You Want to do What??

Photo by  prozac1 via
“Calmness is the cradle of power” – Josiah Gilbert Holland

Last week at work I received an odd text from my son asking if he could cut down one of the beautiful River Birch trees in my garden. He wanted the wood for some carving projects. You can guess what my response was – no one messes with my garden! Little did I know why he was asking and how my week would go…….

Our local power company came for a neighborhood visit, which happens once every 15 years, looking for trees and foliage that may interfere with power lines. You guessed it, they decided that 13 of my trees had to be removed because they were within a 15 foot easement they have. Mind you that even though we have 6 acres, 15 feet is into my garden because our acreage runs lengthwise.  You guessed it – I flipped out. The trees that they were referencing were at the most 10 feet tall, a long way from growing into our 25 foot high power line. I plant with a purpose and am always precise in what I plant and where knowing that eventually everything gets moved in my yard. I planted for privacy and beauty. I just didn’t see how my 3 foot Colorado Blue Spruce is an issue now. 

You may not be a gardener however, envision your favorite hobby and how you would react if someone came in to put the brakes on enjoying your passion. Love riding motorcycles? Sorry, you can only ride between 2 pm and 6 pm. Enjoy running? Sorry, you can’t run on the road and have to stay 8 feet off the sidewalks – those are for walkers. You get my point.

It’s probably a good thing that I wasn’t home when Dan from the power company dropped in last week. In fact, the holiday weekend offered me a chance to cool off to plot my next steps. After a few days of phone tag we set up a meeting in my garden so that I could talk him out of being the Hachette Man in 2 short weeks. I even went so far as to move three 5 foot conifers in the dead of winter. That was not an easy task in the Midwest.

Dan I met and toured the yard. My immediate aim was to have a collaborative working relationship. It was tough, but I wanted to hear his viewpoint knowing that going off on the electric guy wouldn’t help me any. I explained the passion for my garden, my reasons for intentionally planting what I did where, and my habit of always moving plants around in my garden.  He in turn explained his thoughts and we really collaborated on how we could come to an agreement. Dan gave me until June to move some of my treasures and gave me some tips. 

Dan the electric guy and I learned a lot from each other in our 40 minutes. He learned about new tree species and had a glimpse into the mind of a zany gardener.  Here’s what I learned:

·         When you are angry keep your mouth zipped. Give yourself time for information to sink in, to reflect, and think of your next steps. How many times have you neglected to do this and regretted it? I waited a day to call Dan back and I’m glad that I did.
·         Really get to know others in every interaction. Start with building dialog and a relationship. It will even the playing field and help set the tone for future interactions. I saw an opportunity to ask Dan for advice on getting into the forestry industry because my son loves the woods and nature. Dan’s passion for his job quickly kicked in.
·         Always place your views on the back burner and really put yourself in someone else’s place. Don’t always make everything about you. Listen to others, grasp their main points, and be willing to openly discuss your differences. It’s not easy to do particularly if you tend to be strong willed.
·         Offer solutions where you will both win. Dan extended the time that my trees will be removed from 2 weeks to June. That’s a win for me. In the end we agreed that the power company will remove all the tagged trees (about 8 now) and I will move 3 more of them in spring.
·         Assume positive intent on behalf of others. I love this phrase and have tried to burn it into my mind. Years ago I would not have always given others the benefit of the doubt. When negative events popped up I would too often think negatively. It’s not easy to do!
·         Be positive and optimistic even when you don’t feel like it. Once you start thinking positive you believe it. Once you believe it you radiate positivity to others and conversations change.
·         Respect the position of others.  I was initially steamed at Dan. To me he WAS the power company. We are all in the “position” of delivering unpopular news at one time or another. Remember to separate the person from their job. Treat people how you would like to be treated. Far too often I have been yelled at because of my job and it does hurt.
·         Be human.  Is it that hard?

Despite my fiasco with the power company it turned into a positive experience. Am I upset that my trees are being taken out when they really don’t need to yet? Yes!  But guess what? I have an opportunity to start fresh and bring some new life into my garden. I love change and can’t wait until the snow melts to get started.

What have you learned lately from an every day interaction?

Shake It Off!

“But I keep cruising
Can’t stop, won’t stop moving
It’s like I got this music
 In my mind
Saying, “It’s gonna be alright” - Taylor Swift

Photo courtesy of Tina Phillips via
OK. The truth is out. This past year, I became a Taylor Swift fan. I love songs that not only get you moving, but that throw you into action. When times are tough you need to pull your boot straps up and “Shake it Off”! If our gardens had brains they too would need to heed this advice. The autumn weather has been anything but normal in many parts of the country.

Today in the Midwest was an incredible day – particularly for the middle of November. Last year at this time we had a record breaking 31 inches of snow in 4 days! Today I was out and about with holiday music blaring and lights twinkling. It was 61 degrees and sunny. Our fall has been one of the most beautiful that I can remember. We still have green grass and some autumn color. There are even trees still adorned with leaves. Wait! Did I mention leaves on the trees? That’s NOT a good thing in the snow

The cooler temperatures and waning daylight are triggers for your garden to slowly slumber. Some trees start turning color as early as late August. Dropping foliage and needles prepare our plants for a long nap. It’s their way of sheltering themselves from the cold. Like people, trees have chemicals and enzymes that move throughout their body. This process slows down as winter approaches. When Mother Nature plays a hoax on plants this time of year it can quickly damage and kill.

When the warmth continues and nature remains active our gardens get confused. They are impacted by light frosts but when the warmth hits again, some of them start to slowly grow. I cut down my hardy Banana trees to the ground for winter and they started sprouting again with our consistent warmth. Guess what impact pending snow will have? Plants don’t have the ability to just Shake it Off.

