Friday, October 20, 2017

Heavy Equipment Diagnostics

Posted by: Curtis Utley, Jefferson County Extension

Last month I was asked to visit a property to give my professional opinion as to why a specific Vanderwolf’s pyramidal limber pine decided to just up and die. A curious problem to be sure. As the story goes, the tree started to look a little off the 3rd week of July and by the 3rd week of August all the needles turned completely brown but, the branches remained limber. When I got to the site I noticed that the ground was nice and moist, possibly a little too wet but not so wet to cause oxygen starvation in one tree and not the others. I forgot to mention, the dead tree was one of a group of 6 or 7 Vanderwolf’s all planted in the same area roughly 12 years ago.
Stem elongation without full needle expansion "Pushed and Puked"
Next, I began to evaluate the twig growth increments and inspect the condition of the newest growth. What I found was a common problem I see in trees that don’t know they're dead yet, I affectionately describe this condition as “pushed and puked”. By this I mean the tree broke bud in the spring normally and the new growth expanded for a short time then ran out of water resources to maintain that new growth. Because the new growth is soft and succulent it is the first tissue to desiccate and turn brown and sure enough, the land manager mentioned that there were many dead branch tips in early July.
Another view of the arrested development
My conclusion was one that all too often I must utter, “Well it’s probably a root problem. For some reason, this tree is no longer able to move water out of the soil through the vascular system up the trunk and out to the needles.” It is so frustrating when I can't give people a definitive answer. The land manager really wanted a more solid answer as well and told me he would have to remove the tree anyway so if I was willing to come back on Thursday he would pull the tree out of the ground. Really? “Yea, I have equipment.” “Okay I’ll be back Thursday”
I show up on Thursday and the land manager drives up on the lawn with this huge loader. I ask him why on earth do you have such a big loader? (You see most landscape contractors use small, light maneuverable skid-steer loaders which are handy and have a million different attachments to do all kinds of different jobs.) His answer “We do snow removal here too.” Of course. I assumed he was going to dig up the tree but that was silly; to dig up the tree would have wrecked a whole lot of irrigation and nobody in their right mind would want to make more work for themselves. Instead, he wrapped a chain around the trunk and attached the end to the hook on the bucket and carefully pulled the tree out of the ground.
Check out the video:

The tree popped out of the ground like plucking a mushroom from the lawn and we had our answer, circling roots, the result of a missed step on planting day. 
Circling roots left in the ground after tree removal.

Constricted trunk, note the lack of  scaffold roots.
As a tree is transplanted the planting team should try to cut all visible circling roots or better yet, as our very own Alison O’Conner determined during her Ph.D. research, cutting the entire outer inch of the rootball off corrects all circling root problems. I call it a “root reboot” Check out Alison’s blog article:
Even Horties Make Mistakes: Tree Planting posted on Monday, August 5, 2013 for more great information about circling roots.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pack Rat (woodrat) Issues as Winter Nears

By Mark J. Platten
CSU Extension Director, Teller County, Colorado

After several conversations relating to woodrats (also known as pack rats, or trade rats) over the past few weeks, I thought it would be a good focus for a blog article.  There are six species of woodrats in Colorado, with desert woodrats (12 inches long, 4 ½ ounces) the smallest, and the bushy-tailed woodrat of mountain talus slides (to over 16 inches long and 11 ounces) being the largest. 
Courtesy of Terrell P. Salmon and
W. Paul Gorenzel
 As the name implies, they have a tendency to pack away small objects such as jewelry, utensils, can tabs, and other items.  If a woodrat finds something desirable, they will drop what they are currently carrying, and "trade" it for the new item. They are particularly fond of shiny objects, leading to tales of rats swapping jewelry for a stone. 

Color differs from gray (gray woodrat) to blackish brown (Mexican woodrat), to rich reddish tan (bushy-tailed woodrat), with most having white, to grayish, bellies.

Bushy-tailed woodrat Photo by Thomas Haney
The cold and snow may drive them from their more exposed homes, to under our porches, abandoned vehicles, or in sparsely used cabins and campers.  Obviously this can lead to damage and nuisance issues.   

The breeding period occurs from January to August, peaking between March and June. Generally they have one litter per year, although two have been observed in longer periods of warmth. Litter size ranging from 1 to 6, with an average of four.

Woodrats are primarily nocturnal and are most active during the half hour after sunset and at dawn, year round. Shelter and topography are important determinants of habitat suitability. The availability of rock shelters may be a more important than the associated plant communities.  Hollow trees, logs, dwarf mistletoe brooms, and coarse woody debris may also be used for denning, foraging, and shelter.  And, as previously mentioned, human structures and vehicles may be used as well. 

Photograph by Kennan Ward/Corbis
Woodrats are herbivores with a broad, flexible diet including cones and needles of coniferous trees, berries, leaves, shrubs, forbs, and mushrooms during our wet years.

They are classified as nongame animals in Colorado, which means they are protected from harassment, killing, or possession except when they are creating a nuisance or creating property damage.

