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Help with tuliptree infested with scale, aphids, and mealybugs

Patty Aguayo


Joined: Apr 20, 2012
Posts: 5
Location: Sunnyvale, CA, USA
Dear permies,

I wanted to introduce myself and request any help or perspective on this problem below. I'm Patty and I've had some exposure to gardening, organic farming, and permaculture ideas from a natural living forum I participate on but no experience or training of my own. I'm new to all of this, and what I could most use help with is understanding permaculture ideas for how to approach the following problem. I'd appreciate any gentle insight and education, and resources anyone has to share about this situation below ...

The tree in front of our house is a beloved tuliptree which has given many children shade while they play. We are very attached to this tree. A little bit naively, and wanting to be green and live sustainably, we stopped watering and maintaining our lawns for several years. We are new to gardening and lawn care (much less sustainable lawn care), and we didn't mind the dandelions and oxalis, and the original grass dying -- but we never anticipated that the trees would be affected. With some dismay, we detected an infestation late last year and thought it disappeared over the mild winters (in California here). But this year it seems to have progressed. We've been told that a water stressed tree will yield to an infestation so I make a causative link here between stopping watering and the infestation. We have resumed watering regularly, and have switched to a less frequent deep watering (learned about this from the lazy lawn care links that I found on permies.com).

My husband has posted some photos here:
http://aguayophoto.com/tree/

You'll see that there is a "hole" in the canopy of the tree now and there are some close-up shots of infested branches, as well as shiny leaves coated in honeydew. You'll also see the size of the tree (just in case this might help with ideas for how to intervene, it's such a tall tree).

Just wondering from a permaculture perspective what you might consider when faced with this. When to let it go, when to intervene, and how? What principles do you consider when doing this?

If you've read this far, thank you.

And thank you in advance for any help,
Patty
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3702
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  77
Welcome to permies Patty
Where are you? It would be great if you added some location/climate info.
Here's how: go into 'my profile', page top, right, expand 'general info about yourself' and enter useful stuff.
You can put info in your signature if you like, which is at the bottom of 'general info about yourself'.
Without knowing your climate, or the species, I'm just taking a guess with the help of Professor Wiki
You mention dryness and it looks like that species is particularly partial to moist soil with unusually high fertility and organic matter. So I imagine the tree's extremely stressed.
Many people have grass right up to tree's trunks and grass sucks up a lot of water and nutritients. I suggest watering really heavily for ages, laying loads of compost/organic matter and topping it with very thick mulch. We're talking all the way to the dripline, not a tight cicle around the trunk.
It's really important to keep any compost, mulch etc well away from the trunk, or the tree may get collar-rot.
Jeanine Gurley
steward

Joined: May 23, 2011
Posts: 1392
Location: Midlands, South Carolina Zone 7b/8a
    
  10
Praying Mantis and ladybugs. They would love this feast. Other than that I think you are doing well to reduce watering. Tulip trees can become somewhat drought resistant if they develop a a good root system - that can only happen if they have to dig deep for water.


1. my projects
wayne stephen
steward

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1565
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
    
  87
We have tulip poplars here in Kentucky - State tree - 40plus inches of rain . Tulip poplars like a moist soil and grow well near creekbanks . If I lived in SoCal
{ I used to } I would plant an Avocado. Your tulip may be too weak there and now open to attack. It sure grew nice for awhile though. If you have to cut it down it would make good wood for hugelbeds. Anytime I grew anything in SoCal and it was wrong for the site it was just destroyed by aphids.


Permaculture is CPR for the planet !


Tony Gurnoe


Joined: Mar 15, 2012
Posts: 21
Location: Encinitas, California
Leila has some good advice. Unfortunately these trees are particularly prone to honeydew secreting insects and treating a tree that size with anything is impractical. Your best bet is to do everything in your power to meet the trees needs and help it to grow healthy and vigorous. With an infestation that bad it's only a matter of time before some of our insect friends like lacewings, parasitic wasps, lady beetles, etc hear the blaring dinner bell.
Patty Aguayo


Joined: Apr 20, 2012
Posts: 5
Location: Sunnyvale, CA, USA
Thank you so much everyone for your suggestions about how to restore the tree to health. And Leila, thank you for the welcome

In case it's helpful, my location is in the south Bay Area, Northern California in a suburban residential area. And my guess as to the species is (I think) the same as Leila guessed on Wikipedia - Liriodendron tulipifera, based on images of the flower and leaves. It is about two stories tall, and my best guess on its age based on the history of previous homeowners is that it is 40 years old. As for our climate, it is usually dry and hot in summertime, and it reaches 100F for a few days. Winters are mild, rarely colder than 30F. Winters and springs are wet and rainy.

