Attack of the Cicadas!!!

May 16, 2024 · 2 minute read
Attack of the Cicadas!!!

There’s been a lot of excitement around the cicadas emerging this year, and in some areas there will be 2 different broods present at the same time. What does this mean?? It’s gonna be loud for a few weeks and a couple might get in your house, cover the plants on your property and land in your trees. These little guys have just a few days to complete their life cycle, to breed and lay eggs before they die and become food for everything in the local ecosystem. In the wake of their 3 day bender they’ll leave select trees damaged, with some that could look quite shabby after their little party. Is there anything we can do to help with this damage?


The female laying eggs will use trees and shrubs with stems that are ¼ to ½ inch in diameter. They burrow into the woody material in several places, cutting slits to lay their eggs in that weaken the ends of limbs and twigs that could break and hang, called ‘flagging.’ This is mostly the leafy ends of your larger trees that will look torn and sickly, but this damage is mostly superficial and it generally needs no mitigation. Smaller trees, including young trees and ornamentals, are more susceptible to this as most of their stems are within the vulnerable size for damage. Tree species in the Richmond area that cicadas might use include Oak, Maple, Ash, Elm, Chestnut, Hawthorn, Redbud and most fruit trees. 


I’d recommend getting some bird netting for some small ornamentals and recently planted trees. Make sure you order the netting that has holes no larger than a ¼ inch to keep the cicadas out completely. If you notice some of them getting in and landing on your tree you’re probably okay, and if you’d like you can prune the ends off where the females had laid their eggs. Dispose of these pruned pieces so the newly hatched larvae don’t crawl into ground at the base of your tree and eat the roots for the next 13 to 17 years.


If you’d like to find out more information for where the cicada broods are emerging and help keep track of their broods you can download Cicada Safari. It’s a pretty cool app that was put together by a collaborative, directed for scientific research to better understand the cicadas by monitoring their broods. Please check it out


Loosening up in the Backyard

April 12, 2024 · 2 minute read
Loosening up in the Backyard

We love our backyards! It’s a place to get away from the rest of reality, to do whatever we please, and during the pandemic, we realized this personal place was more important than we could have ever imagined. We built decks, patios, porches, playsets, and everything we could dream up, and now a few years later it raises some considerations about our trees. If you take a moment to check the trees that you’ve used to hang up your playsets, hammocks, slack lines, and string lights, you may notice that they are desperately trying to tell you something.

There are many ways to utilize the trees in your backyard to make the most of that space, but only a few ways to do it so that you don’t hurt your beloved trees. I noticed after I moved in with my fiance that she had an incredible willow oak in her backyard, but it had a couple of hooked lag screws in the trunk. I‘m not sure what their use was originally, but I backed them out as carefully as I could and allowed the tree to heal its wounds. It’s been less than a year and the ¼ inch hole is noticeably smaller, so our trees can recover very quickly!

Putting hardware in trees does injure the tree such as nails, screws, and bolts, but it should only be done as a last resort to help the tree. Trees can grow with imperfections that occasionally need a brace rod or cable to help support them from falling apart. Please use a professional to do this, as the standards are very specific and the consequences could be devastating! This hardware should be inspected annually to ensure they are not fraying, backing out, or drooping considerably. Most of the time no action is needed, but don’t overlook the importance of getting an experienced eye.

Instead of using hooked screws in our trees for hammocks or whatever we’d like to hang, we should consider using textiles and temporary straps to attach various things to our trees. If you decide to use some kind of rope or strap, you could consider tying a stationary knot that holds some space for the tree to grow, and cinching knots are also okay as long as the tree can open up the space as it grows. Fixed knots tight against the tree are okay for temporary use, but eventually, you’ll notice a visible warping, as the tree starts to try to grow around the foreign object. A lot of the time we forget about this. If you use a wire for a zip line or dog leash around the trunk of the tree, without wooden blocks as spacers, the tree will end up getting girdled as it tries to grow and you’ll end up with a dead tree! 

