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Arborist Insights

ISA certified arborist as landscape judge

By | Arborist Insights, Education, Trees | No Comments

Proper tree planting is extremely important so when I got a chance to judge a tree planting and staking practical station, I jumped at it.

The landscape industry certified practical tests run twice a year, in June and October but there will be major changes from 2020. Stay tuned.

Planting and staking

Incredibly, I had to do this section three times. My ISA certified arborist status didn’t help me because I failed to follow the specifications. And while I can’t comment in detail on any of my seven candidates, I can say that a few of them didn’t follow the written specifications.

The second time I failed this station was because I totally forgot to put on a headset during stake pounding. Safety is also super important. If you fail to use the provided personal protection equipment, you will most likely get a few deductions.

 

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My historic third attempt, finally done correctly, and giving me the prized Landscape Industry Certified technician status.

 

Planting depth

As a judge, I can’t give away the station’s secrets but let’s just say that planting the test specimen too deep is a major problem. And rightly so because landscape trees planted too deep suffer. They suffer because their roots can’t get enough oxygen. Then, when they decline and die we have to replace them which is costly. Let’s do it right the first time.

Mulch

This is another serious issue. My blog post from September 10, 2019, covered the mulch volcano epidemic. Luckily, my candidates have clear specifications to follow. The key is that there must be a few inches of soil clear between the tree trunk and the mulch. This eliminates any chance of mulch volcanoes.

And if you haven’t read my September 10, 2019 blog then go back and review the problems associated with tree mulch volcanoes.

Staking

Some newly planted trees must be stakes; and staked correctly. Once you follow the specifications, all you have to know is that the stakes shouldn’t stay on for more than one season.

 

Conclusion

Not all of the candidates I judged passed but I had a great time judging the tree planting and staking stations. I had a manual to follow and the other veteran judges helped me.

Incorrectly planted landscape trees suffer, decline and die. Then we lose their free ecosystem services at a time when more trees are required to fight Global Warming.

Easy to identify landscape trees

By | Arborist Insights | No Comments

There are many beautiful trees in our West Coast landscapes and some are really easy to identify. I thought it might be fun to compile a list of landscape trees that you can easily identify. Perhaps it will inspire you to learn more about them and go on to learn about harder to identify trees.

 

Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

 

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This is our West Coast native and it’s easy to identify because its large bracts protrude from its cones. When you see these bracts you know it’s a Doug.

Bonus: read my blog post about a 1,000-year-old Douglas fir discovered on Vancouver Island. Read the book. It’s excellent! Let’s protect the last remaining stands of old growth in BC.

 

Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)

 

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The specific epithet “betulus” is a hint; the leaves look birch-like. What makes this tree awesome is the seed partially covered by bracts. You can’t miss Carpinus betulus when you see the bracts. These trees look great on boulevards.

 

Littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata)

 

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Can you guess what the specific epithet “cordata” means? It means heart-shaped leaves. And again we get an awesome bract with several drupes protruding from it. When you see this set-up, heart-shaped leaf, bract and drupes, it’s Tilia cordata.

I recently observed mites on the leaves of Tilia cordata. You can prune off the affected branches but overall the tree should be fine. It’s just a freaky look.

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Ghost tree (Davidia involucrata)

 

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I shot this picture at a daycare looking up into the tree the way the kids do. I wonder if they’re afraid of the ghosts in the trees? I think the landscape architect had some fun with the design of this daycare.

The specific epithet “involucrata” hints at involucre, a grouping of bracts that partially covers a seed. This is easily in the top 5 of my most loved trees. I still can’t believe this tree exists. I love it.

If you see a smaller tree full of ghosts, you know it’s Davidia involucrata. You get bonus points if you remember what involucre refers to.

 

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)

 

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Cornus is the dogwood family. Cornus mas provides multi-season interest with flowers and then edible cherries. I’ve seen people collecting the cherries in public parks and rushing off to make jam at home. I’ve never tried it.

When the cherries start dropping some people start panicking, asking for pruning and tree replacements like lunatics. This plant can a shrub or a small tree. When you see a shrubby tree with red cherries you know it’s Cornus mas.

 

There you are, five easy to identify landscape trees for you to enjoy. Practice their names and see if you can identify them in your local landscapes.

