Killing With Kindness

March 29, 2024 · 3 minute read
Killing With Kindness

Some Spring (or anytime) Do’s and Don’ts For Your Trees And Plants:

Spring is truly my favorite time of the year. As the warm weather breaks and the grey winter overcast begins to clear. Hearing the birds chirping and watching the trees bloom with new growth is never short of inspiring. No, I don’t love inhaling pollen and sneezing every time I go outside but with any true beauty, there’s compromise.

Often with the season comes the desire to take on some tree and landscaping work. I was thinking recently about a couple of practices I see often that are done with good intentions but when done wrong can have an adverse effect. I thought I’d make a short list of a few do’s and don’ts of the more common (well intended) but potentially adverse practices that I come across.

Do mulch around trees and plants.

  • Mulching will retain moisture in the warmer months.
  • It helps to combat erosion.
  • Organic mulch improves soil quality as it decomposes.
  • Helps reverse the effects of compaction.

Don’t volcano mulch. (Volcano mulching is when an abundance of mulch is piled up around the base of a tree causing a “volcano” like shape)

  • The mulch will retain too much moisture on the trunk and can invite decay and pests possibly leading to death.
  • It may prevent a normal root flare from forming, keeping the tree from stabilizing itself in the ground and increasing the chance of the tree falling.
  • Volcano mulching can increase the formation of girdling roots.
  • In the warmer months, it may cause the roots to dry out.

I’m not sure what the assumed benefit of volcano mulching is or if it’s done for aesthetic purposes but, it’s something to avoid.

Don’t use weed cover or fabric:

  • Weed fabric can inhibit water and nutrients from making their way into the soil.
  • The weeds will likely penetrate the fabric anyway.
  • Soil under fabric has been found to be more compacted than without it. Soil compaction is a major cause of tree decline.

Do prune your trees:

  • As spring moves in and buds begin to break, it’s an easy time to identify dead branches that should be pruned. This can be done any time of the year but sometimes the contrast between dead branches and foliage helps the process.

Don’t over prune your trees:

  • The desire to reduce the density of trees to gain light isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Light and airflow are good to have throughout the canopy. But it can be tricky when “thinning” to gain more light to grass. This is often done to an extent that can cause stress to the tree. Creating additional stress on a tree is particularly detrimental throughout the warmer, dryer months. In response to stress, the tree produces “epicormic growth”, that is the rapid growth of shoots under the bark, defeating the intent of the pruning in the first place.

Do water your plants and even your trees if you can:

  • The hot dry months can obviously be rough on plants and trees. Water when needed. Larger trees need a lot, and this can be tough to supply. But even a little can help and certainly won’t hurt.

Don’t over water:

  • Plants and trees need the water but they need it to leave as well. Ground that is saturated and poorly irrigated can drown roots, depleting them of oxygen and nutrients. Also, root rot and fungus can develop in overly wet conditions. Root rot and continuous saturation may cause major tree failure if it’s not dealt with.

As with most anything, if done in moderation, these practices can be of good use. But if overdone, may have quite the opposite effect. It’s important to remember that in many circumstances, a good rule of thumb is that less is often more.

Recent Trip To Jacob’s Road Elementary School

February 16, 2024 · 2 minute read
Recent Trip To Jacob’s Road Elementary School

Last week, my colleague Elizabeth and I made a trip out to Jacob’s Rd. Elementary school to talk with the students about trees and tree health and to have a look and discuss concerns the students and teachers were having about their Sycamore tree. It was refreshing to hear how interested and knowledgeable the students are about why protecting trees is such a good idea. They have an awesome understanding of the many benefits trees provide for their community and were eager to discuss different ways in which to keep their own sycamore tree healthy and thriving. We met with three separate 2nd-grade classes, one 5th-grade class, and the school nature group that is comprised of many different students from all the classes.

The sycamore tree is approximately 10 to 15 years old and seems to be doing alright but there’s concern about the soil condition below the canopy and around the base of the tree. With the student’s help, we identified the biggest problem adversely impacting the growth and health of the tree.

Erosion has been an issue for a few years all around the tree which slopes towards a storm drain, washing away just about all loamy topsoil and leaving behind mostly hardpan soil. The compacted soil is also visited by hundreds of little feet running around for many hours just about every day. If these students are going to grow up with this tree, action is needed to give it the healthy soil it needs to spread its roots and grow strong.

We need to stop losing soil. Nothing we can do to help the roots will matter if it all continues to wash away. So we’ve decided to take on this issue by first adding some landscaping timbers around the drip line of the tree to try and prevent the loss of more soil. We’ll then provide aeration with a compressed air tool to break up compacted, nutrient-starved soil within the root zone. Afterwards we’ll supplement the existing soil with a nutrient-rich mix of compost and topsoil. Lastly, we’ll add a layer of fresh wood chips to lock it all in place and help retain moisture.

Soil quality should be thought of as the first step to determining the vitality of a tree. Without a healthy underground environment, a tree will spend its time struggling for survival until it eventually gives in to stress and dies.

I’m really excited to watch the progress of the school’s tree. I’m hoping it’s something the students and faculty will be able to take pride in for many years.

Ice and Trees; A Few Things To Look Out For

January 5, 2024 · 2 minute read
Ice and Trees; A Few Things To Look Out For

In R.V.A. we don’t get to experience winter weather like the areas to our north. I think most of us are okay with that. I enjoy the beauty of a new fallen snow, but it doesn’t take long before I’m ready for it to be gone and I think most of our trees feel that way too. 

Some trees seem to weather the snow and ice better than others. And some seem to be particularly vulnerable. For example, if you have or know of a Southern Magnolia then you’ve probably seen the effect that heavy snow and ice building up on their broad leaves can have. To the contrary, even with its wide decurrent growth, the tenacity of a River Birch under the weight of ice can be quite impressive. 

However, any tree, despite its species, may be vulnerable if less-than-ideal growth habits aren’t dealt with. 

Trees want to grow towards the sun and depending on the position of the tree in relation to other trees or structures, this can often result in what is known as a co-dominant stem or branch. This is a stem that may originate from the same area of a tree as another, but because of its exposure to the sun, will try to compete with the leader for dominance. Sometimes limbs like this will take a path away from the rest of the tree, reaching out beyond the canopy in a somewhat upright but horizontal fashion. This is where I see the potential for damage under weight. Ice can sometimes increase branch weight up to 30 times or more, add some wind and the possibility for damage will increase. Often, the conundrum is that typically over our homes is where co-dominant limbs want to reach. This is not to suggest that it’s a bad thing to have limbs over the house. But sometimes these limbs are reaching out so far that additional weight can create enough leverage to become a problem.  Other issues can be particularly problematic as well such as dead limbs and tree branch unions with included bark. Included Bark is a branch defect that happens when limbs (often co-dominant) grow close together creating a V-like shape. As they grow, the bark that is between them will begin to push against each other and sometimes cause eventual failure. Bradford Pear trees are notorious for this defective growth habit and are often damaged by ice, wind, or both.

Growth characteristics such as these are fairly common and can easily go unnoticed. I see them almost every day on properties that I visit. Often I see them in trees that aren’t a threat and therefore not in urgent need of attention. And again, sometimes it’s just the species that’s prone and there isn’t much to do about it short of removal or deal with whatever outcome ensues. Then there are the situations that I’m glad we’re able to give attention to and prevent an incident of failure. 

It’s usually easier to deal with issues, if possible, before they’re actual problems and that’s why it’s not a bad idea to at least annually have your trees checked out by an arborist just to make sure there doesn’t exist a problem that you’re not seeing.

A simple perspective

November 25, 2023 · 2 minute read
A simple perspective

Even though my career as an arborist is and always has been rewarding in many ways, much like any other profession, I can still get bogged down with the regimen of appointments and the sometimes repetitive nature of certain parts of the job. As anyone would expect, this is particularly true in the busy and active growing season.

I can, however, always get a refreshing and simplistic take on most anything that I would otherwise feel a need to dissect and pick apart. All I need to do is ask my 4-year-old son Owen for his opinion on just about any matter.

In our backyard and underneath about a dozen or so mature pine trees we have a trampoline. This is a regular thing a few times a week. Jumping, jumping, and more jumping. Then we’ll usually fall on our backs, where we stare up at the trees while catching our breath. The pine trees are full of pine cones, and I’ll challenge him to count the ones he can see. There are literally thousands of pine cones. He’ll typically last about a minute or so until he realizes he’s lost his place in the trees, he’ll then ask me to take over. My method works pretty well; I begin counting out loud then do it in my head and eventually spit out some ridiculously large number. When I ask him why he thinks there are so many pine cones, he answers confidently that it’s because they’re happy. Why are they happy? Obviously, because they like watching us jump on the trampoline. This makes perfect sense to us both and it’s important that we try and jump on the trampoline often. For the trees.

When I think about things like this, finding the simplicity in what can be otherwise complicated subjects, I always think about a poem by Whitman;

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

“When I heard the learn’d astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.” -WALT WHITMAN

To me this poem sums up so many things that can be beautiful yet complicated. And while it’s of course important to stay on top of the whys and the hows. It’s never a bad idea to just look at things through a simple lens.

Owen also thinks I’m an extraordinary pine cone counter.

What’s a spore print and what’s the purpose?