In the bright sun today I saw a lot of large ornamental trees smothered in leaves. Even after some 50 MPH winds last week they stood proud and strong. Not willing to quite give up their leaves. If the trees are root strong and healthy they should be able to shake off any snow that comes their way. Unfortunately, if the swirling snow drops fast the weight may be too much to bear and the tree branches may dangerously sever. Sudden and unexpected breakage can cause irreversible harm. What is the key to thriving in these conditions? Strong roots, sturdy stature, future growth, and the ability to Shake it Off.

In many ways people are just like plants in a garden. Give us “healthy soil” when we start off, offer us tender care, provide nutrients and “brain food” and encourage our growth. This is what develops our roots so that we can grow strong and bloom. Like some of the leafy trees outside my window we may be thrown some curveballs during our cycle of life when the snow hits. Life, like Mother Nature, is effective at blindsiding us even when we know better and should be prepared. We don’t hold all the cards and can’t control our garden path. What we can do when we are hit by life is heed Taylor Swift and Shake it Off.

How to Shake it Off when the going gets tough

·         Focus on being healthy. Get some sleep. Strong roots need nutrients and food in order to make it through the tough “winds” of life that try to topple us.
·         Acknowledge your feelings and accept your situation. You can’t shake off what you can’t accept.
·         Interact with your community. Talk to people. Ask for advice. You may be amazed at how many people have gone through the same circumstances as you. They survived and can share how they coped and survived.
·         Try to look past your hardship in the moment. If our gardens had our intelligence they would look past the perils of winter and envision the spring ahead. Do the same.
·         Don’t over magnify a situation. Perhaps things aren’t as bad as they seem. Look around you. Other people are probably moving through deeper issues than you. Put things in perspective.
·         Ask for help. Sometimes you can’t make it on your own. Needing help is a sign of strength, not a weakness.
·         You are not your problem or crises. Your true self is at your roots where your strength is. You will grow and survive to flourish again.
·         Everyone deals differently. Stop comparing yourself to others assuming everyone “Shakes it Off” better than you. YOU are unique and need to do things your own way.
·         Take action. Life throws us rain, snow, wind, and fire. You can choose to plant yourself in one place or face the elements by shrugging them off and growing. What will you do?

How are you going to put your Taylor Swift on and “Shake it Off”?

What's Your Sweet Spot?

"An Ant on the move does more than a dozing Ox" - Lao Tzu
The ants go marching on and on

One of my favorite jaunts every morning is to wander around my garden enjoying the dew and sweet smell of the plants. The flowers are fresh and shimmering in the early sun.  Everything is slowly coming alive and ready to face the day. Mornings are also the best time for me to hunt for bugs or rodents that have busy over the nighttime hours.
This week during my wanderings, I was taken aback by the hoard of tiny marching ants on one of my weeping white pines. It was apparent that it was a party that I hadn’t been invited to. Usually the ants are in the hundreds of ant hills hidden on our sandy ground or lounging on my Peony plants. I quickly discovered that the star of the party was two hanging pine cones dripping with sweet sticky sap. The ants had found their “sweet spot” 

When most of us think about ants on the plants we think of beautiful Peony plants that open with a large display of color. Ants are notorious for scrambling all over the flower buds and there’s an active myth out there that the Peony flowers need ants in order to open and bloom. Not true by the way. The ants are there for the sugar high that they receive from the sticky nectar on the buds. Ants crawling on flower buds are probably beneficial because no other bugs will visit and the ants don’t do any harm. Once the Peonies open, the ants move on because the nectar on the flower disappears. 

 Many plants like Peonies and tropical plants have rectory glands. These glands are an organ on flowers or a leaf of a stem (Webster). The nectory secretes nectar that ants love to munch on. Ants are also drawn to plants because of Aphids. Aphids are small orangish sucking bugs that attack plants. They don’t kill plants, but they are a nuisance and you should spray a strong shot of water at them to knock them off. As they attack, the aphids secrete honeydew which quickly brings ants to the party to eat.  

You would think that since ants are little nectar eating factories that they would be great pollinators as they move from plant to plant. They aren’t. They can’t fly and they only have their little legs to get them around. Surprisingly, some ants secrete a natural substance that acts as an antibiotic. The antibiotic protects the ants from bacterial and fungal infections. Unfortunately, this substance also quickly kills any pollen grains and so there can’t be any pollination. US Forestry Service 

Ultimately, most ants on your plants won’t do any harm. They are just doing what they do best – looking for a great sugar high and some plants are more generous than others. Unless they are driving you crazy or you just plain hate ants,  you don’t need to do anything. Ants are actually beneficial insects because they can help clear your garden of Aphids or other pests during their sugar journeys.  Maybe the ants are even smarter than a lot of us. They are very effective in finding their “sweet spot”.

As I thought more about the ants, I become a bit jealous. Think about it. They are programmed to seek out and find their sweet spot. Moreover, they find it. How many of us are still wandering around every day in a fog?  We go to jobs that we can’t tolerate or even hate. Some people just show up and give enough to keep their job and collect a paycheck. They live for weekends and work makes them physically sick. Then there are those of us who are challenged, energized, and engaged at work every day. We love coming in to learn something new, have an impact, feel fulfilled, and ultimately make a difference. I’m fortunate that like the ants, I have found the nectar and my “sweet spot”. I’m one of the lucky ones that have been able to sip from the nectar where my interests, skills, and a great opportunity have merged. Are you still looking for your “sweet spot”?

“People are most successful when they are in their sweet spot. Your sweet spot is the intersection of where your passion meets your greatest strengths” – Ken Coleman 

Do you need to go on a journey to find your sweet spot? Maybe this will help:

·         Take a close look at your genuine interests. What really lights you on fire and makes you glow? Follow the light and stay interested.

·         Know thyself.

·         Take risks.

·         Know what your passion is. Find it now.

·         List your key skills and stay away from your weaknesses. Keep your gifts close and use them every day.