How ISA certified arborists make extra cash

By | Arborist Insights, Education | No Comments

I’ve always argued that all landscape professionals should be ISA certified arborists. It allows them to stay busy in winter with tree pruning and it also introduces more variety to their work days. They can also charge arborist rates which are higher than landscape rates.

And the best part? Extra income. Allow me to illustrate with one of my recent experiences. After reading this blog post, you might be tempted to get ISA certified. If that’s the case, contact me and I’ll help you prepare.

Tree babysitter

A friend referred me to a tank removal company. It turns out that municipalities require ISA certified arborists to be on site during excavations where trees are present. In this case there was only one tree which could potentially suffer damage, a giant Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

With DBH at 24 inches, the critical root zone extends 3.6 m away from the trunk. In this case, 3.6 m reached to the edge of a cement car port. The tank was buried under the car port but the mini-excavator worked on the lawn side, at drip-line.

Excavation Amigo

It was almost surreal getting paid to watch two young Mexicans jackhammer cement. The excavator did the rest. After a few hours the young dudes wondered what I was doing there, standing with a hard hat on, watching. Once I explained I was there to make sure nothing happened to the tree behind them, they wanted my job. Of course they did. It was a good gig with a good mission.

Other than watching the excavation, I also had to pick up the city permits in person and write two letters. The first letter lets the city know that a great ISA certified arborist will be on site to monitor the tree; and the final report shows that, in my professional opinion, there was zero impact on the tree.

 

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The tank awaiting excavation. No structural roots were encountered at dripline.

 

Let’s recap: The critical root zone (3.6m from the trunk based on DBH of 24″) was never touched by the workers or machines. Remember, soil compaction silently kills trees; the first pass with an excavator does the most damage. This was news to the company owner.

When you compact a tree’s critical root zone you make it hard for fine surficial roots to collect water and nutrients. It might take several years for the tree to start declining.

Since all of the excavation took place at the edge of the dripline there was no damage. The tree obviously did well with the cement car port in place for many years. Any compaction would be on the lawn beyond the dripline.

I was extremely happy with my first tree babysitting gig. It was a good experience, both professionally and financially. And I’m confident the Douglas fir will easily outlive me.

Get ISA certified and reap the benefits!!

 

Your street trees need water too

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

I normally ignore ads in local newspapers but my eye caught a nice ad from City of Surrey. It’s reminding us that street trees need water just like our own trees and gardens. Especially trees under five metres tall. Older more established trees can handle a few weeks of dry weather because they have well-established roots.

How to water street trees

I like to use a standard garden hose without a nozzle and slow-soak the trees along the drip-line. Drip line means the ground directly below the tip of the furthest reaching branches. I see many people spray their trees and shrubs with the same sprays used for flowers.

Yes, it takes more time but slow-soaking trees is the best way to water them.

City recommendations

This is what the City of Surrey recommends:

  1. use a hose equipped with an automatic shut-off nozzle
  2. water twice per week for 15 minutes with a steady stream of water (about 20L)
  3. water at the drip-line

The City of Surrey will also provide you with watering bags if you have young trees on your street.

Plant stress

Water stressed trees can drop their leaves prematurely and be more susceptible to pests and diseases. Recently I had residents point out problems with their plants and all of them were clearly water stressed. It starts with adequate watering. Pests appear when the plants are weak and stressed.

 

How to pull off your first bare root tree planting

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

Bare root tree planting is recommended by my mentor Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott but in strata maintenance we rarely have time for it. There is often pressure to dig holes and plug the trees in.

I got my first taste of bare root tree planting when I worked at a municipal parks department in the fall of 2014. And I’ve been waiting for a chance to do it again solo. Patiently.

Lucky Vas

Then I got lucky this past October when a strata owner approached me about transplanting her Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). The poor tree had some problems. It had dead wood in the top leader and the roots had penetrated the lawn from the bottom of the pot. The lucky part was that the maple was planted in fluffy potting mix media, not in decent soil. So when I finally liberated the tree from its pot, the potting mix stayed in the pot and I was left holding a bare root tree! Brilliant!

 

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Before: roots penetrated the lawn and the tree sat in fluffy potting media.

 

Why bare root?