So it’s great to enjoy our backyards, we just need to recognize that trees are alive and not just a post in the ground. We should appreciate their shade, beauty, and ability to support our outdoor functions by considering their sacrifice. Take some time every year to loosen and reset those wires, ropes, slack lines, and textiles around your tree.

A Plea for Proper Pruning

March 1, 2024 · 4 minute read
A Plea for Proper Pruning

I was running errands at Willow Lawn recently when I noticed a jagged cut on a Crape Myrtle right next to my parking spot. Having been in my work truck I had the momentary fear of being associated with this atrocious pruning practice, but I continued to inspect it unfettered, drawn in by the ‘white eye’ of a recent cut. The angle of the cut started close to where a proper cut could have been made but then dug into the stem at a harsh angle. Presumably, the tree cutter caught their mistake and started again from the top of the limb to meet the first cut creating a ‘v’ shape into the stem. This was careless work that anybody could recognize as such. The tree looked bad, dare I say mangled by this poor cut and many others. I desperately tried to find a proper cut that may have happened, just by sheer accident if nothing else, to no avail. 

I took some pictures and decided it was time to talk about the importance of a proper pruning cut and how one might achieve it. Once you learn where to make a cut, when to make it, and why to make it there, the ‘how’ is just practice and experience. Trying to find where to make the cut takes some knowledge of tree anatomy, properly identifying the branch bark ridge, and finding the collar of the limb. If you can find a dead limb on a tree you’re about to work on, some species make it very obvious where the collar ends when they start the process of shedding the limb, so you can completely avoid making a larger cut than necessary. This is how the tree tells us where the process of compartmentalization ends and what part of the tree is ready to be removed. 

Before you ever pick up a saw or cutting implement, you should make sure it’s sharp and you know how to properly use it. A sharp saw will leave a cleaner cut, and with small-diameter wood, you ought to consider a small saw or hand snips. Please wear the proper PPE and start with something small, no more than an inch or so in diameter. Careful of the time of year as the limbs may be heavier with water and leaves, and it may be more prone to ripping the bark in the springtime as the sap is heavily flowing. Please don’t do this on a ladder, make sure you have proper footing to brace the limb. Use the rule of thumb that’s generally around thirds, which is you should avoid cutting anything more than ⅓ of a branch, back to a secondary limb no smaller than ⅓ of the original branch’s diameter. If that’s unclear, I’d advise doing some further reading, with your 1st assignment being Pruning: Best Management Practices, the companion publication to the ANSI (arborist’s bible).

When you are ready to cut, you can start with the 3-cut step process of pruning a branch, which starts with a cut to the underside of a branch, a few inches out from the union of the branch, to prevent a tear out. You can then make a second follow-through cut from the top of the limb, right above or slightly out a few inches on the limb (depending on the diameter of the limb, you can go even further out). Once the majority of the limb is free you can make the final 3rd cut. Your finishing cut is just outside the collar of the union to allow for the tree to properly ‘heal,’ or rather seal the wound. The collar is identified by the swelling in the branch that varies with the different species you may encounter, and will ultimately leave a little nubbin when finished. If you cut off the collar and make a flush cut flat to the surface of the tree, you have failed this class. Put down your saw and go stand in the corner. The trunk of the tree does not have the same ability to close a wound as the collar, and now you have made a larger wound that takes longer to close, which leaves the tree more susceptible to disease and rot.

So you make a poor pruning cut and what does it even matter? Besides the fact that the tree will not be able to close that wound properly, the tree will look aesthetically ridiculous and I’ll take pictures of it and post it on the internet. I’ve heard an arborist spills their coffee somewhere in the world every time a bad cut is made, but that might just be old lore. If. You don’t know where to make a cut, just cut out the limb a little further and the tree will use that little stub to hold a bird’s nest or it could be a foothold for a kid to climb the tree maybe. Don’t rush the process, take your time and make 2-3 ‘finishing cuts’ if you have to, but don’t overlook that trees are alive and need a good ‘doctor’ with precision cuts!