·         Have a personal vision, identify your goals, and live your values every day.

·         Develop your own style. Don’t let anyone steal it or squelch it.

·         Do something that will bring you joy every day.

·         Know what culture that you need in order to grow and the type of people that make you light up with vigor.

·         Make life and work balance a priority.

·         Run from anything that bores you or saps your energy.

·         Build strong relationships and network to see what is out there and who can help you.

·         Find a job or life coach to find what you need, where you need it.

·         Have fun!

·         What will people pay you for that you love doing?

·         I s money really more than sipping sweet nectar?

·         Never settle.

Life is too short to NOT follow the path to finding your own “sweet spot’.  If you are in a job that you hate or you are drained every day only you can change it. Start your journey right now. Get your little legs moving and seek out some nectar. You CAN find your “sweet spot!”


Don't Get Suckered!

"Never give a sucker an even break" - W.C Fields

Even though it's June I'm still toiling away in my garden getting chips down, digging up dead plant victims to the harsh winter and cleaning up. As I've been crawling around low and pruning up high I encountered something that I haven't seen in abundance in a long time - I've been "Suckered!" Guess what? You probably have been too but you just didn't know it.

Suckers are all around you. In this case, I'm not referring to your friends but to your garden. Have you ever had branches growing at the base of your trees like the picture below? Have you come across a woody plant or tiny thin tree growing an odd distance from a tree or bush? Frequently, the branches that sprout don't look a thing like the mother plant and seem to sprout out of nowhere. Just as the word indicates, “suckers” are not a good thing. In fact, suckers will drain the energy from your tree and may even weaken it to the point of death.  

Suckers are the result of a tree or large shrub trying hard to grow more branches, especially if it is stressed. On grafted trees (trees that have a different root stock from the actual tree to give it vigor or disease resistance – fruit trees are a prime example) the branches usually grow at the base of the tree like my Witch Hazel in the picture. What happens is the top part of the tree is happy as can be but the lower part (the roots) are stressed and the tree attempts to reproduce for protection. It essentially goes a little crazy. Other trees, like my Weeping Cherry, grow suckers as far as 5 feet away from the tree. I occasionally find small lanky trees trying to grow in odd places.

So what do you do with suckers? Pull them as soon as you find them. They grow super fast and have a lot of energy. They suck the energy from your trees and are parasites. In some cases on grafted trees they can take over the tree. Keep tearing them away and don’t let them take control. Some trees tend to sucker more than others and it’s just a matter of regularly pulling them. I’m always pulling suckers from the base of my Apple trees.

You can’t always prevent suckers but there are some things that you can do to try to keep them away.

ü  Keep your trees healthy and well watered. Fertilize them each spring. Strong trees have the energy to survive an onslaught of suckers.
ü  Don’t over prune your trees. It will weaken them. When I was young we never let my Mom have the pruners. She tended to go on a pruning rampage.
ü  Don’t over prune, but prune regularly. Pruning enables the tree to stretch out and grow. Pruning also stimulates growth hormones within the tree which is exactly what you want to start the new growing season.
ü  Pull those suckers the minute you see them and check back in periodically to make sure they haven’t returned.

"If you look around the table and you can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you"– Paul Scofield

Do you sometimes feel like there are suckers all around you as you go through the day? They sap your attention, your energy, and your growth?  Suckers distract you and you feel like you are working hard but never getting anything done. There’s a name for these “suckers” and they don’t belong to your coworkers. The suckers that I’m talking about are productivity suckers. I’m guessing that right away you can name a few that pop into your mind. Their goal is to turn you into a fire fighter and to keep you busy without accomplishing a thing. They turn you into the person who is running around all day working like madman but seemingly getting nothing done. Stop the suckers! Yank them away like we do to the suckers on our trees and get growing!

Here’s a list of the most common productivity suckers that you want to avoid. I guarantee that you will take back control of your time and your results will grow:

ü  Attend fewer meetings. Shorten ones that you hold. Don’t feel obligated to accept every invite and are regular weekly meetings really beneficial? Nope. They are often the biggest time suckers of all. Start saying no and prioritize. Protect your time and your schedule.
ü  Run from chatty coworkers. Hide from the gossipers. Be pleasant but don’t get sucked in.
ü  Create action plans for yourself and others to avoid other priorities from creeping in.
ü  Avoid your email. Emails can pull you in and force you to lose your focus. Don’t manage by answering every email that comes in one after another. Create folders for low priority emails to drop into automatically. Stick to your priority list, not the email list.
ü  Don’t copy everyone on every email that you send. Stop people from copying you on every email. Copying = covering butts in most cases.
ü  Ignore emails all together and do what our parents did back in the day. Pick up the phone and have an actual discussion rather than an email war. Person to person communication will always win.
ü  Set aside quiet time for goal setting. Block your calendar. Silence the cell phone. Hide in the bathroom if you must. Do it.
ü  Don’t multitask. You know that it doesn’t really work. How many people do you know that multitask in meetings and are clueless about the discussion? Every day all day.
ü  Use the technology at your fingertips. Make sure it’s updated and functional. If you don’t know how to use it then learn. It will help you fight the time suckers.
ü  Stop trying to look good by being the “nice” girl to work on extra projects or be on every committee. You will soon be lost in a field of suckers. You know what they will do to you!

What is your worst productivity sucker? Email would be mine, and you?

Why You Need To Prune Yourself This Spring

Everything has seasons, and we have to be able to recognize when something's time has passed and be able to move into the next season. Everything that is alive requires pruning as well, which is a great metaphor for endings" - Henry Cloud

Photo courtesy of Llafano via Compfight

For most of the country, this winter has been horribly cold, brutally windy, and the snow hasn't stopped. As I look out the window right now there is a mixture of snow and sleet. It's bleak and I feel like spring will never arrive! Most of us in cold climates are itching to get outside and enjoy warmer weather and melted snow. For gardeners, this is the calm before the storm. It's time to start planting seeds inside, draw up vegetable garden plans, make dream lists of new plants to add, online plant orders to execute, and time to prune. Yup. Even though the snow may be a few feet deep it's the best time of the year to prune your trees and shrubs. Bundle up and get out outside.

