The Reason for Fall

October 19, 2022 · 2 minute read
The Reason for Fall

Perhaps the most iconic aspect of autumn is the shift from vivid green tree canopies to waves of yellow, red, and orange. Following that, leaves begin to drop and leave behind the skeletal form of the trees they once adorned. But why exactly do trees do this? Why not just hold onto their leaves year-round?

Leaf color is linked to various chemicals stored within a tree. The green color associated with trees and plants is the result of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll allows a tree to absorb light and conduct photosynthesis, converting light into energy. It is crucial for a tree to generate as much energy as possible during the spring and summer.

As summer reaches its end, so does a tree’s need to produce energy. Photosynthesis begins to slow as the tree reduces the amount of chlorophyll in its leaves. This in turn begins to reduce the green color within a leaf. As the amount of chlorophyll is reduced, it allows for other chemicals to fill that space. Trees with yellow foliage in the fall have a higher level of carotenes. Carotenes are always in leaves, but the yellow color is superseded by green from chlorophyll. If temperatures stay above freezing, chemicals called anthocyanins are produced, which result in red and pink colors.

What causes leaves to fall?

Trees shed their leaves for a number of reasons, but the main reason is that they’re trying to conserve energy through the colder months. By shedding their leaves, they can focus on making it to next spring.

In the spring months, a layer of tree cells called the abscission layer forms where a leaf grows from a branch. Throughout the growing season hormones and chemicals stay fairly constant, and energy can pass through this layer into the branch and then the trunk. As days begin to get shorter and the temperature starts to drop, the tree starts to produce less of a growth hormone known as auxin. As this happens, the abscission layer begins to weaken, causing the leaf to wither, die off, and eventually be knocked off by the wind. Some trees have stronger bonds at the abscission zone than others, such as White Oak. Oftentimes the following year’s new leaf growth can also push off the previous year’s old leaves.

What about evergreens?

Up until this point we’ve been talking about deciduous trees (trees that shed their foliage each year), but what about evergreen trees? Most commonly, evergreens refer to conifer trees (Pine, Spruce, Fir, etc), but there are evergreen broadleaf trees as well, such as the Live Oak. While it may look like these trees simply never lose their foliage, evergreens typically just shed their needles or leaves at a slower rate and hold onto their canopy for longer. This gives the appearance of being constantly green. Evergreen trees achieve this by having foliage better adapted to harsher weather and can conserve water for longer, which in turn extends their growing season.

One more note about leaves

When possible, it’s best to keep the leaves your trees drop in your yard. While they may be a nuisance to some, leaves are a great source of organic nutrients that can help keep your trees healthy. For more information on why it’s important to leave the leaves, take a look at some of our previous articles on the subject.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

September 7, 2022 · 1 minute read
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

As we approach the end of summer, many Richmonders will enjoy foraging for a native fruit that’s abundant in town: The Pawpaw. Pawpaws are a native understory tree, typically found near bodies of water in well-drained soil. Here in Richmond, they’re commonly found along trails leading to the James River. For those that aren’t familiar with this fruit, here are a few tips to keep in mind if you plan on hitting the trail looking for this local delicacy.

Pawpaw plant; image by Aidan Stewart

Look up-

Most Pawpaw groves are full of hundreds of trees. Not all of them will have fruit, so begin your search by looking up into their canopies. Lightly shaking the trees can also help determine if they’re ripe. If the fruit comes loose, there’s a chance its ready.

Pawpaw fruit ; image by Aidan Stewart

Look down-

Fallen fruit is a sign that trees are beginning to ripen. Sometimes fallen fruit can be harvested, but I typically try and leave these for wildlife.

Use your nose-

When Pawpaws are ripe, the woods will have a distinct sweet and fruity aroma. This is a telltale sign that the fruit is ready.

Get a grip-

Ripe Pawpaws, just like any other fruit, needs to be fairly soft to be edible. And, just like other fruit, there is a fine line between ripe and over-ripe. Use your best judgment, but a general rule of thumb is to look for the firmness of a ripe mango.

A final note on foraging-

As with any type of wild food, always make sure you know what you’re looking for. Never consume anything you’re unsure of. Also, make sure that you don’t over-harvest an area. Always leave some for others, both human and animal!

Trees in Movies, and Their Real-Life Counterparts

July 28, 2022 · 2 minute read
Trees in Movies, and Their Real-Life Counterparts

As an arborist, whenever I watch a movie I can’t help but pay attention to trees – especially those that serve an important role in the film. As I compiled this list, I realized that the majority of these films are some of my favorites of all time, and I wonder if the trees they portray had any sort of subliminal effect on my choice of career.

Here are my top 5 favorite portrayals of trees in film:


Treebeard - Ent Lord of the Rings

Treebeard – Ent Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Return of the King

JRR Tolkien’s legendary work of fantasy was one of the first books I ever read, and some of the first films I remember seeing in theaters. In the second film, we are introduced to a race of tree-beings known as “Ents.” As Shepherds of the forest, the Ents are portrayed as anthropomorphic trees that move and grow slowly but possess ancient wisdom and insight.


Whomping Willow - Harry Potter

Whomping Willow

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

As a kid, I never understood why the Whomping Willow looked the way it did, with large club-like limbs that I had never seen on a tree. As an Arborist, I now know that in many parts of Europe, Willow trees are pruned using a technique called “pollarding”, which involves cutting off branches year after year and forming large amounts of callous growth, similar to how people prune Crape Myrtles here. Once you see a pollarded tree, you’ll be able to understand JK Rowling’s inspiration for the Whomping Willow.


My Neighbor Totoro - tree

My Neighbor Totoro tree

My Neighbor Totoro

This is one of my all-time favorite movies and one that I will watch anytime. Totoro is a benevolent forest spirit that makes friends with two sisters in a remote part of Japan. He lives inside an ancient Camphor tree, which is a sacred tree in Japan’s indigenous Shinto region. As a young kid, I had the opportunity to live in Japan. Between that experience and this film, I gained a deep appreciation for trees.


