O Christmas Tree

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser  2012 December 5

Many of my favorite things about the holiday season involve evergreens.  I love decorating the house with boughs, making wreaths, and trimming the tree we cut in the mountains.

Long before Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning for people in the winter. Ancient people hung evergreen boughs over their doors and windows. In many countries it was believed that evergreens would keep away witches, ghosts, evil spirits, and illness.

And in the northern hemisphere, people celebrated winter solstice – the longest night of the year. During this time of the year Druids decorated their temples with evergreen boughs as a symbol of everlasting life.

Early Romans marked the solstice with a feast called the Saturnalia in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. The Romans knew that the solstice meant that soon farms and orchards would be green and fruitful. To mark the occasion, they decorated their homes and temples with evergreen boughs.

The first written record of a decorated Christmas tree was in Riga, Latvia, during the winter of 1510, according to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) website. Men of the merchants’ guild decorated the tree with artificial roses. By the 17th century, it was common in Germany to decorate trees with apples.

In parts of Austria evergreen tips were brought into the home and hung top down from the ceiling. They were often decorated with apples, gilded nuts and red paper strips. Edible ornaments became so popular on Christmas Trees that they were often called “sugartrees.”

Accounts differ regarding the first lighted Christmas Trees. Some say using small candles as decorations started in the mid-17th century; others claim it wasn’t until the 18th century.

“Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity,” reports the NCTA . “The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.”

As we know, Americans have long since embraced the concept of Christmas trees. The Germans mostly used short table-top sized trees while Americans favored floor-to-ceiling sized trees, even from the start.

I’d always thought the first artificial trees were produced in the 1950s.  I remember seeing a few and thinking they were very dorky.  The artificial ones were to cut Christmas trees as tree-looking cell-phone towers are to real evergreens today. Yuck!  But, I was off by 70 years.  Sears, Roebuck & Company began offering the first artificial Christmas trees around 1883 states the NCTA. You could get 33 limbs for $.50 and 55 limbs for $1.00.

In 1882, the first electrically lit Christmas tree appeared in New York City, according to Inventors.About.com.  Edward Johnson, an inventor who worked with Thomas Edison, used 80 small electric light bulbs.  By 1890 Christmas lights were mass produced.

In the early 1900s, two things happened.  Conservationists became alarmed at the overharvesting of evergreens and the first Christmas tree farm was started. Teddy Roosevelt banned the Christmas tree from the White House for environmental reasons during his tenure (1901 – 1909).

A walk or drive around town after dark attests to the popularity of Christmas trees in Alamosa. Some people look for a perfectly shaped tree.  When we go to the mountains to cut a tree, we try to pick one that is too close to another tree for either of them to thrive. Our hope is that we’ll enjoy one tree and that the remaining tree will flourish in the forest.

Of course, you could go minimalist. You could purchase one of the 7-foot high metal trees I saw offered in a catalogue.  Instead of branches, it has filigree arms sticking out that look like coat racks.  Plenty of room to hang your ornaments without pesky branches getting in the way.  And, no needles to clean up!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Your branches green delight us. They are green when summer days are bright; They are green when winter snow is white. O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, Your branches green delight us!”- O Christmas Tree lyrics

Coexisting flora and fauna

Posted in Uncategorized on December 11th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser    2012 November 7

Much like our desert environment, most of Namibia is arid and provides a challenge to flora and fauna.

The beautiful, slow-growing camel thorn tree (acacia erioloba) is common to southern Africa and grows well in poor soils and in harsh environmental conditions. It can survive on as little as 2 inches of annual rainfall and tolerates hot summer temperatures and severe frosts. In extremely dry areas it occurs where underground water is present. The taproot can descend to 200 feet which is very unusual in a tree.

In southwest American deserts, mesquite tree roots have been reported as deep as 80 to 190 feet (resources differ). In the United States, many people, especially ranchers, consider the mesquite tree a nuisance because it competes with rangeland grasses for moisture.

Overgrowth of camel thorns is generally not a problem in Namibia.  While acacias have vicious thorns (acacia comes from the Greek word for thorns – akis), they are a favorite food of elephants and giraffes. Don’t be misled by the name; in the Afrikaans language, giraffes are known as camel-horses.

Elephants routinely knock down acacias to get to the foliage and seed pods at the top of the tree.  Some scientists suggest that this prevents acacia forests from taking over and promotes growth of grasses and other vegetation useful to animals.

I’m not sure how elephants avoid the thorns, but giraffes have developed incredible tongues. The giraffe’s tongue is about 18 inches in length and highly prehensile. This allows the animal to successfully negotiate the bigger thorns and pull the leaves from the branch. Coupled with tough lips and palate, the giraffe has seemingly overcome this particular hurdle.

