What’s in a Lichen?

August 26, 2020 · 1 minute read
What’s in a Lichen?

Take a close look at the trunk and branches on a tree in your yard. There is likely something growing on it. It’s easy to assume that this thing must not be good. If something is growing on my tree, it must be harming it, right?

I frequently get asked about the blue-green flackery stuff growing on trees. What is it? What should be done?

This “stuff” is usually lichen. It’s two organisms that live together. The flaky material is a fungus. It establishes itself on tree bark, absorbs water when available, and provides a home for algae. The color comes from algae (similar to the algae found in warm standing water). The algae gathers sunlight and provides food for the fungus. This is a symbiotic relationship: The algae and the fungus rely on each other to live. The tree is just a place for lichen to grow. It does not harm, or benefit the tree.

Lichens can be really cool looking and don’t harm trees.

Lichen can give you clues about its environment. They don’t grow well in high ozone environments and don’t not like acid precipitation. So, their presence is a positive indicator of air quality. Lichen can increase in growth if there is an increase in filtered light. An increase in lichen can give a clue that a tree is thinning and has other issues. 

If you don’t like the look of lichen, you can get rid of it; though it is not recommended. Remember, lichen is neither harmful nor beneficial to the tree.  A copper-based fungicide can kill it, but this may be harmful to other fungi, some of which are beneficial to the tree. It would likely be better to leave it alone, take a close look at this strange living thing, and see it as an interesting addition to your landscape. 

Forecast: Hot and Dry

July 22, 2020 · 1 minute read
Forecast: Hot and Dry

It has turned hot and dry. It can be hard to be outside. The heat of summer can be a little hard on Urban Forest Dwellers. It can also be a challenge for our trees. 

Some of our trees cope with hot dry summers by dropping some of their leaves.  If you have tulip poplars, river birch, or locust trees in your yard you have probably noticed this. One mature tree can transpire tens of thousands of gallons a year through their leaves. When a tulip poplar is making leaves in the spring, there is a lot of soil moisture, and the tree puts a lot of leaves out to use that water. Then, when a hot, dry period arrives, one way to conserve water is to lose some of those leaves.

Locust trees are among those that drop leaves in the summer to conserve water.

Should you do anything about this? Most trees can go through a significant amount of drought stress and be fine. However, if your tree has other stresses, the dry heat of summer can be fatal. If you are concerned there are two fairly easy things you can do to help.

You can water a mature tree. You are probably not going to water the tree enough to keep it at full photosynthesis (this would be thousands of gallons of water), but you can water it enough to lower its stress.  If you want to water your tree, use a soaker hose under the drip line of the tree. Leave it on for a few hours once every week or two. Grass does well with frequent short watering. Trees like occasional deep soakings.

Another thing you can do is give up a little bit of your grass for wood chips or mulch. Grass and trees compete for water and nutrients in the soil. Mulching takes away some of the competition. Long term mulching will also improve the soils water holding capacity.

Go Climb a Tree!

June 24, 2020 · 2 minute read
Go Climb a Tree!

Maybe it’s in your backyard, or on a favorite hike; you come across a tree that looks climbable. It’s got a leaning trunk or low branches that show an opportunity to enter the canopy. You’re tempted to climb but show restraint. “I’d love to climb that tree. I shouldn’t climb it though, should I?”

Yes. You should.

My mother may not agree with this advice. I remember the warning that I got from her when I was young. The neighbor boy was climbing a tree. He grabbed a dead branch. It snapped. He fell and broke his arm. Climbing trees is dangerous. But I couldn’t resist. The cottonwood in the backyard called to me. It had a low branch that I could jump, grab onto and hang from. After several struggles and failures, I figured out how to use that branch to enter the canopy and climb as high as I dared. The more times I climbed it, the higher I traveled. I can still remember the first time I got high enough in that tree to feel it really move with the wind. At first, that was unnerving, then it was exhilarating, after that, it became a peaceful connection. I was feeling the way another living thing was responding to the forces and strains that it’s environment placed on it.

Kids love to climb the red mulberry at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

This is not rope and saddle climbing. If you aren’t trained, this is not an invitation to use sharp objects in trees. This is putting your hands on trunk and limbs, feeling the texture of the bark, and having your feet leave the earth, if only a few feet off the ground. Take your time. If that voice in your head tells you that is high enough; stop. If you can find a place to sit in the tree, take a few moments to enjoy your new perspective. Even being a few feet off of the ground in a tree can give you a connection with it. Take the time to enjoy it. Maybe next time you can venture a little higher, or maybe not.

I am still thankful that all those years ago my mother gave me firm warnings “maybe you shouldn’t” without telling me to come down out of the tree. I still have to respectfully disagree with her. Now turn off your computer, set down your phone, and get in that tree!

