Forestry, General Pasture

My plan for dealing with the Tree of Heaven Infestation (Ailanthus altissima)

I’ve covered why these plants truly deserve the invasive status. The plan is simple but labor intensive. It is the same as the plan I use to control johnson and crab grasses in the garden and bull thistle in the pasture:

Cut down any growth before it reaches maturity and seeds.

For any plants that spread via rhizomes, green growth like leaves are power plants to fuel root growth. Every time these generators are removed, the roots use emergency stores of energy to reinitiate growth expecting those emergency stores to be replenished by new leaves. If the green growth is continuously culled before it can fuel the roots, energy will eventually run out resulting in the death of these hard to kill plants.

It will take time and labor, but the biological approach to pest control is vital to the success of the farm.

Also I apologize for getting sidetracked over the holiday weekend. I went home to visit with friends and family and explored some of the national park nearby so my attention was elsewhere!


Interesting article on the botany of Appalachian Forests

After analyzing DNA, it turns out that about half of the trees and shrubs in Southern Appalachia have genetic ancestors in eastern Asia. This is not just an estimation either. Relatively exact time and place of the genetic split of over 250 species was found. Quite Fascinating and if you wish to read more, here is my source:


Forestry, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

Tips for ensuring success with planting trees

Having studied urban forestry in college, I figured I would caution against the most common mistakes and share some tips to properly establishing trees.

Chances are the window has passed for the season on planting trees. But I hope use can be found by the readers in northern climates or those who like to crawl end of season nursery sales like I do. Otherwise I may re-post this in the fall and spring to align with tree planting seasons.

I have broken the tips down into categories based on how involved you wish to be with your trees:

Tips for casual tree planters:

  1. Mulch as deep as you want at the site of the planting well ahead of planting time. If you plan to dig the holes with a shovel, you will be vastly assisted by the change this brings on in soil composition and elimination of turf.
  2. Don’t bury the stem too deep. If grafted, keep grafting mark above the soil or else the roots will send up stems of their variety negating the graft.
  3. Don’t use ANY mulch at the base of the trunk. Leave a void to keep the base of the tree dry but pile as much as you want on the outer areas of the root zone.
  4. See here for mulch sourcing tips. Never under any circumstances use dyed mulches. Avoid most bagged mulches as they usually come from conifers like hemlock or other cedars, spruces firs or pines. Conifers contain high amounts of substances that inhibit deciduous trees allowing conifers to form dominant stands in nature.

Tips for a more involved tree planter:

Follow up to point 3 above, use fine gravel extending from the base of the trunk to the mulch. The source that lays out this recommendation and justification states any gravel smaller than 3/8 will keep the wood dry and rot/disease-free.

If possible, apply mulch or bury it at planting site well ahead of the actual planting. This will cultivate the fungi-dominant soil that trees require. Try to do this at least a year ahead of time, but don’t sweat it if you can’t.

Apply fresh mulch only a 90 degree arc around tree each year to give the tree access to nutrients that at are found in various stages of decomposition. Note the extra pile of mulch on the north side:


Don’t stake! Use very young trees so their stem can develop strength of their own through wind exposure. If you injured your leg and refused the doctors orders to work on recovering from crutches, your muscles would atrophy. Trees are similar.

If you must stake, us a large, rigid loop that doesn’t actually touch the tree but rather float freely to catch a tree when it sways too much in any direction. At the very least, make sure any part of the staking system that touches the tree is designed for that purpose to prevent injuring or girdling which can be fatal. Succinctly, no exposed wire and no wire wrapped in garden hose!

While contested in the arborist community don’t fertilize trees at the time of planting and don’t excessively water. Try and make a depression near the tree as a catch basin for water. Let the roots become established before adding extras.

Fertilize from the top only! Let the soil microbes and invertebrates make the nutrients bioavailable to the tree like natural cycles in a forest.

Don’t automatically pull any weeds! Plants with a taproot can help cycle nutrients are various depths in the soil. Others can provide a living mulch while not competing for the nutrients specific to woody plants like trees.

If you really want to get carried away, in early spring spray every surface from root zone to trunk to the smallest buds with a microbe-encouraging liquid like compost tea or fish meal. This will give the beneficial microbes a boost at colonizing every crevice of the tree allowing them to outcompete potentially harmful and destructive microbes in turn leaving no entry points for more serious pests. This is especially important for fruit frees! Think biologically, not mechanically!

Every fall, pretend you are Tom Sawyer and cover every bit of bark you can reach with a whitewash of interior paint and equal parts water. This helps prevent winter injury caused by pest (both bugs and microscopic types) from entering the woody tissues.

Learn how to properly prune! Basically, prune only during the dormant season and prune branches outside of the branch collar (show below). The tree will naturally callous over the exposed wood in an effort to heal itself.

Retrieved from Red lines added by me in MS Paint

Retrieved from Red lines added by me in MS Paint

Forestry, Garden, Silvopasture and Agroforestry

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the next best time in 1 year from now

That is my take on the ole chinese proverb.

This is a nice, succinct recap to conclude the long series of posts on mulch and compost and bacteria and fungi

Will all of the discussion on approaching food crops biologically, laying down a mulch of shredded wood at least a year before planting a woody species will create an ideal soil habitat for the plant whether it be a bramble. shrub or tree. Plants uptake nutrients via a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. A layer of woody mulch well before planting facilitates the fungal dominance in which woody species thrive as well as invigorate soils with nourishment from the decaying wood.


