Proper Pruning Techniques

December 30, 2020 · 2 minute read
Proper Pruning Techniques

I didn’t realize just how much I loved my job until my neighbor’s pointed it out to me recently. After a long week of work, I still love coming home to work on my own trees, the trees in the neighborhood and teaching my friends about proper pruning techniques. 

Pruning, like any other skill set, requires knowledge and proper execution to ensure success. Improper pruning often causes much more harm than if you simply let nature take its course. Here is one of the most helpful and important techniques I use when conducting some of the lighter pruning in the yard.

The Shigo 3-Step Method of Tree Pruning

Pioneered by Dr. Alex Shigo, the three-step pruning method helps avoid stem or bark damage through tearing or peeling and allows the tree to properly seal the wound, which protects the tree from insects and disease.

Cut 1:  Made on the underside of the branch, typically 12” +/- out from the primary stem or trunk. In most cases, for smaller trees, the cut will be about ½” to 1½” deep without exceeding ⅓ of the diameter of the branch being removed. This will prevent the branch from tearing the tissue when the branch falls.

Cut 2:  The second cut should be outside the first cut by 1” to 2”. You should cut all the way through the branch, which will remove the weight necessary to make the final proper finishing cut. The bottom cut stops the tissue from tearing, as mentioned above. 

Cut 3:  The final finishing cut should be made just outside the upper branch bark ridge and down just outside the branch collar. At this point, callus tissue will begin to form and will eventually seal off the wound. It is not necessary to apply any topical paint, tar, etc.

The picture below shows the dreaded “flush cut” and the “stub”, where the wound will not recover properly… And you will be judged! 🙂 

Evidence of flush cuts.

With the flush cut example, the tree no longer has the ability to produce the callus tissue to seal off the wound. In the case of the stub, it is clearly producing callus tissue, however is unable to seal off the wound. In either situation, the tree is left vulnerable to pests and/or disease…and once again, you will be judged! 🙂

I hope you will find this as helpful as I have and remember: safety first.  I especially agree with Mike Mather’s advice from a recent article: When in doubt, skip the chainsaw!

Giving Thanks for Trail Trees and Other Native Contributions

November 30, 2020 · 1 minute read
Giving Thanks for Trail Trees and Other Native Contributions

As I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving, I realize that 2020 has been a challenging year in so many ways. I think about America’s history and the history of our first Thanksgiving almost 400 years ago, and I imagine all the things, good and bad, that have brought us all here, together, at this moment. I can’t help but feel incredibly grateful and thankful for everything we have to share with one another. 

As an arborist, my mind also naturally wanders to trees. I can’t help but think about some of the interesting and helpful things the Native Amercians have shared with us related to trees. My favorite: trail trees.

While we walk through our beautiful parks, we now have all kinds of signage to guide us in the right direction!

Hundreds of years ago, however, Native Americans used trees as trail markers – bending them into distinct shapes at a young age to grow into mature and distinct navigational markers.

Even experts have a difficult time determining the difference between a trail tree and a tree that has sustained damage through a naturally occurring event like the one pictured below. Any guesses on which park you may have seen this in Richmond?

Whether a true Native American trail tree or a very distinct tree caused by a naturally occurring event, these markers can often guide us along our path.  

It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. Maybe we can think about all the events of 2020, large and small, as markers we can use to learn, grow and come together on our path in life. 

Again, I feel grateful and I am thankful for my family, my TrueTimber family and my extended TrueTimber family (You, the reader).  My best to you and yours – Happy (Belated) Thanksgiving!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

October 28, 2020 · 2 minute read
Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Well, not really, but it’s finally getting cooler. My favorite time of year — autumn!

Our family just enjoyed our first fire together this season — the sound, the subtle aroma, and perfect temperature from the fireplace made for the perfect evening for our family in the living room.

Shortly before our wonderful evening at home, we conversed with our neighbors as they were having an outdoor gathering with their family around their campfire. ‘Tis the season.

