Located in northeast India, the state of Meghalaya contains two towns with the highest annual rainfall on the planet. No other place on Earth sees precipitation like these two towns and they’re located just miles apart. Just how much rainfall you ask? Try over 460 inches on average. ON AVERAGE. That’s almost 40 feet of rain in a single year, and that’s an “average” year. A more extreme year, such as 1985, produced more than double the average. That’s right, over 80 feet of rain in a single year; over 1000 inches. For comparison, Roanoke receives a little over 3 feet of rain per year, a national average for cities in the United States. It’s mind-boggling to think people could live or even survive in those conditions. But, in these towns, adversity fuels creativity.
As you can imagine, getting around in the constant rain is challenging (or at the very least an annoying inconvenience). Indians native to the region never leave the house without an umbrella in tow. They’ve padded the roofs of their homes to try and dampen the sound of the rain. They’ve created special hats that keep them dry when they tend to their crops, and shoes that provide better traction over the muddy terrain. But no invention is quite as innovative as their bridges. That’s because these bridges aren’t made from reinforced titanium steel or poured concrete. No, these bridges are alive and they attract tens of thousands of tourists every year.
Flooding is a major problem in the area (imagine that), and the rising water levels create raging rivers that are impossible to cross. Entire villages would become isolated without bridges, making them essential to the native’s survival. Man-made structures can’t withstand the constant barrage of rain and often fail within a few years. So what does a bridge-dependent community do when they can’t build reliable bridges? They grow them.
The living bridges of Meghalaya are created by manipulating the roots of trees over several decades, eventually creating a rock-solid path capable of holding upwards of 35 people at a time. It’s a slow process, but one that “grows” stronger over time with some of the strongest bridges well over 100 years old. The Indians use the Indian rubber fig tree, Ficus Elastica, because its aerated roots can be tied and twisted across bodies of water. The Ficus Elastica is geographically versatile, as it can grow in steep terrain along the banks or even in the middle of a river. Traditionally, the Indians have used bamboo or betel nut trunks that are placed across the channel and used as a makeshift guide for the roots. The guides have to be frequently replaced (especially during the fall’s monsoon season) due to rot from all the rain.
It’s a fascinating technique; and one that the indigenous people are dependent on for survival. As man-made materials become stronger, more affordable and more susceptible to withstanding the elements, the living bridges of Meghalaya are becoming less and less of a commodity. However, the art form still exists and bridges are still being grown to this day. The most famous of the living bridges, the double-decker bridge in Cheerapunji (pictured above), is gearing up for a third-tier expected to be grown in the next 15 years. No one knows when the first bridges were formed, but hopefully the locals will continue this innovative tradition for many generations to come. Check out a short video on the bridges below.
Planting trees in your landscape increases your property value, lowers cooling costs and even cleans the air around you. They also provide a habitat for migrating birds and other pollinators. Do you already have trees in your landscape? Want to find out how they benefit you? It’s all in this week’s blog post. Check it out!
Increased Property Value
Money doesn’t grow on trees, but they do add value to your property. A fully mature tree is usually appraised anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of tree, health of the tree and location. Researchers at Michigan University found that if healthy trees were part of a well-designed well-maintained landscape they could increase the home’s value by up to 11 percent. Furthermore, just having a mature tree in your front yard will increase your home’s sales price by around $7,000. Considering it takes an average of 30 years for a tree to fully mature, we suggest you start planting them now.
Already have trees in your landscape? Quantify their benefits by using i-Tree, a free tool created by USDA Forest Service Research and used all over the world. Simply fill out information about your tree (species, diameter, distance from house, sun exposure, etc.) and i-Tree will calculate your estimated total yearly benefits. It also calculates how much air pollution each tree filters in a year and the amount of stormwater runoff avoided. Click here or enter “mytree.itreetools.org” in your browser to get started.