The Poltergeist tree

The Poltergeist tree

The Poltergeist

I had to include at least one horror film on this list. This 1982 film still holds up today in terms of the scare factor. While not a major part of the film, this evil tree is one of the best parts of the entire film!


The Wizard of Oz - apple tree

The Wizard of Oz – apple tree

The Wizard of Oz

Finally, we get to a movie I’m sure most of you have seen. The scene with the talking Apple trees in the Wizard of Oz is one of my favorites in the whole movie. Every time I pick fruit from a tree, I’m reminded of the line “how would you like to have someone come along and pick something off of you?!”

What to do about powdery mildew?

June 15, 2022 · 1 minute read
What to do about powdery mildew?

Every spring, we get a number of calls regarding discolored and unhealthy leaves on trees. We covered Anthracnose in an earlier article, which is a common fungal issue with trees.

Lately, I’ve seen an uptick in another fungal infection- Powdery mildew.

Powdery mildew is a very common infection amongst trees and shrubs in the Richmond area, with Dogwoods seeming to be the most frequent hosts. It’s distinctive white, dusty film can often be seen on the leaves of trees that spend most of their time in the shade or with limited airflow. Sometimes this is about the extent of what an infection will do, but frequently it is followed by curled, stunted, and scorched-looking leaves. Lately, I’ve seen quite a few Dogwoods (especially in the city) with brown curled leaves lower in the canopy while the upper portion (where airflow and sun hit the tree) looks fine.

While powdery mildew can make your tree look pretty terrible unless there are other stressing factors the infection is not lethal. More often than not the disease is considered “cosmetic”. 

There are a few very easy ways to help manage an infection. The first is to dispose of any affected leaf debris that’s fallen to the ground, in order to keep the fungal spores from continuing into the next season. Pruning overstory trees for better light and airflow penetration can also be a big help. If you’re thinking about planting a new tree but have concerns about powdery mildew, there are quite a few resistant varieties of trees nowadays. In very severe cases, treating your tree with a fungicide might be necessary.

Splotchy leaves? It might be a fungus!

May 4, 2022 · 1 minute read
Splotchy leaves? It might be a fungus!

As trees around town finish putting out their leaves this spring, we sometimes get calls about splotchy, shriveled leaves on customers’ trees. This can be an alarming sight, as these leaves are fresh after the tree has been dormant for the winter. The issue is called “Anthracnose”, and luckily it’s not usually much of an issue at all.

Anthracnose is a fungal disease that affects the leaves of shade trees. It can cause leaf spots, curled and shriveled leaves, and even premature leaf drop. Typically anthracnose is prevalent during a cool, wet spring. Like a lot of fungi, this type of weather is ideal for spores to form and spread.

While anthracnose can affect multiple species of trees the fungus affecting a tree is often species-specific. For example, if an Oak in your yard has it, only other Oaks will be susceptible. In Richmond, we frequently see Sycamore and Oaks showing symptoms of anthracnose. 

The good news is that anthracnose really isn’t much of an issue. Most of the symptoms are more of a cosmetic problem than anything, and trees typically can handle the loss of healthy foliage. If your tree has a form of anthracnose, there are a few steps you can take to help mitigate it. Redirecting irrigation away from an affected tree can help with too much moisture. In the fall, dispose of leaves at the base of the affected tree, as the spore can lay dormant on the tree’s fallen leaves. Finally, if the affected area of the canopy is small enough, pruning out those affected limbs can help slow the spread. On rare occasions, applying a fungicide might be necessary, but this is typically a severe case.

Fun and Games with Trees!

March 30, 2022 · 1 minute read
Fun and Games with Trees!

When I’m not dealing with trees, one of my favorite hobbies is playing board games with my friends and family. Naturally, I’m drawn to anything tree-related, and lucky for me the board game world has plenty of arboreal-themed games out there. This week I thought I’d list a few of my favorite tree-centric board games. Next time you reach for the Clue or Monopoly box, maybe give one of these a try!

Bosk

Bosk– Bosk is what’s referred to as an “area control” style game. Players take control of a specific tree, and over the course of 4 seasons “plant” the trees, watch them grow, and then disperse their leaves across the board. This game has a beautiful layout and color scheme and does a great job of simulating a year in the life of a tree.

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis– Photosynthesis is an extremely popular and easy to play game. Players strategically place trees on the board while the sun shifts around, changing where the “sunlight” is projected. Players must compete against each other’s trees, which can block access to sunlight.

Kodama

Kodama– The name “Kodama” refers to the tree spirits of Japanese mythology. In this game, players collect cards to assemble complete trees. This is one of my favorite games to play!

Arboretum

Arboretum– Arboretum is a card game that is very easy to pick up, especially if you’re familiar with traditional deck-of-cards games. Players collect groups of matching tree species to align on their board in order to create their very own “arboretum”.

Everdell

Honorable mention: Everdell– While not technically a tree-centric game, I couldn’t skip over mentioning it. Its playing board is one of the most unique and beautiful playing surfaces in the board gaming world!

If any of these games interest you, consider picking up a copy at your local game store. Here in Richmond, One-Eyed Jacques in Carytown offers an excellent selection of board games, and the staff is extremely knowledgeable.

Books for Tree Lovers

February 23, 2022 · 1 minute read
Books for Tree Lovers

If you enjoy reading Urban Forest Dweller, we think you’ll enjoy these tree-centric books. The staff at Truetimber obviously loves trees, and good books on the subject are always a treat. 

The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston
The Wild Trees
by Richard Preston

The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston

In this non-fiction book, author Richard Preston tells the history of California’s Redwood trees and the individuals who first pioneered climbing them. Their innovations in climbing greatly advanced the scientific community’s ability to study the trees, as well as helped modernize the climbing practices in our industry. This is my favorite tree-related book that I’ve read in the past few years.

The Overstory
by Richard Powers

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

This novel tells the story of 9 fictional characters whose lives are deeply impacted by experiences with trees. These experiences prompt the characters to combat the destruction of American forests. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a must-read, and rumor has it that Netflix is adapting it into a tv series!

