Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Article 50 petitionIf you haven’t already seen it, get on over to this petition to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU. Sign it. And tell others about it.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/241584

We’re getting closer and closer to the point of no return with Brexit, but the whole platform it’s sitting on is sinking lower and lower all the time.

Brexit was a stupid idea to start with, and was caused mainly by stupid bigoted people who should never have been given the opportunity to vote on something that was light years beyond their comprehension. We’re now being driven by some foolish ideas about “democracy”, where even though everyone can see that Brexit is a bad idea, we’ve got to carry on with it because it would be “undemocratic” not to.

No it wouldn’t. What it would be is National Suicide.

Sign the petition. And hope that someone in government suddenly uses their brain to avert what will be a disaster for this country.

When I wrote this – on 21 March – the signature count had just broken through 2 million. By early afternoon on 24 March it passed 5 million.

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Is it moving... or is it you?See if you can get your head around this one. And you’re not even drunk.

Well, I assume you’re not.

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reg_fe17dkfIt is clearly a precondition to owning a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes that you have to be a certified f***ing twat, with no discernible brain activity in the head area (it’s all concentrated in the groin, of course). Their behaviour happens too often and too consistently to be a coincidence.

I didn’t have my dash cam on because I’d just been to the hand car wash, so I couldn’t catch the idiot on film, but driving past Chilwell Golf Club – at the traffic lights – there was a lorry, then me, then this f***ing halfwit in the silver BMW M240i (FE17 DKF) racing up at speed. The lights were on green, the lorry and me were moving, and twat boy decided he would still go for the overtake. He misjudged everything, and ended up slamming his brakes on and forcing his way between the lorry and me. There was no one behind me at all, so the manoeuvre was as pointless as it was dangerous.

It’s wan*ers like this who are directly responsible for the daily incidents involving injuries and death on the motorways and trunk roads. It was an oldish-looking guy, bald head, and the fact that he was in an automatic in the first place suggests his mental faculties were such that he ought not to be trying stunts like this.

If the police are interested – and they should be, although they probably won’t – he appears to live in the Rylands, since that’s where he turned off (ironically, he was stuck at red lights as I went by).

On the subject of arsehole drivers, I saw on the local newsfeed yesterday that drivers in Leicestershire were being advised to stay away from the notorious Watery Gate ford at Thurlaston. Water levels were already high, and were expected to rise further with overnight rain. They did, and the level gauge shows that there was 1 metre depth of water for about 40 metres of road to drive through (if you were stupid enough to try in anything other than an off-road vehicle).

Cue: a Mercedes driver, who was stupid enough to try.Mercedes stuck in Watery Gate ford in Thurlaston

They had to get a fire engine and a dinghy out to rescue the prat, and there’s an ambulance because he or she is probably “traumatised”. The poor dear. Note how the water is over half way up his doors!

They should have their licence taken away permanently for something like this. Or at least be charged for the emergency service call out.

I take most of my pupils through the ford on Beanford Lane near Oxton at some point during their lessons. Most haven’t a clue what the “FORD” sign means in the Highway Code – even if they’ve ever seen it. Almost no one knows what a ford is in the first place, these days. The Bean ford isn’t very wide, whereas Watery Gate is.

But I won’t go through it if it’s been raining hard, and I stop or slow down to assess the depth using the level gauge before I do. Attempting to take on a metre depth of water in a normal car is unbelievably stupid, especially over such a long distance.

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Colwick roundabout - smallOne of the most common reasons pupils fail their tests is by not maintaining lane discipline on roundabouts.

I’ve noticed over the years that – from time to time – you get instructors who have read a few pages out of Roadcraft, and who have subsequently decided they’re going to teach their pupils to drive like police pursuit drivers from now on. It quickly develops into the inevitable boasting about how they get theirs to straight-line roundabouts.

Frankly, it’s a stupid idea to do that with 17-year old novices. When they’re under pressure, most of them are barely aware that there even any lanes there when they enter a roundabout, and even the normal observations and control are likely to suffer. With the additional checks needed if you’re going to skip lanes, the chances of something going wrong just increase. Furthermore, straight-lining is intended to allow police drivers to maintain speed, and that’s pretty much the last thing you should be encouraging 17-year olds to do.