While it would be great to plop trees and shrubs into the ground and forget them, you can't. They need regular pruning to remove dead branches, control growth, and maintain their shape. Few plants tolerate an absence of attention after they are planted. Can you blame them? Pruning reinvigorates, spurs growth, and prepares trees for the future. Why would anyone want to plunge out into the winter air and prune? Now? There's several reasons why you SHOULD prune now - here's why:

  • Trees are dormant now and they won't suffer shock when pruned.
  • The sap in most trees doesn't flow at all (or much) now.
  • Pruning now means fewer chances of the tree or shrub contracting a disease. Ditto for insect problems.
  • The cold ensures that there is less hormone disruption within the tree.
  • There's less active sugar in trees/shrubs right now than when they are leafed out so the chances of weakening the tree is less.
  • Winter pruned trees are ready to jump into growth mode when spring arrives. They start the season stronger and more vigorous.
  • Pruning now enhances flowering and growth months from now.
  • You can easily see the tree structure now. You can prune crossed branches and see the dead wood.
  • You can work slow and meander around the tree to examine it's shape without distraction. You may avoid hacking trees/shrubs to nothing like my Mother once did - repeatedly.

Get outside now and start pruning. It's great exercise, fresh air will invigorate you, and your trees will thank you in a few months!

"The tree of life is self pruning" - Joel Determan

People are in many ways just like trees. Some of our needs are the same - survival - we are just a bit more demanding in our care. Just as a tree needs pruning, you need to "prune" from time to time to jump start your personal growth. This is a perfect time of year to get busy because by now you have forgotten your New Year's resolutions or thrown them out completely. Spring is a time of fresh growth, calmness, and beauty - don't YOU deserve to experience a healthy growing season?

There are some simple steps in planning your growth. Hopefully you already have a shimmer of an idea of what you need to be healthy  and flourish. Here's a 3 step plan to get you started on achieving your goals and growing to your potential:

  1. Craft a personal mission statement. This defines who you are, your values, what you stand for, what you need, you ultimate goal. You are your own company with a brand that you need to manage. You can't do that without a mission statement. This is the big picture of you.
  2. Plan your strategy. Just as we need a plan as to why, how, and when to prune a tree you need the same. You need to look at your existing "structure" and take the steps necessary to prepare and guide your own growth.
  3. You need a "gardener" to foster your growth and guide you. Find a mentor or coach to help you throughout your growth and journey through life. We benefit from relying on the skills and advice of a masterful gardener. Who is yours?
In addition to your 3 step plan it's critical to be mindful every day of how you really do periodically need to be pruned. Here's some key ideas to help guide you in your growth:

P - POSITIVE: Be positive inside and out. Your world will change. You will change others.

R - RESPECT: Be open and mindful of the thoughts and characteristics of those around you. Respect yourself too!

U - UNIQUE: Remember that you are one of a kind. You have a purpose on this earth and no one can duplicate you.

N - NIMBLE: Always be ready to jump at opportunities. Look for ways to grow and respond.

E - ENTREPRENEURIAL: You are the CEO of you. Be  mindful of the decisions that you make. Make your world flexible and always be mindful of making changes and developing "your" company - YOU.

Are you ready to get out there and "prune"? What if you don't..... Are you ready for the consequences?

It's OK To Be Bare

"Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing" - Abraham Lincoln

Photo courtesy of EJP via Compfight

The howling Halloween winds last week snaked through our trees quickly and with force last week.The scenic color palette of yellows, reds, and orange went down without a fight. The result was a scenery of colorless brown trees with a colorful crunching skirting of leaves. Yup. It really is fall now in the Midwest. As sad as I am to see my gardens go to sleep and the trees baring all, it really is a great feat of Mother Nature.

Trees are a lot like us when it comes to the seasons. Their alarm clock to start shutting down is the failing light as the days shorten and the air is colder. Their chlorophyll stops flowing and the leaves slowly change color. Despite what you think, the winds don't grab the leaves off the trees. The trees themselves throw off their leaves like a winter coat. As the days shorten, trees send a signal to the spot where the leaves are attached. The spot where the leaves are attached to the branches are sealed. No fluid can get in or out and the leaves are dropped by the tree. Result? Naked trees.

This whole magical process doesn't happen just so that you can venture out on color tours. The tree instinctively knows that it needs to protect itself in order to battle the cold and snow. The chemicals that were flowing to the leaves are diverted to the tree roots to fortify the entire root system and in the spring, the tree. The bottom line? Being bare is a good thing!

Photo courtesy of Theen via Compfight

I LOVE how the face of leadership has evolved over the years. I remember years ago when I joined a management training program with a local bank right out of college. Back then leaders thought that they needed to act "leaderly". They were more stoic, more commanding, and everyone was expected to follow them (plus most were men!). Input wasn't generally solicited or wanted. They had the final word. Times have changed. Leaders today seek input, show empathy, are more servant leaders than commanders. They see the benefits of empathy. In short, our leaders today are human. We all want to work with or for people who act like us. No matter where you lead from or whom you lead - Don't be afraid to "bare" yourself to people and act human.

What does it mean to be a "bare leader"? It means NOT being afraid to show empathy and emotion. It means being authentic and "you". It means being a servant leader rather than a commander. It means being yourself while earning your leadership title. It means encouraging and empowering people to grow and want to follow you. In short:

Don't be afraid to bare yourself!