Sprout Lands
by William Bryant Logan

Sprout Lands, by William Bryant Logan

One of the more specific tree topics out there, this book covered the history of “pollarding”, which is a method of tree pruning. In the book, the author covers how the application of this method has developed and been utilized over human history. This is an excellent read for a tree nerd!

Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit
by Andrew Moore

Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit, by Andrew Moore

The pawpaw is the hidden gem of foraging. In the late summer, pawpaw trees produce their fruit along the James River. This book discusses the history of the tree and the role that it played in pre and post-colonial America. If you’re interested in foraging, growing food, or just US history, this is an excellent book.

Ditch the Leyland Cypress, Bradford Pear Trees for These Alternatives

January 12, 2022 · 3 minute read
Ditch the Leyland Cypress, Bradford Pear Trees for These Alternatives

Last month we featured two articles about what not to plant in your yard: the Leyland cypress and Bradford pear trees. Today I’d like to share some options that could serve as a great alternative to these trees.

When it comes to privacy screening, there’s a reason the Leyland cypress has been so popular for so long. It’s fast-growing and offers a solid wall of green (until it doesn’t anymore). Here are some better, longer-lasting options for screening hedges at your property.

  • Hollies: Hollies are a great choice for a screening hedge. They’re cold-hardy and long lived. One thing that they have over lots of other options is their ability to handle wet and dry conditions a bit better. I usually recommend Nellie Stevens, Oakleaf, and Foster holly varieties. There’s usually a variety for every situation.
  • Yew: Yews are a great evergreen shrub for shady areas, and can be very long lived. The Japanese plum yew is a great choice.
Japanese plum yew
  • Juniper: If you really like the look of an evergreen tree such as the Leyland cypress, junipers can be a great alternative. Spartan junipers are a great choice, usually reaching a mature height of around 15 feet. Keep in mind that junipers prefer well-drained soil.
  • Camellia: Known for their showy flowers, camellias are more often seen as a stand alone shrub than in a screening hedge, but can absolutely be planted as one. There’s a multitude of flower colors and sizes to choose from, so if you’d like something with some added color, this might be a good option.
  • Hornbeam: If year-round privacy is not important to you, a Hornbeam hedge could be a great option. This is the only tree that loses its leaves on the list, so in the winter time you can see right through it (although the stems tend to offer at least some screening). This is a great option for someone looking for a unique option, or if you don’t need a solid wall of privacy.

As we talked about in our Bradford pear article, these trees were planted for their showy flowers and fast rate of growth. While these benefits seem great, the shortcomings of the Bradford Pear have outweighed the benefits over the years. Here are some better options for a flowering tree that won’t suffer from the same issues.

  • Dogwood: There’s a chance you might already have a Dogwood on your property, but you may be able to mix up your landscape by adding another variety. Kousa Dogwood, which is native to Asia, is a great choice for its large white flowers and unique bark patterns 
  • Serviceberry: My personal favorite tree to plant. Serviceberry trees offer year-round beauty in their white flowers, gorgeous fall color, and dark purple berries (which are technically edible!). Most commonly planted as a multi-stemmed tree (think crepe myrtle), they’re also available with a single stem.
Serviceberry flowers
  • Fringe tree: Fringe trees have one of the most unique flowers I can think of with its large clusters of delicate white blooms. This is a great choice for a small- to medium-sized tree.
  • Red buckeye: Growing to a height of 15-20 feet, this is another great choice for a small to medium tree. This is the only tree on the list with a red flower, and it’s quite a spectacle!

If you’re looking to plant a tree (or trees) in your yard, please give us a call. We love to plant trees, and while the scope of some planting projects might be better suited for other services, we can help with tree selection and planting guidance, as well as aftercare. One thing that’s worth mentioning is HOA requirements for planting. Some HOA’s require specific trees and heights. If you have a list of approved trees from your HOA, we can help select the right tree from the given options.

Bradford Pear: Problem Child

December 8, 2021 · 1 minute read
Bradford Pear: Problem Child

Continuing the theme from last week’s article about Leyland Cypress, we bring you another problem tree: the Bradford Pear

Many of today’s invasive plant species are the result of landscaping and horticulture choices. The quest for the “perfect tree” often leads people in the green industry to seek unique and sometimes exotic species of plant to fill a need. Perhaps the most infamous tree of the 20th century is the Bradford Pear. 

Introduced in the 1960’s alongside suburban expansion, the Bradford Pear checked every box: fast growth rate, showy flowers, and the ability to grow just about anywhere. The New York Times had this to say in 1964, “Few trees possess every desired attribute, but the Bradford ornamental pear comes unusually close to the ideal.” However, over time, the true nature of the Bradford Pear would be revealed.

A flowering Bradford Pear starting to slowly split apart in Fairfax County, Virginia

The first and most obvious issue with these trees is their odor. While many flowering trees are known for their pleasant aroma, Bradford Pear trees in bloom have an odor not unlike spoiled fish. Perhaps the most notorious downside of this tree is its strength and structure. Due to their extremely fast growth rate and poor brand structure, Bradford Pears are extremely likely to split apart and topple over in even the smallest gust of wind. 

The most serious consequence of introducing the Bradford Pear to our region is their ability to spread like wildfire, outcompeting native species in the process. While Bradford Pears were bred to be a sterile cultivar of the Callery Pear, the tree is able to cross-pollinate with other types of pears, and, as such, these offspring will revert from their sterility and grow long thorns that are characteristic of the original Callery Pear. Birds are the main reason for the rate of spread. Drive down I-95 in the spring and you’ll notice the sea of white flowers along the shoulder. Those are all wild, invasive pears. 

Some parts of the country are starting to enact bans on the trees, prohibiting the cultivation, sale, and planting of the Bradford Pear. Currently, in Virginia, the Bradford Pear is still readily available at most nurseries, but trained nursery staff will likely steer you towards a better selection for your property.

Tips for Winter Tree Identification

November 2, 2021 · 2 minute read
Tips for Winter Tree Identification

As we move further into the colder months, Richmond’s trees begin to shed their foliage. Leaves are often the easiest way to identify a tree so when looking at a bare canopy, how can we positively ID a tree? 