October 12, 2023 · 1 minute read
What’s a spore print and what’s the purpose?
Collecting mushrooms and creating spore prints is kinda fun. My 4-year-old enjoyed this activity for about as long as it took to pick a couple of mushrooms off the ground.
Spore prints show a powdery substance left behind on a surface that can help identify types of mushrooms based on the color of the deposit.
For example, portobellos have a dark print that show up well on white paper. Shiitake’s have a whitish print that show up better on black paper. Some will have both light and darker colors. Because of this discrepancy, it’s best to use a print as an aid and not a rule.
Once the mushroom is identified, it can be used for cultivation. It’s a slower and less predictable process than using a mycelium inoculation, which has already established hyphae that can absorb nutrients from a substrate. Spores will need to germinate and establish a new mycelium before growing into mushrooms. Sometimes spores fail to germinate or may not have strong mycelium.
However, printing is fun and easy to try:
  1. Find a mushroom(s),
  2. get some paper or aluminum foil,
  3. remove the stem,
  4. place the cap with the gills down,
  5. cover with a glass and wait

spore print - shittake

Why Are The Leaves Falling Already?

August 31, 2023 · 0 minute read
Why Are The Leaves Falling Already?

In the past month or so, you may have wondered why leaves from some trees are falling early, covering the ground in yellow. Don’t be alarmed, as chances are you have a tulip tree or two (or maybe even a few).

Leaf drop in tulip poplars is pretty common during the intense heat and dryness of the late summer. This is the tree’s way of conserving water.

While the process is associated with root stress, if the tree otherwise healthy, it typically doesn’t have lasting effects to the overall health. However, I recommend not putting down fertilizer during this time. The tree is in survival mode and fertilizing can burn roots.

However, something you can do to help is water inside the drip line of the tree. A slow soak is better than short bursts.

This is generally a tough time for most self-sustaining trees and plants. The infrequent rain and occasional storm isn’t enough to really thrive.

Besides watering when or if possible, there’s little we can do other than cross our fingers and hope for a good soaking rain.

Spotted Lantern Fly

July 20, 2023 · 2 minute read
Spotted Lantern Fly

Before its debut in the US, this insect’s home was in China. But was found in the Northeastern part of the country in 2014. Mainly Pennsylvania but without any natural enemies to keep populations down it has since hitchhiked into Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia. It will take advantage of almost any form of transport laying its egg rows on just about any surface. And because of the increasingly mild winters, they are hatching earlier.

Even though this pest will feed on over 100 different plant species, it does have its favorites including Ailanthus and grapevines. And the honeydew it secretes promotes mold and fungi growth.

Identification is key to helping eradicate the pest. Beginning in the spring and continuing into early summer nymphs emerge from their eggs. The nymph stage consists of four stages, called instars. The nymphs grow from 1/8 inch to 1/2 inch by the fourth instar and will change in appearance.

At first, the nymphs are soft and white. They quickly harden and change coloration. Early-stage nymphs are black with bright white spots. At this stage, they begin climbing trees or shrubs. Nymphs prefer tender plants because of their soft mouths and will climb to reach new softer growth. When they find the plant material they want, nymphs will pierce the plant and suck its juices.

Although nymphs can’t fly, they can jump quite far. Because it’s a planthopper, spotted lanternflies have very strong hind legs. When it reaches the 4th stage or instar the nymph changes its appearance again. Noticeably larger, the nymph is now red and black with white spots.

Adults do have the ability to fly, although not very far. When adults are at rest they are a dull tan-gray color with black spots. But when they take flight, their wings unfold into brilliant patterns of red black, and white.

The adult stage is where the real damage is. Stronger mouths enable it to penetrate and drill through the bark of mature trees. During feeding, trees can appear to be weeping sap. After feeding, they secrete honeydew which over time can promote the sooty mold fungi found on trees.

So what to do if you see Spotted Lantern Fly?

Easy, call your local agricultural extension. Try and have a few pictures.

Spotted Lanternfly in Virginia | Virginia Cooperative Extension | Virginia Tech

Kretzschmaria Deusta AKA Burnt/Brittle Cinder

June 7, 2023 · 1 minute read
Kretzschmaria Deusta AKA Burnt/Brittle Cinder

I wasn’t too familiar with this fungus until recently when I found it at a client’s house on a linden tree. The fungus attacks European beech, red maple, Norway maple ; it less commonly attacks oak, hackberry, apple, and the linden. Kretzschmaria can be conspicuous and appear to be of little worry. The wood around the base can look unaffected, making the pathogen hard to notice. However, it is quite aggressive, breaking down lignin and cellulose. But, unlike white rot fungi, cellulose is targeted during the decay process. As it decays, the infected wood tissue rapidly loses strength. However, the wood can still appear relatively good because of the pattern of decay it exhibits. Starting in the roots and spreading to the base, the fungus causes rot at the lower trunk. The biggest issue I see with Kretzschmaria is that the tree can look totally fine. It can also develop cankers and get falsely identified as Phytophthora.

The pathogen appears as gray, fruiting bodies with white margins in late spring to early summer. From a distance, it looks kind of like paint near the base because it’s mostly flat. A closer look reveals a more lumpy texture. Over time, it becomes darker, and sort of blends in with the tree. The fruiting bodies are mostly at the very base of the tree, but in more advanced stages it may be higher on the trunk.

Lastly, there really isn’t anything to do to prevent the pathogen. However, it is suggested that in the event a tree is removed because of it, it’s wise to grind and get rid of the stump as much as possible. Otherwise, the fungus will persist and possibly spread to nearby roots of other plants. If you spot something that you think could possibly be Kretzschmaria, call an arborist to confirm. Even though the tree may appear fine, it could be something that needs attention sooner than later. The following pics are of an American Linden I took a look at recently.

Safety In Numbers

April 26, 2023 · 3 minute read
Safety In Numbers

Why it’s better to keep a lot of trees vs. removing some.

If you’re a homeowner with a lot of trees and I’ve been to your property, you’ve probably heard me use the idiom “safety in numbers” as a way to ease some anxiety that may be felt when living with a lot of trees. I get a good feeling when that understanding is realized by someone that has me over to help determine if they need to be worried or not. If your trees are at least fairly healthy and sturdy, then I believe in “the less work, the better” – and the more trees, the better. I’m okay with being a terrible salesman, and I think that arborists with a true love of trees should be. Don’t get me wrong however – I do believe it’s crucial to see a threat when it exists and deal with it accordingly. I just think having a large healthy tree(s) near the house is a gift, not a hazard. However, I do get nervous when someone is contemplating the removal of larger trees while trying to keep a few.

There are several reasons for this, most of which are sort of common sense when you think about it:

  • The outer trees on a property shield inner trees from harsh wind.
  • The inner trees in turn may protect the home from the unfortunate chance an outer tree fails.
  • Also, (in the event a tree close to the home fails) the closer it is, the less chance there is for it to gain momentum.
  • Another thought I have about trees close to the home is to keep those lower limbs over the house. Granted, there should be separation from the house for airflow and light in order to keep mildew away. But if wind breaks a limb that is higher in the canopy, then the more limbs it has to get past, the slower it becomes (think “Plinko” from The Price Is Right).
  • Then there is what’s going on underground. Trees in close proximity have a symbiotic relationship through fungus roots called mycorrhizae. These fungi have long connective tentacle-like tissues called mycelium that connect with other roots to form a network of communication, almost like insects. Think of trees as convivial super organisms that are happiest in the company of their likes. It may sound like “hocus pocus,” but contrarily it’s just science – and quite true.

Now, you may be thinking, “I live on a property with only a few trees and perhaps a lot of room in between” or maybe you only have one tree. If this tree or trees have grown in this environment for the better part of their life, then they have grown the stabilizing roots needed to sustain their integrity.

I know we all have heard of or maybe we know someone that has dealt with the horrible inconvenience of having to remove a tree from their house, or maybe we’ve even been through it ourselves. But almost always an arborist can conclude some abiotic factor that lead to the failure, rather than just a tree that one day decided to fall.

It’s important when you have large trees to know what they need to be healthy and stable, and it starts with the soil. If it’s a group of trees, consider the relationship that is underground. Likely, there’s a co-dependency happening that not only works to maintain the health within them, but also inadvertently helps to protect the inhabitants above the ground.

Consequences of Over Pruning

March 16, 2023 · 2 minute read
Consequences of Over Pruning

Pruning a tree should always be approached conservatively. After all, you can’t put any of it back. You can only hope that any pruning cuts you make don’t turn out to be detrimental to the tree.

There are many reasons to prune, but it’s important to not get carried away and over prune.

  • Pruning to increase air and light flow through the tree. This can help prevent many soft scale and some fungal diseases.
  • Young tree pruning to introduce good growth habits.
  • Pruning around buildings for clearance.
  • Clearance for walking or working.
  • Aesthetic pruning.
  • Deadwood pruning for safety.
  • Density or weight reduction. Could also be for safety.

All of these are good reasons, but can also be quite harmful if done excessively or incorrectly.

When I’m asked about what to prune on a tree, it isn’t uncommon for someone to point at a large limb thinking the problem (and future problems) can be mitigated with the removal of as much of the limb as possible at once. And though it’s rare, sometimes that is the only way. Especially after a recent storm or damage of some sort.

However, there is always a compromise to some degree with pruning. Maybe, with the exception of deadwood removal. But as with any live growth pruning there will be at least a slight compromise. Think of it like this: a tree needs food energy to seal a wound. But the act of creating the wound (pruning the limb) eliminates some of the access to the food energy needed heal or seal the wound. Now, think of many wounds created and many energy resources eliminated. It’s a catch-22. The more pruning done, the more difficult for the tree to recover. There are other reasons to avoid over pruning as well:

  • The more wounds created, the more chances there are for pests and disease to enter and attack.
  • If your tree is already stressed, removing food (leaves) could be the key to finishing it off completely.
  • Over pruning may cause epicormic growth, defeating the reasons of pruning in the first place.
  • Over pruning may cause sun scald, which can lead to weakening branches.
  • Improper interior pruning can cause branch instability. This is sometimes referred to as lion tailing.
  • Improper outer pruning, such as topping, will likely cause die-back of the limb and promote decay. Because this practice almost always creates epicormic growth, it can give the illusion of vitality. However, decay will often form below the areas of growth and the portion of the limb will fail, leaving behind a dead stob.

