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Gardening For Wildlife Newsletter
April 19, 2010

Happy Birthday to me Yesterday (April 18).

56 years of youthfulness.

At least I'm young at heart and mind, all those years of pounding on the body are catching up with me way to fast.

Nothing special was planned, but a relaxing day with my family.

Where does is go?

Time that is.

We are more than half way through April already.

Daylight continues to grow longer.

Plants are popping up all over the place.

Birds and other wildlife are building nests, as the photos of the American robin and Cottontail rabbit are witness to.

Birds and other wildlife are building nests, as the photos of the American robin and Cottontail rabbit are witness to.

I snapped these images within a few minutes apart this past Wednesday through a window.

I have a shot of the bunny nest as well.

I'll let you know if she uses it, it is in a neighbor's yard.

Now, had I raked up all of the dead grass and last Autumn's leaves, I would not have been a witness to this part of nature.

I also enjoy birds foraging for food.

Food that wouldn't be there if beds and gardens were garden show clean.

I will keep preaching, "to keep the tools hidden if you want to attract more birds and or wildlife".

Sometimes you have to look at it from a bird's or a toad's or whatever's perspective.

That is all part of 'Gardening For Wildlife'.

Besides, it is much less work for you.

I take Keet for walks out in the field once in a while (I can do that this time of the year).

Forget about any photo shoots, she wont let me stand still long enough to take a single picture.

She is smelling every scent there is to sniff.

April still brings a huge change in temperatures and weather here in SW. Michigan.

This past week we hit 80 degrees once again on Thursday, followed by frost and freeze warnings over the weekend.

Experienced gardeners know not to jump the gun.

If you do however, have a back-up plan handy.

The warmer than usual temperatures have many plants a good two weeks ahead of schedule, and that includes the wildflowers (some pictured below).

You may notice more and more how the male ducks are hanging out together now (Pictured below). Seems like there is nothing better to do as the female is on her own from here on out.

All of those nice scenes or pictures of ducks you may see of a watchful drake keeping an eye on his lady is simply him keeping an eye out to make sure no other duck jumps his claim.

The thing is, he is always eager to do some claim jumping of his own.

No monogamous pairs here.

Wild violets are blooming as are the dainty looking Trout lily.

Serviceberry trees are in full bloom or were, before the wind on Friday knocked most of the petals down.

How do your gardens look?

Southern friends are planting or getting ready to plan.

For many of us in the northern regions, we have a good month before we are somewhat past the frost dates.

But we can still make plans and plant Cole crops or hardened off perennials and hardy pansies.

I have a few things like herbs in pots that I bring in on cold nights.

For container plants, be sure to feed them regularly.

It might be a good idea to dilute your plant food (if you use a liquid form) and feed them every time you water.

You see, every time you water, you leach out some of the nutrients and feeding them regularly keeps the plants fed all the time, not some fad diet where they starve a couple of weeks and then get a quick boost.

This week's topic is discussed many times on forums and brought to my personal attention.

So, I thought I would attempt to address the topic of DRY WELLS or TREE WELLS and building up landscapes around trees.

It is lengthy yet informative, especially if you plan to attempt a raised bed anytime soon.


You may have a tree that is getting to large to work around, or you want to improve or alter the landscape for aesthetic or other reasons.

Maybe you want to make an area look a bit more natural for your wildlife gardens, but you don't want to harm your tree(s).

After all, that tree may have memories of children or grandchildren playing in it.

You may remember way back when, when you first planted it.

It may be a one of a kind in your neighborhood.

The tree may be priceless in many ways, but you need to do something.

It could be that your back or knees can't handle the bending over anymore and you want a raised bed to work in.

It could be you just moved into your new digs and something isn't quite right in the landscaping.

The value of shade alone may be worth the effort.

Grade changes are frequently necessary while building sites are being prepared for construction.

Often the building site has been chosen because of the presence of mature trees.

However, any change in grade around existing trees can have a marked effect on their survival and future growth.

Unless corrective steps are taken immediately, lowering the grade exposes the existing root system to the air and reduces the supply of nutrients and moisture available to the roots.

Raising the grade or soil level over existing roots can have an even greater effect on the future growth and survival of existing trees.

Pay attention now...............................

When fill of any type is placed over the existing root system, it causes a reduction in the oxygen supply to the tree roots and slows down the rate of gas exchange between the roots and the air in the soil pore space.

Both oxygen and water are essential to the growth, development and nutrient uptake of the roots.

Yes, tree do breathe oxygen through their roots (and you thought they breathed in carbon dioxide only).