Lichen this tree advice

January 19, 2024 · 1 minute read
Lichen this tree advice

You may not realize it but there’s a good chance your trees have a funny little friend living in them, a growth called ‘lichen.’ Although some of you have just noticed them, they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and can be found all over the world in almost every habitat. They grow on a variety of animate and inanimate objects in nature from rocks and trees to sides of barnacles. Sometimes even insects will be covered in lichen to use for camouflage, but only in the proper hunting season.

People tend to notice lichens growing on the sides of their trees and mistake them for fungus, and they are only partially wrong (also partially right! – good job). Lichens are a composite of 2 organisms that make up this symbiotic/mutualistic structure, that’s part fungi and part algae. There is usually one type of fungus and there can sometimes be 1-2 types of algae, but the species of lichen is always identified by its fungal partner. Although the 2 organisms exist together harmoniously, some scientists believe the relationship to possibly be more parasitic in nature. Just when you thought you knew your ‘partner’…

Lichens do not have roots or branches to take in water, so they gather everything they need from the sun and air, causing them to be very susceptible to the quality of the air. There are thousands of species of lichen that come in a variety of colors, and some are a little more tolerable to the poor air quality than others which allows for a quick color guide to what quality air you are breathing. The yellow Xanthoria species should throw caution to the wind that you are experiencing higher levels of pollution. I wonder what the red lichen indicates!

So don’t fret about some of the splotches of color on your tree, it’s probably just a really cool little lichen growth that’s just vibing, not hurting anything. If you’re not sure it is, you can always call out an arborist to inspect and confirm what’s going on with your tree. We always like an excuse to look at neat stuff!


Winter with our larger family

December 7, 2023 · 3 minute read
Winter with our larger family

You might saunter into your backyard and see just ‘your’ backyard; there’s maybe a patio area, a shed, and a few trees back there and you think to yourself “This is mine and I’ll do whatever I see fit.” If you have a quiet seat and watch a moment you may catch sight of a Downy woodpecker clutched to the side of a tree snag, or a praying mantis posted up, pretending to be a stick in your boxwood, or box turtle chilling out in the liriope at the edge of the driveway. , that relies on that same space to live, feed, breed, and die, contributing back to that micro-ecosystem in every way.

As humans we have the ability to make a huge impact on the environment where we live and thereby have the responsibility to care for it, to consider our larger family, everything from the big buck down to the bumble bee. As the temperature drops and the animals and insects begin to look for homes to nestle in for the winter, there are ways to keep them in mind while we keep up our properties. If we have to remove that tree for whatever reason, there are measures we can take to give back to their habitat. We might even consider leaving that dead tree spar in the far corner of the yard, or a fallen tree that’s out of sight. Although some species leave altogether, whether they migrate for warmer temperatures while others drop an egg sac and then just die, the majority of our little friends can stay put right under our noses. Some critters might use a fallen tree or its debris to make a home, so you could leave that brush pile until you do your spring cleaning. If you happen to remove a tree this winter, you could leave a few logs and branches in an undisturbed area.

The beneficial insects that look after our gardens all year end up using the spent plants to overwinter. They primarily use native plants as nests, burrowing into the hollow of some old flower and plant stems, placing their larvae there to be the next generation of pollinators in your garden. They also rely on the leaves, as my fellow arborist pointed out in a previous post, so you might consider leaving the leaves instead of paying to have them removed. This allows for a space for the beetles, spiders, fireflies, and other insects to seek shelter, as well as a space for the moths to mask their cocoons and chrysalis’ from hungry predators throughout the dark months. Bumble bees make homes in the ground under the leaves, in the loose undisturbed soil, using the leaves as a protective barrier. If you want to move the leaves from an area such as your lawn, try placing them around the base of trees, bushes, shrubs, and woody plants, because the leaves provide all the benefits of mulch but for free!

If we end up destroying the shelters of our larger family, disregarding measures to give back a potential home for the winter, they’ll take that as an invitation to move into our homes. The critters seek warmth the same way we do and will come in through the cracks in the doors, walls, roofs and everywhere you didn’t think about. So if you don’t want to sit next to spiders and roaches at the fireplace while you drink your warm coco, let’s consider our larger family this holiday season and give them the gift of consideration for their homes and habitats.