The acacia tree has another line of defense – the release of tannins.  Besides tasting awful, tannins inhibit digestion by interfering with protein and digestive enzymes and binding to consumed plant proteins making them more difficult to digest, according to the African Safari website. Further, the release of tannin is communicated to acacia trees within 50 yards.  In turn these trees release their own tannin.  The simultaneous tannin release by all nearby acacias essentially thwarts the hungry giraffe, which must travel upwind to trees that have not yet ‘caught wind’ of the giraffe’s (or elephant’s) presence.

In the United States, the creosote bush is one of the most successful of all desert species because it utilizes a combination of many adaptations. Instead of thorns, it relies for protection on a smell and taste that wildlife find unpleasant. These bad tasting and sometimes toxic compounds are called secondary metabolites. It has tiny leaves that close their stomata (pores) during the day to avoid water loss and open them at night to absorb moisture. Creosote has an extensive double root system — both radial and deep — to accumulate water from both surface and underground water.

In African savannas (regions with both trees and grass), acacia-dwelling ants are an ally of one species of acacia tree (acacia drepanolobium). The ants can repel voracious, tree-eating elephants, according to a 2010 article in Scientific American. This ant-driven tree protection has large-scale implications for savanna landscapes, report zoologists J Green and T Palmer. That’s because elephants are one of the primary shapers of tree cover in sub-Saharan Africa—too few tree-grazing elephants, and savannas may transform into woodlands; too many, and open grasslands may soon result. According to the zoologists, it looks like ants may help to strike a balance between these two extremes, helping to preserve one of Africa’s largest yet endangered ecosystems.

The researchers suspect that the animals’ trunk, with its thick outer skin belying a more sensitive interior lining, makes elephants vulnerable to ants, which swarm aggressively in response to disturbances and attack by biting thin skin and mucous membranes. In the words of the researchers, “attack by scores of biting ants probably serves as a strong deterrent.”

Touring Southern Africa recently, much of the landscape reminded me of the southwestern United States.  Of course, I’ve never seen a giraffe pop up from behind a tree or a group of elephants protectively surround a baby elephant here in the San Luis Valley. But wouldn’t it be great?

“Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it.” African proverb.


Solar Access and Trees

Posted in Deer, Valley Courier Articles 2012 on December 11th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser       2012 October 24

When I first moved to the San Luis Valley in the early 1980’s, I was struck by how many innovative solar installations I saw. I found passive solar greenhouses particularly interesting.  I even designed one, but never built it.  With 350 days of sunshine (according to Alamosa.org), cold winters, and rising utility rates, solar energy is becoming increasingly important to home owners.

“Small-scale solar energy production has a long history here [Alamosa]. As far back as the early 1980s, farmers and back-to-the-land hippies, who still share and define the valley’s culture, had built the highest per-capita concentration of home-based solar installations in the country,” according to a New York Times article (June 3, 2010).

Increasingly, you can see roof-mounted photovoltaic systems or free standing ones in Alamosa residential areas.

But what happens if your neighbor’s trees grow tall and block the sunshine that once fell on your solar system?

Solar rights are the rights to access and to harness the rays of the sun, according to Sara Bronin of the University of Connecticut School of Law. She states, “It is curious that a natural resource as valuable as sunlight—increasingly valuable in the age of the solar collector and the climate change crisis—remains almost entirely unregulated in the United States.”

Essentially, in Alamosa and many other cities in our country, you have no solar rights. However, Colorado does have solar easements.  Colorado law defines solar easements as “the right of receiving sunlight across real property for any solar energy device.”  Property owners can agree voluntarily to solar easements with their neighbors to protect and maintain proper access to sunlight.

According to Bronin, “The majority of states require such easements to be in writing and contain detailed information about the size of the affected space, the manner of termination, and compensation. In most jurisdictions, the easement must also be recorded on the land records to provide notice to individuals researching” property information. As far as I can tell, such easements are rare.

Consider another situation.  What if branches of your neighbor’s tree are hanging over your property and shading your solar collector (or even your vegetable garden)? You do have some rights here.  However, most information I’ve uncovered strongly encourages you to talk with your neighbor and try to work out a mutually agreeable solution before taking any action.

Many states, including Colorado, have the right of self-help. “In Colorado, property owners have the common law right to cut off branches and roots that cross over their property lines. Courts really don’t want to take up valuable court time settling disputes between neighbors. The right to self-help encourages neighbors to solve their problems themselves. In Colorado, the neighbor who trims the tree is responsible for any expense associated with the trimming. Trimming back large and numerous branches can be expensive,” according to the Hindman Sanchez law firm website (hindmansanchez.com).

The website advises that the right to self-help has limitations — so proceed carefully. You may not enter the tree owner’s land without permission. You can only trim to the property line and you cannot trim the tree in such a way that the tree is destroyed, according to Hindman and Sanchez.  They go on to say that if the tree’s health is not compromised, but the tree looks absurd after trimming, you probably have not destroyed it, in a legal sense.