  • Don't think that hiding emotion is what leaders do. Bottling feelings up and acting stoic doesn't make anyone a hero. It makes you look weak and pushes people away.
  • People smell fake a mile away. Too much sugar coating and BS WILL be evident. Is it worth it?
  • People want the bare truth. They don't want weak answers or any beating around the bush tactics. You end up clouding situations and making rash decisions in the long run. Being authentic and true eliminates issues that you can avoid.
  • In connecting, speaking, writing, life, HOW you say something if far more important than what you say. How many times have you written or read an email and it's how the information was relayed? It threw you into an emotional tail spin, not what was said. I just had this last week!  
  • Baring your true self really does build trust, strengthen relationships, and help others relate to you.
  • Leaders build vision. Vision takes skill and really jumping into the minds of your people. You can't do that without getting to know them and gaining joint trust.
  • Sharing emotions really goes a long way towards influencing how people think, behave, and react. This also intertwines with your vision creating.
  • Show your passion. Share your frustrations. People want to know that you too have doubts, fears, ideas, and don't know everything.
  • Strong leaders know that showing their real self will help groups bond together to find solutions or make change. You don't want to provide all the answers. Truthfully, you need your people more than they need you. Without them, there is no growth or passion to push on to grow and achieve.
Don't try to go it alone in life. Rely on others and "bare" your authentic self. When you show those Cub Scouts how passionate you are about climbing an obstacle wall but confident in them and that YOU are scared, they will relate and try harder. They will feed on your passion and confidence in them to scrabble right up that wall. When tough department choices have to be made, be truthful and share your indecisiveness to allow your team to give input and work through it. They are closest to the situation. 

Be human. Bare yourself. It's OK

Don't Stand So Close To Me!

"Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them" - John C Maxwell

Photo courtesy of Alison Christine via Compfight

I admit it - I am a plant snob. I think that the arrival of Spring may bring the worst out of me. Why? Spring is a prime planting time for trees and shrubs. Everyone has been locked up all winter and we are craving to get outside to clean winter up. Nurseries are bursting with new trees and shrubs and  we start planting. Unfortunately, too many people don't like reading plant tags or asking questions of experienced nurserymen. What we often get is trouble....

As I drive around neighborhoods, my attention is always drawn to the trees and shrubs that are planted in front yards. Often, I itch to take a picture of a picturesque and stately tree standing proudly in a yard. It's presence sets the house off . Likewise, I also find myself wanting to stop and save the world by cutting down some "mis-planted" trees or shrubs. When I see trees planted too close to a house I just want to start singing the old Police song "Don't stand so close to me".

There is a new housing development a few miles from us. The houses are beautiful with some interesting exterior accents that makes each one unique. Last Spring I watched the progression of some landscaping slowly being placed in one particular yard. Obviously by the homeowners. They planted some nice weeping Cherry and Pear trees. They also added some thin lush evergreens - ALL planted about 3 feet from the house! In just a few years these cute weeping specimens will be 10+ feet tall and leaning as they grown into the house. The nice vision of a professionally landscaped yard in the mind of the new homeowners will be a "Tree Armageddon"!

Please...Your trees are begging you to not plant SO close to you!

Planting trees and larger shrubs too close to a house is tempting. You see a cute little tree in front of you and know that it will look perfect right by the house. Generally, you don't need to remove any existing grass or other plants. It's quick and easy. It looks great. Wait! What looks awesome  now can end up costing you thousands of dollars in 5 years and a lot of hard work hours to fix. Below is what planting that cute little tree can cost you......

  • Damaged foundation as the tree roots grow into the structure of your home
  • Cracked driveway and sidewalks as roots crack it with growth
  • Storm damage as tree branches crack and damage roofs, windows, gutters
  • Cost to trim or remove large branches near a house
  • Windows or doors become covered and offer a great place for the bad guys to hide
  • Power lines are threatened by overgrown branches
  • Tree roots can grow into septic tanks and sprinkler lines
  • Plumbing issues
  • Scraggly looking trees that struggle who grow without room to spread
  • Animals will love you for providing a way for them to get onto your roof and into your house
  • In some ares that are plagued by Termites you are giving them a great home - right next to yours!
  • Snow damage will break branches - right onto your house
  • Drainage issues
Is that new little tree of yours cute enough to plant close? I don't think so either! Read tags and do your research before planting. Look on the Internet for mature tree growth and height. Ask experienced gardeners or nurserymen for advice. Visualize what your house will look like 10 years from now. Aim to plant compact and narrow trees. Some trees can be planted just a mere few feet from your home. For most, keep them 15 feet from light poles and a good 10 feet from cement. Plan, plan, plan. Don't be singing the Police song in a few years!

Leaders! Don't "stand" too close to your people!

Your people are your foundation and like trees planted right next to a home, standing too close can be dangerous. Managers shouldn't allow themselves to favor certain employees. You can't allow the emotion of being close to your people to cloud your perception and muddle your judgment. Leadership means always walking a fine line between being caring and compassionate to your team and being able to make the best decisions for the whole. Keep your roots firmly planted, but leave room for growth for your people. To do so, you must keep your space. Don't plant yourself too close as it can damage your "foundation":

  • Be personal and approachable but don't be IN your team's personal life
  • Be helpful and supportive but don't be the "personal" problem solver
  • Value people and make them feel a part of the team but don't go overboard
  • Don't ever lose your objectivity
  • Maintain enough "distance" to be an effective manager
  • Be fair with everyone, all the time
  • Don't allow favoritism on the part of anyone on your team. Never allow yourself to develop it either
  • Developing healthy feeling for your team is critical but don't allow them to affect your decision making ability
  • If you become too close to your team and are their "bud" you will never be able to discipline them
  • Your team members are NOT your friends
  • Favoring anyone just once may lead to rumors and signal a lack of your leadership abilities
  • Your employees are like your children in many ways. You want to be there for them as they grow and you love leading them to new opportunities. You are still their "parent" and need to set boundaries and stand by them

Whether you are a homeowner or leading people, you should think ahead and be careful how close you plant your roots. Being too close over a period of time will stifle growth and have costs down the road. Allow your "trees" plenty of room to grow and flourish without becoming too involved. The results will be rewarding years from now when you look back and see what you  have created and how it has grown!