I vividly remember an end-of-test debrief some years ago for a pupil who had failed with one serious fault. It occurred on the Virgin roundabout in Colwick, which basically has a two-lane dual carriageway going in, and two lanes coming out (therefore, two lanes on it, even though it is unmarked, and on the return to the test centre these are narrow). The examiner’s words were as follows:

I asked you to follow the road ahead at the roundabout. You approached it in the left-hand lane, and you straight-lined it – which is perfectly OK – but you didn’t check your mirrors to see if there was anyone in the lane to your right.

I have never forgotten that, and I use it on my lessons frequently. However, the pupil in question (and many others since when we’ve been dealing with roundabouts) didn’t have a clue what the examiner was talking about. At the precise moment it happened, he was thinking of a hundred other things. He knew, of course, that there were lanes, but when it came to do it – with the pressure of the test and all the stuff that happens inside people’s heads when they’re on a roundabout in that situation – he didn’t. That’s how it is for most learners, and if instructors are skimming over that to play with the big boys’ toys in Roadcraft, they’re doing those pupils a disservice.Colwick roundabout approach - lane structure

I teach all of mine that staying in lane is the best policy, and they can play at being smart arses once they’ve passed and gained more experience around the nutcases infesting the roads these days. If nothing else, learning to stay in lane is a solid foundation on which to build your later skills – it’s a stepping stone to driving like a smart arse, if you like. If you’ve never been taught to maintain good lane discipline, but you have been shown advanced (and often pointless, for normal drivers) techniques that develop out of it, sooner or later you’re going to have trouble. And your driving test is an excellent place for that trouble to make itself known.Colwick roundabout approach - options towards City

How an instructor teaches roundabout lane discipline varies from pupil to pupil. Some will pick it up quickly with no problems at all, but getting it over to others can be a huge challenge.

I have a big notebook of plain paper, and I frequently do sketches of roundabouts (and other things) to get the point I’m trying to make across. Sometimes, you get pupils who simply don’t get diagrams, and you have to resort to words and analogies with things they are familiar with (which can be a pain these days, as an increasing number of them appear to have absolutely no outside interests you can draw upon).

I also use graphics I have produced and laminated, like the ones above. The arrow diagrams show how the lanes on the approach from one direction to the main Colwick roundabout work, and which ones you’d use depending on where you are going. The one at the top is an accurate representation of the same roundabout with lane markings (click it to see the full sized version), and I have these for all the tricky roundabouts – not just the test ones. It means we can pull over and discuss what happened, and what ought to have happened.

As I have explained in the article about roundabouts, they nearly all work along the same basic principles, no matter how big and apparently complex they are. Even the largest can be broken down into a series of smaller parts that work exactly the same way as they do on smaller ones. Knowing how to do the smaller parts allows you to piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle when applying them on different roundabouts.

When it comes down to it, any large problem is just a collection of smaller ones. So as you learn, you learn to solve each small problem on its own, and over time put the pieces together so that you end up with an overall solution.

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PCN on windscreenA long, long time ago – while the ink was still damp on my first ADI badge – I discovered that some test routes in Nottingham were going through an old, narrow, one-way part of the city centre. I quickly realised that it would be wrong to expect pupils’ first encounter with these to be on their tests, so I started covering that area on lessons.

At the time, I wasn’t using technology the way I am now. To be honest, the technology was harder to come by than it is today – certainly, dash cams were not very common and were horrendously expensive. It was also before the sitting-in-on-test thing came up, so I asked pupils where they had been. Of the ones who at least recognised they were driving around a city called “Nottingham” (and believe me, that’s not as ridiculous as it sounds), I managed to nail it down to Hockley, and “a right-turn followed by another right-turn”. However, my route was going one right-turn further on than the one on the actual test route, and it wasn’t until a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) dropped on to my doormat one fine morning that I realised I had been driving through a bus gate – a crime almost, but not quite, punishable by death in Nottingham.