I discovered a couple of other interesting items while researching this article.  Did you know that the fruit on a branch of a neighbor’s tree hanging over your property belongs to the tree owner?  However, they can’t come onto your property to pick the fruit without your permission.  Apparently, courts are divided on who can have any fallen fruit!

Also, while you might think leaves from your neighbor’s tree that blow into your yard are a nuisance, they are considered a natural product under the law. According to the realestate.findlaw.com website, “Even if the leaves cause damage, like clogging your gutters or pipes, you have no legal claims against the owner of the tree. Additionally, you are responsible for cleaning up any natural products that fall into your yard.”

Please note I am not a lawyer; I’m just presenting information from sources that seem reliable. For complete references, please visit AlamosaTrees.net/newspaper.

I hope you all have cooperative neighbors!

“People in suburbia see trees differently than foresters do.  They cherish every one.  It is useless to speak of the probability that a certain tree will die when the tree is in someone’s backyard….  You are talking about a personal asset, a friend, a monument, not about board feet of lumber.” Roger Swain


Alamosa’s Urban Deer Problem: Part 2

Posted in Alamosa Parks, Deer, Valley Courier Articles 2012 on December 11th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser      2012 October 10

What might be the consequences of not harvesting deer in Alamosa? The September 12 column presented an overview of our deer problem and discussed culling the herd. This column discusses “doing nothing” to the deer directly.

I stated in the previous column that doing nothing will yield an increase in the Alamosa deer population. Perhaps the herd population will soon stabilize as suggested in Kent Webb’s recent letter to the editor. On the other hand he comments that “you may be seeing more deer this year in the urban area if you are having drought in your area.”  And indeed, we are experiencing drought.

I love my yard.  I’ve heard some say, forget your flowers, and just enjoy the deer.  Humbug! In this stress-ridden world, my garden is my refuge and retreat. It helps me maintain my sanity. Even in the winter, I stand in the garden and feel peace and comfort flow through me from the ground up.

So what can we do to coexist with the deer? They eat an average of seven pounds of food per day. I don’t think fencing them out of the city is viable, although I get a brief mental image of a drawbridge and moat surrounding our town.  Opps, deer can swim well!

Realistically, you have few options if your yard has any vegetation. 1) Keep deer out of your garden and/or yard.  2) Protect individual specimens. 3) Plant deer-resistant species. 4) Enjoy deer in your yard.

Fence your entire yard or garden. 8-ft high fencing is frequently recommended. (May need zoning variance for a fence over 6-ft in high in Alamosa). Wood fencing is expensive and may keep out desired light, views, and neighbors but is effective.  Dr. Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont says a 6-ft wood fence is adequate. “Such privacy fences are quite effective, as deer can’t tell what is on the other side. Even if they can smell what is on the other side, and it’s attractive to them, they can’t be sure that danger isn’t lurking there as well.”

Black polypropylene mesh fencing is available and many people seem satisfied with it. Some types have small mesh while others have 1.75-in mesh and heights range from 4 ft to 7.5 ft. I’ve heard some people say that they don’t even notice it – I do.  Perhaps if I had 10 acres and my home was in the middle, I wouldn’t notice the mesh at a distance, but city yards are much smaller and the fencing is very noticeable. Deer don’t see stationary objects very well so you might want to tie white cloth strips about 4 ft high at 12 foot intervals to keep them from running into your fence.

Another option is to build a slanted fence at a 45-degree angle with the top facing away from your yard or build 2 fences 4 ft high and 4 ft apart.  Deer can’t jump both high and wide.

You can also fence individual trees.  Just make sure the deer can’t reach over or through the fencing.

Deer repellants come in many forms. You may have to try several to see what works for you.  Some people swear human hair works, while other shake their heads saying it didn’t work for them.  Others say deodorant soap works while one blogger wrote that he got tired of picking up pieces of Irish Spring around his yard imprinted with deer tooth marks.

There are both commercial and home-made repellants.   Ingredients include putrescent egg, garlic, capsaicin, chile and mustard oils, dried blood, and coyote urine. One drawback is that they need to be replenished frequently.

There are also motion-activated devices such as radios (sure to annoy neighbors), lights, and sprinklers. Online customer responses did not encourage me to purchase any of these devices.

Plant deer –resistant specimens.  The key word here is “resistant.” Deer usually avoid strong, smelly plants, thick or leathery leaves, and fuzzy, bristly or spiny plants. However, in Alamosa they will chomp away at young Colorado spruce and lilacs which are on most deer-resistant plant lists (many lists are available online).

I encourage the Alamosa City Council to set up a deer task force.  The force should find out consequences and costs of various forms of deer management.  This would include costs of culling herds and vehicle repair due to collisions with deer.  The force should also find out what other Colorado cities have done, what Colorado statutes have to say on the subject, and should meet with informed decision makers (such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel). Then the force should find out what Alamosans want based on the research.