Cooling & Energy Savings
Not only do we need shade in the summer, but our homes need it as well. Trees absorb water through their roots and evaporate it through their pores, a process which has a cooling effect on the surrounding air; lowering summer temperatures by up to 9 degrees. Trees block sun from windows, exterior walls, A/C units and roofs; greatly reducing the overall temperature of your home. In fact, shaded walls can be nearly 45 degrees cooler than those exposed to full sunlight.
i-Tree will calculate your yearly electricity savings based on the number of trees and how many you have shading your home. Not only does planting trees near your home have a cooling effect, they also give you privacy from streets and neighbors and provide a noise-barrier. Shaded driveways will also last longer, as the shade significantly slows down the deterioration process.
Cleaner Water & Air
Roanoke Stormwater estimates that Roanoke’s current street trees intercept 107 million gallons of water per year, which not only helps to prevent flooding but also cleans the water by filtering out pollutants. Trees also filter pollutants from the air, with the current trees in Roanoke removing around 211 tons of air pollutants per year. Trees create a healthier environment which leads to healthier people and a better world. They are even known to reduce stress and anxiety. So what are you waiting for? Add trees to your landscape, get a great return on your investment and reap all the many benefits they have to offer. Plant some trees today!
As we mentioned in this month’s newsletter, bee populations are suffering at an alarming rate across the globe and especially in North America; where some 700 species are in decline. And while some would find that to be music to their ears, the ramifications for that decline could be devastating to our future. Yes, bees sting and annoy us from time to time, but they’re also essential to the global food supply. A third of our diet comes from plants pollinated by bees.
What’s causing the bees to die out? Scientists have cited a number of factors including insecticides, parasites, disease and the lack of a diverse food supply. The loss of biodiversity and destruction of habitat also threaten bees and other wild pollinators. It’s becoming increasingly evident that some insecticides, at concentrations applied routinely in the current chemical-intensive agriculture system, have a clear negative effect on the health of pollinators. The growing pest and weed resistance, decreasing soil fertility and widespread water contamination have also contributed to their downfall.
The global food supply already has trouble keeping up with the demand, but without bees it would become nearly impossible. Who would pollinate all the crops? Pollinating by hand is extremely labor-intensive, slow and expensive. So, from an economic standpoint, it pays to protect the bees. In fact, the economic value of the bees’ pollination work has been estimated at around $300 billion annually, worldwide.
Another major factor threatening our bees is the Varroa mite; a parasite that’s been plaguing honeybees since its introduction in the mid 1980’s. Introduced in Florida, the Varroa mite has since traversed the continent, wreaking havoc along the way. Watch the video below to learn more about these parasitic mites and the effects they have on bee colonies.
So how do we save the bees? With so many factors affecting their decline it’s an ambitious mission, but over the years a number of non-profits and conservation groups have teamed together to tackle the issue. They’ve lobbied against bee-killing insecticides in industrial agriculture and (as seen I the video above) have created some great products to stop the dreaded Varroa mite. Scientists are even experimenting with altering bee genetics, in an attempt to make them more tolerant of adverse weather conditions and immune to disease.
Another way you can help is quite simple; by incorporating bee-friendly plants into your landscape. At any rate, we must come up with a solution quickly to save our bees, our food supply and potentially our entire planet. If you want to do your part in saving the world’s greatest pollinators, check out the list below to see the best plants for bees.
Because outdoor living spaces increase the amount of usable space a property has, they are a great investment. Long lasting and consistently popular, an outdoor entertainment area will easily boost your property’s value and make your home more attractive to potential buyers. If you want your outdoor living space to truly be an investment, invest in high-quality materials and builders who won’t cut corners in order to give you a cheaper product (i.e. Roanoke Landscapes). You are essentially investing in another room for your home, so you want to put just as much care into your outdoor living space as you do your kitchen, bedroom, or living room.
Just how much does an outdoor living space increase the value of your home? It’s a question we get a lot and for good reason; everyone wants a good return on investment. Yes, having a beautiful outdoor fireplace or kitchen is just that, beautiful, but (as for any renovation) you want to be increasing the overall value and appeal of your home. It turns out that a lot rests on your location and the neighborhood trends. For instance, a pool might be a great investment in one neighborhood, but would actually hurt the re-sell value of your home in another part of town. Furthermore, high-maintenance outdoor living areas, such as pools, are usually a make or break factor in the sale of a home.
