Saturday, April 28, 2007

Saving Trees with Near-Fatal Damage

After the new yard guy nearly killed yet another two dogwood trees, I wanted to document what to do about it.
A few years ago I decided to grow dogwood trees from seeds. My research informed me that the seeds are inside the red berries dogwood trees get in the fall. I gathered and naturally dried them to make sure the seeds fully formed, and a month later soaked them and peeled off the dried flesh, revealing seeds looking much like little tiny walnuts. I again naturally dried them on a shelf.

In December I put them all in a ziplock bag along with a fully moistened but not dripping paper towel folded up, and resealed the first bag inside another just to ensure they would not dry out. Into the refrigerator they went. This mimicked their normal cold months outside in damp soil.

Around March I took them out of the bags, and gave them a quick whirl in the food processor. I was afraid I would grind them all up, but the information I had said it would only weaken the shells and help them sprout. The advice was good; they didn't grind up at all. I planted them all, and in a month or so had 55 baby dogwood trees.

I started planting them, mostly in my neighbors' yards after getting enthusiastic permission. And a lot of them have died. I have finally realized that their bark is quite tender, and various weed whackers, wielded by these neighbors, had killed them by stripping all the bark off all around the base of each.

One day I was on a construction site where new landscaping was going in, and some established 15-foot crape myrtles were going to be taken out. I asked for one, and the bulldozer operator dug one mostly out, and then yanked it the rest of the way up with a canvas strap tied around the base and attached to his dozer blade. When he yanked, all the bark at the base stripped loose, like a shirtsleeve torn in two at the elbow. It was the time of spring when the sap was still running in the cambium, which is the living layer of bark which transports water, nutrients, and life itself from the root to the branches and leaves. And I knew the completely torn cambium would cause the sure death of the tree. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, and aware that even if it died, the rootball would send forth vigorous new growth, I went on and loaded it on my truck, and headed for home. Transporting a 15-foot tree in a small truck is quite an adventure, by the way.

I went ahead and planted it. Then I got on the internet, searching for "tree wounds" and "damaged bark" and wasn't having much luck, but I stumbled onto a site explaining how to graft, and it mentioned using grafting wax. Aha!

I wound some sterile gauze around the torn "sleeve" of bark, coaxing the torn part back as close as I could get it to reuniting the top to the bottom of the bark. Then, having some beeswax on hand from another project, I melted it and slathered it all over the gauze, making sure to extend it onto undamaged bark all the way around above and below the bandage. I wanted it water tight where no air drying could get to the wound. I used beeswax for its reputed antibacterial properties.

As you can see, (below) the crape myrtle is fine. When I finally unwrapped the bandage (a bit prematurely, actually: in the autumn of that year. I should have waited; although essentially all was well) I saw that the cambium had grown like crazy under the bandage. It had rejoined the top and bottom of the torn area and reestablished a lifegiving bridge over the torn area!
So I have done the same with three baby dogwoods.


Anonymous said...

Excellent! I HATE weed whackers!


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