1) A few years ago, my husband and I stopped maintaining and watering the lawn, telling ourselves, "let's just allow this land to be the way it's suppoesed to be." Whenever we saw a dandelion, we told ourselves, "Well that's what's supposed to grow here." And when the ground became hard and dusty, we said, "That's what the ground would usually look like in this climate." And now we are pretty attached to this tree so we are faced with a major decision whether to support this tree and give it the nourishment it needs, even if it means replicating another climate. We also want to make a balanced decision, taking into account human preferences, but also the health of the local wildlife, including birds, insects, microrganisms, etc. I know what the humans prefer but I'm not very attuned to the environment around here and don't know how to read this. I have so many questions: How does it impact the local environment to have a non-native shade tree in it? Or the same tree being there but no longer being watered? Or the same tree being infested? Or removed? Is there any scenario where it would be best to do nothing and allow the infestation and water stress to continue, and not intervene? Any wild guesses as to what would most benefit the surrounding environment? (I'm telling myself that the aphids and scale have a right to eat too. But then my understanding of all of this is so incomplete.) Does permaculture philosophy inform this -- decisions when tweaking an already established urban residential environment? Or could I be misunderstanding permaculture, maybe it is more for designing new sustainable systems from scratch? Is there any principle I can draw on like, it is usually most beneficial to support mature landscaping in urban environments because, most likely, the ecosystem has already changed to support it? Or anything like that? Hmmm ... Maybe I've misunderstood permaculture completely?

2) I'm very new to all of this and I wasn't familiar with the word dripline Leila mentioned. I read up on it and I realized that the canopy of the tree covers almost the whole yard, and the rest of our property is covered in concrete. Some sources I read said that the roots within the dripline are for support, and those outside of it are for absorbing water. Would you all agree? If yes, what might that mean for the long-term health of the tree? Will it be able to grow and keep absorbing water with all the concrete around? (Is its health going to be sustainable, or if I help it through this infestation, is it just postponing the inevitable?)

3) Finally, I have sought the advice of a local Master Gardener. Would anyone happen to know if the Master Gardener program (I think it is nationwide in the US) is informed by permaculture principles?

Thank you all for reading my questions and for your patience as I try to understand permaculture. I welcome any insight ...

Patty
Tony Gurnoe


Joined: Mar 15, 2012
Posts: 21
Location: Encinitas, California
The master gardeners here are a UC program but unfortunately you'll be lucky to find one who knows what the word permaculture means.
Imo just letting things go as they may is not permaculture. For example if you have a lawn you no longer want I would suggest you tear it out or smother it a la lasagna gardening. If you're not watering throughout the summer then you may want to look into native plants from your area. This is becoming popular down here in SoCal because water rates keep increasing. If you instead were to begun treating this tree the way it wants then it will likely survive the infestation. Permaculture definitely strives to work with nature not against but in your case the scenario is already unnatural. A foreign tree in a lawn in a suburb in a Mediterranean climate is so far from the natural state that just dropping out to let this yard follow the natural course is not what I would suggest. It certainly would establish some type of natural balance but it make take a lot longer than you're willing to wait and end with sub par results as far as suburan aesthetics are concerned. It is certainly within the practices of permaculture to nudge natural processes along in the desired direction.

P.s. Hard and dusty are two adjectives you do not want to describe your soil. Work on increasing the organic matter content in the soil which will also increase the complexity of the soil food web which has all sorts of benefits... Improved soil structure, lessened runoff, less pollution, less erosion, more retention of fertility, improved C.e.c. I could go on and on.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3702
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  77

Yip, I think the roots extend way beyond the dripline, but the feeder-roots close to the surface do most of the work re water and nutrients and they start right from the trunk outwards, so while concrete covering the outer roots isn't ideal, it's unlikely to be a major problem.
I agree with other posters: the tree's in an alien climate and to be happy, it will need lots more care than local species.
You'll need to provide extra water and fertility. I think a good mulch will make a massive difference.
Just a thought, but maybe you could run a greywater line out to the tree after you've improved soil fertility and mulch?
Canopy covers the whole yard you say? So the entire 'lawn' has a tree shading it? Sounds like a great opportunity to ditch the grass, mulch the entire area and put in shade/dry tolerant plants! It can look really good. I'm a big advocate of getting rid of impractical lawns, so I'm biased...
I find comfrey, spring bulbs, alliums, columbine, calendula, clover and lots of other things do well under trees in my climate.
Patty Aguayo


Joined: Apr 20, 2012
Posts: 5
Location: Sunnyvale, CA, USA
Tony, I appreciated your reply. I've been away from my computer on a busy week but wanted you to know that I found it helpful and it's given me a lot of food for thought.
Allan Babb


Joined: Mar 18, 2012
Posts: 61
Location: Greater New Orleans, LA, USA
Tony Gurnoe wrote:The master gardeners here are a UC program but unfortunately you'll be lucky to find one who knows what the word permaculture means.


While I'm not in california, I am a Master Gardener. Several of us know about permaculture in my area. Just figure I'd let you know that not everyone is in the dark =p


USDA Hardiness Zone 9a
Subtropical/temperate, Average annual rainfall of 61.94", hot and humid!
Patty Aguayo


Joined: Apr 20, 2012
Posts: 5
Location: Sunnyvale, CA, USA
Leila Rich wrote:
Canopy covers the whole yard you say? So the entire 'lawn' has a tree shading it? Sounds like a great opportunity to ditch the grass, mulch the entire area and put in shade/dry tolerant plants! It can look really good. I'm a big advocate of getting rid of impractical lawns, so I'm biased...
I find comfrey, spring bulbs, alliums, columbine, calendula, clover and lots of other things do well under trees in my climate.


