Reverse rumors, and tree ER 

It remains to be seen whether the summer of 2001 will turn out to be a re-enactment of last year’s blaze-riddled fire season, but the speculation is sure to continue as long as Montanans keep confusing news with gossip.

On June 1, three government agencies issued a joint press release to dispel what they said were prevalent rumors about public lands closing early due to fire risks. Their offices, they said, had received enough phone calls from tourists and homeowners about supposed closures that they had to set the record straight. Greg Albright, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, suggests it’s just further proof that, in Montana at least, word-of-mouth still spreads disinformation faster than the Internet. “I mean, if you stop in for a brew after work and mention to the bartender that some closure might happen, then it’s all over Missoula the next day,” he says.

Now, it seems, those same agencies are having to deal with reverse-rumors. Two days after their first statement was released, western Montana got hammered with a June blizzard, which, in case you’ve been hiding out with Robert Blake for the past month, explains all of the recent power outages, fallen phone lines and amputated shade trees. So now officials are having to deal with the misperception that the drought is over. To which they remind us: We’re not out of the woods yet, by a long shot.

“It may be nice, and it’s welcome,” Albright says of the “moisture” from last week’s storms, “but I don’t think it’s going to put much of a dent in things.”

So officials would like to remind you once again to keep camp fires small and manageable, douse them thoroughly when you’re done, and dispose of the coals properly. Otherwise, we’ll have wildfires on our hands spreading as fast as gossip.

Poor things, eh? If you’re a doting dendrophile wringing your hands about the drubbing your trees took last week, the temptation right now might be to flood them with nitrogen fertilizers to replace some of the growth sheared away by last week’s snowstorm.

Well, don’t. According to arborist James Cook of Able Tree Service, dosing your bruised beauties with nitrogen at this stage in the growing season is about the worst thing you could do for them. With midsummer approaching, he says, it’s already time to start thinking about fall and winter.

“It’s like giving a young child a couple of Coca-Colas just before bedtime,” Cook explains, likening trees gorged on nitrogen fertilizer to stalks of succulent but insufficiently fibrous celery. “Using highly soluble inorganic nitrogen fertilizer on your tree will cause fresh growth that it won’t be able to shut down and harden up in time for winter. It just grows too fast to be healthy.” The juicy new growth will then freeze in the fall, Cook continues, which ruptures the cells in the vascular tissue.

So instead of feel-good nitrogen, Cook recommends Miracle-Gro or a similar brand rich in phosphorus and potassium, minerals which encourage stronger fibers, stronger roots, and hence trees more capable of coping with winter. Better fruiting, too.

Don’t overdo it. Your trees will thank you.

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