Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Swarm of GnatsI’ve mentioned this before, but I started the blog way back in November 2008. That first month, I got 7 visits! It’s gone steadily upwards ever since, and at the present rate, I figure that the blog will pass the 1,000,000 visitor mark early in 2019.

So I guess I must be doing something right, even if I’m not pulling in McDonalds or Coca-cola levels of traffic.

I keep an eye on my stats, and investigate any blips. I had one recently where increased traffic was coming from Facebook and landing on the Should I Become A Driving Instructor article. After a bit of digging, I discovered that the owner of a Facebook group had linked to it in good faith.

That article is a long one, and it runs to more than 15,000 words, which is about a quarter of the length of standard novel. For me, that’s no problem whatsoever – I can both read that number of words (in about 20 minutes), and write them (albeit over a longer period). Tossing off a 1,000-worder takes me perhaps an hour, on and off, including digging out and editing a suitable image to go with it. If I know what I want to say, I have no problem writing it down, and the only bottleneck is how quickly I can type (or physically write if I’m putting it on paper). I guess that the only problem with all this is in assuming that other people can cope with that many words. But then again, as I’ve said before, it’s my blog and if they don’t like it, there’s the BACK button.

As an aside, I used to be able to physically write very quickly with what everyone said was “girlie” handwriting (i.e. it was neater than theirs, legible, and flowing). I’ve always had an interest in calligraphy, too. Many years of using computers means I get cramp if I try handwriting for long now, and it doesn’t feel anywhere as neat as it used to be – though pupils often comment on how neat it is.

Anyway, back on topic. It seems, though, that it is me who is somehow in the wrong for making that article 15,000 words long judging from some of the inane comments on that Facebook page!

The reason for this seems to be rooted in what the Internet Age has done to people’s intellects. Consider this question:

Discuss the issues facing someone who is considering becoming a teacher.

For me, a complete answer could easily run to 10,000 words or more. However, for many people today, a perfectly acceptable answer might amount to:

Smile lol

Regular blog readers will already know that I have a low opinion of many of those I have to share this planet with, and who cross my path in the course of a typical day (other driving instructors often make up a fair proportion of those). This is the main reason I don’t have comments enabled.

The point is, though, that if you were thinking of becoming a teacher, which answer is likely to be of most benefit to you? The one with a lot of relevant words on a complex subject written by a teacher, or the one put together by a monkey using random hieroglyphics? Incidentally, if you think it’s the monkey one, just accept that I’m trying to help you.

That’s why the Should I Become A Driving Instructor article is 15,000 words long. It’s not aimed at monkeys.

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Stopwatch faceAn email alert from DVSA advises that from 10 October 2018, the timings of driving tests will be changing for one day each week so that examiners can receive appropriate training and development. Timings on other days will remain unaltered.

It is absolutely no problem, though that hasn’t stopped the usual culprits demanding to know why we – instructors – weren’t consulted over it.

The simple answer is that it’s none of our sodding business what times the tests go out, especially if the changes are only likely to amount to a “13.22” test instead of a “13.35” one. It’s not like they’re adding one at 2am or anything.  As long as we know the test time in advance – which we do, from the moment it is booked – that’s all we need.

It appears (and I’m reading between the lines here) that the day on which timings are changed will be different from centre to centre. I’m sure – if I try real hard – I could twist that into being inconvenient for me. In reality it isn’t, though.

I would imagine that already-booked tests will not be affected – or, if they are, candidates will be made aware of any timing changes.

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2017 Ford FocusYou may have heard about a problem with Ford’s Ecoboost petrol engines, where cars are apparently overheating, failing, and sometimes even catching fire.

The situation is a little confusing, as it appears to be due to more than one problem. For the 1.0 litre engine, the issue is simply overheating, and only Focuses produced between October 2011 and October 2013 are affected, and this amounts to nearly 45,000 vehicles, of which 96% have already been repaired. For the 1.6 litre size, C-Max, Fiesta, Focus ST, and Kuga models produced between 2010 and January 2018 are affected. A safety recall for the 15,000 vehicles involved was issued in January for this, and it is more serious.