Trees have lots of characteristics that can help with identification. I began my career as an arborist in the dead of winter, so learning these traits was crucial for me. It all comes down to the 3 B’s: buds, branching, and bark.

Buds come in various sizes, shapes, and orientations. Do the buds have a sharp point or are they rounded? Are they snug against the side of the branch, or do they protrude out at a sharp angle? Does the tree even have buds? In my opinion, buds can be tricky to use as an ID tool, but they also can be effective.

Moving away from buds, a tree’s branch pattern can really narrow down its species. Trees either have opposite or alternate branching, meaning the twigs originate opposite from each other or alternate down the length of the branch. Trees with opposite branches can be narrowed down fairly easily. Maple, ash, dogwood, horse chestnut, and trees and shrubs in the honeysuckle family are opposite branched trees. If a tree has alternate branches, you can rest assured that it’s not one of these!

Finally, a tree’s bark can be a dead giveaway. Bark can take on distinct color, depth, and texture. Trees like sycamores or river birch are often identified by their bark alone no matter the season because they’re so distinct. One thing to keep in mind is that some trees’ bark can change as a tree ages, so it’s not always a failsafe.

If the 3 B’s aren’t giving you a positive ID, it never hurts to look at the ground. Fallen leaves can help confirm a guess. Certain trees will also hold onto their fruit throughout the winter, and this can be a great ID tool as well.

Correctly identifying trees in the winter is a fun challenge. I always recommend utilizing as many tools as you can for a positive ID to ensure a positive match. Whether you’re just learning your trees or just want to have a broader knowledge of tree species, the above tips should surely help you out. And these links are a good place to start further research:

https://www.lewisginter.org/enjoy-simplicity-with-winter-tree-id/
https://www.ccfpd.org/Portals/0/Assets/PDF/WinterTreeIDpocketguide.pdf

Support Your Tree

October 13, 2021 · 2 minute read
Support Your Tree

As trees grow they often develop areas of weakness or defects. In a wild setting, these areas are not of concern. However, in the urban environment weaknesses and defects can pose a threat to people and property and need to be managed. Most tree issues can be prevented when a tree is young through proper pruning, but for mature trees, arborists may recommend various forms of supplemental support. There are two very common tree issues that we see on a nearly daily basis.

The first is what’s referred to as a “co-dominant stem.” These are stems that are not well attached to the rest of the tree due to being allowed to grow in an improper way. They’re easily identified by a deep “V”-shaped union. Co-dominant stems are more likely to split off the tree because of their poor attachment.

A tree supported with brace rods.

The second tree issue we see frequently is what we call an “over-extended limb”. These are limbs that are growing excessively long in relation to the rest of the tree. Oftentimes they grow horizontally or downward, and most of their weight is towards the end of the limb. Over-extended limbs are more likely to break due to wind, ice, snow, etc.

What can be done to deal with these issues? As mentioned above, pruning a tree early into its life really does wonders for its longevity. And even if the tree is more mature, some level of pruning can be effective. Reducing the weight on limbs that have defects can help with the strain on the branch’s union to the tree. When pruning is not enough, a trained arborist may recommend supplemental support systems. We’ll cover three common support systems below.

Cabling supporting trees.

Cabling:

  • Support cables are a common solution for trees with co-dominant stems. Cables are attached to either side of a poor union with the idea that the cable adds supplemental support and limits the amount of movement and strain on the poor union. Cables come in two types: Static and dynamic. Static cables are designed to really limit movement while dynamic cables are used on unions that could benefit from a little extra movement. Deciding which cable to use depends on a variety of factors that an arborist will take into account.

Brace Rods:

  • Slightly less common, brace rods are galvanized steel rods that are installed through a poor union to help “stitch” it together. These are more commonly found in situations where the tree has formed a crack or the union being supported is fairly long. If brace rods are being installed, a support cable is almost always included.

Props:

  • The last form of supplemental support we’ll talk about is a tree prop. It’s by far the most simple in design. Props are usually used for low, over-extended branches and for small leaning trees. Think of them like a crutch for a tree, holding some of the limb’s weight to reduce strain on the attachment to the tree.

It’s important to note that supplemental support in a tree is not a fail-safe. Installing hardware is designed to help mitigate the risk of failure, but it will not prevent it. If you’ve got a tree with a potential issue, one of our arborists will be able to help you make an informed decision towards its care.

Trees of Virginia’s Blue Ridge

August 26, 2021 · 1 minute read
Trees of Virginia’s Blue Ridge

Besides my love of trees, I also very much enjoy riding my bicycle. This past weekend I traveled to the Harrisonburg area for some mountain biking. During my trip, I was reminded of the many different varieties of trees that grow in Virginia’s higher elevations. While there are many trees that exist in both Richmond and the mountains, there are a few that you won’t find here.

The point of this article is to help you identify some of the common tree species found in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Next time you’re up there, whether it be for a hike, a mountain bike ride, or even just some peace and quiet, see if you can point out these trees!

It’s obvious where the striped maple gets its name.

Striped Maple

  • The striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is a small tree that can be found all over the Appalachian mountains, from Canada to Georgia. It’s very shade tolerant and can be identified by its very large leaves, especially in relation its typically very small trunk.
Chestnut oak leaves and an acorn.

Chestnut Oak

  • Okay, so the chestnut oak (Quercus montana) is somewhat common among the Richmond area, but it truly thrives in the higher elevations of the Blue Ridge. Richmond is right on the eastern edge of its natural habitat. Chestnut oaks typically like to grow in dry, rocky areas, typically on ridge tops. As a result these trees are not typically very large in this environment. 
American chestnut leaves and chestnuts

American Chestnut

  • The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) honestly deserves its own article. Once one of the most important trees in North America, the chestnut has been devastated by a blight since the early 20th century that nearly wiped out the population. Today smaller trees and saplings can be found in the mountains, but eventually they will succumb to the blight. Their telltale serrated leaves are a dead giveaway, as are their spiky nuts which can often be found littering the ground.

Yellow Birch

  • The Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) gets its name from its gold-colored bark. The tree has a similar shiny exfoliating bark to a cherry tree. It can reach heights of 60-80 feet, making it one of the tallest birch tree varieties in the world.

