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Don’t Panic, It’s Organic: The trees are not the problem

Andy Lopez, Contributing Columnist/Invisible Gardener
10:09 am PDT May 18, 2017

Trees are dying left and right from insects and diseases. 

Around 24 million trees surround our urban landscape. This doesn’t count the forest areas and the trees that will also be affected in those areas.

The idea that we should therefore be planting trees that are not currently being affected is at first logical, but is based on false logic. Yes, those trees are not currently affected, but given the time they too will die from the pests and diseases. To think that these pests and diseases will go away with their “hosts” is avoiding what they all have in common in the first place.

So what is the “elephant in the room?”

I like to teach folks about the law of cause and effect. Folks are taught to treat the effects, being told it is the cause. You will never solve the problem that way. The cause is never as obvious as the elephant would be. And yet, there is the elephant, and we are looking all around it, lifting a leg to look under and still not seeing it.

So what is it that all of the dead and living trees have in common, besides needing sunlight and water?

If you said the soil, then you are right. But what about the soil?

It is living topsoil. We have destroyed over 40 percent of the world’s topsoil.

Farmers are not the only culprits at this, but cities, industries and the military have all destroyed the topsoil by either removing or covering over with roads, buildings, etc. This has effectively cut off all connection to any recycling efforts Mother Nature has set in place. Folks do not apply rock dust, compost and mulch to restore their topsoil. 

Trees growing in this city environment are all stressed. Their root systems cannot find the nutrients they need.

The soil died a long time ago. There is no topsoil anywhere in the city. Earthworms? Forget it. Microbes? Forget it.

Without a source of microbes along with a source of minerals, these trees are all minerally deficient.

Minerally deficient trees will be attacked by pests and then by the disease they bring. That is Mother Nature’s way of removing the weak.

I was at a customer’s house just last week. They lost two fruit trees to glassy-winged sharpshooters. The trees died within a few days.

I have been trying to explain to the gardeners what the real problem is: This place has no topsoil left. The gardeners have not over the years been adding rock dust, compost and mulch. Instead, they have been hauling away anything that falls to the ground, leaving it barren and without topsoil. 

In most places, one can’t simply apply compost back to the soil because they would have to remove either a sidewalk or street to get at the soil. They do not understand that the soil is dying by separating it from the air and sunlight etc. that happens when it is exposed. The topsoil needs to breathe just like we need to let our skin breathe.

Destroy your skin, and you will not live long.

Folks think they are being smart by planting trees that are not currently being affected, thinking these are resistant to pests. But ignoring the health of the soil will let these same trees also get attacked by these same pests. The pests will not go away by changing the trees if the trees became stressed and weakened through loss of minerals.

I go by a simple saying: “You get out what you put in.”

All trees need minerals, just like we do. If we become deficient in just one mineral we are setting ourselves up for some type of health problem. Why should this be different for trees?

If you do not put the minerals back into the soil, the trees will not have the minerals they need for healthy pest-free and disease-free growth.

I once attended a soil web workshop as a speaker. Another speaker was asked about rock dust and minerals. 

“The soil has all the minerals it needs for plants to be healthy,” she said. “We just have to help the soil.”

I guess she had never heard of soil depletion.

Normally, she would be right. The soil should have all the minerals it needs to pass along to the plants growing in it. This is the usual way nature works, but we “humans” are anything but normal. Remember, we have destroyed over 40 percent of the world’s topsoil and are rapidly destroying more. Look around you. Cities are just as bad as farmers at destroying topsoil.

Cities should be leading the way in healthy soil as well as homeowners. Homeowners especially can take better care of what topsoil they have and make plans for increasing their topsoil. With the extreme climate changes coming, we need more topsoil and not less.

Bringing the topsoil back to life will take time, of which we are running out. Twenty years ago, I was volunteering for the Tree People. One of my radio shows is called “It’s the Trees” in which I said that climate extremes could be controlled with more trees, not less — and I still stand by that. However, we must pay more attention to the topsoil upon which these wonderful trees and us humans depend. We have the smarts to become good gardeners of the Earth.

Any questions? Email me at andylopez@invisiblegardener.com. Check out my new book, “Don’t Panic It’s Organic.”