Whether inside or outside, there are many safe ways to enjoy the warmth and ambiance of a fire with your family and friends. In the event you enjoy this as much as we do, here are a few guidelines I’ve found helpful over the years:

Firewood Selection

Quantity:  A full cord is 4’ high x 4’ wide x 8’ long stacked. That means a “pickup load” will be closer to a half cord than a full one. You may also run into the terms “face cord” or “rick cord.” These both refer to a stack of wood that is 4′ high by 8′ long and roughly 16 inches wide because firewood pieces that are 4′ long don’t fit in many fireplaces.

Seasoning:  Seasoning generally refers to moisture content. Seasoned wood will burn at a higher BTU rate, burn cleaner, and produce less creosote and smoke. It is, therefore, safer and more environmentally friendly. It’s always a good idea to give your firewood a full Virginia summer (or more) to season.

Species:  In Virginia, we are blessed with an abundance of hardwood trees, so these are what I tend to use, almost exclusively. Surprisingly, dogwood has an incredible BTU rate. So do many fruit trees. However, the most common in our area to be utilized on a larger scale are oak and hickory. Maple and locust are useful as well. While softwoods, such as poplar, for example, can be used, I typically only use this to get the fire started as it burns very quickly. Click here for a chart on which trees produce the most BTUs when turned into firewood.

Mentioned above are guidelines I like to keep in mind when splitting my own or purchasing firewood. If you’d like to keep some of the wood from a Truetimber project, please let us know. Otherwise, check out Riverside Firewood for split firewood from our sister company, Riverside Outfitters. Or, you want to split your own, go to Truetimber Backyard.

Root of the Matter

September 16, 2020 · 1 minute read
Root of the Matter

Responsible for anchorage of the tree, absorption, conduction, and storage of water and minerals, roots are often a direct reflection of a tree’s canopy. Their health greatly impacts canopy health.

Recently I’ve fielded a lot of questions regarding tree roots, so I thought I’d cover a few frequently asked ones here:

Can tree roots damage the foundation of my home?

Yes and No. Roots are typically going to follow the path of least resistance and cause no harm to a well-maintained foundation (Notice in the picture above how the roots grew along the wall, not through – I’ve seen many large roots grow along house foundations with no issues whatsoever). On the other hand, if a foundation is not maintained, tree roots can penetrate and expand existing cracks, causing further damage to foundations.

What should I do with exposed roots?

Covering with 2-4 inches (Note: More is not better – do not exceed 4 inches) of organic mulch can be highly beneficial. This offers the roots insulation from temperature extremes and helps with water distribution and erosion. Additionally, this prevents mechanical damage from lawnmowers and string trimmers. However, avoid piling mulch too high on the trunk as this can cause decay and rot.

Will construction (i.e. building a patio, driveway, sidewalk, etc.) affect our trees?

If the construction process, including machinery access, is within the dripline of the tree(s), it is best to consult an arborist to discuss specifics and set up a Tree Protection Zone prior to construction, if necessary. Early prevention is the best method when it comes to construction processes.

While out of sight most of the time, it’s crucial to keep the roots top of mind all the time!

Autumn is Ideal for Pruning

August 13, 2020 · 1 minute read
Autumn is Ideal for Pruning

But fall is coming first, and this can be a great time to prune trees! While most pruning can be effectively done year-round, there are certain advantages to scheduling your tree work during late fall to early spring; including but not limited to the following:

Enhanced visibility – Spring and summer are great for inspecting the canopy, but fall and winter are ideal for inspecting the structure of a tree. The ability to see the entire structure and branch framework of the tree allows the arborist to better identify potential issues that may be hidden by foliage as well as selectively remove limbs for long-term growth, form, and health of the tree.

Reduced stress – Pruning during the dormant season can limit exposure to insects, pests and diseases, especially important with some more susceptible species such as elms (Dutch elm disease). Additionally, while dead and damaged branches can be removed anytime, I prefer to reserve larger live limb prunings for the dormant season as the tree has the best chance of recovery.