You Sure Have a Lot of Gall

May 13, 2020 · 1 minute read
You Sure Have a Lot of Gall

Some of us are spending a little — or maybe a lot — more time in our yards as we are stuck at home these days. If you’re paying more attention to your trees, you may be alarmed to find strange growths on the stems and leaves. Sometimes those growths are what’s called “galls.”

It can be hard to know what is an actual health problem for your tree and what is “just one of those things.” Fortunately, galls almost always fall into the “just one of those things” category. Galls can look alarming. They definitely look abnormal. The good news is their impact tends to be pretty minimal. Think of them as you would benign tumors or warts in animals.

An “oak apple” or oak gall.

Many galls are caused by insects. Some insects can play with plant chemistry, add a little growth hormone and force the plant to grow a home for their young.  The insect inserts its eggs, and the plant will grow shelter and food for their young as they grow. It can be difficult to treat to prevent galls, and the vast majority of the time you really don’t need to. Once you get past the “ick factor,” they can be pretty cool.

Galls are rarely something to be concerned about. The best advice I can give for galls is to keep an eye out for them, take a photo, and share it with us. We would love to see what you can find for us. Click here to shoot us an email!

The wool sower gall is found in white oaks and is caused by a tiny, non-problematic wasp.

Don’t Fear Leaves of Three

April 8, 2020 · 1 minute read
Don’t Fear Leaves of Three

Spring is a great time to get in your yard to do some work, or out in the woods to explore. Unfortunately, spring projects and adventures can bring you into contact with poison ivy.

Poison ivy when it first leafs out in spring.

If you happen to find yourself in a patch of poison ivy, don’t panic. You can get through it itch-free. Urushiol is the poison ivy sap that will cause the itch. It’s sticky and oily like axle grease. If you can thoroughly wash axle grease off your skin, you can do the same with poison ivy.

If you can clean grease off your skin, you can scrub poison ivy sap, too.

Washing with soap and water but no scrubbing will leave oils behind. If you leave a little behind, you can still expect an itchy rash.

Use a washcloth, paper towels, or old rags and scrub with plenty of soap and water. Any soap will work on poison ivy sap. You just need to be thorough, and scrub with paper towels or a cloth. 

Just soap and water is not enough to get the urushiol off your skin.

It can be tricky removing poison ivy sap, because you can’t see or feel the oil. If you get into poison ivy, just pretend that you have a lot of axle grease on your skin that you need to wash off.  Take a little extra time and overdo it if you have to. 

Now get outside and enjoy spring with a lot less itching!

Release a Tree: The War Against English Ivy

March 11, 2020 · 1 minute read
Release a Tree: The War Against English Ivy

Winter is almost over, but before it goes away, you should take the opportunity to release a tree from English Ivy. It’s best done in the winter when stinging insects and spiders are dormant and poison ivy doesn’t have leaves.

English ivy is an invasive species that can add a lot of weight, windload and competition to a tree. Ivy covers the trunk and branches and can hide potential problems in the tree.

Now you know what English ivy looks like.

Don’t try to remove the vines.  Just cut out a section.  If the vines are completely severed, they can usually be pulled out of the tree later after dying and drying out.

Watch out for poison ivy.  Look for vines that have horizontal branches sticking out, or extra hairy vines. Poison ivy vines can be hidden amongst the English ivy vines. Poison ivy vines still have sap in the winter and give you an unpleasant surprise.

English ivy can envelop a tree, causing myriad problems.

There can be great satisfaction in cutting vines, then watching the English ivy decline in the spring while watching a tree flourish.

Know when to call a professional.  It can be challenging to cut larger or extremely dense vines without damaging the tree. If you have a big ivy project, consider getting some help. Your trees will thank you.

Root Flair: Where Trees Meet the Earth

February 25, 2020 · 1 minute read
Root Flair: Where Trees Meet the Earth

When an arborist wants to check the health and stability of a tree, one of the first things they may look for is a good root flair. This feature where the tree and earth meet should flair out as the trunk meets the ground. 

Healthy, exposed root flair.

Problems can arise when this feature is not seen.  If you see the trunk of the tree enter the ground like a fence post, this can be problematic.  Buried root flairs can promote decay in the root flair and the roots, which can lead to the tree falling. 

Buried root collar.

Buried root flairs can also lead to roots growing around the trunk, which means the tree can eventually choke itself.

The mulch volcano buries the root flair and invites problems for the tree.

If you don’t see a root flair, we may be able to help.  We can use an air excavation technique that will have minimal impact to the tree to re-establish a root flair.  We can prune any roots that have a potential to harm the tree as it grows. 

Truetimber arborist Peter Girardi excavates a buried root collar.

Some trees do have more pronounced root flairs than others.  If you are concerned about the root flair on your tree, feel free to give us a call for a free arborist’s visit.