Trees: Dead or Alive

In light of the comments on Dr. Jeff’s latest post (When Trees Don’t Know They’re Dead), especially those by Shawn, Ed, and Dr. Linda, I absolutely have to post this.

To the best of my knowledge, the number of stand-up comedian bits related to tree health can be counted on one finger. Here it is, transcribed, as close as I can without having Linda ban me from the blog/WSU server.

Ron White is a big, bawdy, laid-back Texan, permanently armed with a cigar, glass of scotch, and high-beam smile.  I think he got thrown off the Blue Collar Comedy tour for not being red-necky enough. However, not recommended for the easily or moderately offendable.  Anyhoo, here goes, and it suffers without the drawl…

From Ron White’s You Can’t Fix Stupid recording

I was having a fight with the landscape guy because, like, half the plants died…you know it cost tons of money and half the plants died. And the guy is fighting with me over whether or not a tree is alive or dead. Can you believe that bleep? We walk over to two trees, there’s not one leaf on either one of them except [you look toward the] timber [where the] the forest is a-blooooom.

I said “those two trees are dead right there.”

He goes over to one of the trees and scratches the trunk with his thumb and comes back and says this, and I quote: “The core of this tree… is still alive”.   [Long pause]


I said “Let me tell you what I’m looking for in a bleeping tree.”

[lotsa laffs]


I’m looking for tree that you can tell is alive even if you don’t know bleep about trees.


I don’t want to spend the next two years every time somebody comes over to our house “… oh no, those trees are fine right there – go scratch the trunk with your thumbnail.  You will find a vibrant core.  Just beneath the bark.”


6 thoughts on “Trees: Dead or Alive”

  1. I sincerely hope I never have him as a client because it’s going to be hard to tell him to his face that he’s being a jack— all the while laughing at the —- he’s telling me. He makes a good, although indirect, point, though. It’s not because of knowledgeable horticulturists that our clientele find themselves in these situations. It’s mostly due to idiot box stores and there mom-and-pop-obliterating displays and year-long guarantees that dumb people down. Ron White is probably intelligent enough to see the validity in his landscaper’s argument. Moreover, he’s savvy enough to know that his audience– regular box-store visitors, no doubt–isn’t. Hence, [lotsa laughs].

  2. There are, sad to say, some fairly unscrupulous landscapers out there who do not utilize proper horticultural practices. One of which was subcontracted to installed over 300 trees on our campus, in a condition much like what is described. It took a lawsuit to correct the problem. I really don’t think Mr. White was thinking in terms of whether or not his audience shops
    at big box stores. But I’m just speculating.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with Holly here. I don’t see how the box stores have anything to do with it. How does a year long guarantee dumb someone down? I don’t disagree that the box can drive smaller places out of business, but I don’t see how that pertains to this either. Are you sure you’re commenting on the right post? A landscaper allegedly installed this tree – not a box store. And after paying a professional to install a tree, I think it’s reasonable to expect it to leaf out. If the tree is healthy but dormant, the landscaper should explain why in a way that the customer can understand. The joke here is about ridiculously crappy service, not the box. If you/we/I am going to hate on the box, let’s make it over something legitimate.

  4. Sorry, that’s what I get for skimming, Holly. You’re right, Paul, my post seemed off. I do believe, though, that box stores dumb people down by giving them one-year guarantees. This means that people don’t have to be responsible for watering and feeding new plants, and then people want the same kind of guarantee for installed plants. I will work with people to ensure the gardens I make stay alive and flourish, but I can’t guarantee every plant once I walk away because I don’t know how diligent the homeowners are going to be, especially when air-conditioning season arrives. I have been in the returns department of both of our local big boxes, and I see the plants that these stores will accept–plants, that in many cases, were never removed from their pots or watered. I think that this discourages people from being responsible gardeners and cheapens horticulture, even if I’m way off topic now. I’ll pay better attention next time, and y’all’re right–there are a lot of crappy landscapers out there.

  5. The problem is that the ignorance is often on both sides. I’m not one of those clueless customers who doesn’t know how to take care of plants, but I still had a very similar experience with one of the nurseries that I bought some trees from. Two of them failed to leaf out on time (and I gave them all the reasonable time they should have needed), yet the “core” was still green under the bark so the nursery put up a fuss when I brought the trees in for an exchange, though eventually they agreed to it. The problem is, the “core” is the last thing to die on a tree and it will remain somewhat green for quite some time even after the tree can be considered dead for all practical purposes. That’s one reason I usually prefer the big box stores. They don’t have a problem with exchanging or refunding a plant that’s obviously defective even if it’s not 100% dead.

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