All the 1.6 litre cars are subject to safety recalls if they haven’t already been fixed due to the seriousness of the problem. As I understand it, the 1.0 litre issue isn’t specifically a safety recall, and involves replacing some hoses, but it needs fixing all the same. In the case of the larger engine, the head can rupture and possibly result in fires.

Ford is going to cover the entire cost of any repairs, and also refund anyone who has already paid for the work.

Since a safety recall is involved, any instructors using cars in the groups affected will most likely need to prove that remedial work has been carried out if they are using them to take pupils to test. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked for it, and don’t be surprised if the test doesn’t go out if you don’t have it.

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Europe captain, Thomas Bjorn, said:

Some people say golf is boring…

Yes. Yes, it is. Especially on the radio.

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Salad Cream dollopEvery year, like all big corporations, Heinz will take on a bunch of new graduates and let them loose with flipcharts, Lego bricks, Play-doh, finger paints, and all the other things that pass for good Team Meeting props these days (I’ve worked for a big company, so I know that’s what happens). Also like all big corporations, every 5 years or so, Heinz decides that it needs to do Something Big – whether it needs doing or not – and duly assigns the current crop of graduates to come up with something (I know THAT happens, too). In Heinz’s case, this typically seems to boil down to removing the flavour from one of its existing successful products, changing the texture of one so that instead of being able to stick to vertical surfaces, it’ll run even on a flat one, or renaming one so that it appeals to people who listen to rap music and watch the Teletubbies. Sometimes, Heinz will do all three of these things at the same time to just one product.

Unlike the company that I used to work for, where the products were medicines, and so pissing about with the formulations and presentations was a no-no, Heinz makes food products, and these have no such protection. Consequently, if he or she is lucky and arrives at just the right time, the average new graduate can really carve out their future career by having a field day changing things using such tried and tested methods as removing salt, sugar, fat (and therefore any taste or familiar texture), and putting less of it in a pack and selling it at a higher price.

The current flavour of the month is Salad Cream, which Heinz owns, and which appears to be on some sort of hit list. To anyone who doesn’t know, salad cream is a thinned down mayonnaise-like dressing with a tangy flavour. It goes great with salads, whether they’re on a plate or between two slice of bread. It also works with plain ham, tuna, even cheese sandwiches – with or without salad items included. A drizzle before adding the top slice of bread brings the sandwich alive. But the thing is, it’s called “salad cream” because it’s always been called that.

Heinz has tried to rename it at least once in the recent past, and I also seem to recall some historical issues over recipe tweaking. They’re on the case again, and the upshot seems to have been that someone somewhere decided that since not everyone who uses Salad Cream pours a nice round dollop (see the photo above) on a plate alongside two lettuce leaves, two spring onions, and half a tomato, the name “salad cream” is grossly misleading and must be changed forthwith. As an aside, you’d have a job putting a “dollop” of Salad Cream on a plate these days thanks to the aforementioned recipe tweaks. It’d be more of a “squirt”. But that’s a different story.

I’m pretty sure that students – who, after all, are the immediate precursor to graduates – might be involved here, since they’re likely to put it on anything from Mars Bars to crisps (potato chips, for American readers). If they’re short of money, they’d probably eat it neat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they also used it as a lubricant when they’re having sex. As a result of all that – and, I mean, it’s obvious when you think about it – it should immediately be rebranded as “sandwich cream” (and I just realised there’s a double entendre there, which is purely accidental).

Fortunately, Heinz has seen sense (until the next time) and bowed to public pressure to leave it alone. Bearing in mind that Heinz had decided to go ahead with the change until the public found out, and had probably had the label artwork at least partly produced, they could have saved themselves a lot of money by just asking me first.