‘Boring’ Tree Information

November 2, 2023 · 2 minute read
‘Boring’ Tree Information

Have you ever noticed any strange sawdust around your trees, on the bark, or around the base of your tree? Sometimes you’ll see it accumulate in the crevices of the bark or in spiderwebs on the trees. Oh heavens, it’s raining from the sky, not falling from the clouds but coming from the tree canopy above in the form of frass. This is likely from an insect and it’s a clue there’s an infestation of insects drilling holes into your tree. This subject is definitely ‘boring’ in nature, but it’s important to know what’s eating your trees and if you need to take action. By the time it is noticed, it is sometimes too late as the tree is dying or dead, but it’s not too late for the other trees in your yard that could be susceptible to that same fate.

The first step is identifying what’s in your tree by inspecting the dust on your tree, whether it’s frass or some other similar insect fecal matter. Termites don’t leave frass per se, but they leave something closer to a tiny pellet. Frass from an insect-eating your tree will appear like sawdust, sometimes light or dark in color, usually what’s left behind by a boring insect or an ant. Carpenter ant frass looks like pencil shavings with bits of ant body parts strewn about, or ‘remn-ants’ of the less fortunate. Frass from a boring insect adult or larvae may leave an array of types, commonly in cylinders that look like little worm shapes hanging from the bark of the tree. The Ambrosia beetle will leave behind these tiny celebrations of not-so-funfetti. 

Boring insects such as the bark beetle can form pitch tubes from the gummy excrement that protrude out from the tree, a half inch in diameter that appears as a yellowish resinous hardened ooze. Gross right?! You’ll find these at the lowest 15 feet of the tree trunk, an obvious sign that the tree is in serious duress. The beetle follows ethanol signals given off by trees that are experiencing stress from a vulnerability due to some health issue. The weakened system of the tree affects the trees down to a cellular level that allows the insects easier access to the tree. At an elevated point of infestation, you’ll need professional help and should consult an arborist with a spray license for a specialized insecticide/pesticide treatment. 

Avoiding the attacks from a slough of insect onslaught depends on a variety of different methods. Planting a variety of species creates a diverse environment of nonhost trees that may deter certain pests. Proper irrigation techniques such as less-frequent deep soaks to the outer root system is better than practices common for the typical care provided for lawns. Natural predators can help reduce pest populations, so you can try encouraging habitat for woodpeckers and other predaceous beetles. Trees that are infested should be removed, and no pieces or parts should be left behind to infect other trees. Keep an open eye, there might be a frass-hole somewhere in your yard.

Storm Preparedness

September 15, 2023 · 3 minute read
Storm Preparedness

The storm season is upon us and we got our first touch of it this last week in Richmond. I live on the Southside, close to the water, and we got hit with some pretty intense wind, rain, and even some hail. The big red oak in my backyard held strong, but it got rocked around a lot and dropped every little piece of dead limbs in the canopy. I’ve thoroughly inspected the tree and have been all through the canopy for an aerial inspection this last year so I felt ready, but what could I have done as the average homeowner?

The time has passed for getting ready, as most tree companies are in the midst of the busy season and are scheduled out. It is also not a time to panic and cut down all your trees, so the best thing everyone can do at this point is to pay attention to some of the signs, call your local arborist for their professional opinion, and make a plan for next year. The signs are usually obvious and it’s important to listen to your gut but some issues can only be identified by the trained eye.

Included bark is one of the biggest and most commonly missed factors in storm breakage and tree failures. You’ll notice it very clearly once the tree has separated or split at a union, as you can then see that the bark on the two sections runs much further down into where the tree seemed to be connected. You’ll notice this beforehand on trees that have double-stem trunks that meet close to the stump or on every single Bradford Pear tree, where a visible line runs down from the union and sometimes manifests in a bulge that sticks out on the sides. You can consider adding a cable or brace rod, but maybe just some trimming or thinning in the canopy could help keep the union together. 

