Monday, October 10, 2016

Wood Energy Events Showcase Bioenergy

If you ever thought about using wood for energy, Penn State Extension has some great opportunities coming up this October.

Would you like to learn how advanced wood heat can help your school, business, or institution? The PA Wood Energy Team is hosting a series of educational events in recognition of the observance of National Bioenergy Day on October 19th. 

First, an "Advanced Wood Energy for Schools, Businesses, and Communities" workshop, co-sponsored by the Northern Tier Hardwood Association, is scheduled for October 15th from 8:30 am - 2:30 pm.  Learn how to save money on heating costs and transform operations to a renewable and sustainable source while supporting the local economy and the environment by helping to create healthier forests. Topics of presentations include the availability and sustainability of biomass fuels, advanced systems for wood heat, and project development considerations. There will also be educational and vendor displays.  Registration is $10, and includes lunch and a wood heat system tour.  Register online at

Second, a "National Bioenergy Day Celebration" is planned for Caledonia State Park (near Gettysburg) on October 19th from 10am-3pm, where information, displays, and informal tours of the park's wood energy system will be given.  Come and go as time permits, no registration required. 

Last, we have a second "Advanced Wood Energy for Schools, Businesses, andCommunities" workshop scheduled for October 22nd from 8:30 am - 2:30 pm at West Branch School District in Morrisdale.  The school's brand new bioamss heating system will be featured along with presentations and discussion on wood energy systems and project opportunities.  Registration is $10, and includes lunch and a wood heat system tour.  Register online at

Dan Ciolkosz, Penn State Extension, and Sarah Hall-Bagdonas, Northern Tier Hardwood Association

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Forest to Frame

The choices we make about the materials used as we develop the built environment have long-term effects on our society and the environment. Choose wood. It's beautiful, strong, versatile and renewable. With innovations in wood technologies, wood is now the wisest choice for more and more building applications, including mid-rise and even high-rise structures.

Wood is good.......especially when lots of it is used in construction projects. A video produced by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute highlights the environmental benefits of wood construction and using wood products sourced from sustainably managed forests. 

The new 5 minute "Forest to Frame" video seeks to enhance public understanding of how building more structures with wood helps address such pressing global challengges as population growth and climate change. Wood stores carbon, meaning increased use could help fight climate change, said OFRI director of forest products Timm Locke.

"Half of the dry weight of wood is carbon," Locke said. "Wood buildings are essentially huge carbon storage units. This fact alone is causing more and more architects, engineers, developers, and policymakers to take a fresh look at building with wood." 

To learn more about the benefits of mass wood timber construction visit

The Forestry Sources, August 2016, Vol.21, No. 8

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Trees and Drought

University Park, PA -- September 27, 2016 -- In Pennsylvania, we have had an extraordinarily hot and dry summer. Those who make their living from the land are well aware that rain is changing. When it occurs, it is more intense and has seemingly less value to crops. It seems that those less connected to the land celebrate the warm days without rain – another sunny day is not always the best day.

Imagine what it is like to have your roots anchoring you in one place and depending on rain from the sky to ensure there is adequate moisture in the soil to keep you working. What kind of work does a tree do, you ask? Well, trees use carbon dioxide from the air, water from the soil, and light from the sun to make sugar through work called photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is a complex process that requires certain conditions. All of our trees have leaves where the magic occurs. Tree roots collect and move water, which is absolutely essential, along with minerals and nutrients through long soda straw like tubes in the tree’s bole to the leaves. Photosynthesis involves combining carbon dioxide, which enters the leaf through small openings called stomates, water, and light in special cells called chloroplasts which contain chlorophyll (the green color in leaves) to make sugars. Stomates are important part of the process as they have the ability to open and close and thus control photosynthesis.

Stomates open and close by monitoring the amount of water available and air temperature. If the temperature is too high, then water demand is too high, and the tree stops making sugars necessary for its growth. When that happens, trees have to respirate. That is, they use up sugars to carry out life functions. The relationship between water in the soil and leaves is critical. And, on a hot summer day without rain, a tree might spend more of its time using up its sugars than using them to make wood, seeds, new twigs and buds, repairing damage, and getting ready for winter.