Herbicides: Kill Weeds, Not Trees

July 21, 2021 · 1 minute read
Herbicides: Kill Weeds, Not Trees

For many trees and shrubs, the summer months are a period of rapid growth. The same can be said for weeds around your yard. While it may seem like a good idea to grab a spray bottle of weed killer, it’s important to understand these chemicals and how they can affect your property and everything living on it.

Store-bought weed killer is an herbicide, meaning it’s designed to be toxic to plants, and that means ALL plants. During the summer, when herbicides are used most frequently, our staff often sees the effects of incorrectly applied chemicals causing damage to and even killing trees and shrubs. 

Herbicide damage to trees is often the result of improper handling and application of the chemical. The result depends on the severity of the application and which specific chemical is applied, but there are some telltale signs that weed killer is the culprit. Affected leaves will often shrivel up into a cupped and deformed appearance. New growth can be stunted in size and development and will be tightly clustered. They can often have a hard “plastic-y” feeling.

Once a tree has been affected by weed killer, there is little that can actually be done to reverse the damage. Remember, these chemicals are designed to kill vegetation! Depending on the severity, it is often recommended to wait at least a season to see how the tree handles the exposure. Watering the soil regularly can help flush some of the chemicals out of the ground as well.

The next time you’re planning on ridding your yard of weeds, follow these steps to ensure that there are no unforeseen casualties:

  • When possible, pull weeds by hand.
  • Spray herbicide on specific weeds, not over a broad area.
  • Never spray on a windy day. Wind will carry herbicide onto nearby trees and shrubs.
  • Avoid any chemicals on the roots or trunk of your trees and shrubs.
  • Try to avoid treating the area within the drip line of a tree (the area underneath a tree’s canopy).

A Sticky Situation

June 30, 2021 · 1 minute read
A Sticky Situation

Over the past few months, Truetimber has gotten quite a few calls to look at “sap dripping from trees,” covering everything beneath them in a clear, sticky film. Most homeowners are surprised to find out that the liquid isn’t really sap, but a substance called “honeydew” (no relation to the fruit).

Honeydew is actually the excrement of plant-sucking insects such as scale, aphids, and lace bugs. More like honey-“ew”, am I right? The most commonly affected trees in our area are maple, oak, and poplar, but typically most deciduous trees and many shrubs are susceptible to it.

While honeydew can be extremely annoying and messy, it’s not inherently bad for your trees. However, an excessive buildup of the substance can lead to sooty mold, a black fungus that coats a tree’s leaves and bark and makes it hard for the tree to photosynthesize. Over time sooty mold can affect the overall health of your tree.

So what’s the solution? The first step is prevention. Leaf-sucking insects typically feed on trees that are either not healthy or stressed in some way. Making sure that your tree is healthy to begin with is a great way to ward off these insects. If your trees already have a honeydew problem, you have a few options. While Truetimber does not offer chemical applications, a common method for honeydew problems is to treat with horticultural oil or an insecticide. The final solution is to release beneficial insects into your yard that will prey on the leaf-sucking insects. The most popular choice is the ladybug. This is a great natural approach that is extremely effective. 

If you’ve got a honeydew or sooty mold problem, give us a call. We’d love to help come up with a solution for your trees!

Mulberry Season Approaches

May 12, 2021 · 1 minute read
Mulberry Season Approaches

Late spring in Richmond means the arrival of a popular wild fruit: the mulberry. Mulberry trees can be found in nearly every nook and cranny of the city, from back alleys to front yards. Some might not realize that Richmond is home to three different varieties of mulberry, so this article will hopefully serve as a guide for their identification.

Mulberries ripening on the tree.
Red mulberry leaves.

The red mulberry is Virginia’s only native variety. It is found as far north as Ontario and as far south as Florida and Texas. Their berries are very sweet, and were a staple food for the Powhatan people before Europeans found them. They are much less common than the other varieties we will cover, but if you find one, be sure to try its fruit! 

A white mulberry tree with fruit.
White mulberry leaves.

The white mulberry is native to Asia and was brought to America by European Colonists looking to begin a silk industry (silkworms feed on white mulberry leaves). America did not sustain silkworms, but the white mulberry flourished and is now considered naturalized. Its ability to cross breed with the native red mulberry makes this tree very prolific and common. Its fruit is much more bland than the red mulberry’s. Whenever I hear someone say they dislike mulberry fruit, I typically assume they’ve been eating white mulberry.

Leaves of the paper mulberry

Paper Mulberry was introduced to North America in the early 20th century as an ornamental and shade tree. It has since become extremely prolific in the US and is often considered invasive. Its fast growth and shallow root system make it more susceptible to structural issues. It does not produce fruit, but in Asia, the wood is traditionally used for paper.

As with any wild food, make sure you know what you’re looking for before consuming it. Luckily, mulberries are usually an easily recognizable tree!

Flower Power: A Guide to Spring Tree Blooms

April 6, 2021 · 1 minute read
Flower Power: A Guide to Spring Tree Blooms

Today I want to help educate our readers about the trees that surround us. I’m sure that many of you have a good understanding of tree identification, but for those who don’t, this article is for you! Today I have listed a few of the most common (and most beautiful!) flowering trees you’ll notice around the city right now. Hopefully, after reading, you’ll be able to impress your friends and family with your newfound knowledge.

Saucer Magnolia

The Saucer magnolia might be my favorite spring-blooming tree. Unlike the classic Southern magnolia, Saucers are deciduous trees. Their massive pink and purple flowers are one of the first to appear in the spring. 

Saucer magnolia

Yoshino Cherry

Commonly known as the Japanese Flowering Cherry, these trees are synonymous with spring. Cherry blossom festivals are a common occurrence throughout the world this time of year. As a kid, I even got to attend a cherry blossom festival in Japan. Their white-pink flowers and almost metallic-looking bark make them easy to identify.

