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Coofer Cat

Copper Beech Maybe Struggling?

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Hi all - we've got an old copper beech in our garden - it's huge, and probably>100 years old. It's generally in pretty good shape, but I've noticed some changes I'm a little worried about.

 

A few years ago, it positively *dumped* beech nuts - not kidding, we probably had the husks an inch thick on the lawn. Since then, it's been a whole lot quieter - but this year I thought to collect them up (with a view to eating them). I filled up a bucket of husks and got a bowl of the nuts from it - but none of the nuts actually has any nut "meat" inside - they're all "blanks". Some had a dark brown crumbly looking attempt at making a nut. We found a little worm in one, but it doesn't seem to be infested with them.

 

Looking at the tree, it's been pulled about a bit in the past, but looks pretty good and produces a lot of leaves, which seem well formed. It does seem to have some grey patches on the trunk and the bigger branches. A fallen twig also shows the same sort of thing - I would guess this is how the majority of the tree looks by now. I can't see any particular evidence of critters in or on it, and there's no real moss or fungi nearby.

 

Environmentally, we're in sandy soil over sandstone (and the tree is probably rooted into stone). It's at the top of a slope, and is by far the biggest thing nearby, although there are some smaller silver birch and <something> in the neighbours garden nearby. There's a bit of soil erosion on the slope and some roots are starting to show, but in the main we've probably built up more soil under and around the tree than has been lost (over the last few years).

 

What can I do to help this old giant along a bit? I'm happy to do anything short of massage and serenading it, as it's a really great feature and being as old as it is, deserves a bit of respect. Any ideas?

 

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Good to hear (and thanks for the quick response).

 

Is the lack of viable nuts any concern? If trees are anything like humans, reproduction is the hardest thing for them to do, and the first thing they'd give up on if they weren't well.

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9 minutes ago, Coofer Cat said:

Good to hear (and thanks for the quick response).

 

Is the lack of viable nuts any concern? If trees are anything like humans, reproduction is the hardest thing for them to do, and the first thing they'd give up on if they weren't well.

Actually I think its the opposite . Things make seed and mast when they might be dying to further the species if you see what I mean .  EG look at the abundance of keys on the ash that is struggling with chalara fraxinia .

Edited by Stubby
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Thanks folks - this is all making me feel a lot better 🙂

 

I'll continue trying to sort the soil erosion on the roots and whatnot, but otherwise I'll leave it alone. Maybe next year I'll get to actually try eating a beech nut then!

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Looks a nice tree.

Don’t build the soil level up past what the tree has had all it’s life, You will create more problems than you save. just replace what has been lost.

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Ooh - interesting.

 

The long and sordid history is that we "stepped" the lawn a bit (adding maybe a foot of soil at the tree-end of the lawn). The lawn used to sort of slope off, and now it doesn't. Also, I stepped a little bit (2-3 sq. M) right under the tree, by the trunk because I also hung a swing on one of the branches. All that happened something like 2-4 years ago - the big drop of nuts was probably in the year we did the lawn.

 

Whilst none of that can really change, the future stuff can, and actually it's unlikely to gain more than an inch or two of coverage. I'll be careful not to over-cook it though.

 

 

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Looking at your picture of the whole tree it is apparent that you’ve raised the levels around the base of the tree, burying the roots and basal flair. That is not good for the tree’s health at all as you restrict the availability of oxygen to the roots (roots need oxygen as they respire, and raising the soil level essentially suffocates and kills them). 
If you can it would be best to carefully reinstate the original ground levels. As a minimum I’d suggest finding a local arboriculturalist with an airspade and ‘dig’ some channels down to the root system and backfill with a light mulch. It will make a mess of your lawn though!

Definitely don’t raise the levels any further at all would be my advice...

Edited by monkeybusiness
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Soil level increases on Beech can be problematic (essentially asphyxiates the roots) , and maybe the excess seed production is down to that, but also be aware that Beech have mast years where they produces lots and lots of viable seeds, whereas other years they still produce the 'seeds' but when you actually open  the seeds there is nothing inside. Good advice by monkey business about trying to restore the original soil levels, starting closest to the trunk and working away. Markings on the trunk are lichen, very much typical, nothing to be worried about. Beech trees are one the most sensitive trees to change (they dont like heavy pruning of the crown either) and with succumb to pathogens if treated poorly. Good that you are noticing changes now and you can try and address it - good luck

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Root asphyxia is a new one on me - but it makes sense to me and seems to fit time-wise.

 

I've taken a few steps to try to ease the situation, although unless things turn very wrong, I won't get clearance from the boss to dig up the lawn. I have tried to ease the situation where I can though, and will keep an eye on things from now on. My biggest worry is kids feet and whatnot over some of the exposed roots, but so far that's not been too destructive. The built-up soil means there's no chance of the mower hitting any roots, so maybe not ideal, but again, avoids the direct cuts.

 

I have some soil erosion nearby, which has been building for a few years (a sort of wide U shaped path has formed and is now something of a drain for rainwater) - I've slowed the flow of soil by "stepping" with some 1" branches I cut from something else. This won't dramatically increase the soil level by any exposed roots in the area, but will mean I can grow some grass there, which will further slow the erosion.

 

Either way... I'll keep an eye on the roots, and indeed the tree itself. If things deteriorate I'll crank up the works, but for now, I'm mostly just keeping an eye on things, holding out for a mast year.

 

Thanks all - really great information, very useful and much appreciated.

Edited by Coofer Cat

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