“I have reached illusion’s end in this grove of falling leaves. Each leaf a signal of past joy, drifting here within my heart.”  Mu Dan

Alamosa’s Urban Deer Problem

Posted in Deer, Valley Courier Articles 2012 on September 14th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

2012 September 12

By Marilyn Loser

Yes, there is a deer problem in Alamosa.  And we’re not alone—many American cities are struggling with this problem. However, our city government seems to hope it will just go away.  As far as I can tell, they’ve done nothing since the failed bow hunt five years ago.

A Valley Courier article (Oct 19th, 2007) reports,  “Alamosa Mayor Farris Bervig brought up the deer problem during the council’s October 17 meeting and said he believed the city needed to do something about it. “I am concerned we are closing our eyes to a problem that is not going to go away,” he said.”

As reported in the Valley Courier, Rick Basagoitia, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) District Manager, discussed various options with Alamosa’s City Council in July, 2010.  Essentially, it was the same information presented at the public meeting held at the recreation center in August.

It’s time to act. I see two viable options.  Either choose to allow the deer population to increase (do nothing) or hire sharpshooters to regularly cull the herd. I do believe educating citizens on learning to live with deer can help, but it’s not a solution for the many frustrated Alamosans who attended the recent meeting at the recreation center.  Less viable options might include re-introducing natural deer predators that people have removed or displaced from their habitat.

Doing nothing will yield an increase in the deer population, a decrease in herd health (at the August meeting, Basagoitia said fawns in town are not as healthy as those in the surrounding hills), an increase in damage to trees and other plants, a decrease in species diversity (with an increase in undesirable plants such as white top), and an increase in deer-vehicle collisions.  It’s apparent that the herd is increasing and wandering around Alamosa more frequently.

Bloomington, Indiana, created a deer task force two years ago.  It will present its suggestions to the city council this fall.  As task force member Dave Rollo said, “What people miss in this discussion is we have already intervened in the deer ecology by removing predators. It’s our responsibility to maintain the population. The evidence is overwhelming. You can’t ignore the problem, and we have to take responsibility for it.”

I agree with Rollo.  We need to coexist with deer, but we need a balance.  We’ve aided the imbalance; now we need to take corrective action.

What do Alamosa citizens want to do about our deer situation? Of course it’s controversial, but that doesn’t mean you ignore it. Our city councilors should represent the citizens of Alamosa, even if, perhaps, they are not personally troubled by deer.

A well-designed questionnaire could be included with municipal water bills as a first step.  However, simply asking whether people want to kill deer to reduce the population is too simplistic.  Perhaps, a group of concerned citizens needs to band together to address this problem that City Council can’t seem to solve.

If enough Alamosans want to reduce the herd size, there are many decisions to make and steps to follow.  What should the deer density be?  “There is no biologically correct number,” according to the Wisconsin Urban and Community Forests newsletter (see the online version of this column at AlamosaTrees.net under the News tab for full references). “The biological carrying capacity of many of our urban areas can be over 100 deer per square mile. What the community needs to determine is the social carrying capacity — how many deer the citizens are willing to tolerate.”

The City of Alamosa is approximately 4 square miles according to Internet data. I haven’t been able to find out how many deer are currently in the area, but I’ve heard that there are more than 200.  If so, our deer density is 50 per square mile.

Desired deer densities range widely, according to DeerFriendly.com.  Wilton, Connecticut, states the town’s ideal number is 10 per square mile, while Radnor, Pennsylvania, suggests a maximum of 30 per square mile.

Gleaning information from various meetings and web sites, it seems the only viable way to reduce the herd size would be through the services of sharpshooters. The CPW doesn’t relocate deer and contraception is too expensive.

Rapid City, South Dakota, has been harvesting deer since 1996. 200 deer were harvested in 2011-2012 season with a total cost of $115 per head. Most cities donate the meat to local food banks. And how would we fund the culling? Perhaps we could establish a Deer District similar to the Alamosa Mosquito Control District.

Any plan needs the approval of the CPW.

A future column will discuss the consequences of not harvesting deer in Alamosa.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.”  Herman Hesse

Wildlife Habitat and Favorite Trees

Posted in Valley Courier Articles 2012 on September 14th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser

2012 August 29

Whoosh! A flock of weaver finches descends on the bird bath in our garden.  A red-winged black bird squawks in disgust at me as I enter the vegetable garden.  I think it’s been eating sunflower seeds.

I greet a robin who hops, dances, and flies around the yard. It doesn’t seem to very afraid of me but keeps its distance.  I wonder if it’s the one that nested in my Austrian pine – right at eye level — a couple of years ago. We were able to watch the family develop during that summer.

A collared dove pecks at the ground with its long beak.  I imagine it’s looking for worms. I see more and more of these birds around Alamosa.  According to Wikipedia, they were introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s and spread to Florida by 1982.  Native to Asia and Europe, they’ve become invasive in the United States. However, I still like watching them.  They love to perch in our pine tree and rather than flying away as I wander around, they stand perfectly still.  I think they believe I can’t see them.