Reduced yard impact – We always strive to preserve your property at any time of year, but in the fall your beautiful seasonal plants may no longer be present. In the winter months, the ground tends to be much harder. Fall pruning can be especially helpful for planned larger and live removals.

Increased access and/or reduced hazards – In some cases, especially in natural areas, the arborist may have increased access through hardened ground conditions. And even more often, the fall is a time when we can better mitigate the risks associated with hazards such as bees/hornets, poisonous insects/plants, etc. in natural areas.

Species-specific pruning – With some of your ornamental trees, such as crepe myrtles, it may be best to hold off until late winter (i.e. February) for more significant pruning.

Whatever your need, our TrueTimber family looks forward to answering your questions and serving you!

The World Beneath the Trees

July 8, 2020 · 1 minute read
The World Beneath the Trees

I hope all of our Truetimber friends and family had a wonderful 4th of July weekend! My family celebrated at a safe distance outdoors and finally had the opportunity to introduce our daughter to her relatives! During the 1,502.80-mile (yes, the 0.80 mile counts when you’re traveling w/ a 5-month old) road trip, we came across a fascinating podcast that I wanted to share with you. It’s called From Tree to Shining Tree by Radiolab. Give it a listen if you get the chance, but here were some of my takeaways:

An experiment was conducted where different trees were injected with radioactive gas and they tracked the isotopes. Through extensive research they found the following:

  • Trees have a highly complex communication network
  • The bigger the tree the more complex. One of the trees was connected to 47 other trees!
  • Trees maintain mutually beneficial relationships with fungi. Trees give fungi sugar and the fungi give trees minerals.
  • Without the fungi, the trees would only grow to the height of a tulip!
  • Depending on the ecosystem, trees will give 20-80% of its sugars to the fungi!
  • Forests act like one big organism.
  • Trees send danger signals to other trees. i.e. If a tree is being attacked by insects, it will warn neighboring trees so they can start producing chemicals that taste bad so the insects won’t eat them.
  • When a tree dies, it sends carbon to other trees in its network!

After learning of this incredible communication between the trees, it reminded me of a definition of health that I think works for both trees and humans: “Health is the intensity of how one interacts with its environment.” I can say I feel very healthy as I love interacting with my family, my TrueTimber family, and my extended TrueTimber family (you – the client)!

The Giving Trees: Repurposing Your Removal

June 8, 2020 · 1 minute read
The Giving Trees: Repurposing Your Removal

I absolutely love trees, and if you’re reading this article, chances are, so do you! Beyond the virtually limitless gifts that trees provide us, I’ve always appreciated how they impact all of the five senses. The beautiful imagery, the peaceful rustling of leaves, the fragrance in the spring, the texture of different species against your hands, and the taste — yes, the taste can be very helpful in identifying some species!

As tree lovers at Truetimber, we typically reserve our recommendation for removal as a last resort. We recognize that not only can a tree add value to your property, but it may hold a sentimental value for you and your family. It may feel like a friend.

Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, reminds me of the infinite love my mother gave me and that my wife gives our daughter. It also makes me think about the endless resourcefulness a tree has during and after its life.

Maybe you want to remember a tree dearly or simply repurpose one (or more) for something useful. If so, read on. I’ve got some creative and fun ideas!

Here’s a garden I did at my place – all harvested from dead cedars in the woods.

Cedar is super durable.

Tree Stump is Transformed into Community Library - Good News Shared
Haven’t tried this one yet, but thought it was a really cool idea for a community library!

Tree Trunk Bench
Some potential seating – from small to large.
Fire Pit w/tree stump seats (With images) | Fire pit seating, Fire ...
Tree Trunk Bench | Natural Amenities | A E Evans |

11 Pictures of Crazy Cool Uses for Tree Stumps | Hometalk
Potential planters.
Incredibly beautiful DIY flowerbed ideas from logs - original ...

Or simply use for wildlife habitat and a hammock!  I have a client that is doing precisely that, but no pictures yet! 

Hope you enjoyed these ideas – I would love to hear yours! 