It was my own fault. The bus gate was signposted and, with hindsight, I should have known (driving instructors know everything, right?) But if one PCN was embarrassing enough, you can imagine how much more embarrassing the other three were that came through over the next few days. After weighing up the possibilities, I decided against any sort of appeal on the grounds that a) I had done it, b) it was signposted, and c) if I stirred up the hornets’ nest, they might go back over any archived footage and find the other 30-plus times I’d been in that bus gate over the previous month. In the interests of financial common sense, I paid up, kept my fingers crossed there’d be no more (there weren’t), and learnt from the experience.

A PCN is a civil matter, and carries no points on your licence. You do not end up with a criminal record just by getting a PCN.

If you pay a PCN within 14 days, it’s usually half what it’ll cost you between 15-28 days. If you don’t pay within 28 days, it goes to debt collection and possibly even the county courts. If you’ve ever watched that TV series about the bailiffs, you’ll know that a simple £70 fine can turn into a £2,000 one with ease. On top of that, the last thing you want if you’re self employed is a county court judgment against you. They’re harder to get rid of than dog doo on your shoe, so it’s best to sort out any PCNs quickly.

You can contest or appeal a PCN – and it is important that you do so if it is blatantly wrong – but you must do it within 28 days. If you’re going to appeal, don’t pay up, because that would mean you’re admitting liability and it closes the case. In Nottingham, I believe that the 14 day half-price thing is suspended while an appeal is in progress, but this is not the case everywhere (and it may not be the case in Nottingham any more). If you lose the appeal you may have to pay the full price.

When a PCN is issued, it is the owner or registered keeper who receives the notification (called a Notice to Owner, or NTO). If you have a car on a lease (or through a franchise), it is usually the lease agent or franchiser who gets it, and most of them will pay up immediately to avoid the extra charges then claim the fee from you. The PCNs I got for going into that bus gate came directly to me from the council.

It’s only worth appealing if the PCN is obviously wrong (if your city has a zero-tolerance approach to bus lane infringements, and you went ahead and infringed one, your chances of having an appeal upheld are slim). I once got one through my lease agent. I had been PCNd for not paying a toll at the Dartford Crossing, and as most readers will know, I am in Nottingham and the Dartford Crossing isn’t. I hadn’t been anywhere near it for at least the previous two years (or the five since, for that matter), and when I demanded details, it turned out that the car in question was the one I’d handed back a month or so earlier, and the infringement took place about two weeks after the handover (I also had tracker and GPS evidence of my whereabouts at the time if it had been needed). They refunded me instantly, and I gave them a few choice words about not checking things properly first. Even so, someone had jumped the toll, so the PCN was still valid in that respect.

Another time – and this was before I was an instructor – I got a PCN for “not displaying a parking ticket correctly” in the city centre. The ticket was there, but as I’d closed the door it had blown across the dashboard and was upside down (though not face down) on the passenger-side shelf. It was completely legible, but the traffic warden involved was obviously a typical traffic warden, and had chosen not to see it. I appealed, with a photograph I took to show where the ticket was and how it was completely readable by anyone who made even the slightest effort to do so. The appeal was upheld and the PCN cancelled (though, it must be said, with the usual “on this occasion, we will blah, blah, blah” in the letter they sent).

PCNs have nothing to do with the police.

A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) is a different matter. FPNs are handled through the criminal justice system and often carry points as well as a financial penalty (referred to as “endorsable”). FPNs are issued by the police, or by police-employed wardens if it involves parking enforcement in areas where councils don’t have civil responsibility for it. If you pay an FPN on time, you don’t get a “criminal record”, though obviously any points will go on your licence. If you don’t pay on time, the penalty becomes a fine, and that is likely to be logged as a crime if it has to be enforced. And remember that for many people – especially ADIs – the FPN is likely to show up on a DBS check depending on what it is for.

Does a PCN give you points on your licence?

No.

Does a PCN give you a criminal record?

No. However, if you don’t pay it and they put it out to the debt collectors, aside from the huge additional cost you’re likely to end up with, it could be referred to the county courts, then it could escalate. The last thing anyone wants is a county court judgement (CCJ) against them, but for an ADI it could potentially be career-ending. It would have a serious impact on your credit rating, meaning you could run into problems if you apply for a bank account or credit card, or if you want to buy a house. That’s bad enough, but imagine trying to buy a car on finance if you have a CCJ against you. Even franchisers could see you as a poor risk and turn you away.