If you really want to increase the value of your home, then we suggest going with a low-maintenance interlocking concrete paver patio. A patio with a fire pit is even better. Not only can you gather around the fire for most of the year, a fire pit returns over 75% of your initial investment (according to a report by CBS). They’re also a great reason to get your family outside and enjoying your landscapes.
Outdoor kitchens and eating areas are becoming increasingly popular and will also see the value of your home skyrocket. There are tons of pre-fabricated options to choose from and installation is a breeze (relatively speaking). Another way to increase the value and curb appeal of your home is to add landscape lighting. Cost-effective and truly a unique look, landscape lighting will surely make you stand out in the neighborhood. Check out our latest landscape lighting project below:
The outdoor living area that remains the most sought after feature of a home is a deck; and they can be just as valuable as a patio. According to a study by Remodeling Magazine, an $11,000 deck can add about $9,000 in resale value to a home, seeing homeowners recoup around 82% of the project’s costs. You can check out our most recent deck installation below:
If you want to increase the curb appeal and value of your home, but don’t want to commit to an outdoor living project, try redoing your landscape. Roanoke Landscapes will help with choosing the right plants and with the overall design of your landscape. The National Association of Realtors says that an outdoor makeover can net over a 100% return on investment, not to mention you will love the new look. So what do you have to lose? If you want to create a peaceful outdoor oasis, while also increasing your home’s desirability, then add an outdoor living area to your property this season. And, if you need additional information on curb appeal and tricks to increase your home’s perceived value, check out this article from Turf Magazine here.
We can’t stress enough about the importance of aerating and over-seeding your lawn in the fall. It’s paramount in the quest for a year-round healthy and beautiful landscape. A thin landscape that hasn’t been over-seeded will inevitably be overrun with weeds at the first signs of spring. Moreover, pre-emergent will prevent any new grass-seed from even growing. However, if you absolutely have to over-seed in the spring there is a solution; Tupersan. It’s the only pre-emergent herbicide that will provide the control of crabgrass and weeds while allowing desirable turfgrass to germinate and thrive.
Tupersan is often paired with a complete fertilizer, such as the 12-24-11 pictured above, but you should always read the labels to ensure that the fertilizer and Tupersan are a good match for your landscape. The following information can be found on the Tupersan label:
WEEDS CONTROLLED: Annual weed grasses such as Crabgrass
(smooth and hairy), Foxtail (green and yellow) Barnyardgrass
(Watergrass). This product will not control Poa annua. This product
will not control established weeds that are already growing.
WHERE TO USE: For use on Bluegrass, Fescue, Redtop,
Perennial Ryegrass, Smooth Brome, Orchardgrass and certain
Bentgrass strains (Penncross, Seaside, Highland, Astoria, Nimisila,
C1, C7 and C19). Do not use on other Bentgrass varieties since
injury may occur. Do not use on Bermudagrass.
HOW MUCH AND WHEN TO USE:
FOR NEW SPRING SEEDINGS: Apply 2.5 pounds per 1000
square feet to treat and feed lawn where bare ground or very thin
turf is seeded in the spring and 2 weeks prior to weed seed
germination. Follow good cultural practices of keeping area moist
to help grass seed germinate and also to activate the pre-emergent
herbicide and to get maximum benefit from the lawn food.
FOR NEW “FALL” SEEDING OR SEEDING TO ESTABLISHED
LAWNS IN THE SPRING: Apply 5 pounds per 1000 square feet to
treat and feed turf. Apply in spring prior to the expected emergence
of the annual weed grasses. This will vary from early February in
the south to early March in the north. Follow the application with a
thorough watering (1/2 inch) to activate the herbicide.
HOW TO APPLY: To insure best weed control and proper
fertilization the lawns should be free of leaves, grass clippings or
thatch which might interfere with the pre-emergence action of the
herbicide. Complete all cultural practices such as aerification
before application. Apply with a properly calibrated fertilizer
spreader. If it does not rain within 3 days after application, water the
area thoroughly to get desired results.