Trees with basal defects are another big red flag. Most of the time decay on trees is fairly obvious with hollow spots, loose bark, or missing pieces of the tree, but other signs are a bit more subtle. You might see the fruiting bodies of fungus around the trunk and on the root flare and should look for anything from large obvious conk mushrooms to the black, burned-looking fungus near ground level ( Brittle Cinder Fungus that is very dangerous). These are all indications of a defect in the structural integrity of the tree and could result in whole tree failure.

Some of the more obvious things to look for and get advice on are leaning trees, trees with cracks, and dead trees. Leaning trees happen for a number of reasons, but most likely because the trees were phototropic and grew towards the light ever since they first sprouted. On the other hand, if the ground is heaving or you notice the limbs pushing against other trees, you should have the tree inspected very soon. Cracks are usually a bad sign, especially if the color of the exposed interior of the tree is lighter color, indicating it was a recent split. Lastly, dead trees are less likely to fall over whole, as wind moves through their canopies more easily without the leaves, but don’t discount the fact they will rain dead limbs onto everything underneath.

The less obvious factors to pay attention to are trees close to a recent land clearing, trees sitting in poor drainage areas, and trees with issues in the canopy. Tree roots that sit in water are prone to rotting and cannot grip the ground in the same way they can in firm/dry soil. The trees recently exposed to the wind, say because of land clearing in the immediate area, are not storm-ready themselves having grown up in the protected environments of a forest and not developed the proper tissue to weather the storm. If the tree has an issue in the canopy that is obvious, it’s worth the peace of mind to pay for an aerial inspection from a trained climbing arborist to give it a close look. An arborist can sometimes catch these issues during a winter inspection when the leaves are gone and you can see the skeleton of the tree.

Most issues with trees are brought to my attention by homeowners who are very inquisitive and keep a close eye on their trees. Please remember to look up at the tree tops, look down and around the trunk to the root flare, and know that your tree looks healthy and ready to stand against the coming weather. 


Keep it Cooler in the Trees

August 4, 2023 · 2 minute read
Keep it Cooler in the Trees

This recent heat wave in Richmond was pretty rough, topping temps of over 100°F for a few days in a row, and it has a lot of people thinking about ways to cool down. You might immediately consider grabbing a cold drink and staying inside, but not everybody has the ability to escape to their homes to relax in the air-conditioning. You could consider other innovative ways of cooling the house by using reflective paint or insulating building materials to keep your house cool – but the number one recommended solution for a cooler home and surrounding area is increased vegetation and tree coverage.

2023 Aug 04 - Advice from the Arborist 3

I live in the downtown area of the city, and it is noticeably hotter there because of the urban heat island effect. Hot air gets trapped there and slowly emits, making the area 7 to 10 degrees higher than the surrounding rural counties. As you leave the city, the landscape becomes more green and lush, open to more vegetation and trees that can use the groundwater to cool the air. Trees have pores on the underside of their leaves that release droplets of water through transpiration, creating a cooler zone in the immediate space. And don’t forget the difference the shade provides, blocking direct sunlight. I was curious about this and decided to take some temperatures around town in different environments.
I ventured to Publix to grab a digital thermometer and decided to get the temperature of the parking lot. It was close to noon and the temperature read 89 degrees in the direct sunlight. The pavement definitely made everything feel hotter with the surface heat all around me. There was a Crepe Myrtle on a small parking island close by that I set the thermometer on briefly. After a few minutes, the temperature read 85 degrees, a fair bit cooler in the shade, but very significant for such a little tree!

2023 Aug 04 - Advice from the Arborist 2

IMG-73722023 Aug 04 - Advice from the Arborist 4

Later in the day, I was out on the west end of town past Tuckahoe village in a wooded lot. There were a ton of mature trees overhead creating a fantastic shaded area for a few hundred feet. At that point it was later in the day, close to 1:30 pm and the average temperature for the day read that it had risen, but the thermometer only showed 83 degrees in the shade. I bet if it had been closer to the same time as the first reading, I would have had an even lower temperature.