Yoshino cherry blossoms

Eastern Redbud

The Eastern redbud is a beautiful native flowering tree. Its vibrant purple and pink flowers have a color unlike any other tree in this region. You may notice that some redbuds produce flowers directly from their trunk and branch wood as opposed to new growth and shoots. This is known as “cauliflory” and allows redbuds to be pollinated by animals climbing the trunk and dispersing seeds. Fun fact: Redbud flowers are edible!

Eastern redbud flowers

Flowering Dogwood

Perhaps the most well-known tree here, the flowering dogwood is Virginia’s state tree. Dogwoods flower a little bit later than the others on the list, usually around mid to late April. The native variety has showy white flowers, but there are numerous cultivars with pink, red, and even yellow colors.

Flowering dogwood

Bradford Pear

The Bradford pear is an interesting tree. Blooming bradford pears are unmistakable. In the spring every inch of the tree’s canopy is covered in stark white blooms. You’ll likely notice flowering pear trees along roadways and in urban areas. This is because bradford pears and other related cultivars are considered invasive species. So while these trees do add a ton of color to the spring landscape, they’re oftentimes not supposed to be there.

Bradford pear blooms

A Pruning Primer

March 3, 2021 · 1 minute read
A Pruning Primer

Tree management is not a new practice. Throughout history humans have come up with myriad ways to coexist with our woody perennial friends. Still, our understanding of arboriculture expands each year, leaving many older methods out of favor.

One question that recurs from time to time is whether or not to paint over a fresh pruning cut. In the past, it was often recommended that, after a limb was pruned, the fresh wound should be covered with sealing paint. This would prevent decay and disease, encourage quick healing, and improve appearance. We now know these sealants have adverse effects on a tree. 

While it might seem to go against our understanding of wound healing from a human perspective, we need to remember that trees don’t work like us. When a tree loses a limb, whether from damage or from pruning, it tries to seal over the wound. It does not heal. So when it comes to covering up tree wounds, pruning sealant can actually slow this process down. Applying pruning sealant also traps moisture against the fresh pruning cut, which can exacerbate decay and cause health issues on its own. 

Pruning sealants are still readily available to homeowners at any home and garden center. These often petroleum-based products are also advertised as being great for sealing gutters and waterproofing outdoor surfaces. This clearly doesn’t sound like a good-natured product to apply to a living thing.

The best step to take with a fresh pruning cut is to leave it alone. It’s true that pruning cuts are often the entry-point for various pests and diseases, but the key to mitigating these problems is knowing when and how to prune your trees correctly.

Lean On Me

February 2, 2021 · 1 minute read
Lean On Me

One of the most common calls arborists get is to inspect trees that look to be leaning. As a homeowner, leaning trees can definitely be cause for concern. A tree with severe lean, especially when aimed at a structure or an area where people frequent can be seen as a liability that needs to be taken care of. But do all leaning trees need to come down? Usually, the answer is no. As arborists, there are a number of telltale signs that a tree is either at risk of falling or poses no real threat.

The first step when determining if a tree is leaning dangerously is to figure out why it’s happening. Is the tree actually leaning over, or is it just crooked? The most common reason for a crooked tree is that the tree is reaching for space and sunlight, usually because of competing trees. If this is the case, the tree has likely spent its entire life growing crooked, and, as such, has intentionally built its structure to support the lean. In my experience, this is the most common situation I encounter when looking at a customer’s trees.

So how can we tell when a leaning tree is actually a threat? The simplest way is determining if the lean is a new development. Was there a storm recently? Is the ground around the base of the tree cracked, raised, or sunken? Look up: Is there a gap in the canopy where the tree in question should be? These are all telltale signs that the tree has recently shifted and could be a potential threat. 

What can be done with a leaning tree? Well, if the tree is indeed starting to lean and is not just crooked, full removal is oftentimes the preferred solution, especially if the tree’s trajectory is at something of value. If the tree seems safe and sound, but has a crooked growth habit, we might recommend pruning excessive weight off the ends, so that as the tree continues to grow it does not get too heavy on the side of its lean.

If you’ve got a leaning tree, please don’t hesitate to call us. We will be able to properly diagnose your tree’s condition and recommend the best course of action.

Not all leaning trees are a threat to their surroundings.

The Case for Keeping Your Backyard Habitat Standing

January 5, 2021 · 1 minute read
The Case for Keeping Your Backyard Habitat Standing

Are you one of the many Richmonders with a bird feeder in your yard? How about a birdhouse? Admittedly both are common, but do you know what’s more ubiquitous (and even better for birds)? Trees! Trees with nuts and seeds to eat; and trees with spreading canopies and homey burrows. 

As arborists, one of our jobs is to help manage the urban forest in a way that, ideally, benefits every living organism in the ecosystem. One way we can do that is by leaving habitats for wildlife. 

It should come as no surprise that trees are an excellent habitat for animals. Our teams routinely encounter birds, bats, squirrels, opossums and raccoons while aloft in the canopy. When a tree is selected for removal, not only is it a loss to our area’s green space, but it’s potentially a major habitat loss for our furry and feathered friends. As trees age, their cavities, nooks, and crannies provide excellent homes. While some of these trees may pose a potential threat to our homes, it is worthwhile to consider which trees can be left or modified in a way that mitigates risk and allows for wildlife use and interaction.

So how can we balance the needs of a homeowner with those of their animal neighbors? One popular solution is to leave standing wildlife habitats. This is done by taking down a tree to a height where it is no longer a hazard, but leaving the rest standing for birds and other wildlife to make their homes. As the remaining tree decays, animals continue to utilize it for habitat and as a food source. At Truetimber, we commonly leave wildlife habitats in situations where the tree is recessed into the woods, or in areas where access to the tree is limited and more costly. Leaving behind sections of tree when possible means less time spent on the job and more money in a homeowner’s pocket.

The name of this website says it all. We at Truetimber are urban forest dwellers, and, as such, are stewards of the natural environment. If you’ve got a tree that might seem like a good choice for a project like this, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Pruning: How to Understand an Arborist

December 7, 2020 · 2 minute read
Pruning: How to Understand an Arborist

Sometimes arborist terminology and lingo can be confusing to a homeowner. One of the most common challenges as a tree-care advisor is explaining pruning goals without using too much industry jargon. Hopefully, the following will help you, the homeowner, understand some of the terminology you may hear or read in relation to pruning your trees.