Thank you, Leila! Yes, your description is accurate. I'm considering making changes like this and I appreciate your input.
Patty Aguayo


Joined: Apr 20, 2012
Posts: 5
Location: Sunnyvale, CA, USA
Allan Babb wrote:
While I'm not in california, I am a Master Gardener. Several of us know about permaculture in my area. Just figure I'd let you know that not everyone is in the dark =p


Hi Allan,

Just curious, does your knowledge about permaculture change any of the advice you normally give as an MG? I'm just curious about that ...

I consulted with the local MG hotline and received a long email with advice to care for the tree -- trimming, horticultural oil, setting up a drip irrigation or soaker hose system, water it for several hours every month. Invite predators, set up a bird bath. Set up plants that attract the scale/aphids predators. I wonder if that's along the lines of permaculture too?

Patty
Allan Babb


Joined: Mar 18, 2012
Posts: 61
Location: Greater New Orleans, LA, USA
Patty Aguayo wrote:

Hi Allan,

Just curious, does your knowledge about permaculture change any of the advice you normally give as an MG? I'm just curious about that ...

I consulted with the local MG hotline and received a long email with advice to care for the tree -- trimming, horticultural oil, setting up a drip irrigation or soaker hose system, water it for several hours every month. Invite predators, set up a bird bath. Set up plants that attract the scale/aphids predators. I wonder if that's along the lines of permaculture too?

Patty


Most of those recommendations would fall under the cultural practices that permaculturalists would use(wildlife watering hole, trimming(coppicing) for plant health, plants to attract beneficial insects). I'm honestly not sure where trap cropping falls in permaculture, but it is a method of working with nature rather than against her. Horticultural oil(made from petroleum), obviously isn't. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are arguable(I use drip irrigation for my raised bed veggies only, and they can save a lot of water especially if you use it at the appropriate time..which is early morning before the sun..for me that's about 4am).

It basically falls down to the 3 basic principles of permaculture: Care for the Earth, Human Care and Fair Share. If what you're trying to accomplish doesn't go against one of those 3, then it should be okay.

This is our mission as MGs: To increase the public’s love for and knowledge of gardening and responsible stewardship of the environment.

As you can see, they aren't mutually exclusive. Increasing the public's love and knowledge of gardening could fall under people care, and the responsible stewardship definitely falls under care for the earth. I guess fair share comes into play because we do share and give away a lot of plants(we also sell plants for fundraising) and all of our work is as volunteers(sharing excess time, knowledge and work). But it is difficult to get other people to realize the damage caused by using chemicals in the garden. I won't say I'm a vocal crusader against using chemicals, but I do let people know of the alternatives(and the benefits of using those alternatives). The reason I'm not more vocal is because if people want to grow something other than grass, then it's a step forward. If people realize that they can grow something as simple as a japanese boxwood hedge, then they may try their hand at something else(and more productive).

I always tell people to compost. Even if they're just thinking about gardening...start that compost pile. It's useful even if you keep your lawn. While a compost pile isn't necessarily a permacultural ideal, it does work. When more people get used to the idea of making their own compost, then you can move on to more topics such as sheet mulching. A long term project that I'm "thinking" about getting my fingers into is storm water mitigation(my job deals with that water, and the more water that doesn't make it into the drainage system, the better I can do my job), which is really a stealth permaculture project of using the soil to store water and to increase the organic matter in the soil.
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3702
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  77
Allan Babb wrote: the better I can do my job), which is really a stealth permaculture project of using the soil to store water and to increase the organic matter in the soil.

Awesome! I'm coming to the conclusion that 'stealth permaculture' is the way for me to go in my public ventures: watching people's eyes glaze over is not my mission in life, but when people see something really work, they're more open to talking about the 'hows' and 'whys'.
Patty, I think increasing 'life' in general around the tree will make a big difference. It's a pretty complex business, (which is partly where the eye-glazing comes in )
I'm basically repeating Allan's point: water+organic matter=life.
It's necessary to improve life support systems first. Choose the dress before the necklace-type stuff, if you know what I mean.
Water. I think increasing water and improving water retention is key. I'd still suggest greywater, like running (cold,) washing machine water out there.
Mulch. Deep, everywhere (but not up to the trunk)
Support plants.
It's a 'build it and they will come' situation. I highly recommend having some open water for birds and insects. I just have those big plastic pot-plant saucers, but they aint pretty and not ideal for insects as the sides are sheer. I weigh them down with bricks, which double as insect escape-islands.
And I can't even begin to imagine trying to cover a large tree in horticultural oil!
 
After burning through the drip stuff and the french press stuff, Paul has the last, ever, coffee maker. Better living through buying less crap.
 
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