What a great way to welcome in 2012 with rain and cool weather. After the grueling triple digit temperatures for 60 days with no rain to soothe the parched ground, we are dancing in the ditches of water everywhere!

I will be posting a gardening article every month that will address inquiries we receive from gardeners and farmers. Yes, I said farmers and this is the term I use for the smart gardener who is transitioning to a healthier and sustainable way of life by learning how to grow and cultivate food crops for family, the healthy, organic way.


Drought, water restriction, and water conservation were words never used in the vocabulary of south east Texas residents. Along with drought and high temperatures, we experienced prolonged strong, summer winds that made our irrigation systems inefficient and wasteful. The drought and winds fueled wildfires and destroyed hectares of beloved forests and the animals that lived in them. What a wakeup call!

The year of 2011 will be remembered as the benchmark in history where we realized it was time to stop the waste (water), and learn how to use (organic over synthetic), repurpose (make soil healthy again), and preserve our natural resources. To kick off the New Year, I am creating The Smart Gardener’s Horticulture Forum and will solicit experts, gardeners, and farmers to help identify improper practices and techniques and articulate and educate best horticultural practices for 2012.

To start the year off on the right root, I must address a practice that supersedes the murdering of crape myrtles and that is proper maintenance and care of our landscape trees. Driving through neighborhoods, we see trees with soil piled 12-16” up the trunk, and the term “tree volcano” was born. When and how did this get started?? I don’t know when it started, but it became very obvious 3 to 4 years ago. What do you see when you look up and down the trunk of the “bonsai looking” tree?


One of the first things I see is wet, black streaks that run longitudally up and down the trunk. The second thing I see is strings of silvery-gray lichens growing up and down the trunk and I think this is a symptom of stress due to lack of oxygen at the roots. The third thing I see is a mound of mulch piled up along the trunk of the tree, hence the birth of the Mulch Volcano.

Trees and should always be planted and maintained at the same height they were grown. Placing soil or mulch on the exterior bark that never had soil or mulch on it creates a new problem such as softening of the bark, disease, fungus, rodent and insect damage. Here we have soil insects and organisms trying to breakdown this cambium layer of the tree. The tree responds to growing a thick layer of roots as the tree is trying to survive being buried alive!<   Why do we feel compelled to cover up the roots that resemble our fingers and knuckles? Do the corky and gnarly roots that creep along the top of the soil remind us of something ugly that must be covered up and also allow us to run a lawnmower over it without bending the shaft of the mower? REASONS TO PLANT TREES
1) Energy Conservation – deciduous trees placed on the south and west sides will shade the home and reduces summer electricity use WHILE in the winter, the leafless trees allow sun to warm the home.
2) Air Pollution- trees improve air quality through photosynthesis (trees breath-in carbon dioxide and exhale fresh air) removing toxic gases and reduce dust and pollen particulates.
3) Property Value – large healthy trees not only increase property values, but our quality of life.
4) Water Quality and Conservation – trees slow surface water run-off and reduce soil erosion
5) Wildlife Habitat – trees provide food and nesting sites for animals and birds.
6) Historical Time Line – trees can live for hundreds of years and are planted to commemorate a special date, such as marriage, birth, or death.

The answer is simple; plant trees when they are dormant (winter) and while we are getting rain is the ideal time because less of your time will be needed to get this new tree established. Always select recommended species for your soil type and sun exposure and make sure the trees are pest and disease free. How to plant a tree is shown in the diagram below.