Photo courtesy of Jervetson via Compfight

Look for the ONE!

Image courtesy of Dog Happy Art via Compfight CC

"Do not be afraid to go out on a limb...that's where the fruit is" - Anonymous

It's that time of year when a lot of  people venture out to find "The One". I'm not referring to that perfect gift, but the perfect tree. For the 25% of the population that embark on finding and cutting down a live tree every year, it's a serious business!

About 30 million Christmas trees are sold every year in the US and they are grown in all 50 states. For every tree cut, 1-3 seedlings are planted the following Spring. With over 15,000 tree farms in America there are a lot of varieties and types of trees available to pick from. Evergreens can take 15 years to grow 6-7 feet tall and the key growing states include Oregon, N. Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Washington. Real Christmas Tree Org
Among the most popular Christmas trees cut each year, Firs (Douglas, Balsam, Fraser), Pines (Scotch, White) and Spruce (White, Norway, Blue) are favorites. Preferences depend on the price that you are willing to pay, where you live, and the shape, size, branch or needle length that you like. Leyland Cypress are a popular choice in the Southeastern area of the country and the Virgina Pine is a favorite in the South. Real Christmas Tree Org
It takes focus, patience, and teamwork to find THE right tree. First, you need to find the best tree farm or pre-cut lot to explore. That's just the beginning! Here's some things to keep in mind:
  • Make sure that you measure your space before leaving the house!
  • Research ahead of time the different species of evergreens and the attributes of each
  • Always do a branch needle test. Make sure that the needles are fresh and pliable
  • Avoid cut trees that have needle loss, pale color, smell musty, or have wrinkled bark
  • Smell your way to the right tree! One of the best reasons to cut a real tree is for the alluring fragrance
  • Stand back and look at the true shape and branch length of the tree
  •  If you really go green and opt for a balled or potted live tree, make sure that it isn't in your house for more than 1 week. Have the planting hole prepared ahead of time with the dirt stored in a warm garage
  • Cutting and hauling your tree is not a one person job unless you are superhuman!

When your prized possession arrives home make sure that you honor it by actually taking care of it! Cut off about an 1/2 inch off the base of the trunk to help it pull up water. Keep the tree stand full and check it every day. Keep the tree away from heat sources and sunny windows. Spray it with Wilt Pruf to preserve the moisture in the needles. Don't let your animals climb the tree and let everyone know how much time and effort it took to find "The One!"

Throughout our lives, in a variety of ways, we are always looking for "The One". We search for the right school, right life partner, the best job, the perfect family. Sometimes we find it, sometimes it remains so very elusive. In the leadership arena, every once in awhile we find ourselves eagerly acknowledging that we are truly seeing "The One".

I had this epiphany a few weeks ago when I read a story about Pope Francis. It was an article about how the Pope sneaks out to break bread with the poor. How he has defied the trappings and pomp of being the Pope. He lives in a simple home with his own belongings. He has blatantly fought corruption and has fired people at the Vatican for their extravagance. He drives his own 20 year old car. He doesn't really dig the "Pope Mobile". He seems "real" to people. Francis has engaged with newlyweds outside and greets people while willingly joining in their pictures. He Tweets. He focuses on individuals in need. He genuinely seems to care about real people. He follows through with action, not just rhetoric. He's given hugs to over 100 wheelchair-bound followers in a visit. He embraces those that may be disfigured and understands them. He seems to connect with his followers and is humble yet real despite his position. Francis randomly makes his own personal calls to reach out to others without a secretary. He leads with a sense of humor and clearly doesn't have himself up on a pedestal. The list goes on and on.

Religious preferences aside, you have to recognize and acknowledge the incredible leadership skills that Pope Francis exhibits. He truly possesses traits that rare great leaders have and traits that we should all aspire to develop. For me, Pope Francis is a leader that readily jumps into my mind. He will also stay with me as I grow in my leadership.

Leadership traits that "The One" has:

  • Humble and simple
  • Authentic and "real"
  • Caring with a strong emotional IQ
  • Ability to connect and engage
  • Sense of humor
  • Honesty
  • Great communication skills
  • Confidence and strength to do what is right - willingness to go against the norm and out on a limb
  • Commitment
  • Positive attitude
  • Ability to aspire and show vision
  • Intuition and going with your "gut" in tough times
  • Ability to delegate so that you can focus on what you need to
  • Creativity in accomplishing your goals (Pope Francis sneaks out so he can administer to people - in disguise!)

It's no wonder that this week Time Magazine named Pope Francis as their Man of the Year. They easily recognized him as "The One" for 2013. His leadership skills and unconventional way of reaching out to others is truly inspiring and down right awesome!

Hopefully this holiday season has found you locating "The One" Christmas tree to fit into your holiday cheer and celebrations. "The One" stands out in a crowd and is immediately recognized. As I continue down the leadership path, I have easily found "the One' that stands out to me among all others. I am writing down the leadership traits above that Pope Francis has shown us all this past year and I am  going to work on growing each and every one of them!

What or who is YOUR ONE this year?

Photo courtesy of the Catholic Church via Compfight


Is Being a Leader Sucking the Life out of You?

Photo credit: Shandi-Lee via Compfight CC

"Work is 1% inspiration plus 99% transpiration" - Albert Einstein

Yup. It's that time of year again. Hustle and bustle, year end projects, tight schedules and endless meetings, vacations rushed in, and the holidays..... The days are shorter, the cold is bitter, and the clouds just keep dumping on us. The winter months can bring about too much stress to the point where you may feel that the life is being sucked right out of you. Guess what? It's not any easier on our plants outside braving the stress this time of year!

