Ilex vs. Tar Spot on Maple

There are several fungi in the genus Rhytisma (most commonly Rhytisma acerinum and Rhytisma punctatum) that cause tar spot on maples and sycamores. These fungi commonly survive in over-wintered leaf litter, where they produce spores that lead to leaf infections.


The first symptoms of the fungus usually start in mid-June as small (less than 1/8 inch diameter), pale yellow spots. The spots enlarge and their yellow color deepens as the season goes on. Next a black spot will develop in each yellow spot by mid-July to early August. The black spot grows in diameter and thickness and soon looks like a spot of tar by the end of summer.


This fungus is only unsightly and NOT detrimental to the tree. Treatment is usually not necessary, costly if attempted and most of the time, ineffective.


The best defense in keeping tar spot out of your trees is to rake up and destroy all infected leaves in the fall. Leaves should be burned or properly mulched. The fungus can overwinter on fallen leaves and provide a source of inoculum to re-infect the trees for the next growing season.

Copyright – Ilex Farrell

Softy Hands

GAAA! I’m melting!


I remember when I was a child and used to coat my hand in Elmer’s glue, let it dry and peel it off my hand. Of course the point was to peel it off in one piece. This was only done out of boredom.

I have now graduated to using paraffin wax to soften my paws, not to make skin sculptures. Since this last week I’ve been making winter pots and I hate wearing gloves when I work, so my hands are beat to sh*t. I will need to do this nightly for a week to recover from the abuse!


This is great to do in the winter. It’s warm and really softens dry, cracked hands. As it solidifies, it’s fun to squish it between the fingers.


Ahhhh, mushy!


Copyright – Ilex Farrell

How to Create an Outdoor Winter Pot

My office for the next few days.

This week kicked off the winter pot brigade! It generally slows down enough for me to help make the 100 or so winter pots my company installs before Thanksgiving. Out of the 100 or so we make, about 10 are Christmas containers, but we like to use the nondescript term of ‘winter pots’, because 98% of our client base is Jewish. No red, no berries, no sparkles, no holly, no bows, no garland, nothing related to Christmas! These limitations aren’t that difficult, there are many other options available. I like a non-Christmas pot myself, as it can be displayed after Christmas without looking like you were lazy in removing the holiday displays. Sometimes I use something easily removable such as lighted sticks, or sprigs of red berries that can be removed from the display and the pot can continue on into January and beyond.


We pre-fab these at the office and the crews deliver these to the client’s homes. You can skip many of the next steps if you already have a prepared pot of soil. We make them this way so we don’t have to stand outside and do it! I think this almost falls into that category of, ‘Lazy man works the hardest!’ Ha!

We use nursery pots that closely fit the size of our client’s containers. Cut a plastic sheet to fit over the bottom holes. This slows or stops the water from draining and helps freeze the display in place. Next, add florist foam to the middle for stability of the larger ‘thriller’ items, as these could be rather large birch poles. Then fill the rest of the pot with a 50/50 soil/sand mixture. Be sure to really stuff that soil into the pot. The better packed soil helps hold the display in place from precipitation, the weight of snow and wind.





Copyright – Ilex Farrell

This is How You Do It To It!!

I’m not a pool player… However, my husband is a regular Mike Massey.

Though I seem to be attracted to pool players, I’ve never been very good at the game. I never learned more than how to hold a stick, which end to hit the ball with and it’s the WHITE ball I should hit with the stick.

My husband doesn’t really enjoy playing with me, as he feels it will hurt my ego to have all my balls on the table as he hits the 8 ball in. Eh, I really, truly don’t care. I get excited when I make one good shot, whether I win or loose.

We have found one game that we can both play somewhat competitively called ‘Bottle Pool’. It’s basically played with only two balls, a cue ball and a (plastic) bottle that is placed in the middle of the table. You gain points by hitting balls (after hitting a rail), having them go in or the most points can be had by knocking over the bottle with one of the regular balls. Oddly, I can do carrum shots pretty well & that is what this game is all about!

So, one night I was feeling frisky and figured we could go to the local watering hole / pool hall and get in a few games. Not many pool halls want you playing bottle pool for obvious reasons, so we chose to stick with 9-ball, as this game has the rule of slop, meaning that if you got a ball in that you didn’t intend on getting in, it still counted and you could shoot again. This bodes well for beginners.

It was the fourth game after a few brutal matches of me just moving balls around the table… However, he let me break this time… His Loss!!

BOOM! 9 Ball in on the break – Game winner!

2012-09-22 20.40.09

I retired from pool that night on a high note!!

Girdling Root – A Slow Death For a Tree

As an arborist, many things make me sad when I see a dead tree. Most of these trees did not have to die a slow death. A girdling root could have been prevented during planting. If the planter would have examined the tree’s rootball before installation and planted this tree correctly, this tree may have been alive today.