Woodrats may transmit certain diseases, including Colorado Tick Fever, but are rarely, if ever, associated with plague or Hantavirus. Dead or dying woodrats should not be handled.

Damage Prevention and Control Methods
Since they are agile climbers, all entrances to buildings, including those at the attic level, must be closed.  Also check for openings in attic vents, broken roof shingles, or other gaps next to the eaves. No hole larger than 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) should be left unsealed. As long as you’re in the process of preventing rodents from entering, why not prepare for potential wildfires and ensure the screens are no larger than 1/16 inch in size?     

Anticoagulants (blood thinners)
Anticoagulants are effective for woodrat control and are especially suited for use around structures because of their low hazard to pets and children. Most baits formulated for rats and house mice give effective woodrat control. Finely ground, or meal-type, anticoagulant baits are recommended. Since woodrats have a tendency to pack away items, pellet bait should be avoided because it will be stored at the nest site.

Anticoagulants are usually put out in bait boxes, but woodrats tend to fill boxes with sticks and other debris. Therefore, use open bait containers. Bait exposed in this manner must be placed so non-target species, pets, and children do not have ready access to it. Access to the bait by pets can be minimized by inverting a wooden crate over the bait tray. Baiting sites should be located near existing woodrat runways, feeding sites, or nests.

The majority of woodrat problems in structures can be dealt with by using traps because they show little fear of new objects in their environment. The standard rat snap trap is quite effective. Trap bait should be wedged into, or tied, to the treadle. Good baits include nut meats, bacon rind, peanut butter and oatmeal, prunes, raisins and other dried fruit, and biscuits.

Cage traps for woodrats are against Department of Parks and Wildlife regulations.  Also, many studies have shown that animals released into new areas often die from exposure, predation, or competition with resident animals. 

References: University of California, Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Montana Field Guide, and USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Honeycrisp Apple: A Favorite for 20 years

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

I remember the first time I ate a Honeycrisp apple. And no, I'm not one of those people who remembers a lot of first-time food items, but the Honeycrisp was different. I bit into it and nearly broke my jaw taking a bite. I thought to myself--"Now THAT'S an apple!" and I loved it. (As an FYI, the trademark crunch comes from larger cells and cool growing climates.)
Kaboom! Explosive crunch of the Honeycrisp apple (photo from the University of Minnesota).
Everyone has different apple preferences. Some like them sweet, some tart, some softer, some firmer. To me, the Honeycrisp really has it all with the sweet-tart taste. And the crunch is what put the apple to the top of the charts for me. It also doesn't hurt that the University of Minnesota introduced Honeycrisp. Being a proud Minnesotan, we love to claim fame to people and things--Prince, Post-it Notes, being "Minnesota Nice", Bob Dylan, giant mosquitoes, etc. Honeycrisp is a cross of two other Minnesota cultivars, Keepsake and MN1627 (which never made it to the market).

I'll admit I was shocked to read that the Honeycrisp turns 20 years old this year. I can't believe it's been around that long--but then on the other hand, it feels like it's always been a part of our lives. But really, Honeycrisp has been around a lot longer than 20 years. The first breeding crosses for the apple started back in the 1960s, with the first trees released to apple growers in 1991. It's now the Minnesota State Fruit and even has a following in Europe, where they call it the "Honeycrunch" apple.

Honeycrisp finally debuted to the mass public in 1997 when Minnesota grower Pepin Heights Orchards delivered apples to a local grocery store. In just twenty years, it has become one of the top five apples produced in the United States and its name is as common as Granny Smith and Red Delicious. It's considered a mid-season variety, with a harvest starting in September, but because of its long storage life (up to 10 months!), you'll see them in grocery stores for months.
Fall is apple season! (photo from Penn State University)
For Colorado, it's a great apple because of the cold-hardy genetics. When I'm asked about what apple cultivars are best for Colorado gardens, I often suggest Minnesota introductions, since they are winter hardy (to Zone 4) and can do better in cooler locations (Cornell also has some great options). But be patient upon planting Honeycrisp, since it can take a few years to get a good crop of fruit. Like most apples, they are grafted onto root stock, which can help control height and disease resistance. For backyard orchards, stick with smaller trees, for ease of pruning, such as dwarf or semi-dwarf. Standard trees can grow to 30+ feet tall, which makes pruning, picking and spraying a challenge. The University of Minnesota recommends a semi-dwarf root stock.

And now, as Honeycrisp turns 20, it is also the proud parent of other University of Minnesota apple introductions, like SweeTango (a cross of Honeycrisp and Zestar!). But because of patents, SweeTango trees will not be available commercially until 2026. You can find the apples in the grocery store, but expect to pay a lot (Honeycrisp also sell for a premium).

What's funny to me, as fall makes everyone go crazy over everything pumpkin, I've seen Honeycrisp products...namely the Method cleaning products who released Honeycrisp dish soap and spray cleaner (it was a limited release and is no longer available). I've also seen applesauce and cider. Fortunately, it's not to the frenzy of pumpkin, but it is a fun tribute to a truly great apple.
Celebrating 20 years of the Honeycrisp apple. Yum.