).

Monday, March 11, 2019

Siberian Pea Tree Autopsy

Weather: Sun angles are changing; the sun was in my eyes when I was sitting at my desk for the first time this year on Monday. The zonal geraniums on the indoor porch are happier than I; they all are in full bloom.

Last useful rain: 3/11. Week’s low: 23 degrees F. Week’s high: 72 degrees F in the shade.

What’s reviving: Hollyhocks, sweet peas, golden spur columbine, chrysanthemums, brome grass; arborvitae have greened; fern bushes have leafed

What’s coming up: Garlic chives, Queen Anne’s lace, oriental poppies, larkspur seedlings, alfalfa, white yarrow

Tasks: Finished the difficult work on the wall I built to stop soil from eroding into the path of my gate, and keeping it from opening when the ground heaves in winter.

Animal sightings: Small birds. When I was digging out soil for the lower course of the wall, I uncovered an active caterpillar and a grub. Heard geese honking near the river on Monday.

Weekly update: High winds returned Wednesday. Friday night they took down one of the Siberian pea trees. When I looked, one of the stems had no roots and one had a few laterals that tore before they broke.

The trees grow like shrubs here. This one was about 8' high and 5' across, with two main stems. I pulled the interlaced branches apart, and loaded the smaller one onto the wheelbarrow to take to the burn pile. The other was larger and heavier. It took some effort to get it to balance diagonally across a dolly.

Then I looked at the roots. There were none on the smaller stem. The larger one had a few laterals that had torn, and a few tiny ones I had to cut. I pushed them back into the hole and covered them, hoping they would resprout.

When I tried to discover what type of roots the species had, I ran into the usual problems that no one looks, and everyone copies Wikipedia without attribution. All the it said was the root system was extensive, but not how wide or how deep. [1]

My first thought was the ground squirrel, but there was no tunnel. Besides that animal seems to feed on members of the rose family, and Caragana arborescens is a legume.

The second possibility was some kind of root rot. The trees are native to Siberia and Manchuria, [2] but researchers did not include Siberia pea trees in their list of Russian trees affected by fungal diseases. [3]

The question remains what happened. The species is used for windbreaks on the northern plains. [4] The high winds of last week and the snow load in February should not have been a problem.

Canadians indicated Caragana arborescens normally lives for fifty years. [5] This tree was planted as a bare root along with two others in 2001. They are about 18-years-old, so it didn’t die of old age.

The Canadians also suggested the pea trees were "very drought tolerant" but would "not tolerate prolonged flooding." [6]

Last summer was hotter than usual. That amplified the effects of the lack of rain. The first of July I noticed this particular shrub was losing leaves.

Last year was also the time I replaced some soaker hoses that, at the best of times, supplied water in 3" strips with sprayer hoses that provided more water over a wider area. When I was fighting with the older hoses, I had snaked one around the base of this particular tree when I looped it back on both sides of the others. That may have caused the roots to be concentrated in a small area. They then may not have been able to respond to the change in water distribution when it got hot.

When I saw the leaves dropping, which is a normal response of the species to drought, [7] I shifted the hose a bit to make sure it got more water. Maybe I was flooding it instead of starving it. The lack of roots is consistent with too much water.

So it may have been victim of the classic conundrum: is it too little or too much, and did compensating for the one cause the other? Killed with loving care, but which kind?

Notes on photographs: Snow picture taken 23 February 2019; the others were taken 9 March 2019.

End notes:
1. Wikipedia. "Caragana arborescens." The tree was discussed in more detail in the post for 4 May 2008.

2. James A. Duke. "Siberian peashrub." Handbook of Energy Crops. 1983. Purdue University Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture website.

3. Evgeny P. Kuz’michev, Ella S. Sokolova, and Elena G. Kulikova. Common Fungal Diseases of Russian Forests. Newtownsquare, Pennsylvania: USDA Forest Service, June 2001.

4. Duke.
5. "Caragana." Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website.
6. Agriculture Canada.
7. Wikipedia.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Black Locust

Weather: Rain Saturday evening; drive is still spongy underfoot and wheel barrow is still leaving ruts in saturated soil sitting above frozen ground.

Last useful rain: 3/2. Week’s low: 11 degrees F. Week’s high: 65 degrees F in the shade.

What’s green: Leaves on juniper and other evergreens, Dutch iris, grape hyacinth, vinca, snapdragon, blue flax, winecup mallow, hollyhocks, sweet peas, anthemis, dandelion, needle and cheat grass

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, winterfat, snow-in-summer leaves

What’s red or purple: Stems on sandbar willow and bing cherries; new wood on peaches and apples; leaves on coral bells, alfilerillo, golden spur columbine, coral beards tongue, purple aster

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Tasks: Spent more time removing soil that slide from a bank into my drive. Each day I removed a little, then let the sun thaw some more for the next day. Many of the rocks I put down in a saturated path sank so only the tops are visible. They’re enough to keep me out of the mud.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: The black locust has been a problem since Megacyllene robiniae larvae first attacked it in 2007. Adult longhorned beetles feed on goldenrod, then lay their eggs in tree trunks. Come spring, the eggs hatch into locust borers that eat the wood. By the time you see a pile of sawdust at the base of the tree, it’s too late. Each year, sometime in June or early July, a trunk has fallen, usually into my drive.