Now’s the Time to Plant a Tree. Here’s How.

May 6, 2020 · 2 minute read
Now’s the Time to Plant a Tree. Here’s How.

I’ve long loved trees. The sensation of climbing is what attracted me to them in my youth. Then, as I spent more time among them, I began to appreciate the touch, smell, feel, sound and views. 

These beautiful trees provide so much more than oxygen. Studies prove that they offer increased property values, energy efficiency (for a shaded home) and increased health benefits, both physiologically and psychologically. Crime rates tend to be lower in areas with trees, and patients heal faster when they have a view of trees. What a gift!

For all the above reasons, why not plant a tree? And now’s a great time. The key to a healthy, happy, and low maintenance tree starts with selection: “Right tree, right place”.

  • Match the tree with the site:  Each species is going to require different requirements for light, water, soil conditions and growing space.
  • Selecting trees at the nursery: It is important to begin with a healthy plant and consider root flare, root system, branch structure and overall condition of the plant.

Following the selection and placement process, it’s time to dig the hole.

  • First and foremost, call Miss Utilities to mark the utilities prior to digging.
  • Next, measure from the root flare, after you have exposed it, to the bottom of the root flare. This is the depth you are looking for. If you dig too deep and backfill, the soil will settle resulting in a tree that is planted too deep. This can result in the ultimate failure of the tree.
  • Once you’ve found your depth, you’ll want to dig the hole out about 2-3x the diameter of the rootball.
  • After setting the tree in the hole, you can now backfill and thoroughly soak with water. If the tree is on a slope, it’s good practice to make a small pile of soil just on the outside of the hole to keep the water where it needs to be.

Proper Pruning for future health of tree.

  • Refrain from pruning, initially, as these branches will help the tree grow. It is not good practice to introduce any stress to a newly planted tree, and pruning can be stressful.
  • After approximately two years, it is beneficial to provide a tree with young tree pruning, which will guide its growth structure.  When done well, this will enhance the health of the tree while reducing the future maintenance of the tree as well.

Please feel free to reach out to us for any questions. We love our trees just like you do!

Ah, Spring, the Best Time to Assess Tree Health

April 1, 2020 · 1 minute read
Ah, Spring, the Best Time to Assess Tree Health

As a climber, spring is absolutely my favorite time of year to climb and care for trees. While it’s true the temperature and weather conditions are quite pleasant, this isn’t the reason it’s my favorite time to care for trees. The conditions are simply ideal to properly inspect tree health — the emerging buds and leaves offer a great indicator of health, yet we are still able to see the entire structure of the tree before the full summer canopy has a chance to hide any imperfections, such as deadwood or other potential hazards.

Emerging buds and leaves offer a great indicator of tree health.

Prior to working on or ascending any tree, I conduct a 360-degree assessment of the tree’s overall health and structure. You can do this at home as well by conducting your own analysis. The process varies, however, I typically start from the ground up and include the following:

Root System

  • Cracks in soil or raised soil around base?
    • Possible risk of uprooting.
  • Mushrooms and/or fungus in the area surrounding the tree?
    • Possible sign of root rot and decay.


  • Change in degree of lean?
    • Possible risk of uprooting.
  • Mushrooms and/or fungus on trunk?
    • Possible sign of trunk rot and decay.
  • Structural flaws?
    • Cavities, hollows, lightning strikes and other decay should be evaluated thoroughly as they vary greatly among species and severity of flaw. 


  • Inspect, buds, leaves and appearance of bark to determine whether the branch is healthy, declining or dead.
  • Check for cracked/ split, broken and hanging branches.


  • Are last year’s leaves still hanging on?
    • This can vary by species, but is often an indicator of a dead limb and/or tree.

Among other practices, utilizing these assessment guidelines has helped me climb and conduct tree work safely. However, the risk obviously varies greatly based on species, severity and other environmental factors. In some cases, a tree can continue to survive with many of these factors. In other cases, it takes just one to cause failure.

Please reach out to us should you have any questions! We love our trees and we love our community of tree lovers!