There is a lot going on with trees even when they are not growing. If things get really hot and water is too scarce, trees and most other plants will wilt and loose turgor pressure in their leaves. You have seen those wilting leaves. If water comes soon enough or the air temperature drops as it does late in the day and through the night, plants can recover; however, the stress of inadequate water can take its toll.

Trees under stress are susceptible to many threats. Insects and diseases are often lurking in the environment to take advantage of tree defense mechanisms negatively affected by heat and inadequate water. Healthy trees are constantly restoring and repairing weakened or damaged defenses. For example, Armillaria mellia, a common root rot, is always present the soil. When roots struggle to find water, they may begin to decline as water is actually pulled from their fine roots by the soil itself. Re-establishing water movement processes from those points to the leaves takes resources, and the roots may lose their battle with the root rot fungus and as a result begin a slow process of decline and, perhaps, death.

Across Pennsylvania, trees are showing signs of stress. Already, as you look around the neighborhood, you might see some trees are having leaf loss at the tops of their crowns. Elsewhere in the crown, leaves are detaching and littering the lawn with green rather than autumn colors.

You may have also noticed trees on road cuts turning brown or showing premature yellow. These cuts where the soil is shallow or facing south or west are often quick to show moisture stress. When water is scarce, as it is now, it is common to see maple and birch shedding leaves or going brown.

Elsewhere, there are reports of patches of oak, red and sugar maple, and even tulip poplar changing color sooner than expected or even appearing dead. It is difficult to interpret what is happening in all cases, but in some, the site might be poor, with shallow soils, or oriented to receive more direct light and heat; trees are responding by casting leaves earlier than expected. 

Water is essential for plant growth. Heat and lack of rain make for difficult growing conditions. Over the next few years, based on this summer alone, expect trees to struggle even if conditions are better next year. As we approach the end of the growing season, there is not much we can do for individual trees showing stress responses, especially in the forests. Lawn trees might benefit from deep watering. Make sure they get at least two inches of water under their crown spread every 7 to 10 days until the soil freezes.

Written by Jim Finley, Ibberson Professor of Forest Management and Director, Center for Private Forests at Penn State

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Invasive Species Highlight: Japanese Barberry

The invasive shrub, Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) was first introduced from Japan around 1875. This species has been a favorite ornamental shrub in yards, as hedges, and along highways because of its scarlet fruit and orange-red autumn foliage.

Japanese barberry is a compact, spiny, deciduous shrub with arching branches of dense foliage. It commonly grows from two to three feet tall and has been known to reach heights of six feet. Branches also root freely when they touch the ground; thus single plants can become quite large. The plant regenerates by seed and creeping roots.  

Small, rounded, smooth edged leaves are clustered in tight bunches close to the branches. Small yellow flowers bloom in May singly or in small clusters and form bright red oblong berries that mature in mid-summer and persist into winter. Single spines approximately ½" long occur along the stems. The inner bark and roots are yellow.

 It typically grows in locations with partial sunlight such as woodland edges. However, it can survive well under the shade of an oak canopy. In young forests it can form thorny thickets that shade out and limit the growth of native plants. It is also often found along roadsides, fence rows, old fields, and open woods.

Herbicides are suggested to control plants that are difficult to remove mechanically by pulling. Glyphosate (e.g., Accord XRT II) is effective when applied as a foliar treatment. Foliage can be sprayed up until the leaves begin to change color in the fall. Best results are achieved during periods of active growth and full leaf expansion. Triclopyr ester (e.g.,
Garlon 4 Ultra) has also proven to be effective at controlling barberry when applied as a basal stem or cut stem treatment. Basal bark treatments are effective in early spring when the barberry and other invasive shrubs first leaf out. The spray wand can be moved around the base of plants and individual stems sprayed from the root collar up to a height of one - two feet. More information on identification and control can be found in the following two fact sheet from Penn State.

Penn State Extension Invasive Plant Fact Sheet: Japanese Barberry
Penn State Invasive Species Quick Sheets: Exotic Shrubs

In addition, the University of Minnesota Extension has produced a new 3-minute video on the invasive Japanese barberry