It was a quick and fun experiment to learn about the difference trees can make. We tend to forget about the benefits of our trees and worry about the potential hazard a tree is when it’s close to the house. We trim or remove it altogether and find all this out the hard way. I will not soon forget what I am saving on the energy bill with my large tree, and continue to monitor its health instead of taking it down. This perspective really gives a new meaning to my cool tree.

Honeydew tree advice pt 1

June 28, 2023 · 3 minute read
Honeydew tree advice pt 1

Honeydew on the Honey-Do List

Why is my property covered in this sticky substance?

You’re probably wondering what all this sticky mess is outside your house. It’s all over the patio and deck, and on the cars and driveway. It’s becoming a nuisance. You can’t sit on your furniture on a nice afternoon without getting it on your clothes and bringing it into the house. More than likely what you’ve got is an insect infestation very close to your residence that’s producing a substance called honeydew. It’s alarming but please don’t fret; it’s natural, nontoxic, and temporary.

Where does it come from?

Honeydew is excreted from sap-sucking insects or ‘phloem feeders’ such as aphids or soft scales. The spotted lantern fly is another culprit that is becoming a very prominent pest to our neighbors north of the Richmond area. As these various insects feast on the leaves of trees and plants, then drop this sugar-rich liquid that sticks to everything. The honeydew will collect over time and draw all kinds of other insects to come and consume it. Even fungus will take advantage of this opportunity in the form of sooty mold, which is the dark-colored coating on the honeydew.

What trees are most susceptible to it?

Broadleaf trees such as tulip poplars and linden trees are prone to getting aphids ; whereas pecans, oaks, maples, and crape myrtles can get scale. The crape myrtles have been terribly infested with the CMBS or “crape myrtle bark scale” for the last 2 years. You may have also noticed the bark of the trees turning a dark color (due to the sooty mold). The honeydew will also get on the landscape beneath the trees, turning the leaves black so that the plants can no longer photosynthesize properly. This can cause long-term health effects and has been known to kill trees and plants.

When does this occur?

Spring is the time when the sap is flowing in trees and plants, which brings all the bugs to the yard. The Aphids will come in droves, and their populations will flourish in the early to mid-summer after the spring showers cease to wash them away. But do not worry, because predators such as the wasp and ladybug larvae will show up soon after to eat the aphids and cut the infestation levels back down. Mother Nature is truly our greatest ally.

How do we treat it?

The CMBS can be treated with a soil drench, which is taken into the roots and kills the scale – but this process should be done by a professional. You can use dish detergent with a soft bristle brush to remove it from the bark and leaves. Use pesticides as a last resort, but the broadly-applied spray can kill the other beneficial insects in your garden and, as a result, have many unwanted side effects. Please consider Neem oil (keep this oil away from the bees) or White oil as a nature-friendly alternative.

Water is your best option. A spray can knock the bugs off of your trees and plants, and it can get the sooty mold off of everything by loosening the sticky bond. Then scrub with a brush or washcloth to remove the remaining residue. Don’t let the honeydew sit for long periods and harden, as it will become tough to remove. I would avoid using any harmful chemicals to clean, as the areas affected are generally close to trees and could get into the ground (and then get taken up by the root systems).

Whatever you choose, please remember to act responsibly in the meantime, and Mother Nature will deploy predators and rain to help in due time.

Am I going to do this?

May 11, 2023 · 3 minute read
Am I going to do this?

As we walk out into our yards and gaze out into the lush scenery the spring has offered, we may notice that some order is needed for the shrubs and trees that may have offered too much or too little this year. The last of the sleepy tree species have leafed out by now, and that lingering question of what is alive or dead no longer persists. Now you have to come up with a plan and you ask yourself ‘am I gonna do this?’ Here are a couple things to consider to help you decide what to do.