Fungal basics of mulching

How to think like a plant to be a successful cultivator

How to think like a plant to be a successful cultivator part 2

Mulch Matters 2: Different Types of Mulches for Different Types of Plants

Compost Matters: Garden Compost vs. Orchard compost

Forestry, Garden

Where to find mulch for your woody species

Wood mulch provides soils with the fungal dominance in which woody species thrive. Any cultivator of bramble berries, shrubs like blueberries and trees should be doing everything in their power to provide the roots of these plants with the mycorrhizal fungi that is critical for nutrient uptake. Good mulch can be quite expensive but hopefully I can provide some free avenues for you to explore.

Power companies…

…always need to clear brush and tree growth from their right of ways. Some are happy to deliver the mulch to save the disposal fee if you provide an easily accessible place to dump the shredded cuttings. It is usually free but a tip would help secure an almost endless flow of free mulch!

Local Governments…

…typically have a tree removal service that generates mulch from land development, road construction and general upkeep. Luckily mine allows citizens to take whatever they can haul themselves. If you aren’t lucky enough to have this, it is still worth contacting the local government so see if they will dump a load on your property.

Arborists, tree services and landscaping companies…

…are all in the business of removing problem trees or pruning existing ones. Tree cuttings are almost always mulched to facilitate efficient removal of the waste from project sites. With some savvy networking, you can work your way into almost unlimited sources of mulch.


generally shred waste wood from the milling process. I’ve never pursued this avenue so I’m not sure what to expect in regards to costs. Just make sure it is hardwood mulch!

Note: Sawdust is actually too much carbon and not a good plant mulch. However it is the best possible bedding for mature animals as it has the highest C:N ratio to bind to nutrients in the waste. Baby chicks will eat it so only use for mature poultry. The same properties makes it a great compost pile addition.

Buy or rent your own chipper/shredder

The best mulch comes from younger branches based on wood composition facts that I have not covered. Large stems should be used as heating fuel anyway so if you harvest your own firewood, buying or renting a shredder for the smaller parts of the tree canopies might make sense.


There are no guarantees that any of these entities will delivery the mulch for free. However the mulch itself is generally not graded and free as a result. If you do need to buy mulch from a commercial source, avoid:

  1. Dyed, biologically toxic mulches
  2. Pine based mulches due to chemical components that inhibit broadleaf plant growth

My plan for the arrival of emerald ash borer on the farm

I will do nothing.

To understand why, a discussion on the near-extinction of American Chestnut is in order. Arrival of the blight resulted in the loss of 400 billion trees that had originally made up 25% of forest composition in the entire eastern US and Canada. Logically, the government decided to salvage log every remaining American Chestnut that was accessible.

While I certainly cannot fault the logic here to harvest a resource before it is wasted, hindsight shows that trees with a natural resistance to the blight were logged along with their doomed brethren preventing any chance at breeding the resistant trees to repopulate the forest.

Organizations are currently breeding blight resistant but smaller Chinese chestnut into the humungous american chestnut, then backbreeding the Chinese chestnut out leaving the blight resistance but securing the american form. The only problem is it takes at least 10 years per generation so it is a staggeringly slow process. Having naturally blight resistant american chestnuts as a starting point would have saved literally a century in the breeding efforts.

Learning from this occurrence, the trees will be left unprotected for the improbability that the genetic information of any tree contains what is needed to ward off, pitch out or otherwise defend itself from the borer. Most likely I will have enough heating fuel for a few winters and enough carbon in need of processing that I will finally be able to justify buying a wood shredder.

An exception will be for the monster ash tree that I find so aesthetically pleasing at its location on the crest of a hill overlooking the Shenandoah Valley floor:



This post is a follow up to: I discovered a severe emerald ash borer infestation near Washington DC


I discovered a severe emerald ash borer infestation near Washington DC

It started with a visit to my friends house for the normal activity of watching hockey and sampling my latest homebrew. A tree had fallen across a neighbors fence and I was the extra body required to retrieve the tree back onto the property. Upon inspecting the base of the tree where the break had occurred, something wasn’t right.

The tree broke cleanly…extremely cleanly. Have you ever dropped a glass bottle and had the resulting shatter left the bottom almost perfectly intact? That was similar to the manner in which this tree fell. If there hadn’t been some chunks irregularly distributed across the break, it could have passed for a sawn tree.

It was a young but mature white ash tree with a Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) of about 4”. Alarmingly in the tiny sliver of forest that had thus far survived urban sprawl, nearly the entire canopy was also white ash. As were two large trees right next to the house.

About this time is when I noticed the tree closest to the house had an extraordinary split in the bark. It was almost cartoonish like when an animated character flexes and rips his shirt. See for yourself:


Underneath of the split bark were so many insect tracks that the phloem and cambium of the tree was almost uniformly absent:



An arborist came, confirmed the suspicion and immediately took down the tree before its now extremely brittle structural wood had a chance to fall onto the house. They are also in the process of cutting down the entire forest.

Majority if the over story was ash and most on that property has been cleared. You can see the remaining dead trees to the right of the frame:


Now that this destructive pest is within 100 miles of my farm, the need to formulate a plan to protect the forests and pasture that is primarily white ash. Stay tuned for that plan!