july gbbd: dormant and dying

an easterly thunderhead

this is as close as we’ve gotten to rain lately, but not a drop has fallen from the sky. for several weeks, temps have been in the high 90’s to low 100’s, with heat indices well over 100. plants in the yard & garden are starting to show the effect of a slow-bake oven.

Tagetes lemonii (copper canyon daisy) L: somewhat shaded location, R: full sun location
Cynara cardunculus ‘Green Globe’ (giant artichoke) L: january, R: july
Eupatorium fistulosum (joe pye weed) L: june in back garden, R: july in front garden
Mahonia 'Soft Caress' (grape holly) L: newly planted in may, R: in havoc of july
Cucumis melo 'Charentais' (melon) L: pre-rodent & critter harvest, R: cripsy remains
L: Salvia x fruiticosa ‘Newe Ya’ar’ (silver leaf sage) in march, R: Salvia x fruticosa 'Nazareth' in july
Sophora secundiflora (texas mountain laurel) L: full tree shot, R: detail of webworm damage. this plant is toxic if ingested. these critters must be pretty desperate. i wonder what they'll turn into...?

now, i realize plants deal with stress in their own special way. many of these plants are just going into a summer dormancy period, sending whatever water and nutrients they receive to their roots and other storage structures. i expect many of them (well, some of them anyway) to come back whenever the temps decline and it rains again. i’ll patiently wait with my umbrella turned upside down. as for the critters, if they want to belly up to our botanical bar, so be it. i won’t be applying chemicals to prevent them from the feast.

speaking of chemicals, that brings me to a touchy subject that recently came to my attention: Imprelis, a pre-emergent herbicide used to treat broadleaf turf grass weeds (dandelion, plantain, clover, ground ivy & wood violet) is now showing injury & damage to the root systems of trees and shrubs (mostly conifers) across the midwest. since it’s a pre-emergent herbicide, the chemical remains persistent in the soil profile for a longer period of time. since it’s a systemic herbicide, the chemical translocates to stems and needle tissues causing browning, twisted growth and needle drop. mind you, these symptoms were NOT the intended effect nor the intended target. a statement from DuPont to its customers was distributed here, along with a guide for how to managed stressed trees here. stressed trees, huh? obviously, this product was not tested to the fullest extent prior to release for the commercial trade, and that’s a damned, irresponsible shame. in this day and age? really?? really!!!

allow me to take you to my parent’s garden in southeast michigan for some personal proof. my mom’s just sent the one picture on the right so far, but yes, there’s more.

Pseudotsuga menziesii (douglas fir) L: august 2009, R: detail of needle browning in july, 2011

a recent new york times article was published about this debacle. one of the landscape service companies mentioned is the very one my parents use (Underwood’s), and they’ve since been out to the farm to “document” the damage. the disappointing thing (among many issues surrounding this unfortunate event) is that my mom found out about it by just happening to mention the browning of her trees while at another retail nursery earlier this summer. the landscape service company didn’t contact her about it – she called them. only to find out that they knew about it, and had been applying a “neutralizing” chemical to try to lessen the potency of the chemical on the trees’ roots. for full disclosure, i’m a former member of the michigan nursery and landscape association, and don’t really hold anything against the landscape company itself, as i’m sure they were applying the herbicide as instructed on the label, but come on people – open & transparent communication is essential for sensitive issues like this! not only between the chemical manufacturers and the landscape trade, but between the landscape service companies and their customers. good thing my mom was home when they came to survey her property last week, as she was able to point out more *potentially* damaged specimens they might’ve overlooked. Pseudotsuga menziesii (douglas fir), Picea glauca var. densata (black hills spruce), Picea sylvestris (scotch pine), Chamaecyparis obtusa nana (dwarf hinoki cypress), Cercidiphyllum japonicum (katsura), Syringa sp. (lilac shrubs)… i’m pensively waiting along with my parents to see what else Imprelis affects – hopefully nothing else, but it doesn’t sound promising. even if the landscape company is able to replace the trees, as mentioned in the article, they won’t be able to replace the same size & stature of tree (or shrub), nor the personal attachments we have to those particular specimens. family and friends gifted and helped plant many of those trees, some of which are all we have left to remember them by. we even buried cherished members of our pet family under their branches. pardon me for the idiom, but that’s obviously adding insult to injury. and i haven’t even told you about all the Fraxinus (ash) trees they’ve lost to the emerald ash borer, EAB. guess i’ll save that for another post.

