Ode to the Ash

Jim GrabowskiIt is not without deep regret I write this. It’s only this winter that I could accept the diagnosis and came to understand how serious and hopeless the situation has become for Northern Michigan’s ash trees. The ash is one of my favorite trees. I was a kid [...]

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An Interview with the Elberta Alert about the Frankfort Tree Board

“The Alert spoke with Bonnie Warren of the Frankfort Tree Board and Jim Grabowski, tree wrangler extraordinaire, ahead of the 8th Annual Arbor Day event at 9:30 a.m. this Friday, April 29. With children, parents, and city officials looking on, a maple will be planted at Frankfort–Elberta Elementary School, where the first of these sylvan celebrations took place in 2004. Frankfort has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City again this year for the seventh time, and it’s the sixth year they’ve earned a foundation Growth Award. The 2011 Tree City poster was made from an oil painting of the Frankfort beach cannon by the artist Joan Miller. It’s titled Lonely Vigil, and is available for $15 at City Hall, the Bookstore, and Java 429.

The Elberta Alert: What variety of maple will be planted Friday, and why maple?

Jim Grabowski: It’ll probably be an autumn blaze. They’re fast-growing and quickly become good shade trees; they’re a cross between a silver and a red maple, but they have red leaves only in the fall. We usually can’t find big enough sugar maples, and they’re slower growing—we usually plant a twelve-foot, two-inch caliper tree.

EA: How did you get involved with Frankfort and the Tree Board?”

Read the full interview at the Elberta Alert

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Reflection on Arbor Day

This article originally ran in the Benzie County Record Patriot in the spring of 2009.

The earth is more and more in need of our help to bring back balance to our environment. Whether we are a mega-industrialist, or a hermit in the woods we all consume for our necessities and extravagances. Emerson said, “We are all consumers, but ought to be producers.” The greatest challenge of our time is to bridge the gap between consuming and producing.

One of the most significant ways we can contribute to our environment is the planting and caring of trees. Trees are one of the most dynamic contributors to setting back the balance from the wear and tear of civilization. Arbor Day reminds us at least once a year to reflect on some of those benefits from trees.

  1. The oxygen in the air we breath is from plants. Trees are giant contributors. Recently, my youngest child reasoned that with all the evergreens around us they must add ginormously to our fresh air in the winter. Imagine the abundant fresh air we have in the summer when the deciduous trees are in full leaf.
  2. Our environment is made of overlapping cycles of nature. One of these is the water cycle. In trees, the water is raised up in the leaves in the form of sap. What great water distribution without pumps or pressure. The trees raise and lower thousands of gallons each season to every leaf even against gravity and purifying what comes to the ground as rain and out the leaves through transpiration.
  3. Now we come to the most significant contribution trees give to this planet: the securing of carbon. The trees capture C02 and sunlight and then transform this to carbon and secures it in its leaves, stems, and roots. This carbon is released every autumn to enrich the soil. This carbon is stored as wood and can provide heat for our homes, shade to cool our homes, and material for building our homes. This same carbon formed long ago from algae and primal forests now power much of our civilization. It stands to reason that the adverse effects of ancient carbon release can be offset by the planting and caring for trees.

As spring unfolds and all the trees put forth new leaves, whorls of needles, and another layer of wood, think what all-around benefactors these good neighbors are. Let us raise a hand (or shovel) to see what we can do to protect, plant, and nurture these life-sustaining gifts from the trees.

Let us not walk the middle line of passive tree-huggers, but let us become active participants in the trees’ futures. It is the biggest gain for the soil, water, and air as well as humans, plants, and animals. It is one of the greatest legacies we can leave as our part of our journey on this planet.

Click here to learn more about Arbor Day.

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Gauging Your Tree’s Health

This article was originally published in The Betsie Current, an every-two-weeks-or-so summer newspaper, on June 29th, 2005.

By Jim Grabowski

Stressed by unknown factors, an ancient maple (Acer saccharum) has bare limbs.

Stressed by unknown factors, an ancient maple (Acer saccharum) has bare limbs. Photo by Ellen MacDonald.

As I look upon this refulgent summer I am amazed by the significance trees play in our lives. What first comes to mind as the temperatures soar to the 90s? What great shade! Then thermal dynamics take us up into the leafy bowers and lift not only the sweat from our brown but our spirits as well. We who would praise these qualities of our largest living neighbors must have reverence for them because of our interdependence.

In the same way we trust a newly planted tree to make a healthy start and produce lush growth, the trees trust us for their very survival on our shared ground. Trees planted by people, or put there by nature are a joy to our senses. But when trees don’t look as good as they should we have to ask: what’s up?  Can trees, like people, become stressed? Yes, but that is not always the diagnosis. The rooted nature of a tree allows us to judge its good or adverse environments.

Start by dealing with the competition from other trees either for shade or by using up the available nutrients and water. This kind of s stress is easily managed by providing more space between trees and allowing more room in the canopy for light. Trees that have adequate light may have insufficient water. Do we have inches of rain a week throughout summer? Not this season by a long stretch. Diligently watering your trees can greatly affect their long term survivability and vigor.

Generally a one-inch caliper takes alone year to establish and a three-inch diameter tree takes three years.

Watering with lawn sprinklers is seldom enough for new trees. They need buckets of water frequently to keep the ground saturated. Providing nutrients can not be overlooked for proper growth. Use balanced fertilizers either late fall or during  active growth in spring. Use caution not to overfeed and do use tree appropriate plant food. Conifers 9pines, spruces, cedars) use evergreen food. Flowering tress and leafy shade trees use deciduous tree fertilizers.

Damage from lawn mowers and week whackers, or the compression of feeder roots by mechanical equipment and back fill used in driveways are all factors that stress the health of a tree. Mulching one to four feet out from the tree truck can help provide distance from harm. Rodents, deer, and insects can do great damage that is not always obvious. How many times did I look at a slowly dying crab apple tree until I realized, too late, that it was girdled two winters before by some rodent? Deer browse until the ree can lo longer keep up with shoots and leaves. This is particularly tree for certain types of trees like cedar, fruit trees, and many other shrubs and perennials.

Red Maple "Scarlet Maple", "Swamp Maple"  (Acer rubrum)

Red Maple "Scarlet Maple", "Swamp Maple" (Acer rubrum)

Insects invade tress more frequently when one or more of the previous symptoms haven’t been addressed. Most trees with a dose of nurturing are not, and do not become, easy prey for major defoliating attacks. Some problems can be solved vigorous hose spraying with water only, or dish soap and water application.


Looking about as I drove this early evening I saw numerous dead trees along the roadsides: dead elms with their stark vase-like silhouettes; dying and dead Lombardy poplars with their needle-like forms plant as windbreaks; and ancient maples with one-half of the tree in dieback. All these trees have run their course. The poplars just don’t live long. The elms could not hack it and the old maples were planted a120 years ago when shade was indispensable for horse and rider. They’ve out grown themselves. The laws in early last century provided that the 66-foot right-of-ways were planted with shade threes. What good spacing, what great foresight. In this century the giants will need much more care or the will be less common.

One last thought, whether it’s a well-established tree or newly planted, can we identify (by name) the trees we are observing? Do we see a pine or is it a spruce?

Do we know the difference between a hard maple, or a soft maple? How easy is it to identify a birch, yet we seldom take the next step to really know these great creatures. Hopefully the tress in our lives will become like old friends and we will seek them out in all season to re-acquaint ourselves with them.

“It is unwise to rely on the neighbors’ trees for  a windbreak. One never knows when the neighbor will decide to cut off the timber.” -Fred C. Sears


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