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Arborist Insights

Let us grow!

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

I spent a Monday working in White Rock recently, and at lunch time I walked to a pizza place down the block. Mask on, of course. As I walked by a bus shelter I noticed a City of Surrey poster. And a blog post was born.

I looked up the Bylaw #5835 and it’s a simple two page document. It says don’t touch city trees and don’t remove them, even if firewood is your family’s only source of heat. You could be fined $500. Simple enough.

A real problem

As a certified landscape professional and arborist, I attend many trade shows and seminars for education credits (CEUs) and to gain knowledge. The coronavirus pushed all of this online but learning never stops. It can’t. It continues even during a pandemic.

I mention trade shows because the presentations with the worst tree abuse cases consistently came from City of Surrey speakers. It became a running joke. As soon as I saw City of Surrey speakers, I signed up; and I can’t think of one single disappointing event.

“Pruning” by residents often meant ugly topping or outright tree removal. That might have been overlooked in years past but not anymore. Now cities care about canopy cover percentages, cooling, beauty, and ecosystem services.

Tree bylaws get drafted and workers get ISA certified so they can take great care of city trees.

Let them grow

I totally agree with the bus shelter poster. Leave street trees alone. We need them to look great and provide us with their many free ecosystem services. Let professionals do the pruning.

However, I do understand people’s frustrations. Municipalities can take months to respond to requests for pruning. I’ve done some pruning on city trees before but it wasn’t anything crazy. In one case, the owner was going bonkers with honeydew secreted by aphids feeding on tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera). Her car, sidewalk and patio were covered in sticky honeydew. Her patio was basically unusable. So, I removed whatever branches I could reach but it didn’t solve the problem completely.

Tulip tree flower

Aphids aren’t good enough reason to remove healthy trees. And we know that tulip trees come with summer aphids. Maybe some sort of cover for the patio would be a better solution.

Conclusion

Let city arborists handle city trees.

The case of an abused snowbell tree

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning | No Comments

When strata contracts run for only ten months, the owners get two winter months to turn rogue. That’s how one snowbell tree (Styrax japonicus) lost one half of its trunk.

Because we don’t recommend “pruning” this severe, the owner probably got fed up with strata council approval requests. Requests can go from council to the management company; and from there to the landscape contractor. I’ve seen requests so old, they were completed several weeks before the contractor formally received them.

The setting

I’m not sure how the poor tree ended up so close to the owner’s patio. It might have been a wayward seed or deliberate planting. Either way, the tree is way too close to the patio. Even if the roots don’t affect the patio stones, chances are, the foliage will eventually touch the building.

Styrax flowers are beautiful snow bells but they turn into hundreds of seeds that cover the patio and could cause the owner to slip. I’m also not sure if they wanted this much shade on their patio. I never got to interview them.

The bottom line is: the tree is situated too close to the patio.

Best solution

By far the best solution would be to remove the tree completely. There is very little available space for the tree to grow.

The owner’s solution didn’t go far enough. She cut the tree at 4-5 feet so only the trunk was left. Which looks weird. It also removes whatever food was stored in the branches.

When over half of a tree goes missing, the tree notices it and pushes out many sprouts. After all, it will need leaves to feed itself. You can see the response in the picture below.

The response is furious, as the tree fights. The new sprouts mature into poorly attached branches and the owner is back to square one. Now you have a choice: remove the sprouts every year, remove the tree or rehabilitate it.

You can see the original cut at roughly 4 feet.

You can rehabilitate topped trees by keeping a few leaders, subordinating a few more sprouts, and completely removing the others. But here it wouldn’t make sense because there is not enough room for this Styrax.

ISA certified arborist Vas recommends complete removal!

Always learning about trees

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning | No Comments

Learning never stops

Learning never stops! Which is why I love the green industry and feel like I will never run out of topics to write about. Especially about trees. There is so much to learn.

Lee Valley

Take my shopping visit to Lee Valley as an example. I was there to buy new blades and springs for my Felcos ( Visit again on March 6, 2021, to read my Felco blog post). As soon as left my car, I noticed a cherry tree, planted in the middle of the sidewalk. Fungal fruiting bodies were screaming at me to notice them. And bang, as soon as I saw them, I knew the cherry tree was dead. That’s the rule. Fungus inside your tree is a disaster.

I love how the fungus-tree death connection automatically clicked in my head.

Healthy trees don’t sport fungal fruiting bodies.

Ray cells

Ray cells.

It pays to be connected to people on LinkedIn. I got this picture from a contact who marveled at seeing ray cells so clearly. Allegedly, ray cells are clearly seen in oaks.

Now, in keeping with the continuing education theme of this blog post, I went home and looked up ray cells on the internet. And I found out they’re pretty amazing.

