I have been out looking at a lot of trees and shrubs this spring; ones with problems. No one has ever called me to come look at a tree that is perfectly fine — one they are happy with and not concerned about. I love trees but don’t call me a tree hugger, I’m an arborist.
I was recently in Moab looking at what was once my grandparents farm. Mill Creek and Pack Creek run down from the La Sal Mountains through the Moab Valley. Both streams ran through the farm; Mill Creek on the north side and Pack Creek on the south. My older brother and I, and sometimes our cousins, would always play in Mill Creek. We had a good swimming hole there, but my mother was always watching us and wouldn’t let us play in it as much as we wanted. She said flash floods could come without us even knowing. We knew she was right but when you’re a kid you don’t always appreciate your mother hawking over you. We only went to Pack Creek one time and explored its full length. It was too far from the house and it was overgrown with Willows, Tamarisk and Russian Olive trees. We did see a muskrat and its dam built of cattails; that was fascinating for a kid.
We explored the creek bottom following trails made by the cows and horses. There were many trees in the flood plain, mostly Cottonwood, some Catalpa, Willows and some Black and English Walnut. We found a giant cottonwood farther downstream in the wilder and woollier part of the forest. My brother was always building stuff, and in those days, it was mostly tree huts. We had built one at my other grandparents in a Black Locust tree. I wasn’t fond of that tree; it had large thorns and I’d often get poked. When he saw the giant Cottonwood, he said, “Let’s build a hut in this tree.” I don’t remember how old we were, in grade school, maybe seven or eight, and he would have been ten or eleven. For some reason we never built that tree house, maybe because we didn’t have any boards and it was too far from my grandparent’s house; I’m not sure.
When I was there last month I did see the boards for the ladder nailed to the trunk. Unfortunately, it was no longer standing, it had been declining for many years; most likely because there was no longer irrigation water at the edge of the field. Of course, everything has a normal life span and trees too don’t live forever. It must have been a hundred years old when we were kids. Fremont Cottonwoods can live to be 150 years old and this giant must have been close to it, if not older. I measured the circumference of the trunk several years ago; it was 24 feet. The state record today is 25 feet according to the Monumental Trees website at www.monumentaltrees.com/en/records/usa/utah/
I knew it was big when I measured it and wondered if it was the biggest in the state at the time. I looked up the record then and the largest on record was the cottonwood tree on the east side of the Smith Field House at BYU. I knew where that tree was, so I went to see it. It was big, but it was really a three trunked tree all fused together so I didn’t think that was fair. I can’t remember what the measurement was.
Because so much of my work involves trees and tree problems, I took an arborist course and became a certified arborist. I have a lot of good books on trees. One of my favorites is called A Natural History of Western Trees by Donald Culross Peattie. When I opened it, I thought I was going to learn all about trees, their biology, scientific stuff, how to grow and care for them, etc.; that wasn’t exactly the case. Peattie covers most of the major western tree species, but he talks about individual trees like the limber pine in Wyoming called, The Old Pine Tree. It’s on the summit between Cheyenne and Laramie along the Lincoln Highway. He talks about how the Fremont Cottonwood got its name. John C. Fremont kept his horses alive at one point by feeding them the inner bark of Cottonwoods. He is poetical as well: “On the very edge of the opened book of the Grand Canyon — page upon page of red stone tablets receding away into the purple shadows of a billion years of time gone by — perches the Utah Juniper.”
Even though Tooele County is a tough place to grow trees, we can grow some nice ones. I have some favorites in the valley. The London Plane trees in front of Tate Mortuary are great trees. There is a true Cedar on 100 East in Tooele I like and one on Broadway. My next-door neighbor has a nice Burr Oak. I have a Ginkgo in our demonstration garden at the office, and of course, Lindens are awesome!
Most tree problems I see are abiotic or man-made. The most common problem is overwatering. You can’t water too much at one time but you can water too often. Give your trees a good soaking drink and then let them dry out a little, then water again. Put the hose near the tree and let it run for awhile not on full blast but slowly. Some trees do like a lot of water like willows, aspen, and cottonwoods, but even they can get overwatered. Most trees don’t like wet feet. If the soil is always wet, the roots begin to rot.
Another man-made problem is poor plant selection. Some trees just don’t do well here and on top of the list is Silver or Autumn Blaze maple. I have not seen a healthy one in Tooele County — ever. They just can’t handle our high soil pH. A similar but better suited maple is Pacific or Norwegian Maple. If a little research is done before purchasing trees, one can avoid problems due to poor selection. Trees are expensive and no one likes replacing them.
Other often seen abiotic problems are weed-eater and lawn mower damage to the base of the tree, planting too deep, and planting in the hot part of the summer. Transplanting is a difficult transition for a tree so adding stresses reduces the chance the tree will make it. Fall and early spring are the best time to plant trees.
USU Extension has great resources for selecting and planting trees; just Google search it. Look for trees that tolerate high soil pH (alkalinity) and are drought tolerant. Most people want fast growing trees, but in general they are problem trees. Call me if you have questions; I am happy to help. If you have a beautiful tree you are proud of, call me too; I’d love to see it. Linden Greenhalgh, 435- 277-2407.
Linden Greenhalgh is the county director of the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. The phone number is 435-277-2400.