Our Roots Run Deep…. Or Do They?


More than three-hundred-fifty feet deep and thriving in a clammy South African cavern are the roots of a fig tree native to that county.  The 1923 discovery remains the world’s record for the deepest known roots.  Dotting the arid regions of California, Arizona and New Mexico, velvet mesquite trees sometimes have taproots that dip into aquifers more than one-hundred-sixty feet below the surface.  Standing tall along a central Texas watershed, native pecans send roots through more than three feet of soil to sip from mineral rich water delivered by the Brazos.  Deep roots like these may be the picture many have in mind about most trees but they’d be wrong. Continue reading

Pruning; To Paint Or Not To Paint

By Jeff Floyd

Sunday, January 3, 2016, 3:00 am

Always have a plan before you prune. Dead, diseased or damaged branches can be removed any time of year. Same goes for branches rubbing against the roof or eaves of your home. Don’t allow them to cause damage to your home. If a long hanging branch interferes with your ability to mow your lawn then prune it out.

 Keep in mind that every leaf is a food factory whose purpose is to build sugars for your tree. Therefore never remove more than twenty percent of the living tissue of a tree in any given year. Pruning out more than this may cause severe stress. Winter dormancy is, in fact, a good time to perform the majority of your pruning.

Pruning just prior to spring growth allows wounds to callous over and protect the pruning injury more quickly. It is normal for certain trees such as maples, elms, and mulberries to “bleed” after pruning. Believe it or not, there are some beautiful maples suited for West Texas.

Many people still believe that pruning paint must be used to protect cuts. Research has proven that paint causes wounds to callous over more slowly allowing the wound to have a longer exposure to the elements. Oak trees are an exception.  All oaks are susceptible to a particularly deadly fungus called oak wilt. Sealing the wounds on oaks may help prevent the spread of the disease. Professional arborists may recommend not painting these wounds but they have the experience to evaluate all of the variables that place oak trees at risk. When the do-it-yourselfer prunes an oak tree, I recommend they consider using a proper sealant for any wound greater than one inch in diameter.

Hiring a professionally trained arborist is the surest way to get pruning done right.  To find an internationally certified arborist near you, visit http://www.isa-arbor.com and click on “find an arborist.”





Plants: The Original Techies

By Jeff Floyd

We’re fascinated by the clever inventions that enrich our lives, but you can be sure that many high-tech ideas are not as fresh as we think.

It’s easy to overlook the amazing gifts that plants have been using long before we took credit for them. Put on your thinking cap while we take an amusing look at just a few plant functions that may, at times, appear vaguely familiar to some of the things our most modern gadgets do.

Smartphones cameras have revolutionized how information is shared. We have the ability to send and receive real-time images from virtually anywhere on the globe. Although we began reproducing images of things before 1940, it wasn’t until after 2009 that the term “selfie” was popularized by a generation of techies making full use of digital cameras while living out loud on social media.

By design, plants take selfies to the next level, generating fully functional copies of themselves. For example, in addition to the showy flowers of impatiens, it also has tiny unnoticeable flowers tucked away as a backup system.  These inconspicuous flowers house everything they need for pollination is protected within.  If for some reason insects fail to transfer pollen from one impatiens to another, the plants will still have the backup seed hidden within the tiny flowers for creating an exact replica of itself; a selfie in the truest sense.  Have you ever had to deal with a hard drive crash?  The impatiens is prepared for just such an eventuality.  The survival of its operating system is ingeniously ensured by the backup system that results in a selfie.

Black Krim tomatoes and other heirlooms use the same backup mechanism as impatiens.  Contained within the fruit of every Black Krim, are the seeds that will produce a new plant with tomatoes exactly like the original as long as it is kept away from other varieties.  Why seclude heirloom plants from other varieties.   If an heirloom is pollinated by a different variety, the cross-pollination, or if you will, the corruption of its data will produce something entirely different than the original.  In other words, the seed won’t be a true genetic copy of the original tomato.

We’ve been harnessing energy from the sun in one form or another since seventh century B.C.  It’s not hard to imagine the earliest use of some object reminiscent of a magnifying glass for igniting fires.  Fast forward to present-day solar panels with their complex array of electrical components being developed for ever higher efficiency.  It’s easy to forget that we weren’t the first beings on the planet to make use of solar energy.  Even before we lit our first fires or discovered the simple pleasure of focusing a magnified beam onto innocent bug, plants had long mastered converting the sun’s energy into biomass.

Solar panels are sadly inefficient when compared to plant leaves.  They employ a sophisticated feedback system at a molecular level that allows them to draw on resources stored with the help of the sun during plentiful times.  Like modern solar appliances, plants are able to adjust their energy demand with available sunlight.  Or they can adjust their structure to improve their use of resources.  Trees respond to low light conditions deep inside overcrowded canopies by shedding unproductive leaves, clearing the way for light to reach more efficient foliage.  One could argue that plants prove there is nothing new under the sun.

And on the Eighth Day God Created the Pot

There’s hope for folks living in apartments, school dormitories or homes that have limited space for gardening.  In addition to just being downright fun, container gardening isn’t as complicated as you may have heard and offers some serious advantages over traditional gardening methods.

Although it spans a long and storied history, many people remain strangely cautious or perhaps even intimidated when it comes to container gardening.  This not-so-new method of gardening almost certainly predates the birth of Christ and possibly reaches farther back than the reign of Nebudchnezzer II.  In fact, if the fantastic descriptions of the hanging gardens in ancient Babylonian are remotely true, one could easily conclude that container gardening was old hat by six hundred BC.

The first rule of container gardening is that bigger is better.  The first and most important part of container gardening is to get the growing medium right.  The more soilless medium a container can hold, the more capacity it has to support healthy plants.  Only in few rare cases is this rule not universally true.  Big containers mean more room for roots.  Large volumes of growing medium also take longer to dry out than small containers, which translates into less time watering and more time enjoying plants.

The second rule of container gardening is to only water when the growing medium tells you to.  One big mistake many folks make is to add water when they don’t know what else to do.  Roots need both air and water.  As it turns out, they really need roughly equal amounts of both.  Whenever water saturates the medium, oxygen is forced out.  It only takes a moment to push your finger down into the medium a couple inches.  In most cases, if you can detect even a little moisture then you may want to wait at least another twenty-four hours and check again.  Once it feels pretty dry to the touch, flood the medium with high quality water.  Do not use distilled water or water from your reverse osmosis dispenser.

When you do irrigate, it’s always best to flood the medium until water flows steadily out of the container’s drain holes.  This helps wash any built up salts away from the roots.  Of course, for indoor containers that are too heavy or bulky to move easily, you’ll want to be sure a dish is under the pot.  If like me, your need to be doing something for your plants threatens to overcome your good sense, then try thinking about it another way; when you’re not adding water, you’re adding oxygen.

The third rule of container gardening is never use “dirt” from the yard.  Soilless medium is engineered to be airy, making it lightweight and able to hold both moisture and oxygen like a sponge.  These engineered mixes are sterilized to avoid introducing any pathogens to the plants they support.  When you collect dirt, garden soil, or garbage that resembles soil from your lawn, it will contain bacteria, fungi and viruses that may eventually lead to plant diseases.  Also, lawn soil is heavy, especially when wetted.  Soil from the lawn will become densely packed easily and restrict root development while also suffocating them.  This is true without exception.