So what’s the advantage of bare root planting? First, the roots can be examined, pruned and rearranged. They should look like spokes on a wheel, not circling the way they do in pots. Second, nothing else is added to the planting hole. No burlap, strings or wires; and no clay bombs.

 

Lawn home

The new tree location was in the lawn which isn’t ideal because lawn grasses compete with trees for water and nutrients. I’m sure the new tree well will help channel water down to the root zone.

I did some minor root pruning on the tree and I forced the fibrous roots to stick out like spokes on a wheel.

 

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The ideal root arrangement looks like spokes on a wheel.

 

 

Stability

 

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Mudding in.

 

 

I always wondered how bare root planted trees stay upright in the hole without staking. Some large trees do require staking; just don’t forget to remove the stakes after one year.

The procedure is called ‘mud-in‘. You take the parent soil material and you add some to the hole. Then you water it in to create mud. Wait for a bit and repeat the same steps, until you reach the root flare. Then we stop because the root flare has to stay above the soil.

I gently tested my maple and it felt solid. I watered the tree again with a slow soak and instructed the owner to do the same going forward. Now we wait and see if the tree lives. It should be happier in the soil.

 

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All done! Hopefully the maple feels happier in its new home.

One major glitch with ISA’s TRAQ qualification

By | Arborist Insights, Education | No Comments

One of the four lectures listed in the Urban Forester’s Symposium didn’t really excite me. Effective report writing sounded too soft. I prefer hard, technical lectures. But effective writing is very important. I should know. I’m trying to grow this blog and squeeze money from clients on other blogs.

Occasionally, I also have to write tree-related correspondence and construction sign-off letters.

 

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The glitch

TRAQ (Tree Risk Assessment Qualification) is ISA‘s new qualification and my lecturer, Dr. Julian Dunster, is heavily involved in the training of new candidates in the Pacific Northwest. But there is a glitch: as new TRAQ qualified arborists start writing reports, clients complain that the reports they generate are poor. So you may be able to assess the condition of my tree at home but your report to my municipality may not be understood. Or flat out rejected.

I thought it was almost comical but effective writing is a skill. You have to practice it and develop it. You can start by taking Dr. Dunster’s January course. Keep on writing and get better.

 

Seminar notes

 

Below are some key ideas from my notes.

1. There is no such thing as a private report. Assume that your writing will be made public. So be careful.

2. Think clearly-write clearly.

3. Know your audience and assume they know nothing.

4. Start at the beginning: what’s the assignment? Tree inventory, risk assessment or tree removal?

5. What’s the deliverable? Memo, email or a detailed report?

6. What’s the purpose of the report? Are you simply recording events and facts or are you informing people of your opinion?

7. Who is the client and what’s her educational level? Homeowner will differ from an engineer.

8. Don’t waffle: say what you mean!

9. Unsure about your grammar? Read it out loud. If it sounds funny, it probably is. Also, eliminate obvious typos.

10. Your report should contain evidence and justify your opinion. Simply saying that the homeowner’s tree is declining doesn’t help.

11. What’s your style? Passive or active? WordPress likes it when I use active voice but writing passively on a technical report might be fine. Just don’t mix the two styles. “It was observed….” vs. “I observed….”.

12. Keep your sentences sharp, short and to the point.

13. Remember, your reader needs information from you to make a decision.

14. Expect your reports to be in pdf format and follow logical steps: Introduction, Body, Wrap-up. Include pictures. Data can go in the appendix.

15. If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough. You must be credible.

16. Punctuation is important!

17. Cut out unnecessary stuff and don’t rush- come back to your report later.

Conclusion

  1. Good reports take time
  2. It’s hard work
  3. Be professional
  4. Mistakes happen

 

 

Why Persian ironwood rocks!

By | Arborist Insights, Species, Trees | No Comments

I discovered the Persian ironwood tree (Parrotia persica) in 2014 while working for municipal gardener Tracey Mallinson. We had many of these trees at the Poirier complex in Coquitlam, BC. But I didn’t expect this tree species to rock the Urban Foresters Symposium. It was mentioned in two lectures and for good reason. It also appeared in the plant ID contest as one of the 25 specimens.

 

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Bullet proof

 

In lecture one on urban street and landscape trees, the lecturer referred to Parrotia persica as bullet-proof. Then he introduced us to three new Parrotia persica cultivars (cv.).