Pruning cuts fall into three main categories: removal, reduction, and heading. Each type of pruning cut is used to achieve a specific goal and is dependent on the tree’s species, location, form, and health. All three pruning cuts create different results and appearances. When pruning, the size of a pruning cut matters. Typically we try to remove live branches no larger than two to three inches in diameter. Anything larger than this really needs a reason, as larger cuts can result in potential decay over time.

A Truetimber arborist hard at work.

A removal cut is probably the simplest to understand. As the name suggests, a removal cut gets rid of an entire limb at its point of origin, which is a larger limb or other section of the tree. This can be against a trunk, coming off of a larger limb, etc. The goal with this kind of pruning typically is to create clearance from a structure, allow for light penetration through a canopy, or when other smaller pruning cuts are not possible.

A reduction cut is performed by cutting back a larger section of limb back to a smaller section. The important thing to remember here is to always bring the cut back to a limb that is no smaller than ⅓ the size of what’s being removed. This helps ensure that there’s a substantial limb to help take over growth. This pruning technique is often used on the tips of smaller trees to prune away from structures or other trees where full removal of a branch is not necessary or recommended.

Heading cuts, also called topping cuts, are likely the most misunderstood. With a heading cut, the branch is pruned back to a limb less than ⅓ the diameter of what’s being removed. This cut results in excessive suckering (clusters of small weak branches) originating from the cut. With removal and reduction cuts, the final cut allows another branch to take over. With a heading cut, there is no dominant limb, so new sprouts form and compete with each other. These sprouts are typically extremely weak. So why would anyone make this cut? We save this type of pruning for very specific circumstances with a particular goal in mind. Heading cuts are very situational and species-dependent. Some examples of when topping cuts might be employed by a trained Arborist are hedge trimming, pollard pruning, and fruit tree pruning.

The arborists at Truetimber truly enjoy pruning. Next time we’re on your property to care for your trees, feel free to pick our brains. We’d love to explain the thought process that goes into pruning and how it can help achieve your goals as a homeowner while keeping our urban forest thriving.

Putting Down Roots

November 3, 2020 · 1 minute read
Putting Down Roots

With the wet year we’ve had here in Richmond, uprooted trees have been an unfortunate but common occurrence. It’s always a spectacle to see the massive wall of roots protruding out of the ground out like a big pancake, and homeowners are often shocked by the lack of a downward root system.

“No wonder it fell over” is something I hear often.

A common misconception when it comes to tree roots is that they grow straight down almost acting as a mirror image of the canopy. In reality, roots grow outward, stretching as far out as 2-3 times the spread of a tree’s crown.

Furthermore, most roots are typically found in the top 12-18 inches of soil — not very deep at all! Why is this? Well, roots need oxygen. In sandy, well-drained soils, trees might send roots deeper underground, as the environment is more oxygenated. When the soil is good, roots thrive and create a solid anchor for the tree. Here in Virginia specifically, we have lots of clay in our soil, which does not drain well and creates an environment less rich in oxygen.

In newer neighborhoods and subdivisions around Richmond, construction backfill, poor drainage, and compacted soil can exacerbate the problem of a shallow root system. A common situation I see when looking at a tree that has fallen over is standing water, a shallow root plate, and poorly draining soil. When the soil is less than ideal, roots have trouble establishing a good structure and anchor. Couple that with the saturated ground we’ve experienced this year, and you can end up with a toppled tree.

If you are concerned about a tree on your property, give us a call. We can help you understand what’s going on beneath the surface of your yard and help identify problems before they arise.

Leave Those Leaves!

September 23, 2020 · 1 minute read
Leave Those Leaves!

As autumn approaches, so does the impending leaf drop that blankets Richmond’s yards. Countless hours will soon be spent raking, bagging, and disposing of leaf material in order to achieve a tidy look. What many do not realize, however, is that leaves serve as a crucial component to the biology of your yard. It’s often better to leave the leaves!

Where possible, consider mowing over leaves in your grass. Shredding the leaves in this fashion prevents heavy piles of material from suffocating the grass, but will allow the smaller particles of shredded leaves to break down. Not only does this make the leaf material smaller and therefore easier to manage, the leaves will help boost your yard’s fertility. If you’re fertilizing your lawn, this is a great natural alternative.

Leaves are an excellent source of organic material for your trees and shrubs as well. If you’re attached to a leaf-free lawn this autumn, instead of collecting the leaves in plastic bags to be tossed to the curb, consider blowing them into your mulch beds and around the base of your trees. Keeping the dirt around your landscape covered with organic material throughout the winter prevents dry compacted soil. As it breaks down, it bolsters your soil’s fertility, which will result in very happy trees and shrubs. If you think your plants may have a fungal issue you should consult an arborist before committing to your free fertilizer. Certain fungal issues found in trees and shrubs can be spread through infected leaves, and should be removed from the property.

This fall, consider utilizing mother nature’s gift to your yard’s health. Not only will it cut down on time and money spent ridding your yard of beneficial material, but your landscape will thank you for it.

The Approach of Pawpaw Season

August 19, 2020 · 1 minute read
The Approach of Pawpaw Season

When it comes to edible fruit in Virginia, most people think of apple orchards and blackberries. However, Virginia is home to a unique fruit that is naturally abundant here in Richmond and often hidden in plain sight. What is this mysterious fruit and tree of the same name? The pawpaw. Pawpaws line the James River and are usually ready to harvest around late August into September.

The pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) is an understory tree that grows in well-drained, fertile soil. In Richmond, they’re usually found close to water. Native American tribes were known to cultivate the pawpaw, and colonial settlers were such big fans of the fruit that they often grew it on farms and made it into various desserts. Most say the fruit tastes like a hybrid of a banana and a mango, but the flavor can vary widely.

The author looking for pawpaws with his grandmother.