Winter weather can stress shrubs/trees throughout various regions in the country. For us snowbirds, snow can be our best friend by insulating and protecting plants for the winter. Often regions where it's bitter cold and there is a lack of snow cover suffer more plant loss. All life needs water to survive. When water is scarce or non-existent, we die. It's particularly critical that plants continually have sufficient water uptake throughout their roots and leaves. Plants go dormant during the winter but they still perform internal processes to survive. For instance, transpiration is movement of water throughout a plant/tree and the evaporation of moisture from it's aerial parts like the leaves, stems, and flowers  A lack of water stresses the plant out and it will eventually succumb.

Plants that are particularly vulnerable to cold drying winds and moisture loss include: Newly planted shrubs (that maintain green leaves) and evergreen trees, rhododendrons, azaleas, hollies, boxwood, laurel, cedar, cypress, junipers, and plants being grown in a planting zone where they are marginally hardy (an example is growing a zone 7 shrub in a planting zone 6). I planted a specialty Alaskan Cedar that was marginally hardy in my area  where it was exposed to the winter winds. It slowly turned brown and didn't survive the winter despite my efforts to protect it. It was ripped out in the spring and a different tree was popped in it's place. Lesson learned!

This time of year, a lot of people love to decorate with live Christmas trees, wreaths, and evergreen ropes. They make the house smell great and they are more festive because they are "real". They also dry out real fast (lack of transpiration!) and the dry needles cascade all over the floor. In a real dry house, they often don't make it to Christmas!
 There are things that you can do to protect both your outside shrubs and your Martha Stewart holiday home...
  • Smaller newly planted evergreen shrubs can be protected by putting 3 stakes in the ground around the shrub and wrap burlap around it to protect from drying winds. You should only need to do this the first season unless you are a glutton for punishment.
  • Plant wind scold prone shrubs/evergreens in protected spots near the house or by taller trees that will block strong winds.
  • Check the planting zone of the shrub that you are planting. A Monkey Puzzle tree will not survive harsh winters no matter how much protection you give it. Be in your zone!
  • My favorite solution - spray the shrub and your live indoor decorations with a product like Wilt Pruf. Wilt Pruf is a anti-transpirant that protects plants from losing moisture. It protects against cold drying winds(in all seasons) and maintains the moisture in your live holiday decorations. Wilt Pruf is a pine emulsion that dries to a strong flexible coating on the shrub. It feels waxy after it dries and lasts about 3-4 months. It does not interfere with any of the natural plant processes like osmosis or photosynthesis etc. Bottom line - it's like a coat for your shrub and wreaths. It keeps the moisture in your shrubs outside and will help your Christmas tree thrive until December 25th inside. For more information on Wilt Pruf please checkout

Humans and plants are very similar. We get stressed a lot, especially this time of year. There have been times in the past where I  have felt like everything around me is trying to steal all my energy and wipe me out. We all have so many demands on us pulling from all directions. The poor economy in the past several years has only heightened the pull and stress. Family needs this, the boss needs that, employees have personal issues, teams have conflicts, peers fight like children, production is off schedule etc etc etc...Our people look to us to hit a magic button to make it all better. We can only give so much. The responsibility, and sometimes burden, of being an effective leader is a weight on all of our shoulders.
What happens when being a leader sucks the life out of you?

Many people never even realize how stressed out they are until they are pulled or forced out of a situation. A few years ago, I was in a job where nothing seemed to flow right within the company where I worked. It wasn't until after I left that I recognized how much stress I was under. Things happen for a reason in life and I was fortunate to get out of my situation while I still had hair left! You really need to recognize your own personal stress signs and act.

You have undoubtedly heard the saying that you can't control other people, you can only control yourself. It's true. I've tried - and failed! It's up to YOU to pull in the reins so that you have more control and less stress. It's worth mentioning that some stress is a good thing. It helps to keep you on your toes and focused. Stress is a monster from which you can't escape - you can try to cage it!

Here are some common culprits of stress that plague us all:
  • People: The demands of others, personal problems, "babysitting", negative people, disengagement, peer conflicts.. the list goes on and on.
  • Personal career dreams and aspirations
  • Problems: Big or small and you are expected to save the world.
  • Pressure
  • Pace/Lack of time
  • Politics: Internal politics can be a huge life drain. In many companies more time is spent "playing the game" than actually working. There are too many silos, turfs need to be defended and grown, everyone tries to please to get ahead. Yikes!
  • Effort: Sometimes it seems that everything is swirling around us and no matter how much of ourselves we offer or effort we give, it's just not enough.
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of resources
  • Technology or lack thereof
  • Personal life issues and struggles
  • Health issues
  • Interpersonal demands
  • No fun or life of normalcy
The list seems to go on and on. I'm sure that you can add several of your own. Just because you are a "leader" doesn't mean that you are invincible and can take on the world solo. Don't place that burden on your shoulders. You aren't any less of a person or professional if you need to stop and take a step back to keep the light alive inside you. Realize that you can't do it all and don't feel like a failure for a second when you take the first step to de-stress. Leaders have vision. You need the vision to look out for you!
What do smart leaders do to avoid having the life sucked out of them?
Here are some ideas!
  • Maintain your perspective on life. Remember your roots and dreams
  • Focus on the big picture with vision. Don't get caught up in the little things
  • Ask for feedback from mentors and other leaders in your circle
  • Find a mentor or key supporter
  • Develop your own personal "board of directors"
  • Find a great life coach to run things by and gain a different perspective
  • Ask for 360 support
  • Open up to others. Grow personal relationships with peers
  • Hire and empower the best people that you can - they are your stress deflectors
  • Streamline your area and reassign duties or teams
  • Delegate and develop trust for other's to handle hiring, training, management, etc
  • Address issues early and right away so things don't sneak up on you
  • Develop outside interests. Have a life
  • Find ways to recharge yourself. Make finding a hobby your number one goal
  • Do what you love. Find it if you aren't doing it!
  • Set a goal for only working a certain numbers of hours a week. Stick to it!
  • Meditate
  • Take breaks and de-stress throughout the day
  • Maintain a positive attitude and you will feel more alive
  • Be thankful to be a leader and remember why you worked so hard to become one - make a difference