The two main functions of ray cells in trees are:

  1. ray cells keep the growth rings together
  2. ray cells help shuttle water and nutrients in the xylem

They also look cool in cross-section.

Heading cuts

One of my private clients received a letter from her municipality, asking her to clear Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) branches off their city lamp. So they hired an arborist to do the jobs. And when I was on site to do finesse work (a nice way to say weeding), I took pictures of his heading cuts.

A heading cut.

Heading cuts are made to discourage main stem growth and promote side growth. In this case, we want to keep the maple from reaching the city lamp. The cut is made just above a branchlet or bud. And we can expect any new growth to happen sideways, not straight to the top.

Then I put my iPhone away and went back to weeding, mumbling something like “I could have made those cuts!”.

Never stop learning!

Tree topping disaster

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning | No Comments

Don’t do it!

Tree topping rules are straight forward: don’t do it! I was stunned recently at a site in White Rock, British Columbia, when I saw a topped Persian ironwood (Parottia persica) tree.

Persian ironwood trees are bulletproof. They don’t suffer from any diseases, the branches have interesting look and their fall color is spectacular. You can’t do much better when deciding on a landscape tree. But this owner had his own ideas; and it helped that he was the strata council president. That’s how it works. If you’re not on council, you won’t get approval.

If you’re feeling crowded, then take out the whole tree. But that’s very complicated nowadays because municipalities now care about tree canopy cover percentages. Unless your tree is dangerous, it’s difficult to get a removal permit.

I suspect, if the municipality knew about this tree topping, they might issue a ticket. It’s a nasty procedure. So nasty, I had to compose this blog post about it. So nasty, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) publishes a handout about tree topping.

Future growth

The tree will now push out new sprouts and the president will have to hack them down every year to keep the tree at the same height. If you don’t remove the sprouts, they will develop into poorly attached shoots.

Another drawback is that it no longer looks like a Persian ironwood tree while the other specimens nearby still look great. It’s a weird effect.

Trees also store food in their branches and heavy removal can cause serious shortages for the tree. They also need lots of leaves to produce food and topping removes huge chunks of the tree crown where leaves would have developed.

Also, large wounds like these may not heal and could potentially invite insects and diseases in. Generally speaking, three inch diameter is your rule. Any cut bigger than that, may be slow to heal.

With huge sections of the crown missing, the bark can also get injured by heavy sun exposure.

Conclusion

Don’t top your trees!

Why trees are good

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

One picture summary

Now, take a good look and decide which tree owner you are. I am a green industry professional and I own a green blog so I’m the guy on the left, obviously. As an aside, I must say that my wife doesn’t cling me like this while we admire the beauty of trees. That was way before we had kids.

I rarely consider the drop on the ground, until I have to clean it up at work. I never considered trees “messy”. That’s absurd. Just last Friday, we cleaned-up sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) seed pods off roadways and it didn’t bother me. I love the way the seed pods look, all spiky, like World War II floating mines.

The real challenge at work and outside is to convince the person on the right that trees are good. They’re not “messy”. You’d be surprised to learn that there are many tree haters. Recently, I went for a site walk with two ladies in White Rock and they proudly informed me of the number of sweetgums they had managed to clear-cut off their property. So, I nodded politely and cringed on the inside, all the while wondering if they enjoyed free oxygen.

Fun exercise

Let’s have some fun. Grab a pencil and some scrap paper and try to think of the benefits trees provide for us, free of charge. What is referred to as eco-system services.

I will do this exercise right now, in this blog post, without any preparation. I will list whatever comes to my mind. No assistance from Google. If you do it, you might change your mind about the trees in your garden or your strata complex.

Don’t look at my list below just yet. Try the exercise first.

We need trees- Vas takes the challenge

  • oxygen production
  • shade
  • bird and animal habitat, including dead wildlife trees
  • cooling in cities which tend to act as heat islands
  • beauty, including fall colors
  • medicinal use, e.g. bark, fruit
  • edible fruit
  • soil and bank stabilization
  • stormflow control (forests absorb water and release it slowly)
  • inspiration, e.g. when you see trees thousands of years old
  • carbon storage, crucial on a warming planet
  • building materials, my least-favorite benefit
  • micro climate, your home climate would be different without trees
  • annual wood production through coppicing and pollarding
  • climbing fun for kids
  • hammock anchoring
  • blog post topics
  • leaf mulch for planted beds
  • lessons, I had no idea there were winter-flowering cherries in Japan

Now I have to stop. How did you do? Remember, we need trees on a warming planet so take care of the ones you have in your garden or common property. Get to know them and plant new ones, if you have space. Maintain them well. Message me if you need help.

Pine cones from Douglas fir

By | Arborist Insights, landscape maintenance | No Comments

Requests

Getting requests from strata owners and councils is standard. Some of them are quick and easy; and some are more involved and require approval; some generate extra invoices. Also, some are suspicious.