I enjoy providing habitat for birds and other (desirable) critters in our yard. While no birds nested in our yard this year, quite a few spend a lot of time here.  It’s like a bird day camp.

Fortunately, none of the birds has dropped a currant or gooseberry bomb on me but I see dark blue specks on walkways and garden furniture. I consider my bird-dyed furniture to be yard art.

I would not be enjoying the antics of birds in my yard if we didn’t have trees.

Given what a few trees in a yard can do, I was dismayed when someone in town proudly mentioned that he’d chopped down one of his trees and was planning to remove others.  I didn’t get the idea that the trees were old or diseased.  Why? Save water? Save it for what? Golf courses and toilets?

Flush less, water a tree, and provide animal habitat! And perhaps, in the bargain, provide shade for your yard and home.  We’ve had a particularly hot summer and according to many scientists, this may become the norm. More, rather than fewer, trees would make Alamosa an even more enjoyable place to live.

I’m not happy about all wildlife in Alamosa. Those of you who have followed this column know that I’m not in favor of the introduced squirrels that are furthering the demise of the trees in Cole Park on the NW side.  I’m also not in favor of the over-population of deer in Alamosa.

If this topic interests you, attend the community forum on wildlife issues in Alamosa (particularly deer) this Thursday, Aug 30th, 6 pm, at the Alamosa Family Recreation Center. The forum will be hosted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the City of Alamosa staff.

Favorite trees: I have several in my yard.  The Austrian Pine we planted 14 years ago is my favorite. Besides providing bird sanctuary, it is a beautiful green all year around.  This is especially appreciated on dreary March days. I also love the sound of the breeze in the needles.

I also enjoy our two Canada Chokecherry trees.  They have beautiful white blossoms in the spring and the early light green leaves turn to purple by mid-summer.  Birds eat the fruit so there’s no mess.

My favorite tree  in town is the Ponderosa Pine at the corner of Main and Poncha.  It survived the destruction of the  middle school and construction of the new Safeway and row of retail stores.   I still rescue pine cones from the onslaught of auto tires and use them in winter wreathes.

Do you have a favorite tree in Alamosa?  Let me know! Email me at Marilyn@AlamosaTrees.net

“There is something grand about trees. Their age and stature lend our surroundings a quiet nobility.  The presence of these lofty beings enhances our lives and provides visual relief from the square walls of our dwellings and the containment of our workplaces.” Gary Moll & Stanley Young in ‘Growing Greener Cities’

Utility Vegetation Management

Posted in Tree Care, Valley Courier Articles 2012 on September 14th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser

2012 August 1

The Vegetation Management Resource Center defines UVM as “a broad term that includes tree pruning; brush removal through the use of power saws and mowers; the judicious use of herbicides and tree growth regulators; hazard tree identification and removal; the implementation of strategies to minimize the establishment of incompatible species under and near power lines; and the control of weeds.”

Dozing while I listened to National Public Radio’s Morning Addition, I was startled awake when I heard that NStar, a local utility in Massachusetts, is now “clearing its entire 250-foot right-of-way near high-voltage lines.”  I had only a vague notion of what constituted a high-voltage line. In my mind’s eye they’re the huge lines marching across the desert towards southern California. I also had a mental picture of all the trees in my yard being felled leaving short stumps as happened to some folks in Massachusetts.

Where once utility companies only trimmed or topped trees, some companies, such as NStar, are now removing any growth with a mature height of 3 feet in the “wire zone” (directly around and under lines) and with a mature height of 15 feet in the border zone which can be as much as 100 feet on either side of the lines.

Why? Remember the power outage in 2003 that affected 55 million people in the Northeast US and Canada? According to the NPR report, a tree hit a major power line in Ohio contributing to the black out.  Since then, Federal regulators established new guidelines.  Recent storms, such as the freak one in the eastern US during June, downed many trees leaving more than 4 million households without power. According to Nathan Mitchel of the American Public Power Association Utility, the feds now “have fines that are up to $1 million a day.”

We want our trees, but we also want air conditioning, lights, cell phones, and computers.

The San Luis Valley isn’t known for its dense forest of tall trees. Nonetheless, I was interested in learning about Xcel’s (our local utility) UVM program so browsed their Colorado website. Much of the posted content was vague, but I did find an online pamphlet with some useful information.  It’s “Tree Pruning Near Power Lines”.  It has useful guidelines on trimming (such as ALWAYS hire a professional if trimming near power lines) and tree planting.

The pamphlet applies to distribution power lines (“those that typically run along roads and backyards that carry electricity into your home or business”).  Clearance requirements depend on line voltage with the highest voltage lines strung further up the pole.  Go outside and take a look at a pole.