Many of the soil organisms also utilize the water and oxygen in their normal growth processes.

Lack of oxygen in the soil may result in accumulation of noxious gases and chemicals detrimental to good growth.

When this occurs, the feeder roots fail to develop, the root system and the above-ground portion of the tree begin to decline.

Many factors (including tree species, depth and type of fill, drainage, soil structure below the fill and the general vigor of the existing tree) have a determining influence upon the time it takes for the above-ground symptoms to appear.

It might take anywhere from several months to as much as 3 to 5 years before death or damage of a tree would occur, but it will happen.

Determining Feasibility of Preventing Injury:

When the grade around an established tree is being raised, careful consideration should be given to methods of preventing injury to the tree before the fill is made rather than attempt to take correction measures after the damage has been done.

While the initial cost may be high, preventing damage is always cheaper and more effective than attempting to correct the situation after the damage has been done.

Yes, this can get costly.

Several important factors should be considered in attempting to determine whether the cost of saving the tree is worth the effort and expense of making the installations necessary to prevent or reduce extent of injury.

Density of Tree Population.

Where trees are scarce, any attempt to save one or two sound trees is usually worthwhile.

If you have numerous trees on the property, then you may not feel that the cost to save one or two in the immediate construction site is justified.

Species and Variety.

Some of the fast-growing, short-lived trees like Poplars may not be worth the cost of trying to save them.

But a good healthy tree that is mature or adapted to the area, with a long life expectancy, is difficult to replace.

For such trees, the expense of providing the necessary protection can frequently be justified.

Age and Vigor of Existing Trees.

The condition of the tree is an important factor in determining its worth.

If it has many large cavities, has been severely damaged by lightning or storm or has lived out a normal life span, it is difficult to justify the expense and labor necessary to save the trees.

This is especially true if there is danger of losing it to other causes. But a young, vigorous tree, if attractive and well placed, would be valuable enough to save.

Proper Installation of Fill Around Existing Trees.:

Okay, this is where the rubber hits the pavement.

This where the work real work begins.

Do it your self or contract out.

You should remove or kill off all vegetation, including sod and underbrush beneath the branch spread of the tree.

Organic matter, as it decomposes beneath a soil fill, can create noxious gases detrimental to the tree roots.

In the past I've mentioned to loosen the top surface, and here is why.

The top 3 to 6 inches of the soil surface should be cultivated or broken up carefully so as to disturb the least possible amount of roots.

This treatment allows better contact with the fill soil and prevents a sharp line of demarcation between the existing soil surface and the fill (removes that invisable barrier so air and water flows more freely).

Building Your Dry Well:

I'm sorry I don't have drawing or pictures of this, They wouldn't scan from My MCN (Michigan Certified Nurseryman) books.

I'm sure you can find something at a Lowe's, The Home Depot or something like that.

Possibly Google it as well.


As a retainer around the trunk, an open-joint wall of landscape timber, rock, masonry or brick in a circle or hexagon around the tree trunk should be constructed with at least 1 to 2 feet between the trunk and the wall.

The wall should be as high as the top of the new grade and slope away from your tree, you don't want runoff back into the Dry Well.

The completed opening is commonly referred to as a tree well or dry well.

If poor drainage or standing water is an issue, you can do something about that, but this get time consuming and costly.

An aeration system can be constructed using 4-inch agricultural clay tile or 4-inch perforated plastic pipe arranged in 5 to 6 horizontal lines radiating from the tree well like spokes in a wheel to a point beyond the branch spread.

The radial line should be installed so they slope from the tree trunk, allowing excess moisture to drain away.

The outer ends of the radiating system should be connected with a circle of tile or perforated plastic pipe.

To provide vents, 4 or 6-inch plastic pipe or bell tile can be placed upright over the junction of the radial lines with the circle.

These upright tiles should extend to the surface of the planned grade level and can be held in place with coarse gravel or stone.

The low end of the aeration system should be extended to a curb, storm drain or sump to carry off excess moisture.

The exposed soil and the tile system should be covered with rock or coarse gravel to a depth of 6 to 18 inches, depending on the amount of fill, followed by a covering layer of gravel.

To prevent soil from filtering into the gravel and stone, a thin layer of straw, woven plastic or other porous material can be placed over the gravel and then filled in with good top soil to the desired or finished grade.

Placing sufficient coarse gravel in the tree well to cover the ends of the lines opening into the well will discourage rodents from eating the system.

Coarse gravel can also be placed in the upright bell tile and covered with a screen of grill to prevent rodents from making nests in the tile system.