At one small site last fall, I got a request to clean-up pine cones along the boulevard. Ok. Except I knew there weren’t any pine trees growing along the boulevard. But, I had to go check it out. Requests are no joke, they must be taken care of.

Psedotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir)

Douglas fir

The only cones I could find belonged to a massive Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), which is a native tree in British Columbia. Thus, you find it everywhere and it’s easy to identify because of its cones.

The cones have protruding bracts which make it super easy to identify the tree. People living in British Columbia should be familiar with the tree. But, not in this complex. Here, every cone is a pine cone.

So, what’s the point of this blog post? Am I just poking fun at people’s ignorance? No, although, it wouldn’t hurt if people could identify a few key native tree species.

Educate

What concerned me was the site foreman’s relaxed attitude. Why not use this request as a way to educate the clients about their own trees? If you do it gently, they might even appreciate it. You can even offer them a free copy of my picture e-book.

The other issue is removing “pine cones” from a semi-wild corner. Douglas firs shed branches and cones all year. It’s extremely difficult to keep forests “clean”. I think it’s pointless, but their strata fees pay for our services. So, we clean forest floors by removing “pine cones”. Now you know.

Pine cone-free zone!

Conclusion

Learn about your local native trees or, if you’re an expert, share your knowledge with your friends and neighbors. Leave some debris on the forest floor.

On pruning abused plum trees

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning | No Comments

Topped plum tree

Topped plum tree with suckers

Well, this happens all the time. To reclaim his view, the neighbor “pruned” my client’s plum tree without asking. You can see the previous harsh cuts because that’s where all of the suckers originate. It’s a normal response by the tree and now, instead of one branch, we have many new suckers.

Pro tip: don’t top trees!

Now, months later, there is a new owner next door and was she ever excited to see me! This will be our annual dance from now on.

Is it hopeless?

Are topped trees doomed? Not necessarily. I pruned above the previous cuts and took out most of the suckers. I left some higher as new leaders, and some just below as subordinates. That’s the procedure: establish new leaders, subordinates and eliminate the rest. This way the tree will regain it’s “natural” shape.

Option two is to eliminate all of the suckers every year, which resembles pollarding. You can save the branches and keep your family warm in winter; or learn basket-weaving.

Next winter, I will do more corrective pruning on this tree.

Better, but I will do more on this tree in 12 months.

Bonus!

As soon as I started pruning this plum tree, the new neighbor came out in homely sweat pants, smiling. Then, across the street came a nicely dressed lady, still holding the keys to her Land Rover; and very new to the neighborhood. Clearly, her family up-sized to a nice corner lot house.

As we walked around her garden, two workers moved what appeared to be an extremely heavy safe over the lawn to the back of the house. Right there I knew it, they could afford me!

Two days later I was hired to prune their maples and cedar hedges. Bonus!

Conclusion

Don’t top trees! Trespassing on your neighbor’s property to top trees is even worse. If you google tree topping, you will see a long list of negative consequences.

If you want to improve previously topped trees, keep some of the new suckers as new leaders, cut others shorter as subordinates, and eliminate the rest.

Winter tree pruning 101

By | Arborist Insights, Pruning | No Comments

Why are you pruning?

Before you start hacking your prized trees, ask yourself why you are pruning. Then, once you’re clear on your pruning goals, go for it. And always use sharp tools.

The winter is great for tree pruning because the trees are dormant and, with the leaves gone, we can nicely see the full tree crown.

Remember the 3-point cut

Just to review, all decent-sized branches should be pruned out using the three point cut. The first cut is an undercut; the second cut is a few inches above your first cut; this is where most of the wood will drop to the ground. The third cut completes the procedure without leaving a nasty stub that would die and potentially invite disease into the tree.

Why not just make one cut and save time? Because you risk damaging the bark as the branch shears off before you complete your cut.

1. undercut
2. second cut just a few inches over the first cut; get ready for the branch to drop!
3. final cut to clean things up; don’t leave stubs.

Branches to eliminate

Let’s take a look at some examples of branches I couldn’t tolerate and had to eliminate. When tools are available, I stop what I’m doing and take care of these offending branches right away. Otherwise, people forget and things get worse. Let’s not do that.

Broken branches are an obvious example and should be pruned out immediately. They look awful and there is always the possibility of diseases entering the tree.

I know, it’s not a huge branch but it looks awful. When I walk by and see this, I’m close to breaking out in a rash. I don’t tolerate broken branches on my trees and neither should you.

I used a pole pruner to remove this branch.

Take a minute to study this picture and find the offending branch. Found it? It’s the branch growing from the middle left down over the garage. Downward pointing branches affect the crown structure so remove them to get a nice looking tree.

This sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) branch had to go since I couldn’t properly access the cedar hedge (Thuja occidentalis) with my power shears. It also runs through the hedge which is a no no, plus it will shade out the hedge. Any branch touching a building gets insurance agents excited. Branches like this have to go.

Rubbing branches should also be removed. Here I removed the lower branch because it was growing at a huge angle.

Conclusion

This winter, check over your trees and see if they require any corrective pruning. Eliminate any broken, dead, rubbing, crossing or interfering branches with proper cuts. Unless your branches are very small, always use the three-point cut to prevent bark damage.

Make a few cuts every year for great looking, healthy trees. Call, if you need help!

ISA CEUs the easy way

By | Arborist Insights, Education | No Comments

30 in 3

For ISA certified arborists to re-certify, they must obtain thirty education credits in three years and pay a fee. This way the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) makes sure their arborists are continuously learning.

To get CEUs, arborists can take courses, attend conferences and purchase pricey materials from the ISA. But by far the easiest way to obtain CEUs is by reading Arborist News magazine articles and taking quizzes right after.

With the pandemic raging on, the ISA kindly made extra AN articles available for free to their members. Normally only 6 to 12 articles are available for free.

My stack of AN CEU articles

The articles can be read quickly and every quiz is made up of twenty questions. You must score 80% or better to get credit. I normally mark the answers on the printout and then take the quiz online.

When you log in to your account at ISA, the quiz is automatically graded and added to your account. Currently, I’m 12 credits short but my re-certification date isn’t until June, 2022, so there’s no rush. I just prefer to get the 30 credits quickly and I really like the magazine articles.

The more I read, the more I realize how much there is to learn in arboriculture. It’s exciting and humbling at the same time.

COVID-driven changes

Now that social distancing is a requirement, many events have moved online which is actually a bonus. For example, the annual ISA conference is normally a week-long event in some far away place like Florida. Somehow, I can never justify the cost since I don’t work with trees full-time.

But soon the 2020 conference will be online (December 7-11, 2020), with CEU lectures available on-demand! 25 CEUs on demand!

ISA Ontario also has a long list of websites offering webinars eligible for CEUs so learning doesn’t have to stop.

ISA certified arborist Vas in the field.

Conclusion

Technical knowledge is important and learning should never stop. That’s why the ISA demands that all arborists obtain thirty CEUs every three years. If you follow my example and use the AN CEU articles, you’re guaranteed to learn new stuff and have fun.

And if you’re not ISA certified, what are you waiting for?

And if you hire ISA certified arborists, you can be sure that they’re learning new stuff every year to serve you better.

Tree staking 101

By | Arborist Insights, Landscaping, Trees | No Comments

Tree staking seemed really easy to understand and pull-off. Ever since I started landscaping in 2000, I’ve used two or three stakes with good quality arbortie to stake newly planted trees.

But now, thanks to my landscape professional friends in the United States, I know that there is more to staking than meets the eye. And I love the idea of learning new techniques even twenty seasons later.

Pro tip: Always be open to new ideas and techniques. There’s so much to learn.

Regular staking

I have had lots of practice with tree staking because I have twenty seasons in the field; and because I went through the Landscape Industry Certified program. There, one of the practical stations was tree planting and staking. Let’s ignore tree planting for now. I will cover it in a separate blog.

Depending on the specifications, I had to drive the tree stakes just outside of the root ball or inside. To pull it off, you’ll need a metal stake pounder and ear protection.

First, the pounder goes on the top of the stake and then you stand it up, line it up and drive it in. As the metal pounder hits the stake, it gets very loud quickly. That’s why my failure to wear ear protection during testing cost me points.

Incredibly, I would need three attempts to pass this practical station.

Second, you secure good quality arbor tie to the stakes and loop it around the tree. It should be just tight enough; not too tight and not too loose.

Pro tip: Tree stakes should only stay on for a maximum of 14 months. Beyond that the tree will get “lazy”; it won’t form the reaction wood it needs to grow strong and withstand future wind storms.

One example of standard tree stakes.

Staples

Stapled pine tree in Florida.

This was news to me. Instead of above-ground stakes this pine in Florida is stapled with stakes. First, four stakes are driven into the root ball and then both pairs are connected together.

Obviously, the wood size would increase with a bigger root ball. Here it’s a 2×2″.

Advantages

  • The stakes are mostly hidden so they don’t stick out like regular wooden stakes, which many people consider unsightly.
  • The tree develops reaction wood as it moves in response to wind events. In this example, the pine survived a recent hurricane storm that hit Florida.
  • There’s no need to go back and remove the stakes.
  • Nobody will forget to remove the stakes.
  • There is zero chance of girdling because there is no arbor tie connecting branches to the stakes.

Conclusion

Keep your eyes and mind open to new ideas and techniques. I was blown away by the stapling technique even though it’s not new. It was new to me and I would love to try it one day.