Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to Become Unstumped or the Woe of the Woodchip

KCB is a professional gardener and friend who does wonderful work in the Greater Portland area. KCB is also an accredited Master Gardener by the Cooperative Extension Service and we are honored to have KCB as part of our Skillin's Garden Log family. KCB can also be found at the awesome Finishing Touches website.

It seems we Mainers have a love/hate relationship w/our trees. We love them, especially the grand old Pines, Oaks, or Birches, when they are healthy. We hate them when storms such as the infamous ‘Ice Storm of 1998’, ‘Patriot’s Day Storm of 2007’ and various wind storms leave them week, damaged or completely felled. This past February Cumberland County was given another blow.

Everywhere I go, I hear the buzz of chain saws, and/or the roar of stump grinders. It seems every gust of wind wreaks more havoc. It is rumored that many of the trees that continue to break, snap and even uproot received their first hit during that devastating ’98 Ice Storm. Those who are lucky, say good-by to the tree without saying good-bye to roof, auto or worse. With all serious damages repaired; the tree may have been cut, and removed without a trace. That is, except for one element. The Stump?

In some situations, the stump will be left to the slow process of decaying naturally. Nice for the edge of woodland setting, even perfect when moss finds a home on the stump’s remains. Not recommended if you want out with the past, in with the new. Say you want to take advantage of the newly acquired sunny location and install a new bed flaunting flora and loosing the lawn. You may consider installing a fine tree specimen to pay homage to the one that stood before. For those who love to mow, you feel glee at not having to duck under branches. In these cases you are stumped with what to do with the stump. It must go.

Now, allow me to back up, leave the tree work to the professional; an arborist. Ask that the trunk be cut back as close to the ground as possible. Next step is to grind that stump. Again, best left to the services of a professional. Once removed you can begin to plan then plant.

Ready to go! What is this you see? The stump is gone but in its wake is left another dilemma. Mounds of chips and dust. Stumped again?

There are many ways of dealing with what remains of the once mighty oak, maple or birch, some people incorporate the dust by turning it in to the top layer of soil, and others will simply spread the minute chips and dust as a base for new loam. Of course, any planting is going to include a recipe of blending organic seashell compost, such as Coast of Maine Penobscot Blend, with the existing soil. A third element bagged top soil or screened loam can be included in the mix. Especially if the level of the bed is to be raised or a considerable divot was left behind. Want to go one further, use layers of newspapers as the bed foundation. . Good hole, good mix, good watering should be good to go?

Still, no! Having such projects ahead of me I wanted to do some further research. What I discovered brought to light that wood chips and or dust mixed in w/the soil will rob the soil of nitrogen.

Make sure a fertilizer rich in nitrogen is incorporated into the mix. Look for a fertilizer with the first number; the ‘N’ of the N-P-K trio as the highest. Espoma Tree-tone is a good choice. Blood meal can also be used as it is nitrogen based only. As with any fertilizer or soil amendment follow the manufactures use and handling instructions as stated on the package.

Fresh wood shavings require microbial action from the soil along with a sufficient amount of nitrogen within the soil to "breakdown" or "decompose". During the process nitrogen is taken from the soil and away from your trees and plants. It can also be said for over applying bark mulch. I’ll deal with this subject in the spring……….

In situations where the soil hasn’t been tested or you are going to great expense, not to mention time, to recreate the landscape, begin with a soil test. Obtain a kit from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. or from the Maine Soil Testing Lab—call (207) 581-3591.

Once all is prepped and planted make sure you take the time to sit back and enjoy. The new landscape may have allowed room for a sitting area. Why not a traditional Adirondack chair? And for some whimsy, a section of tree or stump as a place to rest your foot.

KCB for Skillin's Greenhouses
August 4, 2010

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