My personal thought on tree pruning is: when you’re unsure what or how much to prune, then your answer should be none – and call an arborist. Though, when having a complete tree removal performed, a homeowner has a little more options of who to hire. But anytime you’re having pruning done and will need to maintain the health and safety of a tree, a certified arborist is always your best bet.

Arborists And Other Tree Related Careers

February 1, 2023 · 2 minute read
Arborists And Other Tree Related Careers

I entered into the tree industry mostly out of default. I knew trees were always appealing to me – I really liked the mystery of how they seemed so wise, but beyond that, I had no real understanding of the important roll they play in our world. I knew trees were important for various reasons, but I didn’t really understand why. For instance, it never occurred to me that trees are actually necessary for the life of just about everything, for keeping the earth cool and the air healthy. Furthermore, I had no idea that having a job climbing trees and learning about them was even a thing. And when I discovered that, everything sort of fell into place. Working as tree climber and then a tree care advisor over the years has taught me a lot about what they offer and what they need to be healthy – but also when they can become a threat. I know that without the understanding of trees, how they work, and the important role they play, their existence would be severely threatened. I had no idea that being a professional arborist is just as important to their well-being and preservation, as it is knowing how to safely remove them if they become a threat. And for years I wasn’t aware of other important professions that are as important to maintaining the life of trees as my own.

I’ve since learned of other careers that are important to trees as well. If you’re not familiar, here’s a list of 10 jobs involving trees in addition to being an arborist.

  1. Tree Farmer – Raises trees for all kinds of purposes, including nursery stock and of course Christmas trees.
  2. Tree Nursery worker – Cares for trees while they’re waiting to be sold or relocated. Workers need to know when a tree should be discarded and not sold.
  3. Horticulturist – Expert on plants who specializes in flowers, shrubs, and trees. Many Arborists are horticulturists as well.
  4. Park Ranger – Protects and monitors parks and recreational areas. A park ranger may be responsible for identifying potential hazards.
  5. Photographer – A photographer of trees can do anything from observing changes in trees and habitats, documenting growth and/or abnormalities, photographing for identification, to simply photographing for the enjoyment of others.
  6. Soil Technician – A soil technician tests and analyzes soil, usually but not always in a lab. Some of this work is done in the field, but depending on the study, it may need to be done in a lab. This is often to research deficiencies and / or ph ratios to determine what should be planted or why a plant or tree may be in decline.
  7. Biologist – Can determine trees relationships to humans, and on a cellular level understand the ways in which trees reproduce and how trees are beneficial. Also, the effects that humans have on trees.
  8. Environmental Engineer – May determine the value that trees can have on environmental problems.
  9. Ecologist – Will determine the important role that trees play in sustaining our wildlife and other organisms.
  10. Urban Planner – May be responsible for the development of parks as well as other natural areas that can be found in neighborhoods. Trees play a huge role in both the beautification and health of our recreational and living areas.

There are others that are as important to the sustainability of trees in our environment as the ones above. However, it’s hard to imagine any of them being as fun and appealing as a tree climber.

Why or why not prune?

November 10, 2022 · 3 minute read
Why or why not prune?

Taking advantage of fall pruning is a good way to prepare for new spring growth, but making sure you’re doing what’s right may not be so easy. A good arborist struggles almost daily, trying to do what’s best for trees, while also trying to meet the demands of homeowners. Our goal should almost always be: keep the cutting as conservative as possible, while decreasing a tree’s potential to cause damage to objects around it. There’s never a guarantee of structural safety, so doing what can be done to maintain tree health is important. This usually means we try to take the “less is more” approach when pruning.

Good tree work should never be measured by the quantity of material removed from a tree. There’s little point in pruning if the tree becomes overly stressed as a result. Often, the pruning that we’re asked to do isn’t really in the interest of the tree but more so in the interest of cost-effectiveness. “I want to cut as much now as possible so I don’t need to do it again for a long time.” Or perhaps, “I want to decrease the number of leaves I have to rake.” This seems reasonable from a spending perspective, but not at all from a health perspective (and leaves don’t really fall straight down). Other examples could be: “Should we cut the top off of the tree so if it were to fall, it won’t hit the house?” Sure, we could do this effectively, but is a tree’s structural integrity and health worth the compromise?  An arborist would rather figure out ways of mitigating tree failure by ensuring a healthy root structure and possibly some pruning to help with weight and airflow management.

I often get asked about “tree balance” – while there is some logic to this, “balanced” trees don’t necessarily have the appearance of being asymmetrical. Balance is proven simply by the tree’s ability to stand on its own. Yes, a lean can be an issue, but usually not so much if the lean is the tree’s natural way of reaching for light, or “photo tropism”. Certainly, if a lean is the abiotic result of an impact or severe wind, then more drastic measures may apply, and possibly even a full removal.

“Please prune back anything that is over my house…” Limbs over your roof doesn’t always mean problems. Yes, you need airflow and light to the house to avoid things like mildew. But limbs over the roof may help decrease the impact and velocity of limbs that are higher up in the canopy (where wind breaks are likelier to occur).

“Thinning” a canopy may help light reach the lawn when trying to grow grass, but over-thinning will cause stress. This may stimulate epicormic growth along the trunk, thus defeating much of the purpose for the pruning altogether.

Another issue I regularly face is the desire to cut neighboring trees encroaching over property lines. This can be and is usually a tricky issue. But, a good arborist isn’t likely to be concerned with your neighbor’s limbs just because they’re over your property, unless of course it’s causing a real issue with safety.

It can sometimes be hard to figure out how to do what’s needed to prevent problems, but ensuring health usually covers most, if not all, of the bases.

First question should be, “am I doing this for my tree or for myself?”

I think before doing any pruning, it’s important to understand not only the why’s but also the consequences. Weigh the long term effects. Trees are not stationary, immobile objects. They will react to any kind of altering of normal growth habits. Therefore, it’s up to both homeowners and arborists to determine not only if pruning is needed, but also what the outcome or consequence is likely to be.

Fall is Here.

September 28, 2022 · 2 minute read
Fall is Here.

This past week saw the first day of fall, and I believe most of us at TrueTimber were grateful to feel the decrease in temperature. Yes, we’re still having warm days, but more frequent are the moments of a cooler breeze – we even caught a chill a few mornings ago. Soon the trees will be changing color and everything will be flavored with pumpkin spice.

Just last week I was taking a look back at an article that my colleague Peter Girardi wrote titled, “How To Make Your Backyard Soil Come Alive.” In the article, he talked about the importance of healthy soil, and made reference to a film called, “Kiss The Ground” (trailer found at It’s good and very eye-opening – if you haven’t seen it, you should.

There are so many easy, little things we can do with just the debris from existing plants and trees already in the yard. Use your leaves and pine tags, as well as sticks and other tree debris for mulch. Compost is easy – just throw everything in there, pumpkin spice and all. This is an easy way to begin re-establishing healthy soil around you. If you don’t have many plants, then plant more, especially native plants and trees. They will supply just about everything you need for a healthy yard on their own. Try using some yard space to allow for growth to take over, and let it. Take advantage of having to do very little to create a healthier space. The bees, butterflies and many underground organisms will appreciate your laziness!

If you use a lawn service to fertilize or treat your grass for pests, then become aware of what is actually going on to the soil as a result of that. “Nothing in nature exists alone” Rachael Carson said in her documentary titled “Silent Spring” (found in its entirely here: It’s another eye opening film well worth a watch. And though regulations have put a halt on some of the treatments since the film was made, we’re still using a lot of chemicals that are detrimental to the ecosystem under your lawn and, in turn, your own health.

Anyway, I’m well aware of just how much people care about their… grass. But I’m optimistic! I think we’re starting to see less and less plastic trash bags full of leaves lining neighborhood roads, waiting to go to the landfill, and more happy, healthier yards that are rich with life.

The Urban Warm Up

August 17, 2022 · 1 minute read
The Urban Warm Up

What is it, and what RVA is doing about it.

I checked out an article recently entitled, THROWING SHADE IN RVA — Jeremy S. Hoffman, Ph.D., that was shared to me by a colleague. It looks at the temperature of our city vs. our more rural areas. The data stemmed from another study; Climate | Free Full-Text | Integrating Satellite and Ground Measurements for Predicting Locations of Extreme Urban Heat . The basic rundown is that It’s hotter where there’s less tree canopy and more blacktop and concrete, and cooler where there’s more trees and shade. But why are some areas of our city so abundantly shaded while others are not?

The author looks into the city’s history, particularly back to the 30’s and 40’s when there was “redlining” of districts based on race. It examines why less-affluent areas in the city are especially vulnerable to urban heat intensity, which is increasing with the effects of climate change. Parking lots and buildings warm up more so than shaded and natural areas. This is what’s known as the urban heat island effect.

Of course there is a lot of science behind the study, including ground-based and satellite data – science that I mostly do not understand. But what is very cool is a collaboration between the local organization “Groundwork RVA” and the “Throwing Shade in RVA” Project. This partnership is working in many of those areas where there is a lack of green and natural space. It’s an inspiring endeavor that is engaging teens with their communities to create a better and cooler environment, and so far it’s having good results.

Visit Groundwork RVA here, and
Throwing Shade in RVA here for more info an opportunities to help!

Sacred trees; Trees of lore

July 5, 2022 · 2 minute read
Sacred trees; Trees of lore

There are all kinds of unique qualities of trees outside of their aesthetic appeal. Much of which arborists and tree fans alike are familiar with. Our health is a good example of an advantageous quality we gain from trees. 

