Newsflash: trees will die if their roots can’t establish

I’ve blogged before about the importance of getting tree roots in contact with the landscape soil during transplanting (you can find those posts here, here, here, here, and here). My advice to bareroot woody species upon installation is often ignored in favor of the quick-n-easy methods so often showcased on HGTV (“A complete landscape makeover in a weekend!”). And of course everything looks great…for a while. Let’s see what happens after a few years.

Below are photos of a pine tree, several of which were installed in 2007 at my children’s school (The Bush School in Seattle):


Not only is this pine tree planted too deeply (you can’t see the root flare, so it’s too deep), but the twine and burlap were not removed, leaving the roots encased in clay.  Furthermore, we’re not sure how great a root system this tree has since we can’t see it.  Even more horrific, the orange nylon twine is beginning to girdle the trunk.  What’s been planted is a big ball o’ trouble.

I sent these photos and my concerns to the administration and advised them to have the installers (low bid, of course) redo the planting before the one year warranty expired.  My advice was ignored, and here we are three years later:

This particular tree has declined to the point that the foliage is chlorotic and the uppermost needles are dead.  It’s symptomatic of a root system that has failed to establish, which is what I predicted would happen.  But it’s long past the warranty period, so if this tree is replaced the school will have to pay for it…again.  (Though it’s hard to see in this compressed photo, the pine next to this one also has top dieback, and I’ll continue to follow its decline.)

Many professionals, including some of my fellow GPs, disagree with the bare-root approach.  But based on this evidence, how could one argue that bare-rooting would not have been preferable to decline and death?

No point here, really…

Just go back and watch the video that Bert the Incensed posted Monday. I can’t top that.

Hope he’s had a beer and calmed down since. Now I need one.

My first reaction was more like slack-jawed disbelief over the nonsense contained within. A second viewing brought my blood pressure up a notch.  For instance, I swear he says “Calcium nitrate” softly and then quickly rephrases it to “vitamins and minerals.” There’s more crap in this video than a dairy retention pond. Kudos to whomever put the “Garden Professors” comment on the site.

If the content is reasonable, I can overlook questionable video production values, such as the host also serving as the director (“Over here…there ya go!”) and the bug crawling across the lens. But for this train-wreck of misinformation, it was doubly irritating.

Deep breath.  Let’s part on a positive note, shall we?

Here’s the little-known, summer and fall-blooming Salvia involucrata (Rosebud Sage). Alas, it is not hardy for me, but is for Zone 7 and up.  Took this last week before the hard frost (I really do think of y’all when I’m running around with my cocktail and camera at sunset…)

Fresh, light green foliage to about 4′, nice branching habit, pinkish petioles and stems, topped with a fabulous, fuzzy, flower explosion. In HOT PINK no less.

Glorious. And perfect for getting your Garden Tart TM on!
Thank you so much, Linda – I believe you’ve coined the perfect description of my gardening style. Hee, hee.

Tricky tricolor leaf

Well, this was a tricky puzzle! Here’s a more complete picture of this interesting plant:

This, believe it or not, is a weigela – specifically, a patented cultivar named Kolmagira. You can see part of a tag in the lower left part of this photo:


As the patent description reads, this shrub possesses “…yellow green and dark green variegated leaves with purple-colored margins…”

Some of you guessed that the leaves might be variegated due to fall senescence, or disease, or drought stress – all very good guesses. And now I’m going to reveal one of my biases (yes, I am opinionated!  I know you’re surprised!)

I dislike these types of cultivars because they look environmentally stressed and/or diseased. I’m a plant stress physiologist by training, and that’s just the way I look at abnormal leaf coloration. And on a more aesthetic note, do our gardens really need these tarted-up plants?  Let’s discuss it!

Why do we have a Garden Professor’s blog?

As (relatively) young professors at major universities, Linda, Jeff, Holly and I are busier than the proverbial one-armed paper-hanger.  Every week is filled with the endless pandemonium of grant deadlines, students at our door, requests to review papers, committee meetings, speaking engagements that we agreed to 6 months ago and forgot about, calls from media, calls from growers, calls from homeowners, and on and on and on.  Then, in the middle of all this tumult and chaos, we decide, like we got nothing better to do, to start posting on a blog every week.  Pardon my French, but what the f*&@ were we thinking?!


Then I run across a web-link like this:

and it all comes rushing back to me like a wave:  Exposing charlatans.  The fight against landscaping ignorance.  The battle of science against quackery and snake oil.


I’m actually having a hard time settling down long enough to write about this.  You know how you get that warm, flushed feeling you get right before you ask guy to step outside?  I’m getting there.  While I calm down, maybe we’ll let the readers take over.  We’ll make it our Monday contest – how many stupid things wrong can our blog readers find in this video?  Painful as it may be; watch the whole thing, it keeps getting better (or worse, depending on your point of view).  To keep things fair, only one item per customer.   In the meantime, I’ll just keep breathing into this paper bag…