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The brighter side of beetle-kill

JOHN LONGHILL
special to the daily

When confronted with a difficult situation, the tendency is to view it as a negative, and if we view things as a problem, then it creates a mindset that tends to shut down the creative flow. The pine-beetle epidemic, which is causing the death of all the old lodgepole pine trees in Summit County, rates as one of those situations. How many trees have you had to cut down or will have to cut down last year, this year and next – one, two, dozens or hundreds? It is a fact that all the mature pine trees will die in the next few years and new growth will take its place. The only question now, is do you want your creative input added to what Mother Natures has in mind?

By changing your perspective and looking at the death and removal of lodge pole pine as an opportunity, you can then create something new and exciting in your landscape. If you can take this attitude, then you are going to be ahead of the game. In many cases you are starting with a clean slate. A forested lot is now an open field. You now have full sun where you once had dense shade. You may have beautiful views, now that the tall trees are gone.

A resident from Breckenridge e-mailed me the other day about having to cut down all his trees and the acidic soil beneath them. He asked if the 3-6″ of pine duff on the ground where many of the trees once stood could cause an acidic condition and make it difficult to plant things. He wants to plant natural grass to control weed growth before investing in tree replacement and wants to make sure the soil PH is balanced so grass and plants will grow in these areas. He wanted to know what strategy I would suggest?

It is a misnomer that pine needles change the PH of the soil. The reason pine needles are so popular as mulch back east is because it does not break down quickly into useable compost and change the PH. The real reason you do not see much small plant and grass growth under pine trees is because of dense shade and that they are voracious feeders with an extensive feeder root system close to the surface.

The grass and plants should grow fine if there is enough topsoil to maintain them. Dig down below the pine needles and check on the organic matter. If it is gravelly and sandy or heavily compacted, then plants will have a tough time getting established. If you have at least 3″ of black dirt that is easily scooped up with a shovel, then grass should do fine – especially if there is rain or irrigation to get it established. If the pine needles are really thick, you might have to rake it off the areas you want to seed just to give the grass a chance to root into the topsoil. Grass seed will sprout but will not survive in just pine needles. I recommend using the forest seed mix provided by the NRCS office in Kremmling.

Try to change your outlook about the dead trees and look at all the new possibilities that are now available; full sun = more flowers; more open space = more lawn area for outdoor games and now you have the opportunity and the freedom to create all the spaces you want on your property. Now is the time to start planning. Start with a layout of your property and draw circles to represent all the different activities that you want to include outside. The next stage is to draw in walkways to connect the areas, and then add landscape massing to define the spaces. You can decide where every new tree is going to be! Or, if your lot is very large, you might want to see what Mother Nature comes up with. As soon as you clear the lodgepoles and open up the ground to full sun, many new plants will start to sprout, including pine seedlings, spruce, aspen and native groundcovers. You can leave them alone or selectively pull out some and keep others to create the space or landscape effect that you want.

Please e-mail your comments and

questions to

askjohn@john-landscapearchitect.com.


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