Can you appeal a PCN?

Yes. But only appeal if it is obviously wrong. If you committed the offence, you’re unlikely to get away with it unless you have really good mitigating circumstances to fall back on – and I mean really good ones, like the time I wasn’t in Dartford when a PCN was issued against a car I used to have being driven there. The big problem for most people is that the embarrassment of getting the PCN in the first place makes them see all kinds of mitigating circumstances that don’t really exist.

In the one where I successfully appealed for not showing a parking ticket correctly, the ticket was actually visible and legible. It was just in a slightly awkward place. If it hadn’t been legible (i.e. face down), I probably wouldn’t have won the appeal. However, in the ones involving the bus gate, I would have had to have convinced someone somewhere that the signage was misleading enough to have made me do it – and although I still think it could have been clearer (as in, no other signs to distract me), it was signposted.

Are the police involved in PCNs?

No. A PCN is a civil matter, administered by the “local authority” (i.e the council). It has nothing to do with the police.

Does an FPN give you points on your licence?

If it’s a motoring offence, quite possibly. It depends on the offence, but many FPN offences are set up to involve points on purpose. With things like speeding, there is the possibility of a speed awareness course being offered instead of points, but that depends on where you are and whether it is offered, so you can’t depend on it. It won’t be offered more than once, and if you’re an ADI, you still have to let DVSA know and hope they don’t kick you off the Register. Some regions do not have civil responsibility for parking violations, so instead of a PCN, an FPN would be issued (which may or may not involve points on your licence depending on what you did wrong).

Does an FPN give you a criminal record?

Not if you pay it on time. If you don’t pay on time, though, recovery of the fine becomes a criminal matter and that will likely end up as a criminal record. In any case, points on your licence will be visible, and if you’re applying for a DBS check or applying for a driving job then you could run into problems.

Does an FPN matter if you pay on time?

It could do. Although you might not have a criminal record as a result of paying up, the points on your licence will be there for anyone to see who has an interest – and for ADIs in particular, that means DVSA. ADIs can lose their licence to teach if they get more than 5-6 points. They could even lose it for less points if they don’t disclose it to DVSA, and DVSA subsequently finds out. Yes, other ADIs will have a fine old time telling you how to argue your case if it happens (most probably involving full moons and pentagrams) but the best way is not to let it happen to start with, then you have no worries.

Can I appeal an FPN?

Not in the same way as with a PCN. With a PCN, you simply present your case and wait for the result. Then, if you don’t agree, argue with them. With an FPN, it is a matter of either admitting guilt and paying the fine, or going to court to find out whether you’re guilty or not guilty (it’s a criminal justice situation, remember) – and the courts can issue much larger fines than the original FPN if you are found guilty.

Do all FPNs involve points on your licence?

No. There is a long list of FPNs which are classed as “non-endorsable” – no points involved – on which parking and bus lane violations (outside London) are included. On the other hand, there is another long list of FPNs which are endorsable. Rather than try to work out what our you can get away with, it’s best just not to engage in it to start with. If you’re going to listen to “advice” from others, focus on learning not to do what they did to get the FPN in the first place, and not what they tried to do to get out of it.

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Our Silver Birch in June 2017It’s late-February, 2019, and this article is already receiving a lot of hits.

The original was written in 2014, after my tree began to show yellowing in the middle of summer. It has been popular each year since, but in 2018 it went through the roof! The extremely hot summer resulted in heat stress in a lot of plants and trees, and Silver Birches were no exception.

The last week has been very mild, and the last two days have seen mid-double digits. I’m already noticing early season hayfever (tree pollen gets me) as a lot of blossom is starting to appear. I also noticed today that the first Hawthorn leaves are beginning to break out of their buds. They’re at least a month early.

Is this a warning of another very hot year? I don’t know, but I’m going to start the annual iron and feed treatment in the next week. I would also remind everyone that the last winter has been quite dry, so following on from last year’s heatwave, if it DOES get hot again the ground will have a head start on any heat-related issues.

Premature yellowing and leaf drop in Silver Birches can occur for the following reasons:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • lack of water and heat stress

And it’s easy to get all three at once.

