Tools of an Arborist

October 14, 2022 · 2 minute read
Tools of an Arborist

The tools for every trade change with the technology available. Most of the time tool selection has to do with a matter of efficiency, but sometimes the right tools can make the difference in whether or not a job can be done at all. We can change the range of what we are able to do, just by knowing what to use and when to use it. Here are a few tools we use every day in arboriculture that you could also use at home to do some tree work yourself, and do it more safely.


  1. Handsaw: This is the primary tool for pruning a tree because it can cut through large limbs with fairly minimal effort. There are straight blades for a more precise cut or curved blades that saw faster keeping your arm, wrist, and hand in a neutral position. Technology such as tri-edged saw teeth allows for smooth cuts that easily push saw dust out while the fine cut keeps the blade from getting stuck. Don’t forget to keep it sharpened because a dull blade disrupts the sawing motion and causes frustration, which can lead to an injury. Remember – a sharp saw is a safe saw!
  2. Hand Pruners: Available in a multitude of styles of pruners, you can purchase them for ergonomic grip, size of your hand, and even for which hand you prefer to use. A hand pruner with bypass technology helps make a cleaner cut with 2 sharpened sides to help prevent disease. Some blades come with a sap groove to keep build-up from forming, and the blades sticking together. A pair of ratchet pruners allow for larger cuts, releasing the handle halfway through a cut to give a second squeeze to push through woody shrubs.
  3. Soil Knife: Also known as a hori hori or weeding knife, this tool will help you to get down in the dirt to cut roots and move some soil. This tool is great for excavating at the base of a tree and checking for girdling roots. It has a serrated edge to saw through smaller roots and remove plant materials growing near the trunk. They can have many features, like an offset blade for leverage or a sharp notch for twine cutting. Remember to be careful as this tool can easily cut through the thinner bark on some trees.
  4. PPE: Personal protective equipment is the most important way to be responsible for yourself. Safety glasses or at least any eyewear will keep the inevitable debris out of your eyes, especially what’s coming from overhead. Ear plugs or muffs are a great accompaniment for any gas-powered equipment. A helmet is necessary for material coming from overhead, especially any large limbs. Gloves are great for handling sharp tools or sharp leaves and thorny materials. Boots or just closed-toe footwear can protect you from what will always land on your feet. Long sleeves and pants are ideal to add a layer of material and guard against pesky poisonous plant rashes and reactions.
  5. Chainsaw: The most fun and dangerous tool of all, the chainsaw will keep the arborist in business. Because of the increased risk involved with using this tool, you both need to be very familiar with the safety manual and have also had some training on the proper use. Whether you have a Stihl or a Husqvarna, the brand is less important to the operational condition of the saw, from the sharpness of the chain to the mere presence of the chain brake. Never operate a saw without wearing a pair of chaps!

What’s in a Name?

September 2, 2022 · 2 minute read
What’s in a Name?

I’m originally from a city that changed its name from Losantiville, which means means ‘the city opposite the mouth of the river,’ to Cincinnati. The former name told us about the landscape, the culture, and language in the region, and gave us clues to what makes up the city and who lives there. It was thoughtful, helpful, and promptly thrown out after only 2 years in favor of honoring some Roman dictator that did nothing that’s related to what the city represents.

Naming cities and rivers and even trees can get a little messy, and mostly feels arbitrary. If you grew up next to somebody and have both been living in the same place your whole lives, you could either refer to Quercus phellos as a willow oak, or as a pin oak. You might be tempted to call an Acer negundo a boxelder, or ash-leaf maple if you’re a sap (pun), but we all know it’s clearly a ‘poison ivy tree.’ I’m kidding, but I have heard that before. So what the heck is up with all these names for the same thing, and are any a misnomer?

A blue beech is not a beech, a sweet gum is not a gum, and an Eastern red cedar is not a cedar. Worse yet, a cucumber tree does not bear cucumbers; this is getting confusing! These misnomers are the cause of a lot of disruption from time to time. Sometimes there are a few characteristics that both these species share, but on a closer look, these trees became distant relatives long ago.