Parrotia persica cv. ‘Ruby Vase’ has a more compact crown while P. persica ‘Vanessa’ has a narrow crown habit. The third cultivar is the most interesting. Called P. persica cv. ‘Persian spire’, it’s a slow-growing non-aggressive street tree or it can be used as a hedge plant. The leaves have an awesome purple boarder.

 

Lecture two

Lecture two covered moisture stress in the landscape. While the lecturer didn’t want to recommend specific species he did cover three tree species he liked. One of them was Parrotia persica, our new bullet-proof friend.

It can handle drier conditions because it comes from the high deserts of Iran. Thus the specific epithet “persica”. It has thick, somewhat hairy leaves. And it tolerates drought and alkaline soil conditions. It doesn’t suffer from any diseases and it has beautiful fall colours.

Cons

Parrotia persica is a slow grower; and the specimens I know from my landscapes tend to have irregular crowns because once in a while a branch pushes out of the crown. But again, it depends on who is looking. Personally, I have no trouble with some idiosyncrasies. Other people freak out when the crown isn’t perfectly round.

I don’t recall any problems with this tree species on any of our strata sites. So bullet-proof it is.

 

Perottia persica

 

Conclusion

If you’re considering what tree species to plant as our climate goes drier, the bullet-proof Parrotia persica is a great choice. You can try any of the three cultivars mentioned above; and you should expect decent fall colour.

 

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When you have to top natives for size control

By | Arborist Insights, landscape maintenance, Trees | No Comments

I hate topping trees and so does the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA); they even publish pamphlets detailing why the practice of tree topping is bad. This blog post, however, shows two cases where topping was somewhat justified and forced.

It was forced because a) the strata client insisted that it be done and they pay the maintenance fees so all you can do is attempt to educate them and, b) the natives in question threatened to overwhelm the spaces they occupy.

 

Salix discolor

 

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Before height reduction, Salix discolor. Note its landscape use close to woodland in the background.

 

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This is our native willow and it’s technically a shrub. In this setting it’s used as woodland margin shrub. But there is one problem. It reaches 7m heights quickly and the owners don’t want to see it from their upstairs patio, preferring instead to look at the tall native Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii).

So I went in with an extendable chain saw, pole pruners, a ladder and my best friend, a Japanese hand saw. Remember, most tree work can be done with a good hand saw.

The idea was to bring the willow height down and it went fairly well although I was a bit frustrated with some of my cuts. The willow is very soft and if you fail to finish your cuts briskly then you risk bark peeling below your cut. But considering that this is a native shrub, I expect it to shoot out again after my assault.

 

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After picture.

 

 

Acer macrophyllum

 

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BC native Acer macrophyllum with 5 lobed leaves (3 lobes dominate). The leaves are, well, big!

 

I wasn’t very happy about being sent in to top a maple tree but what do you do when the backyard belongs to the in-coming strata president? One look at his backyard made me wonder if the big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) was planted or simply drifted in. If you could look to the right you would see giants of the same species in the woods. There the maples are left alone and they reach the regular 30m tall, 25m spread dimensions.

 

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There is not enough space for this native species which will reach 30m without topping.

 

Here it is clearly not the right tree species so topping it is somewhat justified except, of course, the tree will grow again and I have a feeling I will get to know it intimately as the seasons pile on.

Most of the work was done with a pole pruner with the exception of the biggest leader. That required a saw and some care because there is a planted garden under the tree.

The owner was happy with my work (of course!) but all I was thinking about was how the tree did not belong there.

 

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After topping picture.

 

 

Conclusion

Tree topping is a horrible idea but in some cases it has to get done. Please try to avoid it as much as possible. The big-leaf maple above will grow again which means I will get called in periodically to bring it down. The same is true for the willow which will eventually reach the upper patio sight lines.

 

Installing a 4′ cedar hedge is a breeze

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping | No Comments

Putting up a quick cedar hedge barrier can be a breeze. I did it last week in between two yards where one side needs to keep a dog in check. The dog is fine, it’s the owner that fails to pick up after it. But this blog post is about planting a quick cedar hedge, not about suspicious dog owners.

Size

Small size is key because a four foot cedar can be easily purchased at your local Home Depot for $18. Anything larger will require a longer trip to a nursery and higher costs. So let’s assume four foot cedars (Thuja occidentalis) are fine.

