A Chat with Your Tree

"Yo!"

"Huh?"

"You with the lawnmower. Turn that thing off and talk to me."

"My tree is talking to me? Is this some kind of sick joke?"

"No joke. I don't have a mouth, but I've got bark, right? Ha ha!"

"O.K., where's the hidden camera? I'm not dumb enough to fall for this!"

"You look dumb enough to me! Especially considering the way you've been treating me."

"I don't think this is very funny. I'm calling the cops."

"I'll tell them how you hurt me. Then you'll be the one in trouble."

"Don't you theaten me, you slab of cellulose! I've got a chain saw!"

"Simmer down. Let's let's talk this over man-to-tree. I've got problems you need to know about."

"Problems? You're outdoors all day while I'm cooped up in an office! Your life is a picnic compared to mine! And when have I ever hurt you?"

"I don't know where to start. See all this grass growing around me? Do you have any idea what that does to me?"

"Uh, no idea, I guess."

"Let me tell you! For one thing, the lawn underneath me hogs all the water during droughts. I'm practically dying of thirst sometimes!"

"Huh. Really?"

"No lie. I get so thirsty I start to shut down. Then I don't have enough energy to defend myself."

"Defend yourself? From what....dogs?"

"I can put up with dogs; not that I like being used that way. But the fungi really scare me!"

"You mean like mushrooms?"

"The fungi I worry about are the sneaky ones. They get through my bark and start to attack my insides. And when I'm weak from stress, the fungi can really hurt me bad!"

"How bad?"

"See my big branch hanging over your house? I used to be real proud of that one, but it's sick now. The fungi attacked it last summer when I was hurting from drought stress. The pathologists call them canker fungi because they kill the bark. I call them nasty little microbes."

"I can see why. Are you going to drop that branch on my roof?"

"Not if you start paying attention to me. Look down at the base of my trunk. Am I missing any
bark down there?"

"Uh-oh, there's a big patch missing. I remember scraping that spot with the mower a couple of
years ago."

"And it hasn't healed over, has it? How would you like to have a gaping wound for two years?"

"No thanks. Gee, I'm sorry."

"It's a bit late for apologies. Fungi and insects invaded me where you pulled off my bark.
Now I'm starting to get, you know....butt rot."

"That sounds awful. I feel responsible!"

"You are. How could you treat your own tree so thoughtlessly!"

"O.K., so I'm guilty. What can I do to make it up to you?"

"You can start by getting rid of all this awful grass under me. I'd much rather have a nice blanket
of wood chips or shredded bark. My roots love the moist, cool environment under the mulch.
And when my roots are happy, I'm happy. And I won't get an anxiety attack whenever you roll
out the lawnmower."

"I don't know. What will my neighbors think?"

"Do your neighbors shade your house like I do?"

"Good point. How much mulch do you want?"

"If you put on a 5- or 6-inch layer of mulch, it'll settle down quickly to a 3-to 4-inch depth; that's
just right. It'll keep the weeds down, too. The mulch layer should start near the trunk and end
under the outer tips of my branches. You don't have to dig up the grass first; just kill it with a
nonselective herbicide a few weeks before you mulch."

"Some people pile mulch against the trunks of their trees. How would that make you feel?"

"Rotten!! My bark can't stand to be wet all the time, but that's what happens when mulch is
piled against it. I start decaying. It's...gross!"

"O.K., no mulch against the trunk."

"Just give me a mulch-free zone for a few inches around the trunk. If my bark can dry out,
I'm a much happier maple."

"Anything else your heartwood desires?"

"One more thing. When the weather turns dry in the summer and fall, I'd really appreciate
being watered thoroughly about once a week. Don't bother with deep-root watering, since most
of my active roots are in the top foot of the soil. A sprinker or a soaker hose works better."

"Should I hug you now?"

"I'd like that. And thanks for caring. I feel healthier already!"

This article originally appeared in the June 26, 1998 issue, pp. 85-86.

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