RESEEDING TREATED AREAS: This product may be applied to
the soil at the same time as sowing grass seed. When used as
directed on listed turfgrasses this product will not affect the
germination of those seedling grasses.
As stated above, it’s extremely important to read the labels for pre-emergent, fertilizers, or anything else you plan on introducing into your landscape. Tupersan is an incredibly effective pre-emergent that, when used as directed, will prevent spring weeds and also allow new grass to flourish. If you have any questions about Tupersan, or questions on how to keep your lawn looking picture-perfect, give us a call at 540-772-0079. We offer free estimates and would love to make your landscape shine!
Phosphorus is essential to the growth of plants, especially young plants, and without it crops simply won’t grow. It’s a relatively easy macro-nutrient to get your hand on in the states, but elsewhere in the world this mineral is scarce (or poorly divvied out). In under-developed countries, purchasing fertilizer is a risk; not only are the bags expensive, but an unlucky growing season plagued by pests could mean a total-loss of crops and in some cases a total-loss of life. None risk more than small African countries, such as Malawi, where the soil is so acidic that the phosphorus binds with iron or aluminum oxides before it’s able to reach the plants. In acidic soils such as these, farmers can’t rely on phosphorus so they must rely on something else; thermic compost.
Unlike the rest of the world, countries with acidic soil must get creative with their crops. For most of them their livelihood depends on it; 8 out of 10 Malawi workers are farmers. Sometimes phosphorus isn’t just too expensive to purchase, it’s unavailable. Phosphorus reserves on Earth are expected to last for centuries, but the reserves are so unevenly distributed around the planet that it’s sometimes not possible to obtain for smaller/poorer countries. While all farmers need phosphorus, there’s only so much to go around and there are only a few countries where phosphorus naturally exists. Five countries control 88% of the remaining phosphate reserves. Morocco alone has 75% of the estimated global reserves. When politics and greed combine, the smaller poorer countries can’t compete and thus fall even further behind. Thanks to thermic composting there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
To fix these countries’ phosphorus problems, they must address the real issue; the soil. A mineral fertilizer can’t restore the structure of the soil, but thermic composting can by adding organic matter back into the soil. Healthy, productive soil, is not just dirt with nutrients, but a living ecosystem. Composting keeps all of these organisms alive and keeps the soil healthy year after year. The organisms have many jobs to do, but one of their most important jobs is solubilising; or freeing phosphorus and other nutrients from their bonds. This makes those nutrients available for new plants. Composting in poorer countries could even solve deeper issues such as sanitation, by re-purposing waste. Thermic composting isn’t like your traditional kitchen scrap compost pile, but a calculated layering of waste designed to create a more efficient, faster, nutrient-rich compost.
You can read more on the subject, as well as watch videos of the Malawian people, here.
English Ivy, a traditional ground cover, has been scaling buildings and reaching new heights since the advent of man-made structures. The fast growing vine clings to and eventually overtakes old structures and trees. It creates a unique look shared by most historical buildings, Ivy League schools, and of course Wrigley Field. But, with so many older structures engulfed in the plant, what effect does the Ivy have on what it climbs? It was a serious question posed by a conservation team at Oxford University. The vast majority of historical buildings in the UK are covered by Ivy, so naturally scholars wanted to find out the plant’s effects on such rich history.
Their hypothesis was that over time English Ivy damaged buildings and trees. It was evident the old stone buildings were deteriorating, but was this merely an effect of time or was the Ivy to blame? After three years of studying, what they found was quite interesting. They discovered that Ivy can be harmful to a structure or a tree, but only if the host (for lack of a better word) is already damaged or in decline. I just used the word “host” but Ivy actually isn’t parasitic, it establishes itself by extending tendrils and rooting themselves everywhere they land. And here lies the “root” of the problem.