The lowest line is the pole-to-house line that runs across your yard. These “have the least impact on large-scale power outages, so Xcel Energy does not trim for clearance along these lines, except when hazardous conditions exist,” states the Xcel website.

The highest lines consist of primary wires which “can serve hundreds of customers … So for reliability and safety reasons, Xcel Energy’s goal is to prevent trees from coming into contact with them,”  reports the website.

Under these wires are the secondary wires.  Not all branches near these wires need to be removed.  As with primary lines, only qualified personnel can prune near these wires. You may have wires under the pole-to-house line that carry cable or telephone connections.  Xcel does not trim for clearance around them.

Carefully choosing a tree planting location can eliminate or minimize the need for utility trimming. Xcel encourages planting no trees within 10 feet of the pole-to-house line. Larger tree species should be planted even further away.

The pamphlet suggests: In the vicinity of primary and secondary wires plant only shorter trees (mature height of 25 ft. or less) within 25 ft. of the lines, medium-sized trees (25 – 40 ft. mature height) 25-75 ft. from lines, and taller trees (40 ft. mature height or greater) 50 – 75 ft. from lines. If I strictly followed the suggested distances from lines for taller trees, I would have few places in my yard for a tall tree. Visit the tree lists at AlamosaTrees.net for mature tree sizes.

Transmission lines are those that carry electricity from power plants and between substations over longer distances.  There aren’t any in my neighborhood. While short on details (like how wide the right-of-way is), the Xcel website states, “we’ve made it a policy to eventually remove all tall-growing trees and other woody-stemmed vegetation within the rights of way of applicable power lines … Although there is no guarantee that vegetation can remain in maintained areas (i.e. mowed yards, lawns and public areas), we do attempt to work with landowners to determine if trees and other vegetation deemed compatible with safe operation of the line may remain.”

“Paper cut – a tree’s last revenge.”  Jerry Reed.

Lithic or organic mulch?

Posted in Tree Care, Valley Courier Articles 2012 on September 14th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser

2012 July 04

To mulch or not to mulch a tree is no longer the question.  Most folks want to conserve water and have healthy trees. Frequently, trees aren’t being planted in lawns and the wise realize tree roots grow horizontally more than vertically down into soil. Mulch can help us out.  The question is – what kind of mulch?

Organic mulches include wood chips, pine needles, bark, leaves, and compost mixes. Organic mulches decompose in the landscape at different rates depending on the material and climate. Those that decompose faster must be replenished more often. Because the decomposition process improves soil quality and fertility, most arborists and horticulturists prefer organic mulch.

Lithic (rock) mulch includes various types, sizes, and colors of small to large stones and rocks. Inorganic mulches do not decompose and do not need to be replenished often. According to Dale Lightfoot, who has researched lithic mulch agriculture on Easter Island and in northern New Mexico, “lithic mulch is applied to garden plots, especially during periods of drought, in order to reduce soil erosion from wind and water, increase soil temperature to extend the growing season, moderate diurnal soil temperature extremes, increase water infiltration, and reduce the evaporative loss of water from wind and sun.”

On the other hand, lithic mulchs do little or nothing to improve soil structure, add organic materials, or provide nutrients.  However, for the home gardener in Alamosa, they require less maintenance than organic mulch. Those who disparage lithic mulch often say that the rock overheats the soil which in turn harms roots and actually causes increased evaporation.  I wonder if their experience has been with black or dark red rocks rather than more reflective light colored stone?

We have a mixture of the two types of mulches in our yard.  In the past I’ve used a lot of shredded bark and wood chips as I love the way they look and appreciate recycling nutrients back into the land.  On the other hand, I’ve grown weary of the San Luis Valley wind’s ability to rearrange the mulch and require us to yearly add more mulch and frequently rake it back into place.

During the last 2 summers, I’ve replaced some areas of bark/chips with light colored pea gravel and, so far, I’m delighted with the results.  Most of our trees’ roots have access to garden areas not covered with lithic mulch.  I hope they will receive organic nutrition from these areas.

Trees entirely surround by lithic mulch are more problematic.  I recently purchased a root feeder which allows me to feed with liquid fertilizer. We’ll see how it goes.

Another approach is to combine the two types of mulch.  I’ve read of people mulching trees planted in the spring with leaves, then covering the leaves with flat rocks up to 1 foot in diameter.  Placing the rocks a few inches apart allows air and water to penetrate the soil. Enthusiasts report that the leaves decompose much faster than without the rocks and that the trees thrive in the warmer soil during the cool spring.

Something I’ve seen in Alamosa in recent years is the use of grapefruit-sized boulders stacked a foot or so high around a tree.  My guess is the goal is to prevent weed whackers from damaging the tree.  It may be fine as long as the rocks aren’t right up against the trunk and don’t trap moisture, soil and debris against the trunk. Wet bark near the ground is susceptible to bark decay.