my alma mater, michigan state university, has published a fact sheet on Imprelis herbicide injury here, and articles on the issue here, here, here and here. i’ll continue to follow this issue, and will keep you posted as i learn more.

happy bloom day everyone! sorry for the bummer of a post, but i’m really looking forward to some fun & inspiration in seattle during the garden blogger’s fling next week. i’ll happily bring an umbrella.


12 thoughts on “july gbbd: dormant and dying

  1. I didn’t need your well written post to further my aversion to companies that spray chemicals just so people good have perfectly green, mono-cultured lawns. When I get customers bringing me samples of non-discernable shrub or tree damage, the first question I ask them is about herbicide application and it is often the culprit. I am sorry your parents tree is in decline, maybe their service will make it right. In the meantime I hope your clouds do more than tease.

    • thanks les. i think the landscape service is doing what it can, but with 350 complaints and growing (out of 1500 applications?), and a $500 deductible per insurance claim, they are deep compost right about now – sorry for the bad gardenerd pun, but if anything comes of this, i hope it increases awareness of just how little we know about the products we apply to home & garden, and that it makes people second guess the “need” for them at all.

  2. Out west we have species that close up shop and drop leaves during extremely hot and droughty periods. But it’s more poignant in a cultivated garden, so my fingers are crossed that you get some rain.
    Thanks for posting about Imprelis, and I hope there’s not a happy ending to the story for the manufacturer.

  3. OK, I’m bummed out, that’s for sure. At times I’m thankful that most folks around here don’t care for their landscapes and therefore we don’t have lawn care companies spraying things hither and yon. The fact that Dupont put out a product that obviously had been so little tested is beyond the pale. I hope someone sues the heck out of them. About your drought-stressed plants – do you do any supplemental watering? Those worms on the mountain laurel surprised the heck out of me. I used to occasionally see worms on them in the early spring when their new leaves were tender. But I’m very surprised to see them now. You’re right – they must be desperate!

    • hi jean, i hear you…
      in response to your watering question, yes, we do apply supplemental water to the garden & lawn. even though we don’t (yet) have enforced water restrictions in our town, there’s a recommended schedule that we voluntarily already subscribe to – twice a week (the days depend on if your address is an odd- or even-numbered house). we water in the wee hours of the morning when the wind is typically at its lowest, evaporation rate at its lowest, and water supply is at its lowest (therefore pressure at its highest). we have four irrigation zones that i’ve programmed for four rotations of seven minute applications each to reduce any chance of runoff. a total of 28 minutes per zone equals about one inch of rain (or is it a half inch, so the week’s total is one inch…? i forget right now). sometimes i hand water containers and plants that need a bit extra, but so far we stay pretty close to the schedule. thing is, our water is high in salts, so some of the plants’ foliage react unfavorably to it, and if that’s the case i check it off the desirable plant list and move on.
      crazy mountain laurel eating worms… thing is, red wasps seem to find the worms quite delectable after they’re fattened up. wouldn’t that be an interesting bio-accumulation study to delve into…

  4. Wow! and I was worried about US getting enough rain. We’re still nice and green up here in the North East, but no rain in the forecast. Have you started doing rain dances yet? Good to know about that pesticide. Glad you’ve informed us.

    • thanks kylie. good to hear green acres are producing for you…! while i haven’t been doing any rain dances, i have changed my daily sun salutations to rain cloud salutations, hoping that may help to convince more liquid sunshine to fall upon us. namaste, y’all.

  5. it was nice to meet you tonight – thanks for directing me to your blog! Great post – and I hope you find inspiration here in Seattle over the next few days.

    • Thanks Jessi, was great to meet you tonight too. Looking forward to reading your book! Let me know if you need a blog review… who knows, I may have to add chickens to the garden….

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