Digressing slightly, I remember an episode years ago at a squash club I was a member of. The young (17 year old) son of one of the members was in the bar one night, and he ordered a pint of orange juice and Coca Cola, mixed. It was apparently the “in drink” at University. It looked like diarrhoea, and to make matters worse, he had just crunched his way through a whole pack of Polo Mints – and we all know what anything tastes like after you’ve eaten mints. I just thought he was a berk, and that orange juice and Coca Cola would happily survive as separate drinks into the future (and I was right). The kind of people who run companies like Heinz would immediately see it as an opportunity to get rid of both orange juice and Coca Cola because they “don’t appeal to younger drinkers”.

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Parking Ticket on windscreenSomeone found the blog today with the search term “how far from the kerb can you park?” I’m not sure what the context was for the question, but this is what I tell my own pupils.

To be completely legal, you should park within 19” (48cm) of the kerb – I round this up to half a metre when I’m being metric. Finding a definitive source of any actual distance is a nightmare, but my understanding is that many local authorities started to follow what London has always adhered to (PCN Contravention code 26). However, I point out that whatever the Law does or doesn’t say, half a metre is a bloody long way – it’s almost the middle of the road – and you’d have to be a complete idiot to think that parking that far from the kerb is acceptable.

In practice, you should park within about 30cm of the kerb. More than that and it starts to look bad, maybe even interfering with other road users. If you are on your driving test, parking wider than this could start to attract driver faults. You do not have to be the full half a metre away before you can get a serious fault.

Can I get a parking ticket if I park too far from the kerb?

Apparently, you can. I wrote about it ages ago, when traffic wardens in Wales were issued with tape measures to check for violations. I’ve never met anyone who has been ticketed for doing it, although I’ve seen hundreds who perhaps should have been.

What is the official legal distance you are allowed?

I don’t know. I’ll be damned if I can find any clear reference, but some local authorities have been policing a distance of 18″ (45cm) after following London’s lead.

Just face facts. If you’re more than 45cm – half a metre – into the road, you’ve effectively stopped in the place where all the other traffic drives. You are way too far away from the kerb, no matter whether you’re male, female, or a blue badge holder. Somewhere or other in all that, you are doing something wrong, so why not just learn to do it properly instead of arseing about trying to find loopholes?

Which Law am I breaking?

I have no idea. Parking tickets are enforced by the local authority, whereas criminal offences are obviously covered by UK Law. If you get a ticket for parking in the middle of the road, your best bet is to accept you did it, pay the fine, and learn to park properly. Because if it turns out you’d parked dangerously once you’d kicked up a stink, you might find it much more expensive to deal with in more ways than one.

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Pile of £20 notesI noticed an FAQ on the Intelligent Instructor website just now, where an ADI was asking for advice on how to plan ahead for the winter and Christmas periods.

The answer includes the following:

Think of clever ways of increasing your short term income. … I know an instructor who made over £1000 on Christmas Eve just by advertising his ‘Looking for a last-minute gift?’ marketing ploy!

Whoa! Hold on a minute, here. Until someone has actually taken a lesson – notwithstanding any last-minute cancellation policies you might have in place – the money is theirs, and not yours. In fact, instructors taking huge wads of cash for future lessons then spending it is one of the most common reasons for them to start cancelling lessons, or becoming uncontactable, leading to pupil complaints.

Any ADIs reading this should remember: if you take a block booking payment, the money is not yours until the pupil has taken the lessons. You’re holding it in trust. If they pay you, for example, £700 for 30 hours of lessons – as one of mine did the other day (in cash) when they took up an offer I do – that money effectively comes to you in £23 portions as they take each lesson hour. It most definitely does not belong to you immediately they hand it over. If they only take one hour a week, you only get £23 a week from the pot. If they request a refund at any time, you are duty bound to give it to them minus whatever lessons they have taken, and in the worst case scenario you might have to refund them the entire £700 – which could be fun if you’ve already spent it on Christmas, as suggested by someone in that Q&A, and are asked to refund early in the New Year because they’re strapped for cash and want to postpone lessons for a while.

The same goes for gift vouchers or any other promotion. You can’t take money from people unless you are prepared to refund it in the event of unforeseen circumstances (add the condition “non-refundable” at your peril). Refuse once, and you and your business will probably never recover from the negative press you’d get.