I recently purchased a copy of “Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit” by Andrew Moore for my grandmother while she enjoyed an extended stay with my family in Virginia. As a native of California, she’s always been fascinated with our state’s native flora and fauna. A few weeks ago, we explored Richmond’s urban forest to track down pawpaw groves that might prove bountiful once the fruit ripens. It was truly a special experience getting to walk a rugged trail with my 90-year-old grandmother, watching her discover this tree and its fruit she had just read so much about. Luckily we found quite a few fruit-bearing trees and will be sure to check on them in the coming weeks!

As with any type of foraging, make sure you know what you’re looking for. Never eat something you’re unsure of, and never overharvest a location. Leave some for other foragers, both human and animal!

Here are some pawpaw resources, if you’re interested in learning more:

National Park Service on pawpaws

NPR story on pawpaws

All the pawpaw details from wildflower.org

‘Slime Flux’: Great Name But a Problem for Trees

July 13, 2020 · 2 minute read
‘Slime Flux’: Great Name But a Problem for Trees

Truetimber’s tree care advisors often get called out to look at a plethora of phenomena related to homeowners’ trees. This spring and summer, it seems like one issue has been the most common: bacterial wetwood

Bacterial wetwood, also known as “slime flux” (great band name!) is a very common occurrence. In the Richmond area, it’s usually seen in elms, oaks, and maples, although it can make an appearance in other trees. Wetwood is usually brought on by bacteria entering a tree through some sort of wound. Wounds can be anything from a pruning cut to an impact from a vehicle, but, according to the Morton Arboretum, since the “bacteria associated with wetwood are common in soil, root wounds are probably a major point of entry. Infection is usually confined to the inner sapwood and heartwood.”

As the bacteria ferments, it pushes liquid out of the tree, resulting in a wet stain. The build-up of gases fluctuates during the year, with the highest pressure usually found in summer when the bacteria are most active. Often this liquid will have a sour, alcoholic aroma, which attracts different insects to feed. I recently saw a swarm of bald-faced hornets on one patch of wetwood!

So is bacterial wetwood anything to worry about? Yes and no. While the infection can definitely affect a tree’s vigor and overall health, it’s not considered to be a fatal condition. Currently, there are no known methods to completely cure a tree from infection. The best steps to take to prevent and/or manage bacterial wetwood are as follows:

  1. Prune correctly, and during the right time of year. Any time you prune a tree, you are creating a wound. It is best to limit any pruning on susceptible trees (i.e. elms, oaks and maples) during the summer months, as this is when bacterial wetwood is the most active.
  2. Boost the soil health around your tree. Adding nutrients to the soil will help boosts a tree’s vigor, allowing it a better chance at fighting off a potential infection, or better dealing with a current one.

In the past, some arborists would drill a small hole into an infection site and insert a metal tube. This was believed to help release pressure and direct the flow of fluid out of the tree. Today this is not considered a sound practice, potentially causing more harm than anything.

The Ins and Outs of Air Spading

June 16, 2020 · 3 minute read
The Ins and Outs of Air Spading

One of the first things I do when assessing a tree’s health is look down. So much of what we as arborists as problems in a tree’s canopy originate from issues underground. Soil compaction, buried root flares, lack of soil nutrients, and improperly planted trees are some of the most common tree health concerns I see on a daily basis.

So what can be done to remedy these problems? Well, prepare to meet what might be my favorite tool in our industry: the Air Spade. As opposed to manual digging tools, an Air Spade allows us to control highly compressed air to move soil from a tree’s root system with very minimal, if any, damage. It should be noted that any disruption to the soil around a tree inevitably damages the soil’s microbiome. It is up to a trained arborist to determine if and when using the air spade is the right call. We use this tool for numerous tasks, some of which we’ll go over in this article.

Examples of Air Spading techniques

Root Collar Excavation

You may remember an earlier article entitled “Root Flare: Where Trees Meet the Earth”. In that article, we discussed the importance of a tree’s root flair. It’s extremely common in an urban environment for a tree to be planted too deep or for mulch to be built up to an excessive level, burying a tree’s root flare. Over time, this can lead to stem-girdling roots that can encircle a tree’s stem—or trunk—and prevent the uptake of nutrients. 

It can also lead to root decay, which can eventually lead to tree failure. Using an Air Spade to expose a tree’s root flare is perhaps the most common application for the tool. An arborist is then able to prune any roots that may be growing in a way that is detrimental to the tree’s health.

Truetimber at work with the Air Spade

Vertical Mulching and Radial Trenching

When a tree is looking less than great, another common cause is soil compaction. Over time, constant foot or vehicle traffic, as well as construction, can compress the soil around a tree preventing the uptake of oxygen, water, and nutrients by the tree’s roots. We use the Air Spade to decompact the soil in two ways. 

Vertical Mulching is much like aerating your grass. We drive the tool straight down into the soil, creating a vertical tube. This is repeated in a grid pattern around the prescribed root zone. Finally, we backfill these holes with compost to boost the nutrients in the soil. The second method is called radial trenching. In this procedure, the air spade is used to create long trenches that fan out from the root flare of the tree, and are then backfilled with compost. Both methods are designed to cover as much surface area as possible while still retaining the soil’s preexisting microbiome. Our arborists are able to make an informed decision as to which method should be used.

Transplanting

Occasionally, trees end up in the wrong location. Whether it be due to construction, the size of the tree, or simply to make way for something else. As an alternative to removing a tree entirely, an Air Spade can be used to help us move a tree from one spot to another. By exposing a tree’s root’s we are able to make safe pruning cuts to extract the tree and replant in a different location. While this can be a risky procedure, it can be worth the effort!

Some Air Spade projects are massive

Construction Management

Oftentimes when we see trees that are in decline, they are suspiciously close to some form of new development. This may be a new driveway, an addition to a house, etc. While the issue may be just compaction from the constant presence of construction machinery, compiled on construction backfill devoid of nutrients, many times there is root damage present as well. An air spade allows us to expose and preventively prune roots back from a construction project so that they aren’t destroyed by machinery.

Truetimber wants to see Richmond’s trees thrive. If you have a tree that looks like it could use some love, have us take a look. We might be able to discover the ‘root’ of the problem.