Goodbye Summer Blend Gas


Living near Chicago has its advantages, people say. I’m still trying to think of one. The one good thing that happens in winter here is the high-priced summer blend is over

Refineries brew their summer blends by removing hydrocarbons that are more inclined to evaporate in hot weather. These chemicals, called volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), react with airborne pollutants in the summer sun to form ozone, one of the main components of smog. From June 1 to September 15, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that pumps in more than 30 large cities must meet special low-evaporation criterion.

Summer blend gases started in 1995, as required by the Clean Air Act’s 1990 amendments and even cleaner, mixture was phased in the summer of 2000. Since enacted, there have been sharp spikes in fuel prices every spring as summer blends roll out. This is not so much because it’s expensive to make the gas (the added cost per gallon is only 1 or 2 cents) but because refineries generally try to sell every last bit of winter fuel before mixing in the slightly more expensive summer batch. Sometimes they allow the stock too deplete too far which creates shortages before the first deliveries of summer blend entering the supply chain. (Nice, huh?) The return to normal blends in the fall causes a far less pronounced spike because the industry, free from summer standards, doesn’t bother selling off the summer gas before mixing in the less pricey stuff.

The difference between conventional summer and winter blend gasoline has to do with the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of the fuel as it relates to the volatility of a gasoline. The more volatile a gasoline, the more likely it will evaporate as the temperatures rises; evaporated gasoline donates to unhealthy ozone and smog levels. Summer gasoline has a low RVP and is less likely to evaporate when equated to the high RVP winter grade. The EPA states conventional summer blend gasoline contains 1.7 percent more energy than winter blend gas, which is the reason the summer blend gets a bit better gas mileage.

So why don’t we use the summer blend year-round? The main reason is that summer blend gas doesn’t work as well in the winter. Summer blend’s low evaporation rate makes engines less likely to stall in hot weather, however can make them difficult to start in the cold.

The RVP is the vapor pressure of the gasoline blend when the temperature is 100F/38C. Normal atmospheric pressure varies, but is usually around 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi). Atmospheric pressure is caused by the weight of the air over our heads. If a liquid has a vapor pressure of greater than local atmospheric pressure, that liquid boils. For example, when you heat a pot of water, the vapor pressure increases until it reaches atmospheric pressure, at that point, the water begins to boil. (Thank you meteorology class, I actually understood this!)

In the summer, when temperatures can exceed 100F/38C in many locations, it is important that the RVP of gasoline is well below 14.7 psi. Otherwise, it can cause pressure in gas tanks and gas cans, and it can boil in open containers. BOOM! Gas that is evaporated ends up in the atmosphere and contributes to air pollution. Consequently, the EPA has declared that summer gasoline blends may not exceed 7.8 psi in some locations, and 9.0 psi in others.

The RVP of the gasoline blend rests on on how much of each element is in the blend and what the RVP is of each component. Butane is a relatively inexpensive ingredient in gasoline, however, it has the highest vapor pressure at around 52 psi.

In the gasoline blend, each component adds a portion to the total RVP. Simply, in the case of butane, if there is 10% butane in the winter blend, it will contribute around 5.2 psi (10% of 52 psi) to the overall blend. This means that in the summer, the butane fraction must be very low in the gasoline or the overall RVP of the blend will be too high.

And that’s why gasoline prices generally fall back in the fall, and spring forward in the spring, just like the clock!!

November is the Time to Protect Shrubs for Winter

November is the time for Midwesterners to protect their vulnerable shrubs from winter damage. A little protection from cold winds and snow is all that many cold-sensitive shrubs require. There are several methods available to provide shelter.


Smaller shrubs like rhododendrons, will benefit from using fresh cut branches of conifers [spruce, pine]. Direct the thick end into the ground near the crown of the plant, and intermingle the branches together. This will provide a windbreak and help stop branch breakage from the weight of snow. If the shrub is taller than the conifer branches, tie them together at different heights to protect the whole shrub.

Another method of providing protection is to use horticultural fleece, plastic, wind-break netting or commercially made covers like below. This method should be used on all late-season planted evergreens, as they may not have developed an adequate root system yet, and can dry out from harsh winds.

Lighted covers at

Snowmen Bush Covers

To wrap shrubs, insert three stout canes or rods around the shrub and wrap with several layers of protective fabric. Be sure to secure the fabric to the ground. Do not fill the area with leaves, this will promote fungus growth and other problems.

Smaller alpines or plants such as helibores, can be protected using bricks and a piece of glass or clear plastic. Place bricks on the sides of the plant, place glass on top with some type of weight on top to prevent glass from moving. Another idea is to use a spare cloche, but prop-up an end for some circulation.

Some evergreens don’t need wind protection as much as they need to be protected from heavy snowfalls. One heavy snow can break branches and permanently disfigure the plant. Tie shrubs branches loosely in an upright position.

winter protected shrubs

For established or larger shrubs that don’t need wind protection, remove heavy snows with a broom. Be sure to hit the branches swinging upward to pop the snow up, as pushing down may break the branches.

BTW – I drew these myself!  =-)