Back in 2014, our Silver Birch tree began to yellow and drop leaves mid-June! We were worried, and Googling for an answer was next to useless. Most of the technical advice was North American, and focused on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), or the perils of trying to grow trees in either a desert or a swamp. Our trees had none of the beetle infestation symptoms other than leaf drop, and although the British never shut up about the bloody weather, we were not growing ours in anything other than normally-drained British garden soil.

After a lot of research, and after sifting out the crap, I discovered that yellowing/leaf drop is usually caused by deficiencies of nutrients and/or iron in the soil. In 2018, I further discovered that lack of moisture and/or high temperatures can cause the same symptoms – it’s called heat stress, and I’ll discuss it later (I wrote a separate article about it in August 2018).

Note that the problems described are not confined to Silver Birches. All trees and plants can be affected, though you may need a different fertiliser for those.

The problem we had in 2014 was characterised by bright, canary yellow leaves – just like in the Autumn – which began falling off the tree. Although the yellowing wasn’t as widespread throughout the tree as it is during Autumn proper, it was worrying all the same. I can’t honestly remember where I found this now, but somewhere in the hundreds and hundreds of forum pages and obscure “ask the expert” sites rattling on about the bloody Birch Borer I came across two easily-applied ideas that made absolute sense, and which could be implemented without calling in David Attenborough and Rentokil. Fertiliser and Iron Treatments

Nitrogen deficiency is resolved using ericaceous fertiliser (for lime-hating plants, which is what birch trees are). It is available from various manufacturers, such as Miracle-Gro, and can be bought from most decent garden centres and from many online retailers (including eBay and Amazon, where I usually get mine). It only costs about £5 a box of the granules, and there’s enough to manage a decent sized tree for at least half a season. You can also get liquid and slow-release varieties (since 2018. I’ve shifted to the liquid variety because of my new irrigator toy, and the slow-release kind would be great for those treating small plots of plants).

Normal fertiliser is no good for birches – it has to be the ericaceous stuff – and you just dissolve it in water and spread it around the tree. Remember that the roots extend outwards quite a long way and you’ll need to cover a wide area, but concentrate on the drip-zone (the area covered by the branches). The slow-release versions are just sprinkled on the ground and watered in, and they apparently work for up to 3 months (if I’m using them, I make sure I brush them into the gaps between paving stones, or the edge of the lawn – I wish they’d make the damned things in camouflage green, instead of the “hey, look at me all over the lawn” mix they actually are).

Leaves suffering from chlorosisLeaves that look like those in the images here are suffering from iron deficiencyknown as chlorosis.

Leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll (which is green). Simplifying the issue, chlorophyll allows plants to convert light energy into sugars they can use via the process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll contains iron, so if there isn’t enough iron you get less chlorophyll (hence the yellow colour), and the plants compensate for lack of food by shedding leaves. That’s what you can see here.

Chlorosis is resolved using sequestered (or chelated) iron, such as Maxicrop, shown above. It comes as a liquid, and you can mix it with your fertiliser and water it in at the same time. As of 2019, I’ve discovered a source of Maxicrop in 10L tubs, which is more cost-effective than buying it in 1L bottles.

Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosisSoil nutrient deficiency may also lead to new leaves being small and misshapen, instead of the classic Birch leaf shape. Some of ours were like that in that first season.

After a single application of fertiliser treatment in 2014, leaf drop stopped almost immediately once the already-dead leaves had fallen. The tree even threw out some catkins, which had been absent up until then. In 2015, I started feeding every few weeks from March with both fertiliser and iron and we had no leaf drop at all. In 2016, it was the same, with very fat catkins hanging from the branches, along with quite significant new growth. In May 2017 our tree looked like the photo at the top of this article, and here’s a close-up of the leaves from that year. Does that look healthy, or what?

Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017An additional iron treatment for the longer term is to water-in iron (ferrous) sulphate periodically. This replaces iron in the soil, too, but it also acidifies the ground over time, which is beneficial for ericaceous plants. It’s also very good for your lawn – iron sulphate is a moss-killer and a grass-greener (it’s sold for these purposes, and I use it several times a year to kill moss in the lawn).