Arborists agree that using black plastic under mulch and over root areas (current and future) should be avoided. Sure, the plastic keeps weeds down, but prevents air and moisture getting to the roots.

However, arborist don’t agree as to whether using landscaping fabric (fabric that allows water to percolate through, but helps prevents weeds from growing up) under mulch is a good idea.  Opponents say the tightly woven fabric prevents nutrients mixing into the soil and traps blowing sand (did I mention we have a lot of wind in the San Luis Valley?) allowing weeds to grow on top of the fabric.

Proper mulching is not a cut and dried topic. The method may be as important as the material. Around Alamosa, people usually aim for 4” depth of mulch.  If your tree is watered by sprinklers, make sure mulch is not so deep that the water never gets to the roots. Also, ensure that the mulch isn’t matted as that will prevent air and water reaching the roots.

Mulch should be placed on top of the soil, not dug in the soil under trees.  Remember, many feeder roots are in the top foot of soil. If possible, mulch out at least to the drip line.

“People who will not sustain trees will soon live in a world which cannot sustain people“  Bryce Nelson

A Good Tree for Your Yard

Posted in Recommended Trees, Valley Courier Articles 2012 on September 14th, 2012 by Marilyn — Be the first to comment!

By Marilyn Loser

2012 June 06

Planning on a new tree for your yard? There are quite a few trees that work well in Alamosa; you’re not limited to messy Siberian Elms. This article will discuss trees and shrubs suggested by Colorado Forester Vince Urbina during a recent Alamosa workshop and some of my favorites.

Urbina pointed out that people want the “perfect tree”. Attributes include: fast growing, long lived, beautiful fragrant flowers over an extended time, no pests, no messy fruit, drought tolerant, and little to low maintenance requirements. Sound too good to be true? Sadly, it is.

Further, trees that grow fast, die fast, according to Urbina.  He mentioned ads for trees, such as Thuja Green Giants, that grow 6-7 feet yearly.  That is, for the first few years.  After that they die off.

If you want a large, fairly fast growing tree, and have plenty of water, consider a Lanceleaf Cottonwood.  It doesn’t sucker.  Don’t mistake it for the Narrowleaf Cottonwood that suckers relentlessly.  I know this from personal experience. Several Lanceleaf Cottonwoods recently were planted at the Alamosa Cemetery.

“Sensation Boxelder has good, small red foliage and doesn’t attract bugs,” said Urbina. He highly recommends this seedless male clone that was created by an Idaho plantsman to provide a stronger branching structure and more mannerly growth habit than other boxelders.  Downtown Alamosa has a number of older boxelders, but I don’t think they are Sensations.

Three other trees Urbina recommended are the ornamental Chinese Pear (pyrus ussuriensis),  Russian Hawthorn (crataegus ambigua “Cockspur”), and columnar Swedish Aspen (populous tremula ‘Erecta’).  There are young specimens of all three in Alamosa and those I know of are doing well.

Chinese Pear and Russian Hawthorn are small-size trees.  The pear at the corner of Edison and Main by Caton’s had beautiful flowers this spring.  Boy Scouts from Troop 307 planted it during Arbor Week 2009. Russian Hawthorns work well at high altitudes, and have only the occasional thorn. The Swedish Aspen is a close relative of the Lombardy Poplar, has a non-invasive root system (unlike Quaking Aspen), and works well in narrow spaces.

Urbina suggested three shrubs for the San Luis Valley – native Gambel Oak (quercus gambelii), Saskatoon Serviceberry (amelanchier alnifolia), and Silver Buffalo Berry ( shepherdia argentea).  I have specimens of all three in my yard and love them.

One Gambel Oak is about 8 feet tall and produced a few acorns last year. I love the typical lobed oak leaves. It’s reputed to grow up to 9,000 feet in elevation, but I believe I’ve seen it higher up at the top of La Veta Pass.

Saskatoon Serviceberry has been a favorite of mine since I first saw great hedges of them in Saskatchewan, Canada.  Alas, mine aren’t so grand, but I love the white flowers and the birds love the berries.

Buffalo Berry is a Colorado native. It resembles its relative Russian Olive and is often suggested as a replacement plant for this banned (can’t be sold in Colorado), invasive species.  Buffalo Berries are dioecious (meaning there are both male and female plants) and females produce berries loved by birds. It has thorns, but tolerates drought, cold and alkaline conditions once established.

Favorites of mine include ashes.  One of my main shade trees is a green ash (fraxinum pennsylvanica) and I’m thinking of planting an Autumn Purple Ash (fraxinus americana). I’ve been watching the purple ashes on the eastern side of Walgreens and they’ve been doing well. I planted an Oakleaf Ash (sorbus thuringiaca) last year and it has beautiful white blooms right now.  I first noticed the species on the east side of Boyd Park.  Sadly, those trees aren’t doing very well, but I think it’s because they need maintenance.  They’re planted in dirt and need wider and deeper watering basins and mulch.

