Monday, July 06, 2009

Drugs DO Work - That's Why We Use Them

We are by no means born-again "pray don't spray" gardeners, but we do try to limit our use of chemical solutions to those horticultural problems that can truly be called life and death situations.

Nonetheless, we are drugging two of our trees.

Several years ago our elm tree began throwing bark -- not literally, but the resulting effect was as if it were. Intact chunks of the protective outer sheath of the trunk began appearing on the ground around the base. Most of the pieces lay directly at the foot of the tree but sometimes the thick, gray wedges came to earth as far as ten feet away. It looked as if, like the Incredible Hulk, our gentle elm had suddenly expanded too rapidly for its own good. But it still remained at the same size -- just naked in spots.

My first reaction, as it is frequently, was to do nothing. In medicine this is known as "watchful waiting". In non-medical circles it is called "masterly inactivity", or laziness. There was a time when I would have considered this to be organic gardening. But it is not.

Anyway, after a few weeks it did not get any better and, while the dead bark shards were not quite overflowing my trash bins, they were causing enough cleanup effort to make them difficult to ignore.

The elm provides summertime shade and cooling to our favorite sitting-outside part of the yard. So, with Mars' urging, I called a local arborist with whom we had previously done business. And then I thought, while he was out here he might as well take a look at the flowering crab tree that serves as the hanging place for our small collection of bird/squirrel feeders.

That particular woody perennial had not looked healthy for several years. If not for its utilitarian value as a feeder holder, and the modicum of privacy it provides to our family room, it would long ago have become apple-scented fireplace embers.

I suspect that having an arborist inspect your trees for problems is like driving your ten-year old car into a garage, flashing a wad of cash, and asking if there might just possibly be something somewhere that could use some fixing. But my concern was actually at the other extreme -- that he would take a quick look at both trees, shake his head sadly, grab his industrial sized chain saw, and depart four hours later leaving me with two large piles of sawdust and an even larger bill.

Instead he told us that the flying bark was nothing to worry about -- elms do this all the time for reasons apparently only the trees themselves understand. There were however some diseases floating around to which even a fully clothed elm tree might fall victim and so he recommended a regimen of preventive shots.

I do not remember what ailments he mentioned but when I just Googled "elm tree diseases" I was given Dutch Elm Disease, Elm Leaf Beetle, Verticillium Wilt, Elm Yellows, and my two favorites Cankers and Wetwood -- the names of any of which would have compelled me to have our tree injected.

The formerly flowering crab already had a couple of afflictions, one of which (black spot) I recognized from my experience with roses. I don't recall the other but it wouldn't have made any difference. I was so happy and relieved that we didn't have to euthanise our beloved bird feeder stand that I quickly signed on the dotted line and registered both of the trees for a lifetime of addiction. Soon the base of the crab was decorated with tapped-in, lollypop shaped, IV devices.

They were removed one week later and next month the elm was similarly treated.

The two trees have received these fixes faithfully, and automatically, for the last several years -- until this spring when the tree docs unaccountably forgot.

The elm had long ago given up its striptease act and had never shown any other indications of infirmity. The crab seemed to be holding its own and actually may have begun producing unprecedented amounts of petals. But when Mars and I returned from our mid-May jaunt to North Carolina the faux fruit tree looked worse than our 401K at the depths of the financial meltdown.

I called the arborist and he came out the next day. He apologized so profusely for missing his drug date I became concerned that he might have a Samurai hari-kari sword in his toolbox. He didn't. It was too late to atone for this year's missed performance but he assured us that (a) although the tree looked to be at death's door, it really wasn't and (b) he would shoot it up for sure next annum.

I hope so. I don't think that either tree is really on life-support. But even if they are, we are not willing to say D.N.R.

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