Why does nutrient deficiency occur? Well, you have to bear in mind that when trees and plants die back in winter, the leaves they shed decompose and return nutrients to the soil as they do so. In urban gardens, though, leaves are usually swept up and taken to the rubbish tip to keep the garden looking tidy. Over time, the soil becomes depleted of those nutrients and you get problems like this. It’s fairly obvious looking at it now, but I was like everyone else in thinking that when you planted a tree you just forgot about it and let it grow – when it turns out you need to look after them almost as much as you would a tomato plant or an ornamental cactus!

You have to keep the treatment going at least once a month between March and September, and you have to follow the same routine each year (or at least over alternate years).

Now we come to the extremely hot summer of 2018. Around the end of June, I once again noticed a few sprays of yellow appearing. I wondered what was going on, but I immediately guessed it might be linked to the prolonged high temperatures and low rainfall we’d experienced up until then. After Googling it I concluded my tree was, indeed,  suffering from heat stress. The solution to this is to get water down to the roots – it’s called deep watering – but that’s easier said than done.

One way of doing it is to use deep watering spikes. These are tapered tubes that are driven into the ground around the tree, and into which water is fed slowly so that it gets to the roots deep down. I didn’t have time for that in 2018 (and with the ground as dry as it was, it’d have been like trying to hammer a 6-inch nail into plate steel), so I resorted to the longer-term sprinkler method. Every night, I set the sprinkler going and watered for a couple of hours in each of several zones to ensure even saturation (we didn’t have any hosepipe restrictions, and I wouldn’t have continued if we had). This allowed water to seep down deep into the soil, and it fixed the problem in less than a week. How could I tell?

Well, with hindsight, all trees in 2018 had much thinner canopies than usual – heat stress isn’t just confined to birches. The leaves on my own trees were smaller than they were in previous years (and I have the photographic evidence of that). About a week after starting deep watering the tree produced some new shoots and the leaves that appeared were much larger. And some very fat catkins also appeared.

As a result of the heat stress problem, and still needing to keep the other treatments going, I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. I can highly recommend that device – the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor.

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. The important thing is that by feeding and watering the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable within a short time.

I would imagine that chlorosis could be reversed if it is caught early, since pale leaves are not necessarily dead – they’re just iron-deficient. In that case, you might be able to save some partially-yellowed leaves by applying the chelated iron treatment. I have a real example of that. In early June 2018 (before the heatwave really kicked in) I noticed my neighbour’s usually-dark green Cherry Tree leaves were very pale and many yellow ones were falling. I told her about the iron treatment and she bought a bottle. The leaves on that tree are now dark green again and no more have fallen.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back once the tree has used up what you’ve fed it, especially if you bin the leaves again the following autumn. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients and water, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year (or if the soil is dry and there are no prolonged periods of rain) nothing gets returned to the soil.

Treat your trees from March until September. Feed at least once a month (even two to three times during the earlier months) – and water regularly in hot weather anyway, as they do need moisture.

How often should you feed?

I initially started doing it once a month in the first season, and carried on at the same rate into the second and third. However, I now do it twice a month because one year – and I can’t remember which – towards the end of the season I noticed a few signs a chlorosis about a month before the normal autumnal change.

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping leaves, and if not treated the leaves can even go brown and die on the tree (I saw a lot of Silver Birch trees on road verges like that in 2018). It’s a good idea to water them deeply during hot, dry periods. Once or twice a week should be enough, though more frequently won’t hurt if the dry period is prolonged.

As I explained above, the hot weather we experienced in summer 2018 caused my tree to show a some yellow leaves. I commenced deep-watering from June, as well as feeding regularly. This was the first time heat/drought has been a problem, so it caught me out a little. However, after a week of deep-watering leaf-yellowing stopped completely, and the tree was healthy throughout the rest of the heatwave (as was the lawn, which was parched brown, but ended up lush green).

Remember that after a period of drought (or prolonged dry weather) it needs an extended period of rain to wet the soil again, especially deep down. A few heavy downpours won’t do it, and you will still need to help things along.

Is there any other way to deal with the problem?