Now, when you go to your local Home Depot bring your patience with you. It took me forever to order and pay for 13 4′ cedars. The cashier didn’t have the code so she sent a young dude outside to get one. I could have memorized the entire sales flyer in the time it took him to get back.

Outside, another young dude had trouble counting to 13. He loaded up more than I had paid for and then hopped around the back of my truck recounting and off-loading. So of course, I had to recount everything myself.

Planting

The cedars looked a bit dry. It’s always nice if you can soak the pot before planting. For my project I had a T-formation with 6 and 7 cedars. Normally, people dig a hole and then place their tree inside and so on. But when you plant a full line, it’s best to dig up the entire trench. You can then place the trees in and assess. Is your spacing OK and line straight? If not, it’s easy to adjust the plants without any extra digging.

 

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Before.

 

 

When you remove the tree from its pot, don’t be afraid to rough up the root ball. Gently massage the roots with your fingers. If fingers don’t help, use your snips and cut top to bottom to loosen up the roots. It looks a bit rough but trust me, do it.

Once your cedars are set as a new hedge, backfill the trench with the same soil. If you must bring in new fresh soil, only use it to top-dress at the end.

Watering after install is always a good idea and so is removing any tags from the cedars. New baby cedars are thirsty so keep checking on them. They have to get established and high summer temperatures are coming soon. Don’t neglect this step.

Clean-up

Clean-up is also critical. Now that you have a nice new cedar hedge let’s not spoil the show. Collect all plant tags and plastic pots. Recycle everything if possible. Then blow or rake up any excess soil from surrounding lawn or whatever is nearby.

I also used a small rake to even out the soil and to obliterate my boot prints.

 

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After.

 

Conclusion

Planting a new 4 foot cedar hedge can be a breeze. Just follow the steps above and don’t forget to keep watering the plants as temperatures shoot up in spring and summer. Young cedars are very thirsty.

 

 

When installing artificial turf makes sense

By | Arborist Insights, landscape maintenance, Lawn Care | No Comments

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of artificial grass. It’s plastic, man-made with petro-chemicals, it heats up and it doesn’t produce oxygen. But there are legitimate cases where desperate people can find salvation in artificial turf.

 

Dog damage

 

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These people have a tiny back lawn frequented by their dog. The daily urine assault left the grass burned and struggling. The owner tried to fix it, over and over and finally got fed up. Since parting with the family pet wasn’t a popular option, they decided to install artificial turf. And it works in this case. Even our lawn maintenance was awkward before the changeover.

 

Clay soils

 

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Some owners are still clinging to their natural grass lawns. The soils are full of clay. You don’t have to dig far to see it.

 

Our West Coast soils have lots of clay in them which means that lawns installed over them drain poorly. The clay forms a nasty layer that doesn’t allow water to percolate down easily. If you want to fight these conditions one recommended procedure involves top dressing these lawns with organic soil. This can over time break up the clay layer. But this would take time and resources.

So what do you do? You stop fighting the conditions and install artificial turf.

You will notice in the picture that some owners are still clinging to their natural grass lawns.

 

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Note the sticky, dense clay chunks.

 

Shade

 

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In summer these backyards are dark as the Fraxinus trees flush out.

 

Shade also affects grass lawns negatively. Grass needs light to thrive and in this case we have four joined sections of backyards that turn dark in summer as the mature ash trees flush out with new growth.

Two years ago I personally pruned whatever branches I could reach on these mature ash trees (Fraxinus). Alas, it had very little effect on the lawns. They were still shady and weak. So the strata council called a tree company to remove the trees. However, the tree company advised them that the municipality was unlikely to issue tree removal permits because the trees were mature and close to houses.

Ok, so now what? One last idea: artificial turf. It looks great in shade and it eliminates the annual fight with expensive grass seed and soil top-dressing. In addition, landscape maintenance workers don’t mind skipping these units because they are difficult to access with push mowers.

This is one case where artificial turf was the last resort.

Conclusion

If you must have lawn, natural grass is better. I personally dislike man-made plastic turf. But there are cases where installing artificial turf makes perfect sense, such as dog damaged lawns, shady lawns and poorly draining lawns sitting on top of clay soils.