The first man I called to remove a fallen branch said borers weren’t unusual, and the tree wouldn’t die. He added some farmers used to use the regrowth for fence posts.

The first few years I tried to get the fallen branches removed before August when the pupae hatched into beetles. That didn’t help, so I waited until winter to call a tree trimmer. Then I could have him prune other trees while they were dormant.

When I first had the problem, I removed my goldenrod plants. Since the insects came back, I decided there was no reason to forego the yellow flowers.

In July of 2012, the man I called told me winds the previous week had taken down a lot of branches. He also said a number of people were having problems with the black locusts and that people who had them near their houses were having them removed, especially the really big trees. I’m not sure if that meant the locust borers were a new problem or not.

I saw some adult beetles for the first time in September of 2017. In October, I heard a red-headed woodpecker in the tree. It didn’t help. Three trunks came down last year.

Each year when a trunk came down, the locust put out one or two new ones. They moved over to a soaker hose I had and destroyed it by squeezing it. Last summer there were so many branches, they began infringing on other shrubs.

This winter I decided to have everything cut down, in hopes that would remove the borer eggs. After the tree trimmer left, I went out and removed the leaves and duff around the stool. I hoped to remove any eggs that might have fallen. When it gets a little warmer I may put down one of those poisons that kill grubs.

I know it will come back. Suckers I cut to the ground, always return. I haven’t decided how much new growth I’m going to let grow. I’m thinking I may try to return to a single tree, instead of the copse I had. As I expect many suckers will come up, I should be able to select one that won’t be in my way. The thorns are a nuisance when the branches grow into my pathways.

Or, once I get used to the bare spot, I may just keep them all cut down. While the legume flowers are fragrant when they bloom, the buds or flowers usually are killed by frost. I’m not sure they’re worth the cost of a tree trimmer every winter.

Notes on photographs:
1. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) trunk fallen over the retaining wall, with the Dr. Huey roses that grew up into it. 5 June 2016.

2. Leaves and sawdust at the base of the tree. 8 June 2008.
3. Black locust stumps after it was cut down. 3 March 2019.
4. Damage in to wood of a trunk. 14 February 2019.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Globe Willow

Weather: Snow Friday night left six inches on some wood surfaces. It even collected on the narrow edges of the vertical board fence. During the day, the snow melted from tree branches, then it got very cold last night.

Last useful snow: 2/23. Week’s low: 7 degrees F. Week’s high: 47 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on juniper and other evergreens; everything else under snow

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, winterfat leaves

What’s red or purple: Stems on sandbar willow and bing cherries, new wood on peaches and apples

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Tasks: A friend told me about a friend of his who was Italian. A few weeks ago the friend of a friend was out with a pick axe making holes in the frozen ground to plant garlic. The weather may have been inhospitable, but his internal clock that defined when one planted had been activated.

Animal sightings: Some birds gathered on the rafters of my back porch Saturday afternoon before flying off.

Weekly update: Trees have characteristic shapes that are created partly by the species DNA and partly by the environment. I mentioned in the post for 13 January 2019 that no tree in northern Michigan has branches lower than a deer can reach.

Here, my junipers extend to the ground as do my neighbors’ arborvitae. The deciduous trees shape themselves.

The globe willow is the most conspicuous. I had to have the tree trimmers cut dead wood from it so the dead stems wouldn’t threaten my eyes when I walked by them. Most of the wood came from the base on the south, west, and north sides.

I think the problem is sun scald which is caused when trees warm up during the day then get cool enough in the night to freeze the sap that was softened by the sun. One of my neighbors had two large trees killed by that action.

I noticed the area under the globe willow is always the first part of my drive to lose its snow. It may be less snow falls under its branches, and the thinner veneer is quicker to go. It also may be the tree itself warms the ground. It may be dormant, but it still is breathing. The warmer ground then melts the snow, which then heats the tree and leads to problems with the sap.

My cottonwood apparently has been doing the same thing. I asked the trimmers to remove the branches that were hitting the fence and any dead wood they could reach. They removed several layers of low branches which had turned into a copse of underbrush.

I noticed the same thing happened with the Russian olive. A few years ago it had problems with the drought and the lower branches were the first to die. I didn’t had them removed, mainly because I forgot about them. They too have created a copse, only one that’s thorny.

These natural nests of deadwood, of course, can ignite in low fires. They probably are one of the things removed by controlled burns. And, they also are probably one of the traits that distinguish New Mexico forests and their management from those in Michigan or Florida.

Notes on photographs: All pictures taken 23 February 2019.
1. Vertical board fence at 6:30 am.

2. Area near the globe willow (Salix matsudana umbraculifera) at 6:30 am when everything was covered with snow.

3. Area under the globe willow at 3 pm when then only snow that had melted was under the tree on the south side.