The importance of trees and their relationship with humans dates back as far as humans themselves. Trees have long been revered as a source of healing and guidance. 

In fact, much of ancient folklore and mythology held trees with more sacrosanctity than most do now.  

Here’s some interesting old lore that was thought to be worthy and laudable for many years, maybe centuries. My colleagues and I are certainly in trouble with this first one…

-The alder- is said to protect the heart and the chest. In fairy tales, the alder is thought to be a gateway into other realms. 

-Whittle a rod out of hazel and you’ll have a tool to fight off evil spirits. 

-Burn birch wood to lift your mood and help you concentrate. 

-The hawthorn tree is a sacred tree and great peril may come to anyone that harms one. The May Queen is dressed in blossoms of a hawthorn for May Day. 

-Apple was considered food for the gods. An apple is a symbol for Aphrodite and if you cut one diagonally you’ll see her 5 pointed star. The apple tree is a symbol of fortune and cutting one down can mean the opposite luck. 

-Holly (we’re all in trouble…); It was a widespread belief that cutting down a holly would bring bad luck. These trees were used to keep goblins out of the house and to fight off witches. They were also thought to protect against lightning so they were planted near home. 

-Ash. Sending an ill child through the opening of a young ash that had been severed and held open with wedges, would cause the child to be healed as the tree healed. But the child should be washed in the mornings while healing with dew from the leaves. Vikings referred to this tree as The Tree of Life. 

Take what you want from these once strong but now fabled myths. 

I can’t help but think of a client of mine from years ago that wouldn’t let me work on her elm tree until she had a visit from her tree whisperer. All that time I thought he was deliberating with the tree but who knows, maybe he was getting advice from another world. 

Tree Songs

May 25, 2022 · 2 minute read
Tree Songs

My entire life, music has been a huge influence on me. At any given time throughout my day, I have a song or tune in my head. No matter the mood, there’s a tune. Humming and singing have been an innate way to offset fear for me and I suspect that for just about all of the twenty-some years I’ve spent in trees, there’s been a treetop melody to assist the task. I bet if I conducted a survey, most of my arborist brothers and sisters would say the same. 

Here are my takes on a few songs that seem appropriate for trees or most anything else for that matter.

“Old Pine” – Ben Howard –

I just discovered this song recently and I’m glad I did as it’s become a quick favorite. It’s a nostalgic look back at the magic of adolescence. The artist says that the tune had been in his head for a while but he was inspired to write it after being almost killed by a falling pine tree.

“Bare Trees” – Fleetwood Mac –

The lonely cold winter. This song is simply about longing for the person you love during the long winter months.

“Redwood Tree” – Cam –

Most can relate to a time in our youth when we couldn’t wait to leave the nest and set out on our own. This song relates to the movement of time and looking back on the years past. To the redwood tree, she describes it all happening in the blink of an eye.

“Roscoe” – Midlake –

If you haven’t heard this group, then I highly suggest giving them a listen. Most of their songs are about humans’ plight in nature. This song as well isn’t specifically about trees but is certainly worthy of anyone who enjoys a walk in the woods.

“Talk To The Trees” – Snow Patrol –

I could be wrong but my interpretation of this is just someone needing to convey words without the backlash of subjectivity. Trees don’t judge.

“The Trees” – Rush –

There’s unrest in the forest. The maples are unhappy with the lack of light left from the oaks. The tall oak canopies soak it all up, leaving little to take. So, the maples get together to start a union and make demands for equal… light.

Of course, these are only a few of many many songs about the relationship between humans and nature. Obviously, I can’t guarantee they’ll be instant favorites. But, they’re undoubtedly worthy of a listen, they’ll likely grow on you with time. Enjoy!

Oak Decline

April 20, 2022 · 1 minute read
Oak Decline

Common Host Trees

Oak decline tends to be most damaging and common among red, scarlet, pin, and black oaks in the red oak group and white and chestnut oaks in the white group. Though trees in both groups can be affected by oak decline, the red oak group is often more susceptible. 

The Process

Trees affected by defoliation or environmental stressors, like drought and frost, become weakened. Once trees have been weakened, they become more susceptible to insects and diseases that would not normally kill trees. These normally secondary pests are able to overcome the tree’s defenses and begin to kill the tree. The decline can sometimes take several years or can sometimes seemingly happen overnight.


Oak decline is first noticeable as dieback from the branch tips. Yellowing of the leaves and/or leaf drop prior to autumn as well as sprouting from the trunk are other common symptoms.

There are two major causes of damage associated with the decline. One is insect and the other is disease. These two factors usually work together to cause the tree’s eventual death.


Armillaria root rot is the more common disease associated with decline. The rot typically appears white and spongy or stringy. The disease is common though it’s usually found on the roots of dead trees. When the tree is stressed, the rot is able to infect the roots and girdle them over time. The girdling cuts off the flow of water and nutrients up and down the trunk, cutting off the food supply for growth which causes the eventual death of the tree. 

The insect usually associated with the decline is the two-lined chestnut borer. It’s usually in oak trees and attacks stress weakened trees. The larvae of the beetle feed under the bark creating feeding tunnels called galleries. As the galleries begin to overlap, the tree is slowly girdled, resulting in death. 


Watering and mulching can reduce competition with grass. Remember mulch should only be about 3 inches in depth and 2-3 inches from the base of the trunk. Sometimes stress culprits can be hard to find, and there could be some measures to curb the decline. A good arborist can spot symptoms and if possible suggest measures to slow the process of decline.

Thoughts From a Vole

March 16, 2022 · 2 minute read
Thoughts From a Vole

Mole (M)= Meat eaters (insects, spiders, etc.)

Voles (V)= Vegetarians that love to eat the roots of your plants.

Spring is coming, which is my peak season to breed and I’m gonna be hungry. I’ll be spending most of my time searching for healthy plant roots to chew on. I happen to love the nutrients that can come from a single root. I can typically find everything I need for good snacking in a single yard. Nuts and just about any fruit will do the trick well, and it’s always a bonus when I happen upon a group of bulbs. I’ll even chew the bark at the base of some smaller plants perhaps girdling a couple in the process. I know I’m doing a lot of damage but, I mean we all gotta eat right? Every now and then when my preferred munchies are harder to find, I can manage to swallow some insects or maybe remnants of a dead animal. But I’d really rather have the roots. When I’m not foraging I enjoy good company and the longer my life is the more litters we’ll create, though most of us only make it a few months. If I’m lucky enough to survive a year I’ll have several litters and they’ll in turn have more… 

My pals and I often get lumped together in description with our (arguably) less destructive and non-rodent neighbors, the moles. But we actually have very little in common. Moles can sometimes provide beneficial characteristics to a yard by eating harmful insects but they can also be a pain when it comes to your grassy lawn. We appreciate the hard work they put into the tunnels (and they can’t even see!) and love to take advantage of the inconspicuous underground passages. Moles live their entire lives underground while we’re usually just there for protection or warmth. We’re more like our doppelganger mouse pals except where they need shelter and rather be in a barn or house scavenging for food, we’d rather be outside munching on your plants. There are some small physical differences between us as well, such as our shorter tale, and we tend to be a little heftier but often it’s hard to tell. Chances are if it’s in the house it’s more likely a mouse and if outside it’s probably a vole. In any case, we’re usually harder to get rid of since there isn’t really any long-term preventable thing you can do to keep us away. There are some subtle things you can do to help, such as keeping tall grass mowed, not leaving wood piles around, and keeping the mulch beds on the lighter side. An outside cat may help too but this is subjective and may lead to an occasional missing bird. 

So, happy gardening this spring, and good luck! Remember that in the end, we’ll all be together in the dirt, perhaps providing our own meals to the outdoor critters:)

Tree Wounds and What Not To Do

February 1, 2022 · 1 minute read
Tree Wounds and What Not To Do

If you are an owner of wooded property or if your property is flanked by trees, it’s likely that you’ll encounter a tree injury at some point or another. Strong weather, lawn maintenance, construction, or even sometimes just trying to back out of the driveway are some factors that can cause injury to a tree. Even pruning a tree could technically be causing injury, though it may be needed to benefit a greater cause. When addressing an injury to a tree, you may feel the need to protect the area from further damage. However, an injury doesn’t always require care, and often attempts at “care” may make a problem worse.

Though I don’t come across it as much as I did early in my career, every now and then I see a pruning cut that’s black with “pruning sealer”, usually several on one tree. I’ve seen trees wrapped with cloth in an effort to protect a wound. I still sometimes see large hollows filled with concrete. I can only imagine the stinging frustration that’s felt when finding hidden concrete with a chainsaw. I’ve even seen expanding foam in a tree!

I guess the idea behind these methods is to keep things out that may invade a wound; keep the bugs out so to speak.
The truth is that aside from removing loose bark from an affected area or providing a cleaner cut to a torn or damaged limb, there’s not really much to be done. Healthy trees have a remarkable way of healing that can’t be improved upon with a human application of products. In the arborist world, we refer to this as the compartmentalization of decay in trees or CODIT. Simply put, a tree has the ability to create a barrier or “wall” between a wound and the area surrounding it. This process takes place in a mostly outward manner. If we fill or cover this then we essentially block this process and drastically decrease any chance of healing.

If you happen to find a situation where an injury has occurred in a tree, usually the best thing you can do is leave it alone, at least until someone qualified says otherwise. If you’re the nurturing kind that just can’t ignore an injured friend, then moral support can go a long way!