If you have a healthy structure, then the Ivy will subsist on the surface without risk. In fact, researchers found that Ivy-covered walls (in relation to bare walls) were 15% warmer during the winter and 36% cooler in the summer; casting Ivy as a versatile insulator throughout seasons. Their research concluded that healthy trees sporting ivy vines weren’t at risk either. The Ivy merely used the trees as a living ladder; scaling the trunk and branches until reaching the canopy. The vines also provided birds with much-needed shelter and food (in the form of berries) during the harsh winter months. Unfortunately for English Ivy, the positives end here.
Once Ivy reaches the canopy it begins competing with the tree for vital sunlight. It inadvertently suffocates the sunlight-starved leaves, preventing photosynthesis and leading the tree to its eventual death. Structures suffer the same fate, but the process is a little more complicated and drawn out. Ivy roots burrow into any crack in the foundation or walls, accelerating the process of decay. The vines squeeze in between vinyl siding and dry-stacked walls, remove paint and stucco from walls, and damage gutters. The openings created by its roots allow entry for other pests and insects.
English Ivy is a bittersweet vine; its elegant tendrils scaling the side of old stone and trees are a sight to behold. However, it’s that same Ivy that will ultimately be those buildings/trees downfall. Whether you have Ivy growing on the side of your home, or you would like to incorporate the look in your landscape, I would caution against it. Even if your building is new, and the bricks are in excellent shape, they will eventually falter or crumble and the Ivy will take advantage. I would advise using English Ivy as a ground cover, as it was intended, quarantining the plant to controlled areas and limiting its grip on those nearby.
Several months back we shared a video on our Facebook of the “Wood Wide Web”, an intricate underground hyphal network created by mycorrhizal fungi and used to share information between host plants. A network in which trees and other large rooted plants send and receive sugars and nutrients to aid survival. If a tree belonging to a certain network is malnourished, its peers send the necessary supplements to bring the tree back to health. It’s a fascinating exchange of information and it’s all happening right beneath our feet.
What’s even more impressive is the trees altruistic nature. If a tree is sick or on the verge of death, they will dump their resources through the fungi network and to other trees that would benefit from the nutrients; effectively giving their life for the greater good. Trees also know when others around them are shaded and not receiving adequate sunlight; in which the trees will combine resources to make up for the lack of light. It’s a remarkable and complex relationship between symbiotic fungi and a “family” of trees that are all looking out for each other. They can sense when other trees are in danger and send extra resources to combat the treat. A tree under attack will also send a signal through the network warning others to ready their defenses.
But not all trees are willing to play nice. Some trees, such as the black walnut in which the video mentions, behave in a very sinister way. They hijack resources intended for other trees; selfishly absorbing any and all nutrients they can. Another tactic these “bad” trees (as I will call them) deploy is to poison their peers by sending bad nutrients through the network. These trees work to destroy their so-called “rivals” using the very system that is intended to promote their survival.
After watching this video, I am not only fascinated but intrigued at what we don’t yet know. Why are some trees seemingly programmed to be “good” and others meant to sabotage the network? Did one bad black walnut tree ruin it for the rest of them? And what methods do the “good” trees use to get back at those “bad” trees sucking up all the network’s resources? Either way, nature never ceases to amaze me and there is so much we still don’t know about this complex “Wood Wide Web”. One thing is for certain, I will never look at a forest the same way again. A forest isn’t a bunch of different trees acting independently from one another, but rather one giant organism swapping information and resources in a bid to survive.
You can watch the “Wood Wide Web” BBC video we shared on Facebook by clicking the link here.
Morel mushrooms, or “woodfish” as I’ve always called them, are one of the most sought after fungi in the world. Unlike more common mushrooms, morels are not commercially grown and have to be harvested in the wild. You can find them in and around forested areas of the Northern Hemisphere, sprouting up in early spring as the ground starts warming to temperatures of around 50 degrees. Their earthy, meaty taste is a mainstay in expensive dishes around the world. Here are some tips for harvesting these delicious mushrooms.