You have to get nutrients and iron back into the soil. And you need water in order for the roots to be able to access those nutrients. Yes, you could use your own mulch or bought compost, but obviously this is not so attractive in a normal garden (removing it is what got you here in the first place). It would also take longer to have an effect. But it would still work, given time.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

The short – and very obvious – answer is: in the Autumn. It can vary a little up and down the country (just as Spring tends to start earlier the further south you are), but in the Midlands they usually start to show sprays of yellow from late September to early October. It often seems triggered by a noticeable drop in night time temperatures. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

In 2016 (almost overnight during the first week or so into October), ours produced a lot of yellow on the inside, whereas the outer canopy remained green – it looked rather nice. The neighbours’ trees had much sparser canopies than ours and they had clumps of yellow all over. Astronomical Autumn officially begins sometime towards the end of September in the UK (meteorological Autumn starts in early September) and you probably can’t do much to fix your trees after August if you’ve got the early yellowing problem. I’d still recommend a good feed or two, but not beyond the end of September. But be ready to start feeding from March.

It’s worth noting that a few isolated yellow leaves on a tree which fall in windy weather are not really indicative of a major problem. When you have sprays of yellow, or if you’re losing dozens of leaves in one go, that’s when you should take action.

Why do birch trees drop leaves so early?

They don’t. They drop them in Autumn, like all other trees which shed their leaves each year. If yours is turning early, you have a problem – probably one which can easily be sorted by reading through this article.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. However, you can use a watering can and hosepipe/sprinkler as necessary. Note that if the ground is dry, a watering can won’t get the nutrients down to the roots, so a heavy watering is essential.

I do this up to twice a month between March and September. In 2018, I was deep watering every night during the heatwave.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and small branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop. In any case, if it is windy, a few dead twigs are bound to fall off. It’s just nature.

Early in the year, another likely problem is crows (the winged variety). From March (February in 2019) they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We have a pair that have nested near us for the last 10 years or so. They will tear off a hundred twigs and drop them until they get the one they want. It’s nature, so we don’t worry.

Why do Silver Birches drop so many twigs?

As I said above: crows (and similar birds).

As of February/March 2019 they are actively nest building (it’s usually March, but the warm end to winter has kicked them off early). They will carefully select the twig they want, but the sods will tear off loads more before they find it.

I watched one on a dead Birch tree when I dropped a pupil off last week. He (or she) had broken off a bloody big twig – almost a branch – and was trying to get into a position to fly out of the branches with it.

Also note that we’ve had some high winds recently (2019) and that might knock a few loose twigs down.

My tree is taking a long time to show any leaves

I’m not an expert, but if this happened to me – and knowing what I know now – I’d start feeding it pronto. Of course, it might just be slow – some trees do seem to lag behind others – but a good feed can’t do any harm. Mine was in full leaf by May 2018, whereas neighbour’s trees were still in the process of producing leaves judging from the light that came through their canopies. In hindsight, and following my observations throughout the year, the heatwave seemed to have stressed trees to the extent that their canopies were sparser than usual (leaves were smaller), and this may have been what you were experiencing.

In the worst case, your tree might not be in good condition at all, but you’d have to call the experts in for that.

I’ve got catkins but no leaves

Someone found the site in April 2018 with that query. You’ll probably find that in a couple of weeks you’ll have lots of leaves. As I have said in this article, I start feeding mine from March onwards. Leaves started sprouting a week or two earlier than the neighbours’ trees in 2018, and the foliage on mine is much denser. The catkins came before the leaves.

I strongly recommend feeding them regularly as a matter of course – and watering if the ground is dry.

Are the leaves changing early this year?

This was a generic search term used to find the blog in mid-July 2017. The short answer is no, they are not – not in July, anyway.

In hot and dry weather, many trees can become “distressed” and start to shed leaves. Silver birches are affected by this. Also, greenfly infestations can cause leaves to die and fall. If a lot of leaves are turning yellow on the tree then you have a problem – quite possibly one of those which are the main subject of this article. However, a few leaves falling is probably nothing much to worry about.

In 2016 the first show of yellow up here on all trees was during the first week in October. In 2017, yellowing began a month earlier, and by mid-September they almost all were clearly changing. In 2018, some birches dropped their leaves in August and were suffering well before that as a result of the hot weather we had. However, my own tree has begun to turn in the last few days of September, along with many neighbouring trees, which is entirely normal. July yellowing is not due to autumnal changes.

