Tree Hugging in Thought Only

The decision to remove all the white pine trees in this association was a difficult one for me. But, in the end, I went along with the majority vote to take them all. There were benefits to keeping the trees. They provided life and they provided shade and they gave us privacy. They blocked the frigid winter winds, helped to clean the air, and they certainly helped with soil erosion and water drainage as we live on the lower part of an incline…. but I had to concede the fact these tall trees were planted too close to buildings. There was a fear of what might happen if strong storms struck. It has occurred with other white pines in this neighborhood in year’s past.

White PineAnother reason given for the removal was that the species was not considered desirable. I held my ground on that one. Just ask Doug Tallamy, chairman of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, author of the popular books, Bringing Nature Home and The Living Landscape, who promotes growing natives to help support an area’s ecosystem. Pinus strobus, eastern white pine, is one he recommends for providing food, nuts, insects for a host of wildlife. Besides, I consider it a beautiful soft needled evergreen tree that whispers a song when the breezes come through.

Last week was the icy, snowy, cold week for tree removal. The operation was reminiscent of scenes from the movies Fern Gully or Avatar as heavy machinery, trucks, cranes, cables, and saws advanced around the area. One by one I watched these trees fall. I watched two squirrels jump from the tip top of one tree to the snow covered ground. I watched as birds flew around the tops of trees but not landing.

Click to enlarge:

I will collect some of the cones left behind and toss them into the woods that surround the neighborhood. Let’s hope a few of the offspring take root.

For every negative, I look for the positive. 1. With the tall pines gone, we now have morning sun at the breakfast table, a totally unanticipated perk that puts a smile on our faces. 2. The herbs on the window sill are responding very favorably to sunlight and we have removed the grow light that kept them happy all winter. 3. Facing an easterly direction, we’re finding the passive solar energy is keeping the home warmer. That’s a very good thing for the heating bill.  Sigh…

White Pine Musings

To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is
more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.  
Helen Keller

White PineIt’s fall and the time of year for the white pines (Pinus strobus) to drop their soft, golden innermost needles. These are the 3rd year needles that drop swiftly after yellowing and cover everything beneath. For me, it’s a welcome opportunity to do as I have always done as a Virginia gardener.  I rake piles and piles of needles and create the most beautiful mulch for borders.

pine needlesIn the spring new needles will replace the old on white pines and the annual needle drop will again be scheduled for next fall…. only there won’t be a spring or next fall for these old trees. The home association has voted to remove them all.

I understand some of the rational for removal. The trees are large, a soft wood growing too close to homes. I’ve seen pine trees snap in two and several pines uprooted around the yard during storms in Virginia. These pine trees shade several yards and homes including ours. We could use a bit of passive solar energy during the long, cold winters. Finally, mister gardener complains about not finding one single spot with enough sun to grow a simple tomato plant.

Still, I’m sad and sentimental when a tree goes. I may be the only resident who will miss the trees, but I’m sure my birds will miss them… and the squirrel that nests in the treetop will miss them. Insects like the two-spotted pine cricket will miss them. My connection to trees most likely comes from my childhood when there wasn’t a tree I couldn’t climb… limbs or no limbs. I loved the adventure of exploring the treetops of any variety of trees. (Yes, I have climbed these white pines, too, pruning out a truckload of dead limbs.)

Life will go on. I have a landscape plan for this area of the yard but plans will have to wait until the tree work is complete and I see just how much sun will come our way. Right now the area is a holding nursery for hostas that will find a permanent home elsewhere come spring. Sigh…

Trouble in Paradise

It was a wet summer in New Hampshire. We’ve had torrential downpours, flooding, high humidity, and a good stretch of sweltering 90°+ weather.  For a while there in July, life was made miserable by weather conditions.

I can’t help but think the summer weather conditions took a toll on flora, too. Several plants around this yard are showing signs of fungus and predation from pests. Most are easy to identify but I was stumped by two conditions. From an online search I identified the first pest, the Pine Bark Adelgid (Pineus strobi), that prefers to feed on the bark of white pines (Pinus strobus). Two mature white pines in the yard look whitewashed, the white protection created by females to protect eggs. Chemical measures to protect the health of a mature tree is seldom required but the insect can be combated with dormant oil sprays, insecticidal soaps as well as insecticides. Since I rarely use insecticides to prevent harm to beneficial insects, I may treat with dormant oils or insecticidal soaps in early spring…. or I’ll just ignore it.

Pine Bark AdelgidPine Bark AdelgidPine Bark AdelgidThe second mystery pest required contacting Eric Day, an entomologist with Virginia Tech who taught my Virginia master gardener classes. I knew it was a scale of some sort on the lilac which one? Eric narrowed it down. He ID-ed it as White Peach Scale (Pseudaulacaspis pentagona), a more serious infestation as it removes the sap from the host plant. Eric suggested I contact local extension experts to see how to handle this pest in New Hampshire. Treatment may be different in the south.

White Peach ScaleWhite Peach ScaleAfter zooming in on a photo of these tiny grains of white, there in the midst of the pests is another pest. A small purple scale eater, too tiny to be noticed with the naked eye, was moving about dining on scale creatures. It was obviously the larva stage of another insect.

White Peach ScaleClick to enlarge photos.

Thoughts on White Pines and other plants…

One of our lovely new neighbor dropped by just before Easter with welcome wishes and housewarming goodies. As we sat at the kitchen table with coffee, I was thrilled to discover she is an avid gardener. We chatted about our horticultural interests, hers leaning toward garden design.  After a while, she volunteered that there were two plants she could not tolerate. One is the common burning bush (Euonymus alata), an Asian immigrant that is now classified as invasive in the Eastern US. It is a dense shrub, loved by birds for winter shelter, that gives a spectacular color show for about two weeks every fall. Birds spread the seeds far and wide where the shrub out competes native plants in the wild. 

BURNING BUSHI concur with her about the invasiveness of the shrub, having removed a large one from our Virginia property.  She suggested we remove the sizable burning bush that grows near our entrance. She is right and we will.

The other plant she did not like is the pine tree. Gee….who knows why but I have a weakness for pine trees, I admitted…. especially these soft needled Eastern white pines (Pinus strobus) that are so prolific in New Hampshire. “But they are everywhere,” she said. “But..,” I added. “I’ve planted several through the years on the coast of Virginia and they did not take well to the heat.”  So, though I might change my mind some day, right now I do love seeing them everywhere here.

white pinesWhite pines surround us in this area. For me, the sound of the wind whispering through the soft pine branches is a soothing melody on a warm summer day.  I think of Thoreau’s writings where he often mentions the white pine trees and forests. “Yet I had the sun penetrating into the deep hollows through the aisles of the wood, and the silvery sheen of its reflection from masses of white pine needles.”

RhododendronThrough the kitchen window, against the backdrop of majestic tall white pines, my view of large rhododendron with swollen buds and tall lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), soon to be heavy with bloom, simply appeals to me. All is well in our new neck of the woods.