Look for morels in fairly-open patches of forest and in areas that are disturbed or damaged. Some examples include ground that was previously flooded, wildfire sites and logging areas. Check southern-facing slopes (as the sun will warm those areas first) and the northern-facing slopes later in the season. Morels are prevalent around the bases of large or dying trees, especially Oak, Ash, Poplar and Elm. What’s the best advice when “hunting woodfish”? Be patient. Morel mushrooms blend in with the forest floor by design to avoid foragers and animals alike. If you’re having trouble finding them, don’t worry. Take a deep breath and look over the same area again; chances are they are hiding in plain sight. Still having trouble finding morels? Try foraging after a light spring rain. A 60-degree day after a morning shower is perfect for the mushrooms to grow. Oh, and if you see one there are bound to be more.
Why aren’t these mushrooms grown commercially? While there’s no shortage of demand, the production costs needed to replicate the perfect environment for morels is just too expensive. In the wild, morels are the result of a symbiotic relationship between fungus and the root systems of trees or other larger plants; the mushrooms provide minerals in exchange for nutrients. The mushrooms are bound to the life cycle of the host, sprouting when trees sap up in spring and also when the trees die. However, this relationship has to be just right for morels to grow. No one has figured out how to produce the mushrooms without the introduction of trees in a commercial environment (or enough of them to profit).
I think the fact that these aren’t commercially available only adds to the appeal and overall appreciation for morels. Hunting for “woodfish” has been a spring tradition for my household ever since I can remember. It’s a great way to experience the outdoors, be self-sufficient, and spend time together as family. It’s really a win-win for the younger ones as well, they get to be out in nature exercising and also participating in what feels like a scavenger or Easter-egg hunt. Once you spot one, it’s almost addicting trying to find more. There’s nothing better than a plate full of morels, flash-fried with a little flour. Take my advice this spring and try foraging for these delicious mushrooms, you won’t regret it!
A sunflower rather obviously gets its name because of its resemblance to the sun, but this isn’t the only reason. It also gets the name from its behavior as an adolescent. During early stages of growth the sunflower tracks the sun across the sky in a motion known as heliotropism. This subtle movement is the plant’s way of facilitating the maximum amount of growth in the shortest amount of time. Once a sunflower matures it will no longer exhibit movement and will remain facing in one direction; almost always east. Moreover, a field of sunflowers will all face the same direction (which, you guessed it, is most likely east).
Scholars have traced the sunflower’s origin back to North America, with the first domestication of the plant in modern-day Tennessee around 2300 B.C. The earliest discovered seeds were found in Mexico and date back to 2600 B.C. Indigenous people, such as the Aztecs and Incas, associated the flower with their solar deity and thus held the flower in extremely high regard. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the sunflower made it to Europe by way of Spanish explorers. From Europe, the sunflower was imported to Russia where it soared in popularity during the 18th century. Russia was one of the biggest cultivators of the sunflower particularly for its oil; as members of the Russian Orthodox Church were allowed to consume it during Lent.
Oil production didn’t slow down, in fact the demand was so high that machinery for crushing the seed into oil were commercialized and distributed to keep up with demand. Despite their best effort, the Russian’s found out that they alone could not keep up with the global demand. Not only was the sunflower being used for oil, fields were set aside for traditional standalone seed production, ornamentals, and for silage feed. To meet such an incredible demand, the commercial production ramped up in Europe an eventually made its way back to North America.
A sunflower’s seeds are arranged on the flower in an ingenious way; a way that yields the maximum amount of seeds possible. The flower head consists of five florets that grow in a spiral motion, oriented toward one another at the golden angle, or 137.5 degrees. Typically there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other, however bigger sunflowers have 89 and 144 respectively. This pattern, which is a natural representation of the Fibonacci sequence, produces the maximum amount of seeds per sunflower head.
Growing sunflowers is quick and easy, and they are a perfect flower to plant for new/young gardeners. Sunflowers are remarkably tough plants that tend to withstand drought and heat. They really only suffer when the soil becomes too waterlogged. To accommodate all that sun-chasing growth, make sure you dig your soil deep so the flowers have a couple feet to spread their roots underground. Be aware that sunflowers need ample space above ground as well, because the plants have the ability to grow quite tall. For example, the tallest sunflower ever recorded was a whopping 30 feet tall!