  • Can you do the work? – You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to do shrub and small tree work, but it depends on the limited tools you have available, the time you have, and probably most importantly your experience level to the task at hand. You might be able to save a few dollars by dropping that tree into your lawn, but what’s the plan now? A tree is a ton of material that has to go somewhere, and your grass could be dead in a matter of a couple days if nothing is done. The city will only pick up so much material, and even if you own a trailer, they tend to fill up faster than expected.
  • Come up with a plan – make a decision for what you can feasibly get done, and whether or not you need a professional. If you’ve got a few low limbs that need trimming, some dead shrubs, and some pesky vines growing up your favorite tree, this kind of work can be done with limited tools and ability. If there’s a small tree under 25 feet tall, and you or buddy know how to run a chainsaw, then it might be something you can handle. But once you start to get to those heights, you should pause and re-calibrate: do I know how to cut a wedge and fell a tree? Do I know the 3-cut technique for pruning? Where is this limb/tree gonna land once it’s cut?
  • Gather your tools – this may include your ropes, chainsaws, loppers and cutting tools; your clean materials like rakes, tarps, and garbage cans; and most importantly your first aid kit and your PPE. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is an absolute must, regardless of your experience level, and is just one more way to be efficient. If you have to stop a job for a hospital visit, not only did your job get way more expensive than calling a professional, but now you’ve lost a pair of hands to finish the work. Don’t forget to try to start your power equipment to see if it runs, because a few months of neglect can gum up your carburetors. Now it needs a shop visit before you can even start your project. The most important tool is the ladder, and where do we keep it? …in the garage! That’s right, the ladder has no place in tree work. If you doubt that, please watch a few videos on YouTube to get an idea of how poorly it pans out.
  • Get some help – find someone with some tools and a trailer to help. Hopefully they have some experience to offer. But if they don’t, they at least should have a cell phone to call for help if something goes wrong. Always work with a buddy when doing dangerous work, because no one that was ever killed or injured planned for it to happen. Working in pairs gives you more attention to the details, as well as another perspective.
Photo by Tiago Torres from Pexels:

Photo by Tiago Torres from Pexels

Time to get the job done – so what’s it gonna be? Do you have the tools, time and experience to get this job done? Don’t wait to do it, as those dead limbs and trees may start to fall on something important or expensive. Company is coming over for a BBQ and you still have a mountain of material in your yard, or that limb looming over the patio is making you anxious. So what do you do? Be safe, be smart, and don’t get out a ladder please!

Planting for our Future

February 17, 2023 · 2 minute read
Planting for our Future

Taking the baton from Mike Mather’s beautiful article about making the decision to give back to the community by planting trees, I want to focus a little more on why that makes a difference. I am usually giving advice for a client’s front or back yard in the city that does not have a lot of room for big trees. I’m normally banking on my go-to suggestions of either a redbud or dogwood, two of my favorite trees. Although they contribute to the native landscape and local ecology of Richmond, Virginia, they add just a mere fraction of the potential of a mature shade tree.

Large native shade trees add an immeasurable amount of benefits to nature. Older trees collect carbon and pollution in the air at a much greater rate than younger trees, and the bigger they are, the more they can do. Their canopies support the native wildlife, while their extensive root systems can absorb more water to decrease stormwater runoff, and slow erosion. As we contemplate the planet and our responsibility to preserve nature for the benefit of all living plants and creatures, we ought to think about our own space as part of the bigger picture. This quote from Doug Tallamy really strikes a chord with me:

“Chances are you never thought of your garden–indeed, all of your property–as a wildlife preserve that presents the last chance we have for sustaining plants and animals that were once common throughout the U.S. But that is exactly the role our suburban landscapes are playing.”

It sounds pretty radical in theory, including our yards as part of nature – but we certainly all love to watch the birds at our feeders, the butterflies on our flowers, and the occasional furry visitor. So we need to do our part to support them.

A simple way to plan for a better tomorrow is by planting trees today that will support our environment in the future. Your local nursery should carry a wide range of shade trees, like maples and oaks, and also offer suggestions for where and when to plant them. Large trees will need a lot of space to grow up and out, so make sure you consider the potential interference with all your structures, walkways, power lines, and amenities nearby. A mature white oak can get 100 ft tall and 60 ft wide, but certainly not within our lifetime. If you are going to plant one by your home, it’s best to plant on the southwest corner of the house to allow for the morning sun, but remain cool during the hot afternoon heat.