More Than a Christmas Tree

December 29, 2021 · 2 minute read
More Than a Christmas Tree

When Christmas is done, it seems like it’s gone in a flash. I believe it’s the intense build-up of the holiday that makes its exit so abrupt. I know many people try to ease the withdrawal effect by leaving up the decorative remnants for a couple of weeks or at least until after the new year. Then there are others that feel great relief.

I’ve also witnessed some impressive procrastination at the depressing task of removing the joyous tree. When I was growing up, I had a buddy whose family almost certainly only removed the tree in time for another one to be erected in its place. It stayed in a room where we weren’t allowed to play. Sometimes if the door was cracked I’d pause in commiseration with the dusty, miserable tree. I don’t think my buddy really ever thought anything of it and would only shrug when I asked him why they wouldn’t let it go. I don’t ever remember a visit to his house when there wasn’t a lonely tree in that room

However, at some point between now and March, we’ll (probably) begin the task of taking down our Christmas trees. Some of us will toss it out with the trash, others will let it decay in the yard with the leaves and tree debris.

But there are some useful and relatively easy methods of dealing with the old tree in a way that can be beneficial and preserve some of its value. If you have to let it go, try to recycle it.

    •    If you plan to recycle your tree, avoid materials like snow flocking spray. The chemical makeup of most of those sprays can make trees unable to be recycled.

    •    Remove lights, ornaments, tinsel and garland from the tree and leave it at the curb.

    •    Large trees (taller than six feet) may need to be cut down to a specified size.

 Here are some interesting ways to recycle the tree.

   •    Mulch: Use the Christmas tree to make your own mulch. If you have access to a small wood chipper you could process the tree into chips. If local gardening is popular, this could be a good neighborhood project.

    •    Erosion mitigation: In some areas, discarded trees are kept intact and used to preserve beaches and shorelines.

    •    Feeding fish: Trees can be submerged into ponds to make a feeding area for fish. Use this on your own property, or check with your community and find out if the city collects trees for this purpose.

    •    Feeding birds: Place the tree in your backyard to create a bird habitat for nesting and feeding.

There are a lot of ways to be creative whatever you decide to do with it. If nothing else, it’s good kindling for an outside fire. Even when green, the sap is quite flammable.  

Also, and probably most importantly, if you prefer a plastic tree, these are all terrible and likely dangerous ideas, and please disregard any of my suggestions above. But feel free to enjoy it all year and don’t worry that your kid’s friends think you’re weird. That may not have anything to do with the tree.

Winter vs. Summer Pruning (and Is Aggressive Good?)

November 17, 2021 · 2 minute read
Winter vs. Summer Pruning (and Is Aggressive Good?)

It’s satisfying to see trees in the spring that were pruned in winter. It’s more satisfying if you’re the one who did the pruning. There are also many benefits to winter pruning. Because the tree is dormant, winter pruning doesn’t stimulate new growth. In contrast, any pruning done just before dormancy (such as during late fall) can then be negatively affected by cold weather and may damage the tree.

Research shows that pruning before buds open in spring leads to “optimum wound closure.” Trees are able to heal from pruning cuts before warmer weather brings out destructive insects and pathogens. I get asked often if we’re able to prune for deadwood in the winter because it’s harder to tell the difference between what’s dead and what isn’t. It’s true that without the foliage it can sometimes be difficult to spot dead branches. However, a trained arborist that knows what to look for will seldom have a problem. Also, it’s easier to see branch structure and spot what could be future issues like competing or rubbing limbs.

Should I avoid pruning during the active growth season?

So, while winter is a great time to prune, that doesn’t mean that spring and summer pruning is bad for your trees. It simply offers different benefits and is done for different reasons, such as:

•Removing deadwood that may be hard to spot in winter

•Removing damaged or diseased branches that could be dangerous

•Elevating or raising the canopy to improve a view

•Improving canopy structure and shape

I tend to feel that for live growth, less is usually better, especially in the summer, to avoid sun-scald.

How about aggressively pruning a tree? 

I think most arborists would agree that aggressively pruning a tree, while it may be needed for safety purposes, is never good for the health of a tree any time of year. But sometimes it can be difficult to understand what is aggressive and what isn’t. A feeling I’ve always had is that a good arborist can effectively prune a tree in such a way that it’s hard to tell if it’s even been pruned at all. In other words, the goal is met and the tree continues to look natural. If you can look into your pruned tree and think, wow, that’s a lot of pruning or, those are some big cuts! then it probably wasn’t done with the health of the tree in mind. If nothing else, aggressive pruning just looks bad!

As always, my advice remains that if you’re unsure what needs to be done, don’t do anything at all and call an arborist. 

Removing the Stump for the Tree

October 19, 2021 · 1 minute read

Two questions I get asked fairly frequently are, Can I replant where a tree once stood or where a stump was recently in the ground? And, if so, What type of tree should I replace it with?

If you decide to replant a tree, finding an alternate spot from the tree you’ve lost or removed is usually recommended. If you must use the same spot, then good site preparation is important. A thorough stump grinding (so as not to plant into a wood encased hole), removal of most of the excess grindings, and waiting will be key to success. However, If you’re like me and suffer from an impatient disposition then adding lots of good nutritious soil is very important. Also, I recommend planting a much smaller diameter tree than the previous tree removed. This will give those old roots that inevitably get left behind more time to decompose. 

Grindings and wood chips can be a good mulch on top of soil but are not good on their own for a newly planted tree to sit in. With a majority soil mixture, as the grindings break down they can be good for providing nutrients. But the stump grindings on their own will have a high carbon to nitrogen ratio thus compromising nitrogen availability for the new tree.

I’ve had good luck planting in an area of a stump that was ground years before. I think it also helped re-establish the solidity of the ground. Whereas before, there was just a re-occurring depression. 

If removal of the old tree was due to death, if possible, it’s important to understand what led to the decline. I’ve seen newly planted trees die, then found out that they weren’t the first newly planted trees in that spot to die. The same poorly irrigated ground kept drowning the trees every time they were planted.

Lastly, as for which tree species to plant, I think all the usual rules still apply; light, shade, location, etc. In short, plant the right tree in the right spot, maybe that spot happens to be where another tree once existed.

The Heat Is On… But Hopefully Not for Long

August 11, 2021 · 2 minute read
The Heat Is On… But Hopefully Not for Long

Now that we’ve passed the midpoint of summer, we enter the peak of the heat. It always feels to me like a test that we have to endure before the September temperatures (hopefully) break, and I think it’s a time when many of us really begin to long for autumn’s cooler temperatures.

As we lament the end of the warm summer nights, we then begin to think about cozying up to campfires. We look for our sweaters. Maybe we dream of pumpkin spice lattes. As a kid, I dreaded the thought of fall. It only meant back to school for me, and I wanted nothing to do with that. But, later as my tree-climbing career began to develop, I learned to appreciate the relief of the fall temperatures after surviving the humid Richmond summer. I also look forward to and enjoy the bright fall foliage in which tree climbing allows me a front row seat.

For a long time, it never occurred to me why the leaves changed in the fall, only how beautiful it is when they do. I didn’t know that the leaves don’t actually change color but rather show their color after chlorophyll breaks down and the dominant green color… leaves. See what I did there? The vibrant fall “color change” is what is left behind. 

Okay, maybe not entirely. As chlorophyll breaks down, other chemical changes may occur, which produce colors through the development of red anthocyanin pigments. Some combinations can bring on the reddish and purplish fall colors of trees such as dogwoods, while others give trees such as the sugar maple a brilliant orange.

Some trees show only yellow colors. Others, like many oaks, reveal mostly browns. These colors result from the combination of differing amounts of chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the fall season.

Temperature and the amount of light and water that’s available have a lot to do with the intensity and duration of fall color. Temperatures that are low but above freezing will favor the development of anthocyanin that will produce bright reds in maples. However, an early freeze will dull the red color. Overcast or rainy days will likely increase the intensity of fall colors. 

So, as the lingering summer months continue to keep us cooking, remember to look forward to the coming of the harvest season’s cooling relief and the beauty that is found in the trees above. Its peak tends to be brief and easy to miss, so try and slow down and take the time to enjoy fall’s grace while it’s here.

Is A Memorial Tree a Good Idea?

July 7, 2021 · 2 minute read
Is A Memorial Tree a Good Idea?

The obvious answer is, yes, of course. Plant a living thing to honor a lost loved one — a family member, pet, or a good friend — and watch it thrive and flourish, possibly blossom. It’s a wonderful idea in theory. But what if it doesn’t thrive and flourish. Then what? Unfortunately, this thoughtful and heartfelt sentiment doesn’t always include as much thoughtfulness as it does heart. 

If you or someone you know is thinking of planting a memorial tree, here are a few things to consider:

— This sounds obvious as I write it, but often simple logic can be difficult when emotions are driving a decision. Are you going to stay with this tree? If you’re not living where you plan on staying, at some point you’ll be leaving the tree and even though you aren’t really, it will feel like leaving a loved one. I have a hard time leaving trees that I’ve planted simply because it’s a tree, and I planted it. 

— Avoid exotic or imported trees. Your best luck will be with a native species that has a proven history in the area. Natives are more resilient to environmental ailments. This will also aid in those times that you can’t be around to look after it.

— Before introducing the tree, prepare the surrounding environment. After all, you want the tree to thrive, probably for even longer than you’re around. Pay attention to the surroundings and to the light patterns in the area. Avoid placement under other tree limbs that may fail. This alone can often dictate location. Check your soil and amend it if necessary. Aeration and a compost addition will help to enrich the area where you plan on planting.

— If you don’t already have the know-how, learn how to properly plant a tree. There’s more to it than digging a hole and dropping in a tree. Doing this right will certainly affect longevity.