Scientists will use the Latin binomial nomenclature for strict classification of trees, to communicate clearly about a specific kind of tree. Although I’m a professional, I find reading the Latin names of trees makes my eyes cross. It can be boring, like reading the phone book – unless it’s a crape myrtle, which has a type of beer in it’s scientific name: Lagerstroemia. I tend to defer to using the common name of trees in my day to day, just to keep things simple, but that gets tricky with every client I meet, and what they want to call it.

In the end, it’s important that we stay on the same page about our trees, or at least while you’re talking to an arborist. If there’s a miscommunication about a particular tree, you might end up planting the wrong tree in an unsuitable location, or contracting a company to cut down the wrong tree. And if they happen to cut down your family tree, no one will know where you’re coming from.

It’s Knot a Tumor

July 22, 2022 · 1 minute read
It’s Knot a Tumor

If you were wondering what that black stuff is all over your cherry and plum trees, in clumps on the end of twigs like tar, and in large masses like a burl, you are probably dealing with a bacterial fungus called Black Knot. It is caused by a fungus called Apiosporina morbosa that spreads very easily and can destroy your plans for a delicious fruit later in the year. As my co-worker so eloquently put it, ‘it looks like a raccoon turd stuck on a branch,’ imagery that should in turn, get stuck in your mind.

These infections start as innocent-looking, olive-colored swelling or galls at a point of vigorous growth or at a fruit spur, turning black as it ages. Nestled in during the dormant season, it opens to release its spores in the spring to turn your beautiful ornamental fruiting trees into a sickly-looking mess of black mass mayhem. It spreads best in temperatures between 60 to 80 degrees, and can also spread with rain splashing to disperse the infection, sharing its despicable existence with all your favorite plum and cherry trees.

Photo by Irina Iriser

We can fight it though! Treatment involves pruning the stem’s branches below the affected area, varying from 4 to 12 inches past where the fungus is visible. The best time to prune is in the late winter, before the spores have a chance to open up and spread in the wind to new growth and wounds on other trees. The removed material should be burned and/or buried, and the tools need to be sterilized between cuts. You can use fungicides too, just before spring, but make sure you do it before bud break and on a regular regiment as to that specific species.

Don’t be a snoot, save your fruit.

Don’t forget to look up

June 8, 2022 · 1 minute read
Don’t forget to look up

Living in downtown Richmond has its perks, whether it’s the ability to walk to a concert or an event without having to deal with parking, or just to visit one of your favorite restaurants at the drop of the hat. You might agree that as you’re navigating the one-way streets, detours, and pedestrians, the one thing the city is not known for is its abundance of nature and healthy beautiful trees. I have learned after years of being in the tree care industry that some of the most amazing trees you’ll ever see can be quickly overlooked. Some can only be viewed from the range of half a block radius of a random downtown corner, the trees you’ll never see as zoom to catch the next traffic light or you’re busy checking the incessant alerts from your phone.

If you happen to be close to the downtown library at the intersection of 1st and Franklin, you can catch a glimpse of a pair of Magnolias I find to be stunning. The trees are nestled together on the northwest corner in front of the Garden Club of Virginia, filling the small space allotted to a bit of complimentary landscaping; which far exceeds their purpose. The elongated limbs stretch and lunge outward from the facade of the building as if some artist sculpted these goliath effigies to remind us of the wonder of mother nature’s arms pulling us back to something long forgotten, or the tentacles of an enormous sea creature ready to snatch the next car that passes. The way some of the branches swoop down to the ground to gently rest and then back up again, it’s as if it’s showing off the ability to go beyond the rules of what it means to just be a tree.

I admire these trees greatly, as I do with so many other trees I see in the city and around the Richmond area, and it’s a wonderful reminder of why I chose to be an arborist in the first place. These trees are not just hypothetically alive, but they are enormous living entities. I haven’t always been the best at realizing I need a break from whatever was distracting me, but when I take that brief moment to look up I never regret what I see.