Do Weeping Silver Birches lose their leaves in Autumn?

Yes.

When do Silver Birch leaves go all brown?

They don’t. The leaves should go yellow and fall off in the autumn.

I’ve had quite a few visitors from this search term, and when I looked it up it seems that extreme cases of chlorosis and heat stress can result in leaves turning brown (see this supplementary article). It could also be a disease or infestation which you could treat, but the tree itself might also be dead – especially if it has been having any of the problems I mentioned above over previous years. Best to call in the experts.

Does this advice only apply to Silver Birch trees?

No. Chlorosis can affect many plants, and lack of nutrients is going to be a universal issue. You might need a different fertiliser to address any nutrient problem, but iron will likely fix chlorosis.

Recently, someone found the blog as a result of premature leaf drop in their Betula utilis. This is the Himalayan Birch, famed for its peeling paper-like bark, and it is a member of the same family as the Silver Birch. In the Himalayas, it often grows among Rhododendron plants (look at that fertiliser again – are you seeing the connection, here?), so the advice given above would work for the Himalayan Birch, too. And it also worked for my neighbour’s Cherry Tree, as I mentioned earlier.

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Clown FeetI saw someone post an online comment about having seen “a big school car” driving in the middle lane of a motorway, and then implying that this in some way meant that every ADI who works for that “big school” is therefore pants.

It’s just another variation of the “indie is better because I’m indie” or “all franchises suck” arguments.

The comedian who posted it then tried to argue that it wasn’t part of a driving lesson by stating that it was at 10.00pm at night – presumably because he doesn’t work that late (he certainly isn’t tonight, as he obviously has time to post this). That made me smile, because I have done lessons until midnight on various occasions. I frequently get pupils who can only do 8-10pm lessons because of work commitments, and I have one right now who is at a boarding school, and who does 8-9pm every lesson. He’s already mentioned upping them to two hours at some point. In the past, some who had tests looming, either because of their own availability or my diary loading, opted to take a few additional lessons between 8pm and 11pm.

Two of my super-late ones were Pass Plus motorway sessions, where the drivers had booked them in the middle of summer, and in order to get the night time module in, we had to start late. I wonder what some of these super-indies do when they have to cover that? My guess is that their mouth does most of the work, and the driver very little. And they say only franchised instructors are bad!

Then another one chimed in with an example of one of “the big schools” cutting her up, so therefore all big schools are pants. Like no ADI has ever been cut up (or overtaken) by another indie when we’re driving at the speed limit. The likelihood of that is all the greater when said indie is in an Audi or BMW. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but people who drive Audis generally don’t buy them to drive within the speed limit all the time when the car can do 2½ times that with ease. Nor do they buy them with the intention of staying behind anyone else if they have the chance to overtake. This holds whether they’re members of the public or off-duty ADIs

And then there was the claim that phoned complaints are ignored by the big schools, as if the school involved is going to dish the dirt to the complainant so they can gloat over it. I know for a fact that several national schools contact the ADI in question and ask them about it. It is their name which at stake, and they take it very seriously. I have no idea what happens after that, because it’s none of my bloody business, but if there is sufficient evidence then the ADI in question will undoubtedly be reprimanded. If complaints are regular, they could easily lose their franchise.

What makes me laugh is that many of these super-indies used to be franchised – often to these same schools. And they still can’t see that they’re no different now, other than for what is written on their car.

My pet hate is the apparent arrogance of other instructors. I’ve mentioned this before, but the one thing that makes my blood boil is going into an empty car park – or an empty part of a car park if it’s a big one, like the Chilwell P+R – and having some total moron (and I’ve seen an AA car doing it as well as many indies) come into the same empty area, when there are at least half a dozen similarly empty areas they could go to. The other day, some dickhead indie was using the P+R as a nursery route, and so basically getting in everyone’s way, and he kept going round and round and coming into the far corner where I’d gone. And then there are the ones who go in there to practice one of the bay park manoeuvres, but instead of going to a quieter area, insist on doing it in the section marked “exit” where all car park users have to go through, thus guaranteeing that they’re in everyone’s way.

It isn’t arrogance, though. It’s just sheer stupidity. They simply don’t have a clue, and that’s what they’re teaching their pupils.

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