— Lastly, understand that a tree is a living thing completely reliant on the environment around it. You can’t control things like the weather and what harshness it can bring. Trees are kind of like people and sometimes get sick. An arborist can help with just about all of the details that are needed except how to handle it if it doesn’t work. 

With all of the right planning and understanding, I think a memorial tree is a wonderful way to honor something or someone missed. One day and, hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll end up with a tree that someone will remember me by. But if not, one thing I’m fairly certain of is that I’ll be giving to the soil somewhere, and that’s fine, too.

Artillery Fungus: Bad News or Just Annoying?

June 2, 2021 · 1 minute read
Artillery Fungus: Bad News or Just Annoying?

You’ve probably seen artillery fungus (Sphaerobolus stellatus) and not even known it. It looks like tiny dark spots and is found on light-colored cars and exterior surfaces like siding. It’s also found in manure and bark mulches. Its name refers to its ability to propel spores quite some distance. 

What is it? Sphaerobolus is a common fungus that sticks firmly to light or white surfaces and resembles spots of tar. Its ability to stick to surfaces is nothing short of amazing and the spots can be almost impossible to remove without damaging paint or finish. This common fungus is often found in bark mulch, and especially hardwood mulch. There’s some thought that artillery fungus in cedar and pine bark mulch may occur less frequently than hardwood. Because it shoots spores towards bright light, it’s typically found on the north side of buildings. It produces a cup-shaped peridiole that contains fruiting bodies. When the cup fills with water, it inverts and shoots out the fruiting bodies. These are most obvious when attached to a light-colored surface, such as white siding. Once they attach, the fungus is very difficult to get off. It isn’t harmful or toxic and does no real damage to a surface other than taking the finish with it. 

The black spots artillery fungus produces can be very difficult to clean off.

The best conditions for the formation of the spores are cool, moist and shady conditions. This is why the spores are more noticeable on the north side of a house. They are more prevalent on lighter structures because the peridiole shoots the fruiting bodies towards light and light reflects best off of these lighter surfaces

To mitigate the chance of occurrence, rake old mulch to expose the spores to light and dry it out. New mulch can be added over the old to suffocate it in the mulch.

There’s no question if it winds up on the surface of something you care about, it will be an arduous and annoying task to deal with!

The Health of a City Depends on Its Trees

April 27, 2021 · 1 minute read
The Health of a City Depends on Its Trees

In addition to all the obvious benefits of having trees in and around our urban landscape — aesthetic quality, shade, a general boon to our mental health — did you know trees play a major role in keeping our air clean? Trees disperse and remove pollutants such as carbon dioxide (through photosynthesis), nitrogen dioxide, and they shield us from ozone. Gases are absorbed through pores (stomata), they block particulate matter from reaching the atmosphere, thus making our concrete and blacktop environments much healthier places to dwell. 

In 1994, a study showed, trees in New York City removed approximately 1,821 metric tons of air pollution at an estimated value to society of $9.5 million. Air pollution removal by urban forests in New York was greater than in Atlanta (1,196 t; $6.5 million) and Baltimore (499 t; $2.7 million), but pollution removal per m2 of canopy cover was fairly similar among these cities (New York: 13.7 g/m2 /yr; Baltimore: 12.2 g/m2 /yr; Atlanta: 10.6 g/m2 /yr)h. These standardized pollution removal rates differ among cities according to the amount of air pollution, length of in-leaf season, precipitation, and other meteorological variables. Large healthy trees greater than 77 cm in diameter remove approximately 70 times more air pollution annually (1.4 kg/yr) than small healthy trees less than 8 cm in diameter (0.02 kg/yr)k. Air quality improves with increased percent tree cover and decreased mixing-layer heights. In urban areas with 100% tree cover (i.e., contiguous forest stands), short-term improvements in air quality (one hour) from pollution removal by trees were as high as 15% for ozone, 14% for sulfur dioxide, 13% for particulate matter, 8% for nitrogen dioxide, and 0.05% for carbon monoxide.” (Nowak, 2002, pg. 1)

Greenhouse gases circulate at a global level. So the existence of trees is important all over the world. Forests absorb and store as much as 30% of the carbon emissions from human activities. However, burning them will release it back into the atmosphere.

Though the importance of trees is worldwide, we might be most concerned with the trees in our local parks and schools. The quality of the air we breathe is directly connected to the trees closest to us.

This relationship between the global and local benefits of trees beyond just their beauty is what makes them indispensable for the protection of our planet and our health.

Want to learn more about how trees clean the air we breathe? Click here.

Or click here to learn about exactly how trees breathe.

Safety in Numbers

March 24, 2021 · 1 minute read
Safety in Numbers

If you’re building a home in a wooded area or already live in a home with surrounding trees, you’re almost guaranteed to have or will have experienced some attention to tree needs. If for whatever reason, your needs or wants turn to tree removal there are some things to keep in mind. If you have a tree that becomes compromised, then it could be an easy decision. If it’s more of a want than an obvious need, then it’s worth considering what else could be impacted.

Whatever your reasons, trees can be like groups of friends: Consider that there is safety in numbers. This is on my mind a lot with trees, and it’s especially true for trees that for most of their life have lived within a larger community of other trees.

Often, if there is an abundance of trees, the community will protect those on the inside (I know this isn’t always the case and, of course, many other variables can have an effect: construction, root damage, injury, etc.). But when you begin removing parts of the community, the supporting dynamics weaken. Trunk bases and root systems that have not had the need to become strong enough to withstand high winds find themselves exposed and searching for grip while trying to hold up their leveraging canopies that have mostly developed their branching near the top of the forest where the sunlight hits.

The ground that roots have always found firm and sturdy become soft and spongy in the absence of the weighted trunks with their roots under them helping to hold on. Adequate drainage often becomes a problem as well.

New construction is very often a tough test for a tree. Arborists visit many new homes with impressive landscapes and freshly rolled out lawns to inspect stressed-out trees left wondering where their friends — their community — went. Imagine walking out of the house to discover everyone on your block has disappeared. It might be a little stressful, you may even experience a little die back from the top down.

Anyway, if you are considering a change in your landscape with trees, consider the new areas of wind and light flow and what may be the collateral impact beyond your initial goal.

Saving Our Trees, Shrubs from Road Salt

February 23, 2021 · 2 minute read
Saving Our Trees, Shrubs from Road Salt

If it’s bad luck for humans to spill salt, then it’s probably even worse for trees and plants and our soil.

22 million tons of salt is dropped on U.S. roads every year. Most commonly used is sodium chloride (rock salt). It’s cheap, readily available, and effective. It’s what allows us to commute after bad weather and helps keep us out of the ER with broken appendages (or worse). 

There is a trade-off though. It all eventually goes somewhere, and VDOT doesn’t swap out their salt spreaders in the spring for salt vacuums. That leaves the salt to get absorbed into our soils and washed into our waterways.

Salt spray from passing cars lands on plants and trees and often causees salt burn. This can leave vulnerable plant tissue exposed, drying out developing leaves and flower buds. This isn’t evident in deciduous plants usually until late winter or early spring but can be seen in evergreens sometimes sooner.

Evergreens are among the trees particularly susceptible to damage from road salt.

Road salt is dissolved in runoff water and is broken down into chlorine and sodium which then displaces important minerals in soil. Plants then absorb the dissolved salts in runoff water instead of the nutrients they need, leading to deficiencies. Chloride ions get transported to the leaves where they screw up photosynthesis and chlorophyll production. Once this reaches a toxic level we start to see leaf burn and dieback.

If salt has accumulated around plants and trees from plows piling up snow, the salt can also absorb the water plants need causing a reduction in growth.

Late winter salt applications can be particularly harsh to plants and trees because the salt doesn’t have a chance to be leached away by rainfall before active root growth begins.

Symptoms of salt injury can include:

  • Browning of evergreen needles
  • Twig and stem dieback
  • Abnormal growth development (tufted or stunted appearance)
  • Delayed spring foliage or bud break
  • Early leaf drop
  • Reduced vigor
  • Wilt during hot or dry spells
  • Needle tip/leaf burn
  • Smaller than normal flowers or fruit
  • Discolored foliage

Some plants and trees are more susceptible to salt injury than others. I think for the most part our white and red oaks are probably okay, however many maples, pines, firs, spruce, boxwoods, dogwoods, hemlocks, and the pin oak (and many others) aren’t as resilient.

Since we probably shouldn’t lay down in front of the salt trucks in protest, I think it’s important to make sure that we’re doing what we can to decrease the bad luck felt by our plants and trees and try to get perhaps a little more water than usual to our vulnerable trees, like street trees, and plants after a particularly salty season.

Wildlife In the City

January 27, 2021 · 1 minute read
Wildlife In the City

The work of an arborist typically focuses on the safety and care of trees in urban and suburban environments, but when it comes to wildlife in those trees, our general hope is that we don’t run into it. Often it’s unexpected and can become an instant dilemma both in terms of our conscience and doing our job, and there isn’t much in the way of literature or documentation to give us direction on how to deal with it.

About 20 percent of birds live in cities. In the U.S., about 80 percent of people live in urban areas, and this percentage is expected to grow. While we continue to expand our needs for development and convenience, wildlife habitats continue to shrink and unfortunately, arborists often have a front-row seat. It’s nothing that any arborist I know likes to admit, but we’re not exactly without blame.

At the start of a job an arborist inspects the work site for safety hazards and strategizes ways to maintain safety while working. It makes sense that we should also inspect the job site for wildlife and how not to interfere, especially during nesting season. 

Homeowners can get a head start on this as well. If your plan is to have work performed on a tree and something is spotted up there that may be nesting or perhaps even protected under the law (which I think just about everything is except the European starling), then it may be just a matter of waiting a few weeks. As arborists, we can usually help with determining the urgency of a potentially dangerous tree and if that tree is providing protection for nests, then we should come up with a plan to responsibly avoid its destruction. In some circumstances, the plan may require utilizing an outside resource such as a local wildlife department and wildlife care center. Here are a couple of links for more information.