I make it absolutely clear to all my pupils from Day One that any block payment money remains their property until they’ve had the lessons, and that I will refund any outstanding amount immediately upon request. I’ve already pointed out that they might have cash flow issues, but it’s also common for pupils to pay for blocks of lessons, and then move away from the area – especially if they’re students. Whenever that happens to me, I refund in cash, or by bank or PayPal transfer. In one odd case, I did it with postal orders, because I don’t use cheques, and the pupil was a nutcase who wouldn’t give me their bank account details. I wasn’t about to shove £140 in cash through their letterbox, so I shoved postal orders through, instead.

It’s essential to be able to cover whatever money you’re holding in trust at any one time.

Over the years, I’ve picked up a fair number of pupils who have written off fairly substantial sums to other instructors when block bookings have gone wrong. The local franchises around here all seem to wash their hands of whatever their instructors get up to when it goes tits up. Nearly all my affected pupils have had the old “I can’t fit you in” ploy played on them, or the instructor has simply gone AWOL. One recent case – where the franchise refused to do anything – was when an instructor “retired” owing the pupil money.

My opinion of many ADIs is such that I don’t think they should be given such misleading advice about taking money for block bookings, because it’s just asking for trouble. In my experience, far too many pocket the cash and then avoid giving the lessons, so this could be one temptation too far.

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Breaded ChickenI’ve mentioned many times that I like cooking when I have the time. If I see something on TV I like, I’ll look it up and make it for myself, or sometimes just look things up to get some ideas for myself.

Something I find really amusing is the reviews people leave for recipes, though. Last night I was after simple breaded chicken ideas, so I looked through several to get the gist of what I ought/ought not to try. Breaded chicken is extremely simple. It’s basically chicken dipped in flour, beaten eggs, and then seasoned breadcrumbs. After I’d got what I was after – ideas for seasonings – I thought I’d have a laugh at  some of the reviews for the last recipe I’d scanned through.

It doesn’t matter what the recipe is, the people who review them seem dumber than my neighbour’s cat. Even a recipe for pouring a glass of water would be too difficult for some of them, and the review would typically go something along the lines of:

Brilliant recipe. I tried it last night, but I didn’t have any water, so I substituted some liquid I had under the sink in a bottle labelled “drain cleaner” that looked a bit like water, and I added some cabbage which I had lying around, and a piece of tree bark. It was lovely.

How the f&%k is it the same recipe if you change it?

This last chicken recipe – which I was not going to try in a million years, because it was so wrong – was no exception. It amounted to dipping a chicken breast into a garlic/oil mixture (bad idea), then into seasoned breadcrumbs (Basil and Parmesan), then baking it in the oven for 30 minutes. I knew what I’d find, but even I was surprised both by how quickly and how many reviewers had left Earth. The very first review went:

FANTASTIC! This was a great baked chicken. I changed some things to make it even more flavorful for us. For the breadcrumb mixture I substituted “pepperidge farm herb stuffing” instead of plain bread crumbs and also added 1 tsp oregano along with the basil. I used 4 large chicken breasts and used 4 tbsp olive oil and 2 cloves garlic. I also sprinkled a little salt and pepper on the chicken breasts before dipping them into the oil/garlic mixture…. I did have a little bit of each leftover (oil and breadcrumb), so I first drizzled what was left of the oil on the prepared chicken breasts in the pan, and then sprinkled what was left of the breadcrumb mixture over this. Then I sprinkled all of this with some garlic powder. It took about 40 minutes for the chicken to be done.

That is NOT the same recipe. Using stuffing instead of breadcrumbs is a good idea (I’ve done it before), but that would change the flavour completely. And seasoning the chicken alone is enough to turn an abject failure into a major success. So you have not reviewed the recipe at all – just your own.

The next review goes:

With my modifications, it came out perfect..! Was out of italian breadcrumbs so used chicken flavored stove top stuffing crushed well…

Another one who has changed the recipe completely, then reviewed it in the name of the original. Then the next one:

This is a great recipe. Here’s what I did with it…

Another change to a completely different recipe. Nearly all of them said something along similar lines. Only one reviewer I noted was still on Planet Earth:

I thought this was mediocre despite all the superlative reviews. I wish people would actually review the recipe as written, not their revisions. It makes the ratings very misleading. In any case, when actually following the recipe as written, the bread crumb coating was soggy and bland and there was not enough olive to dip six breasts in. I would not recommend this.