Lastly, let’s consider keeping our current large shade trees. They can not only keep your energy bill down, but they also add to the curb appeal of your house, increasing the potential price up to 10% or more. That’s a good investment to keep in mind when weighing the pros and cons of taking down your mature shade trees. They provide shade, a place for kids to play, or a place to picnic or relax out of the heat of the sun, sometimes up to 6 degrees cooler. If you just bought a house and you are unsure of the health of the trees close to your home, call an arborist to get some peace of mind about the structure and integrity of the trees and have a plan for pruning intervals if needed.

Who you gonna call?

November 23, 2022 · 3 minute read
Who you gonna call?

So you’ve decided to call someone to help with the trees on your property, but you don’t have a recommended tree company to use. Each company will pitch a wide range of recommendations for what you could do with your trees, but if you haven’t consulted with an arborist, you have not done your due diligence. Without proper information about your tree, clear and descriptive options, and an educated recommendation to make a proper decision, you could end up needlessly cutting down that tree your grandfather planted.

Becoming a certified arborist involves many years working in the tree care industry, learning a set of tree care standards, hours of study, and finally taking and passing the ISA Certifed Arborist exam. To maintain your certification, you are required to attend continuing education classes every year to keep up-to-date on the latest arboricultural practices. The tree care industry is a rapidly-changing industry, and it’s not always easy to know what the current advances are. This is the life of both a tree guy and an arborist. And while a tree guy is the caterpillar that is borne from the sawdust of learning such a complex trade, an arborist is a butterfly that emerges from a tree guy’s credentialed chrysalis.

It’s not always a question you might ask, but you might want to know how the crew plans to access the tree. If you’re not careful, a tree guy could leave small holes from the bottom of your tree to the top because they wore spikes or gaffs to climb your tree; a practice that is okay for removing a tree, but not a tool to use when pruning trees. It punctures the cambium of your tree, damaging the live tissue and leaving an open wound that is vulnerable to pests, disease, and fungus. An arborist is able to surpass this problem by using ropes in the upper canopy, and can also set up a cambium saver in the tree to eliminate the friction burn from the rope. No harm, no foul.

Damage to your tree’s health could get worse if a tree guy suggests “topping” a tree, an old practice that is still done today. A homeowner might just be looking for some safety in reducing a very large and mature tree, but what they’ve asked for is quite the opposite. A topped tree now has decay at every cut, with new growth that is weaker and more susceptible to breaking out. An arborist might suggest end-weight reduction on a section of the tree over the roof, or addressing specific limbs of concern with less invasive cuts. These options keep the tree healthy while still meeting the initial goal.

Information about spots, defects, and rot is important to note and consider when weighing the options for how to proceed with your trees, especially if a tree guy accidentally misidentifies something growing at the base of your tree. There are lots of fungi that grow in different parts of the tree, which would give your estimator a clue as to what is happening to your tree. I’ve had a lot of calls about what turns out to be slime molds, which are mostly just eating the sugars from the sap – an indication of nearly zero concern. However, if you had something called Kretzschmaria or “Brittle Cinder Fungus,” you could have a much more dire situation. If gone unnoticed or misidentified, your tree could fall from root decay, and this, unfortunately, happens when you are not prepared – and the outcomes have been deadly.

Photo by Chris F from Pexels:

It might make sense to decide to choose a tree guy because of a low price. But having a knowledgeable arborist come out for a free estimate could turn into saving your tree and saving money in the long run. Honesty is not always the problem with selecting a tree company for your service; it just comes down to the information you have to work with when caring for your trees. Once you know what you are dealing with, how the work will be performed, and what options you have, you can make a clear decision on how to proceed with the work. Getting a few estimates from different companies always helps, just try to make a certified arborist one of those calls.

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.