Injured Birds | Richmond Audubon Society

Found Injured Wildlife — Richmond Wildlife Center

As our industry advances, so should our efforts in conservation. I think that it will become a common practice in our business to implement protocols and training for wildlife habitat avoidance. Just as we desire comfort and beauty in our urban forests, we also have a responsibility to make sure that the unassuming wildlife we share it with is also protected.

Unruly Roots

December 23, 2020 · 1 minute read
Unruly Roots

There are some tree questions arborists seem to get more than others, questions that anyone who has moved into an older (or newer) home with existing mature trees is likely to have. Often because trees are planted as saplings, or are simply smaller during home construction, their full-growth size is hard to imagine 20 years down the road. A question, in particular, I hear often from community planners, HOA’s, and homeowners alike is:

“What can I do about the roots that are raising up my driveway/sidewalk..?” 

It doesn’t help that there’s a lot of bad advice out there from seemingly professional sites. For instance, “The tree is unstable and or overgrown…” or one of my favorites; “The roots have grown out of control!!!…” 

In actuality, your tree is rarely the culprit. Driveway companies often have one method of construction whether it’s asphalt, concrete, or any other surface. The problem is that what works on one type of soil may not on another. Some soils swell and shrink more than others, and as a result of poor design and soil conditions, sloppy pavement construction heaves and settles and roots will often follow the gaps created. If you add in heavy erosion such as we’ve seen in the past few years with record rainfall, it’ll take an impressive product to compete with that level of change.

So how can we know about soil variations? The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service offers soil survey maps that illustrate these variances. So, if you’re replacing a damaged driveway or sidewalk, ask the contractor what their method will be to decrease the likelihood of future damage. Is the design specific to the soil composition in your area? Alas, root cutting or tree removal may in fact be necessary, but I think more often it isn’t, and if you’re receiving advice to remove an otherwise healthy tree, get another opinion — or three!

A Season for an Arborist

November 16, 2020 · 2 minute read
A Season for an Arborist

I apologize ahead of time, I’m not trying to bring anyone down. I promise this gets better.

As it is for many people, late fall and winter is kind of tricky for me (this Covid reality doesn’t exactly help). With the “fall back” time change begins a sort of anxiousness as daily we see less and less sunlight. The landscape’s luster seems to fade into drab and dreary dullness. For some reason, this is how I’ve always felt this time of year. It seems like some of my tougher memories happened in the weeks preluding the onset of the holidays. I’m not sure if this is actually true or if it’s just the way my brain has associated hardship with colder more difficult weather (although, I guess Richmond has pretty easy weather. Rain can be a pain and especially cold rain, but our cars usually still start). I know there were tough times in nice weather also, but it just seems like they were more forgiving, like the sun would re-energize my optimism. 

Up until just a few years ago I was a self-employed arborist. As the cooler weather and holidays approached it meant two things: Less income and more spending. This was always stressful and difficult to try to balance. No matter how hard I tried, I could never feel really prepared. It seemed as the cozy blanket of the holidays warmed over everyone else, it would somehow leave me just outside the covers. But, now that I’m in my forty’s and approaching adulthood, I know this isn’t the reality. I know that it’s rare that someone can run out to the dealership after seeing an ad for a Lexus with a bow on it. But it does often feel like that’s what we’re supposed to think.

I said this would get better…

Things have changed a little now that I’m with a group of like minded people that understand the challenges of hungry tree guys. They’ve made a great effort, one that I’m extremely grateful for, to provide me/us with needed optimism and security, especially as work slows down and the days get shorter. This isn’t true with a lot of companies in our industry. But, being around a group of people that share in lifting each other up has made this time of year so much easier. I think what I’m trying to say is, although Covid has made it especially hard to enjoy company, try to be a voice of optimism for the people or person around you. This may just be a phone conversation, but I’d bet that someone you don’t suspect needs it. 

This time of year still isn’t easy for me. I still dread the cold. But, when I’m circling the rabbit hole or looking down a dark road, there’s a throwline that I’m learning how to grab and that I know will pull me back into the sunlight…

Hollow is the Heart(wood)

October 13, 2020 · 1 minute read
Hollow is the Heart(wood)

Is my hollow tree dangerous?

A hollow tree by itself isn’t an indication of weakness. Decay is the natural life cycle of many trees. Ancient trees have stood for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years full of hollow cavities, and most are strong and sturdy if there are no other problems or diseases affecting the tree. It is usually younger trees that carry greater risk as they can’t withstand significant decay. As a result, they become weakened. Healthy trees will continue to form what is like a “cylinder” of sapwood that maintains structural support to the trunk and canopy depending on the ratio to the interior “dead” wood. 

Of course, there are times when largely hollow trees are a risk. They may become unstable during the final stages of disease and in turn, become susceptible to wind and storms. It’s always a good idea to consult with an arborist if you have a hollowed tree in question.

Some trees live long and strong with significant cavities.

Should I fill the hole/hollow with something to prevent further decay?

The answer to this is no. Filling a hole means trapping moisture in and usually promoting rot. Also, there are likely other things in there that need to get out like insects and possibly even animals. Sometimes covering a hole may be acceptable to theoretically allow a cavity to dry out while keeping moisture from entering. Though while that may seem logical, I’m not sure there’s enough research out there to suggest that this is at all effective. Healthy trees have a pretty good system of walling off or “compartmentalizing” on their own to keep decay from spreading to other areas of the tree. My usual advice is to just leave it be. Personally, I like seeing little doors over small hollows for “gnome homes.”

So, if you have a hollowed tree that is otherwise healthy, it’s probably fine. However, as is always the case, if you aren’t sure, or perhaps it has a foreboding lean in your direction, get advice from a certified arborist on what best to do (or not do).

Turf Wars: Grass vs. Trees

September 9, 2020 · 2 minute read
Turf Wars: Grass vs. Trees

I’ve consulted with many people on how to “adjust” their trees to allow the grass around more light and generally be happier. I do it, of course, but the problem is, I’m just not a fan of grass — at least not manicured grass.

I’m not really sure why this is. I like the color green, and I like things that are soft under my feet. I mean there’s no real reason to dislike grass itself. It isn’t poisonous or really have any offensive odor. In fact, I like the way fresh cut grass smells, I always have. But still, there is something that turns me off about “nice” or “manicured” grass. I think It goes beyond physiology to what exactly the grass is. I think it’s what having good grass represents to me. Good grass means being free of weeds and bare spots. Maybe free of any variances in color. It takes a lot to maintain good grass. It’s usually quite time-consuming or expensive or both. 

I guess that’s why I chose arboriculture for a career. Trees seem to hold some kind of mystery to me that grass can’t match. Mature trees have a story, and they’ve seen the changes that only can be seen with undisturbed time and patience. They’re wise. Manicured grass isn’t wise. It’s usually paid for, and sometimes it’s the result of the removal of those mysterious trees. A client said to me once, “I love the shade of my trees, and, anyway, the moss and clover are still green”. 

Before I knew there was actually a biological reason for it, I noticed while climbing around in trees that grass and trees don’t get along. They just don’t seem to handle being right next to each other well. You may think that a tree would have the upper hand because it’s bigger and its roots are deeper, but that’s not the case. Most of a tree’s feeder roots that absorb water and nutrients are in the upper few inches of soil. It’s a constant battle; Later I learned that another part of this invisible warfare is a sophisticated and intriguing phenomenon called allelopathy. Trees and turf both release natural chemicals that act like herbicides to slow the growth of surrounding plants. Also, trees and grass typically need a mediator like mulch to help lessen the chance of injury from the battle. 

So, sometimes it’s difficult for me to know how to respond to “We need to cut the trees so we can get grass” because my response may be unpopular and shouldn’t be what I may be thinking, which is: Why?

Taking an Unpopular Stance on Line Clearance and Our Trees

August 5, 2020 · 2 minute read
Taking an Unpopular Stance on Line Clearance and Our Trees

As a nature lover/tree hugger I loath the insult to our industry of bad tree work from self-described “professionals.” We spend so much time educating our communities on the right practices when trying to find balance in loving and caring for our trees while protecting the occupants under them. Because of this, my disdain has often been directed at line clearance workers. Like many, I can’t stand the one-sided, off-balance pruning leftover from the local power line trimmers. A tree couldn’t appear more confounded and abashed than after a line trimmer has descended from its canopy. I’ve met tree-loving clients distressed to the point of tears or in some cases cursing at the guys that climbed their trees. Trust me, I get it. I see their trucks set up in the neighborhoods, and I cringe because I know there’s an array of unsuspecting trees completely unaware of what’s coming. Sometimes I catch my nose in the air when passing them. 

But today as a thunderstorm started rolling through, I was doing what I always do and wondering how much damage will come from it, which then made me think of power lines. Often trees are the reason power is out. As arborists (and any tree guy), we get super busy with the storms. And line trimmers and workers get even busier. They might not physically hook the power back up since that’s the lineman’s job, but more often than not for the lineman to get where he needs to go, his tree guys have to clear the way and sometimes in some very rough weather. 

Without their regular maintenance we would be without power far more often. Also, trees don’t necessarily have to touch an energized power line to be dangerous. In the right conditions, such as a voltage surge on the line from a nearby lightning strike, electricity can arc from the power line to nearby trees. This electric current can then travel into a home and wreak havoc in the electrical infrastructure causing thousands of dollars in repairs and potentially causing fir. And anyone caught near the tree could be seriously injured or killed.