My thoughts exactly.

There was one more review that almost choked me when I read it. Bear in mind that this recipe is chicken dipped in oil and then coated in breadcrumbs mixed with Parmesan Cheese. The calorie count would be off the scale compared with what it could (and perhaps should) be:

Really great, pretty healthy, chicken dish…

As an aside, all I wanted was some cooked chicken I could slice up and put in a tortilla wrap with some vegetables, then eat in the car without grease dripping out of it. Plain chicken used like this is bland, and I wanted something along the lines of what you get in a McDonalds wrap but minus the calories.

Back to the bottom line: don’t trust online reviews.

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Two lanes - merging into one up aheadI was on a lesson with a pupil recently, and we were driving from Chilwell through Long Eaton. It was busy, and traffic was queuing in both lanes for both of the roundabouts in the town centre.

My usual mantra to pupils is “stay in the left hand lane unless you know what you are doing”, and you’ll see why when you read on. In this case, just before the first roundabout in Long Eaton, there was an HGV waiting to turn left towards the Tesco store at the 1st exit. The exit was backed up with cars – presumably heading for Tesco – and on the 2nd exit (our destination) I could see there were two stopped buses, one of which was blocking the entire left lane. Beyond the second roundabout at its 2nd exit there were two lanes of queuing traffic merging into a single lane.

I saw all this in advance, mentioned it to my pupil, and instructed her to negotiate both roundabouts in the right-hand lane.

We're now beyond the merge pointOnce we had got through the roundabouts (see top picture), we approached the merge into single lane. We were alternately stopping and moving, and kept pulling alongside another car (the yellow one in the picture, above). As we came to the merge, I instructed my pupil to keep up with that car, but to let it go ahead of us, and we would merge behind it. I explained about merging in turn and not trying to cut other people up by being greedy.

Now, you’d think everything would have been all right. I mean, traffic going nowhere in a hurry, we were actually in the process of merging, with no intention of trying to cut anyone up, just dealing with the road conditions in the safest and most sensible way possible…

Chav in the act of cutting us upExcept as we started to merge, a prat in a silver Corsa (what else?) came up alongside us – eyes staring straight forward, because that makes everything all right, of course – and forced her way in. You can see from the third picture what she did.

Vauxhall Corsa, reg. no. S900 CJAShe had come around the roundabout some considerable time after us, and judging by her apparent age, the ink was probably still damp on her licence. It was absolutely clear what she was thinking and intending to do – and it wasn’t to allow us to complete the merge.

She had all the finger actions down to a ‘T’ when I turned to look at her. I rolled down my window and asked if she’d ever heard of “merge in turn”, and elicited some more finger gestures. She then accelerated forwards and tailgated the yellow car just to be doubly sure that she “won”. A typical chav.

She knew exactly what she was doing right from the start.

To make matters worse, an arsehole of a cyclist who was alongside commented “she had the right of way, mate” as he passed (I don’t think I really need to say much about cyclists and their understanding of the Highway Code). No. She. Didn’t. Not at that point, and under those circumstances. She was forcing her way in in a situation where she shouldn’t have. There was only one lane at that point, and my pupil was at least six car lengths past the end of the two-lane section.

The Highway Code recommends merging in turn in precisely these situations. It’s in Rule 134 if the chav or that smart-ass cyclist is reading this. It only advises against merging in turn at high speeds, because it would be dangerous.

Of course, my pupil was not in the wrong because she didn’t force her way in and wasn’t trying to do so. We were already in the only lane available at that point, and were moving in slow traffic. Right of way didn’t enter into it – other than that we already had it.