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I like Canada Chokecherry (prunus virginiana ‘Shubert’) trees and all kinds of crabapples (malus various).  Chokecherry trees (not our native shrubs) have white flowers and the new green leaves start turning purple after the blooms fade. As Alamosans know, crabapples do very well here and this spring the bloom was the best I’ve ever seen.  The only one that doesn’t produce fruit is the white blooming Spring Snow Crab.

Another small variety is the Tatarian Maple (acer tataricum “Hot Wings”).  It is a patented variety developed in Colorado. Two are planted on the north side of Main Street – they have typical maple

Need more ideas? Take a walk around Cole Park. Many of the newer trees have identification tags (as will the newly planted trees along 6th Street and in the cemetery). Talk to a local tree vendor or visit the trees lists at AlamosaTrees.net.

“Trees are your best antiques.” Alexander Smith

Water a Tree until It’s Happy

by Marilyn Loser

Vince Urbina, Colorado Community Forrester, recently gave a presentation on tree care during drought. “Drought is a deficiency of rainfall over a period of time resulting in a water shortage for some activity, group, or environmental sector,” stated Urbina.

Tuesday’s storm dumped .64 inches of precipitation according to the Wunderground website, the highest daily amount in the past year.  In fact, we’ve only had 5.16 inches of precipitation in the last year and 12% of that came Tuesday. Sounds like drought to me.  Most trees in Alamosa need supplemental water to keep them healthy.

Urbina asked the audience how much water a tree needs:  2 gallons? 10 gallons? 20 gallons? He then explained it was a trick question. Each tree’s situation is different. “Water it until it’s happy!” Urbina exclaimed.

How do you do that? Before answering that question it’s important to understand the anatomy of a tree. Most tree roots are in the top 2 feet of soil and, in a nature situation, extend well beyond the leaf canopy. The roots need water and air. He shoots for 6” of new growth each year.

Urbina suggests watering deeply (14” – 24” down) and infrequently. Water around the entire drip line (the line under the outer edge of a tree’s branches where water would drip to the ground in a rainstorm).

He outlined 3 watering methods. Drip irrigation and micro sprinklers both conserve water by putting it only where it is needed.  Typically fertilizer can be applied through either of these methods.  Drawbacks include the need to filter ditch water (chunks can clog tubing) and control weeds.

Using a Ross root feeder is Urbina’s preferred method. The root feeder is a T-shaped metal device about 2 feet long. You hook up the hose to one end of the T top and water comes out the bottom.  You plunge the device into the soil at the drip line.  If the soil is dry and/or compacted, it might not go in very far at first.

I’m now the proud owner of a root feeder and found after a couple of minutes I could push the root feeder in 16” or so. For my smaller trees, I watered at 4-6 places along the drip line for about 5 minutes each trying to soak the top 16” – 20”.  For larger trees I watered at 8 places for about 10 minutes each.  Was this enough?  I’m not sure. I’ll check the soil moisture in a couple of weeks.

This works for established trees.  But, what if you’re designing your yard landscape? Urbina strongly suggests planting trees with trees and turf with turf rather than planting trees and turf together.  People often water their grass 3 times per week for about 20 minutes.  This is NOT good for trees.  The grass, with its shallow roots, absorbs the water and very little percolates down to the tree roots.

Most people buy container trees.  Urbina likes #15 size containers that typically hold 1 ½” to 1 ¼” diameter trees (measured 6” from the ground).  It’s easy for 2 people to handle a tree of this size.  These smaller trees are less expensive than larger caliper trees and recover faster.

Balled and burlapped trees are another popular choice. Urbina notes, “For every inch of caliper at 6” above the soil, it takes that many years for the tree to reclaim roots lost [in the ball/burlap process].  A 2” diameter tree takes 2 years to recover.”

Plant the top of the root ball 1” – 2” above the surrounding soil, especially in clay.  It’s a good idea to create water basins around the trees for the first year. About 75% of trees and shrubs sold are in containers and given daily water at the nursery.

Once you’ve planted a container tree, water it at least weekly until it is established.  Then back off on the frequency – it takes some time for the tree to adjust to a new watering regime. Mulching under the tree canopy conserves water by reducing evaporation.

A future article will discuss the trees Urbina suggests for Alamosa.  Meanwhile, visit AlamosaTrees.net for ideas.

6th Street tree planting – Saturday, May 12, 10 am: Join the Alamosa Tree Board and Department of Parks and Recreation to plant trees on the south side of 6th Street between San Juan and Ross. We were unable to plant trees along 6th Street during Alamosa Arbor Week due to utility line conflicts. The utility lines have been marked and planting locations worked out.

“We may not be able to clean up our cities overnight, be we can start to make a difference by making them greener places.  Planting a tree may be the simplest, most immediate, and most effective way to make a personal commitment to the environment.” Graham Nash