Many (line trimmers) have started to gain a better understanding of arboriculture and when they can, at least aim for correct pruning. Unfortunately to keep us safe, a lot of the time it just isn’t possible while meeting their objective, and we still feel like we’re left with someone’s cruel attempt at recreating a one-sided cactus.

Anyway, just give it a few more moments of thought before gritting your teeth and preparing for attack when these guys make their way through the easements behind your home. Their job is extremely dangerous and we’re safer because of it.

Plan On Native Planting

July 1, 2020 · 3 minute read
Plan On Native Planting

I see a lot of yards. I’d even say I “know” a lot of yards quite well. Many of them are beautiful, each in their own way. It’s strangely one of the things I look forward to most in my day — yards. And not really with any expectations of what I’ll see. (Usually, I’m aware they’ll have trees…) But because I’m always trying to figure out what is an attractive yard to me. I think that’s it, the unknown is enticing.

Beauty, obviously, is a broad term and is certainly all in the “eye of the beholder.” Is it the home in the spring with all of the bright colors from the dogwoods, the redbuds, the cherry trees, the fringe trees? Is it the manicured shrubs and green grass that would probably be more comfortable in my house than any rug that I own? 

And although it’s not as popular, in all of my visits, I think I’ve become aware of something that is at least beautiful to me; I like stuff that is wild and left alone. Or at least appears to be. And I like trees and plants that belong where they are. Once I noticed this, I began to pay more attention to plants and where they’re supposed to be. Native plants seem to move more and have more activity. In fact, there are all kinds of things going on.

So I began to look into why this is, and the logic behind it is really simple. Every living thing knows one another. It has trust that’s been built on many years of cohabitation. It’s easier, it’s safer. That, to me is attractive. These are four benefits of native plants that stick out to me:

  1. Wildlife doesn’t trust what it doesn’t know. Insects won’t eat foreign plants. They don’t even recognize them as food. Frogs and birds as well as other insects that eat the insects that we aren’t fond of (flies, mosquitos, aphids etc.) go away because the insects they rely on aren’t around. Wildlife can’t shelter within foreign plants because of all the chemicals it takes to keep the plants healthy.
  2. Native plants require 10 times less chemical maintenance to survive if any at all. Fewer chemicals are better for the earth and for us. I promise.
  3. They’ve adapted so they don’t need as much water. Another plus for the environment.
  4. This last benefit is probably the most dear to me. Really I could’ve probably listed this one and only reason as enough for myself: Native plants are less work. They’re fine with the dirt they have, the amount of water, light, temperature they receive and the bugs that visit them. They’re more resilient to disease, funguses and our spectrum of weather change. They’re happier!

A wild yard, to me is so much more enjoyable. I don’t care if you walk across my “lawn” after it rains. It’s mostly clover anyway and the bees love it, and I love bees (most of the time). And I know milkweed has a bad rap, but without it we have no butterflies, and I love butterflies too so I have milkweed. My four-legged family isn’t interested in it anyway. 

I get a lot of apologies when I enter “unkept” yards, and I laugh because sometimes an “unkept” yard is quite “kept”. I’m quick to assure someone that I think there’s grace in respecting what’s there without manipulation. 

I don’t think this is the most popular thought out there, yet but newer generations are busier and stressed and native plants are simple and simplicity can mean peace and we can probably all use more of that — even if it’s from a plant.

Post Storm Examination: Converging On The Quiet

May 29, 2020 · 3 minute read
Post Storm Examination: Converging On The Quiet

Storm season is here and many of my appointments are likely to be tree risk assessments, recommended preventative pruning, and inquiries for complete tree removals to mitigate storm effects and to help folks sleep better. But, I don’t feel like I’m called to nearly as many “after the storm” evaluations as I should be. I think the calm after the storm is such a relief to us that we forget to look up and identify what the calm may be hiding. 

A handful of my appointments will be to help identify why tree or branch failures occur on otherwise peaceful days. Obviously, there’s no mystery to why we find debris in the yard immediately after a storm, but sometimes failures occur without any real explanation, or at least not with any certainty.

“I don’t understand. We’ve had great weather for the past week,” a customer will say, “then all of a sudden I find this large healthy branch in the yard. Is the tree sick?”

So, this is what I’ve figured out through the years: A storm hits, but it doesn’t seem to create any immediate threat. In your yard, you see a nice big green canopy. The tree(s) look great, maybe even inviting you to sit underneath in the shade. But, it’s possible that somewhere in that canopy a stress crack formed and though it’s small, It gets larger every time there’s even a slight breeze. You may even hear an unfamiliar squeak up there. (If you hear popping, please get out of there) It might take a few days; it might take a few weeks. Finally, on a peaceful sunny day when the birds are singing and the sky is blue… Crash!

So here is my suggestion after the storm:

Look up! It’s easy and seems obvious, but the tendency is to examine the debris lying in the yard and the work involved in removing it while perhaps not paying enough attention to the immense and intricate branch structure above. This goes for outside the yard as well. Parks, streets, and sidewalks. Anywhere there are trees overhead. Look up and be aware of what’s above you.

Listen. Sometimes a limb that is compromised is hung up or resting on another limb. This can cause creaking noises from the friction. (Look up again).

Examine the tree’s canopy. Get several viewpoints of the canopy from different spots in the yard. What looks fine in one corner of the yard could be hiding something that may be seen from the opposite corner. Binoculars are an awesome tool for this. Look for branch patterns that seem out of place. If your tree has most of its limbs growing upright or maybe horizontally and you notice one that breaks this pattern, it could be compromised.

–Always have a slightly heightened sense of alert immediately after a big storm passes.

–Lastly, call an arborist. If you spot something and are unsure if it poses a  threat, don’t take a chance. Most arborists are happy to provide a walk-around assessment free of charge. I would rather point out something hazardous even if we don’t end up doing the work.

An experienced Arborists has an eye for what should be done and will give you options on how to best proceed. Their goal is to maintain the health of your trees and to keep them as aesthetically pleasing as possible. But the first goal should always be to understand what should be done to keep trees safe for you and your family to enjoy.

Should We Leave the Dead?

April 21, 2020 · 1 minute read
Should We Leave the Dead?

“Dead” is usually not a term we think of with a silver lining, and I wouldn’t normally phrase the question quite that way. Rather: Would you like the debris hauled away?

Seems like it should have an obvious answer, but the benefit of decaying trees and woody debris within a natural landscape is becoming more appreciated even within the outdoor perimeters of our own properties.

As folks see the value and importance of a healthy ecosystem, I find myself talking about it with our neighbors more and more. Healthy earth and the different species that grow in and from its soil is full of dead tree and plant material that is continually breaking down and feeding new plant life as well as many other organisms. Some of the liveliest of earth’s environments exist because of decaying, dead trees.

This understanding is not the most culturally accepted yet since we tend to associate the term “dead” with everything that is expired, old, or depleted and finished — in other words, everything that is unfortunate.

But in the natural world, death in so many ways is a beginning, an opportunity for new life to thrive. Understandably, most of us don’t live in a forest where nobody thinks twice about having large dead trees standing tall. And we certainly don’t want a tree that’s showing signs of decay looming ominously near our homes.

But if there is a part of the yard, further from the house that doesn’t perhaps get the periodic manicure. It can be a healthy decision to leave dead trees and debris alone to break down and give back to the soil from which they grew. Wildlife, too, will appreciate the abundant real estate available and, in turn, leave the living not-yet-finished real estate alone. I’m personally a big fan of this school of thought for all of those reasons. Lastly and to many, most importantly, it can simply mean less work which will translate to less decay in our wallets.

Pruning over the House: Less Can Be More

March 25, 2020 · 2 minute read
Pruning over the House: Less Can Be More

We love our trees and we love our home. How do we mingle the two amicably in a way that will last the duration of time (or at least our time)?

Richmond’s urban forest offers an abundance of positive qualities both environmentally and aesthetically. In some places, the canopy is thick enough that, if lucky, we can find our own cozy living dens beneath in its shade.

As an arborist, we often get asked for advice on whether or not to remove growth from trees that overhang a client’s home. The conversation typically goes as follows: “We love our trees but we want our home protected, so we would like everything growing over the house to be removed.” Homeowners embrace the idea that if anything breaks in the tree, it will fall somewhere other than on the house. Seems to make sense on the surface as it did to me early in my career. However, over the years we’ve found that what seemed like a logical solution, removing all growth over the roof, has the potential to do more harm than good. 

We’ve done many broken limb “rescue” climbs to remove branches over a roof that have fallen from somewhere high in the canopy of a tree. Usually the limb is either entangled in the lower limbs over the house or laying brushy side down on the roof and still attached to the tree. 

Because of this, we’ve noticed that this lower growth was helping to catch or slow the impact from the higher canopy limbs and usually with little to no damage to the roof. Just as often, I’ve extracted limbs out of rooftops and even home interiors that resulted from a straight free fall out of the top of a tree and I’ve heard many times “We’ve always maintained our trees…” meaning growth over the roof was always removed.

I’ve also seen the health effects of “side-walling” trees near and over the house and the harm that over-pruning can do. Removing all growth from over a house often means removing up to 50 percent of the tree’s food source as well as opening it up to pest infestations that attack it in it’s weakened state. 

Clearance between the roof and the limbs is important however to allow airflow and light and prevent the build-up of moss and mildew. So some pruning is definitely needed.

In a nutshell, trees with simple and correct maintenance, but not overmaintenance, can offer protection and provide our homes with beauty, character and, with a good amount of love, survive the duration of time.

“…Give me a home among the gumtrees

With lots of plumtrees

  A sheep or two, a k-kangaroo

  A clothesline out the back

  Verandah out the front

  And on old rocking chair…”  

John Williamson