Rule 144 of the Highway Code refers to driving without due care and attention. This rule was rewritten not long ago to include more detail about what is acceptable and what isn’t, and I doubt that most road users (and especially chavs) can even remember what was in the older version, let alone this one (most cyclists are probably unaware that there’s even a Highway Code). And earlier this year, the RAC wrote an article, titled Driving without due care and attention – are you an offender? In it, they say:

The offence of driving without due care and attention – also referred to as careless driving – covers a multitude of motoring sins, from tailgating to tuning the radio…

Driving without due care and attention is not necessarily a ‘clear cut’ offence…

What comes under this offence..?

Examples of disregard for other road users may include [list shortened]:

  • Driving aggressively
  • Overtaking on the left-hand side
  • Not giving way where appropriate

Rule 217 also has something interesting to say about behaving like a prat around other road users:

Rule 217

Learners and inexperienced drivers. They may not be so skilful at anticipating and responding to events. Be particularly patient with learner drivers and young drivers. Drivers who have recently passed their test may display a ‘new driver’ plate or sticker (see ‘Safety code for new drivers’).

Some people manage to tick all the boxes in one go, and those who are really into ‘P’ plate territory themselves are often the worst. I feel a proper article on merging coming on.

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Our Silver Birch in June 2017This article was originally 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!

This is my last major update of 2018, made in early September. I note that many trees – especially Elms – are showing the first sprays of yellow and gold now that we’re into meteorological Autumn, though astronomical Autumn is still a couple of weeks away. This seems a little early, and may be connected with the extreme heat we experienced for much of the summer.

Before I continue, let me just state that 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 at that time, and after sifting out the crap, I discovered that yellowing/leaf drop can be caused by deficiencies of nutrients and/or iron in the soil. In 2018, I further discovered that lack of moisture and high temperatures can also cause the same problem. I’ll talk about heat stress later, but I wrote a separate article about it in August 2018. The yellowing problem can affect many trees and plants – not just Silver Birch trees.

The problem we had in 2014 was characterised by bright, canary yellow leaves – just like in the Autumn – which began falling off the tree. As I said, it started in mid-June, and 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 ideas that made absolute sense, and which could be implemented without calling in David Attenborough and Rentokil. The remedies are easy to implement.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, 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.

Normal fertiliser is no good – 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 (I make sure I brush them into the gaps between paving stones, or the edge of the lawn).

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 by the process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll contains iron, so if there isn’t enough iron you get less chlorophyll, and the plants compensate by shedding leaves. That’s what you can see here.

This problem 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.

Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosisAny soil 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 2014.

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 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).

Why does it happen? 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).

In June 2018, my tree once again started to produce a few sprays of yellow. I wondered what was going on, but I immediately linked it with the prolonged high temperatures and low rainfall, and after Googling it I concluded my tree was suffering from heat stress. The solution to this is deep watering – you have to get water down to the tree’s roots.

One way of achieving that 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 this year (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 sprinkler method. Every night, I set the sprinkler going and watered for a couple of hours, then moved it and repeated the process (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. It fixed the problem in less than a week, and the tree has thrown out quite a bit of new growth. In fact, I had sort of half-noticed that hedgerow tree canopies seemed a little sparse this year, and with hindsight the same was true of my Silver Birch. However, the new leaves that have appeared since I started deep watering are much larger.

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. Not the ones which are canary yellow, anyway, since they’re already dead and will have to fall off the tree (a bit of wind speeds that up). 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 yellowed leaves by applying the chelated iron treatment. I have a real example of that. In early June 2018 (before the heatwave) I noticed my neighbour’s usually-dark green Cherry Tree leaves were 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 a few leaves. 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 is 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 has been healthy throughout the rest of the heatwave (as is the lawn, which was parched brown).

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. 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. 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. Yes, the winged variety. From March they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We get great amusement watching 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.

If your tree is dropping large branches you might need to get a tree surgeon in to have a look at it.

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 is in full leaf now (May 2018) whereas neighbour’s trees are still in the process of producing leaves judging from the light that passes through their canopies. In hindsight, and following my observations throughout the year, the heatwave seems 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, it 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 can result in leaves turning brown, as can extreme heat and drought (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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