A tree well can be left open. However, for safety purposes, it may be covered with a wooden deck or a metal grill. The well can also be filled with a mixture of coarse sand and charcoal (50% each, by volume) to within several inches of the top.

This mixture can be covered with pea gravel, decorative bark or other attractive material to allow good air movement into the tile system.

An alternate method can be used where not over 30 inches of fill will be used, and where internal soil drainage is good.

In this approach, no tile or perforated pipe is used, only gravel.

Again, all sod and underbrush must be removed, the soil surface broken up above the roots, and any needed fertilizer applied.

Starting at the outer extremities of the branches, apply from 3 to 6 inches of coarse gravel or crushed stone.

The depth towards the trunk of the tree should be increased gradually until it is 8 to 12 inches or deeper within 2 feet of the trunk.

The gravel can reach the surface of the fill in the area extending 2 feet around the trunk of the tree The gravel can be covered with a thin layer of straw, woven plastic or other porous material to keep soil from filtering into the coarse gravel and sealing the air spaces.

Some good top soil should be spread over the area to the desired depth.

If good, well-drained top soil is used in making the fill, the method described in this section will provide adequate aeration for normal root activity and tree growth.

If you are building up only a foot or so, you still need a Tree Well.

However, if the currant sight doesn't flood or retain water, there is no real need for all of the extras.

Corrective Steps to Take After a Fill Was Made :

If a fill has been in place long enough for visual symptoms of tree deterioration to occur, little can be done to save the tree.

In cases where the fill has been made recently or where no serious damage has occurred, some corrective action can be taken.

If the increase is less than 12 inches, it is possible to remove soil around the tree trunk down to the original soil level for a radius of 2 feet beyond the trunk.

A dry well should be installed around the trunk to hold the fill soil in place.

Starting about two feet out from the dry well, holes should be drilled or dug every 2 feet beneath the branch spread.

A 6-inch tile or plastic pipe should be inserted and then filled with coarse gravel to allow free air and gas exchange in the root zone.

This will usually suffice for a shallow fill.

Where deeper fills have been made, it may be necessary to install a tile and gravel aeration system as described previously.

The soil around the tree trunk should be excavated to the original grade with radial trenches extending to the outer limits of the branches.

A well should be constructed around the trunk to keep back the soil.

The radical trenches should be joined with a circular trench located at the dip line of the branches.

The depth of the trenches should be dug to the original grade line and the system should slope sufficiently to provide good drainage away from the tree trunk.

In order to carry off surplus moisture, it may be necessary to extend the radial line on the down hill side to a natural drain or into a sump or cistern.

A 4-inch agricultural tile or perforated plastic pipe should be installed and covered with gravel before replacing the soil back to the new grade line.

The installation will be identical to that described previously, except the installation will have been made after the fill was installed.

Because there can be no assurance that a tree will recover from the damage already done, careful consideration must be given to the value of the tree in the landscape before expensive corrective measures are undertaken.

The tree would have to be extremely attractive, valuable or have significant historical value to justify the expense of these corrective measures since success is not assured.

The preventive measures outlined in this publication will in most cases insure the continued life and usefulness of the tree.

The decision the property owner must make after evaluating the aesthetic or landscape value of the tree and the cost of installation is whether the tree is worth the cost and effort involved.

The work will wait while you show the child the rainbow, but the rainbow won't wait while you finish the work.

Pat Clifford

I don't think the author of this quote is just referring to rainbows and work.

Some how I think there is more to this.

Are you to caught up with your work that you don't have time for rainbows or sunsets?

Are you to caught up with your work that you are to busy for your children or grand children.

Before you know it, they are grown up and you are still busy working away.

How many rainbows will you miss if you don't spend important time on some little things (like kids).

How many tears and skinned knees will you miss out on?

How many smiles will you never see because you are to busy?

Back in 1974, Harry Chapin had a hit song out called 'The Cat's in the Cradle'.

You may recall, how dad was always to busy, but the son worshipped dad and wanted to be with him and said he was going to be like his dad.

Well, their son grew up and wouldn't you know.............................. dad had time now and wanted to spend some time with his son.

The son grew up just like dad and was now to busy for dad.

All this time, rainbows were being missed.

Time together and smiles never shared.

Yes, work is important, but not so important that we miss out on what and who is really important in life.

SMILE my friend.

Take time for your GOD.

Make time for your family and friends.

Smile and make memories, not I wish I woulda's.

Smile and start today.

Rainbows don't last forever, but the work will be there.




Now share your smiles.

Until next time

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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