Being a leader is like being a new parent. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't care for your "baby". At first it's tough to leave your "baby" in the hands of others but you need to. You can't be effective and lead if you are stressed with little life left inside you. Like our outdoor shrubs, you need to have life (moisture) cursing throughout your system in order to remain strong, viable, and thrive!
Photo credit: Ian Boyd via Compfight CC


** I was not compensated in anyway by Wilt-Pruf Products, Inc. I have used this product with success and recommend using it to protect your plants/shrubs.

Well rooted leadership

"I'm planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots" - Andrea Koehle Jones, The Wish Trees
Young shallow rooted Weeping White Pine 

I have a love hate relationship with Fall. I love the cooler temps and the dancing trees covered in brilliant shades of color. The bugs are gone and it's a great time for fires and football. I HATE what comes after Fall and know that Old Man Winter will be gleefully putting my garden to sleep for far too long here in Michigan.

Fall is the optimal time to buy trees and plant them. You can unearth great deals on trees as nurseries prepare to shut down for the season. Just yesterday, I bought two Weeping White Pines like those to the left for $20 a piece! What a steal! Newly planted trees may look like they are already sleeping for the season, but as I've shared in a prior article - there is a lot going on below the surface! Fall Into Learning. The roots are growing and developing until the middle of winter. If the roots aren't  strong, developed, and healthy, the tree will quickly die.

Roots are the lifeline of any plant or tree. You can buy the rattiest looking tree or plant in the fall but if the roots are healthy it just doesn't matter. When you are buying a new plant, gently pull the plant out of the pot and examine the roots. Is the plant root bound with the roots tightly packed in or piled thick over each other? Are there bugs in the soil? Do the roots look healthy in color? Don't mind the stares from the nursery folks if you look at the roots. Any reputable nursery understands the importance of customers looking at plant health. If the plant is packed tightly in the pot, all is not lost. Just gently stab the roots with your shovel prior to planting. Also take your fingers and feature out the small roots. It won't hurt the plant, it will help spur the roots to grow and stretch out. Many years ago (before I knew anything!) I planted a beautiful weeping tree that died a few years later. One of the roots grew around the root ball and literally strangled the tree to death over time. Don't let this happen to you! It's a lot easier to prepare the roots for growth during proper planting, rather than pulling out a dead tree down the road.

Roots support the entire tree structure. Some roots can grow down as far as 60 feet and extend out two times the canopy of the tree! Roots serve the tree as follows:
  • Roots absorb nutrients
  • They anchor and support the tree to protect it during high winds or other climate threats
  • They help with tree reproduction. The roots are the veins of the tree and enable it to feed and seed
  • Roots are the storage system for nutrients
  • Roots absorb water and oxygen
Trees have frequently been compared to people. Their roots, trunks, and leaves serve similar purposes. As with us, if roots aren't healthy in so many ways, the tree dies. Our roots are our source of strength as well. Our roots are vital as we travel down the leadership path in life. As with trees, you can't see the roots but they form the basis for the person. We all need to be feeding our roots and growing them if we are going to lead others or make a difference in this world. Our roots are living, growing, and giving every day. Here are some value examples of what "roots" can be:

  • Integrity
  • Creativity
  • Empathy for others
  • Courage
  • Honesty
  • Passion
  • Vision
  • Healthy risk taking attitude 
I'm sure that you can fill in more values that you feel are critical. The bottom line is that we are all different and our values make us what we are and how we act. To live a healthy life we need to live and honor our values. We should focus on cultivating them and utilizing them to bring out our best - just as a tree's roots do. If our roots aren't strong and anchored,  then we will wither and die in our leadership. How can YOU develop stronger roots? How can you have a strong impact as a leader? Here are some tips:

  • Learn learn learn. Grow as a person and feed those roots. Learning is your nutrients.
  • Take risks to grow and impact others. Some trees survive in spots where they "shouldn't" because of conditions. Be a strong tree that adapts and survives.
  • Remember that your roots "ground" you. Don't sway from who you are.
  • Many trees are "grafted" which means the tree has been changed and grown with a particular unique root stock and different trunk. Many fruit trees or ornamental trees are grafted. They are unique and strong - like you! Appreciate and develop what makes you special!
  • Roots spread and coach the tree to grow. Do the same with those around you. Use your gifts to coach and grow others.
  • Leaders consistently earn the trust of others. Trust is like a strong root ball that nourishes a tree to always be there, strong and standing tall. Not wavering. Earning trust will come from following your roots.
  • Strong roots = strong trees that serve others with their magnificence, purpose, and impact. Be one of those trees. Stand through time.
  • Do everything that you can to avoid growing shallow roots. Shallow thin roots lead to lack of viability  and you forget who you are and why. You will only focus on yourself.
Developing and growing your leadership roots are the key to your health as a person as well as your leadership strength. If you neglect to nourish your roots, deprive them of oxygen, or they are subjected to abuse (for a tree, someone digging at the roots or driving over them) you will become weak and ineffective. If you are really passionate about making a difference in the lives of others, grow your roots so that you develop the strength and will to lead others from the ground up!

Enjoy fall! Go out and find some plants or tree deals to beautify your yard. Give back to nature by adding to it! Don't forget to nourish yourself as winter sets in and you have more time to grow your mind!

Happy Planting!!
Strong rooted and healthy Weeping White Pine