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Arborist Insights

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.

Sucking up to Bartlett Tree Experts

By | Arborist Insights, Trees | No Comments

It’s common for landscape companies to do their own tree work up to some decent height, like 10-12 feet. Anything higher than that gets sketchy.

So what do you do when your client wants you to remove a giant Pin oak (Quercus palustris)? Well, you call in your favourite tree company. In this blog post it’s Bartlett Tree Experts.

Bartlett comes in and takes the tree down in no time and there is a beautiful up-side to these referrals. Every year, Bartlett Tree Experts invites their clients to a training seminar! Bingo. I live for these moments.

Client seminars

This year the seminar took place inside a Burnaby, BC, private motorcycle exhibit and Harley-Davidson store building. I already knew from past seminars that there would be a gift waiting for me at check-in. Interestingly, this year we received a bento box so I discreetly asked for a second one to prevent my kids from arguing later.

The lecture room was packed and with the coronavirus raging in China, some people were reluctant to shake hands. Hot and cold drinks were provided throughout; and sandwich lunch was included.

Egan Davis

As an introvert, mingling in a crowded room is a lot of work for me. I ran into several old acquaintances and some people from former employers. And every time they see me, they have proof that there is life after their sweatshop.

I gladly shook Egan Davis’ hand. Egan Davis is a plant expert and instructor at the UBC Botanical Garden. Incidentally, he’s my hero because he did the one-day Red Seal Journeyman Horticulturist preparation course I took in 2014. As a result, I was able to pass the challenge exam soon after thanks to this indispensable course.

Egan also delivered a great lecture on static versus dynamic landscapes. The idea is that the landscapes we install in British Columbia are static. Once we install them, we just maintain them; we don’t let them evolve.

Egan’s idea is to start with herbaceous plants, let them build up the soil and then, over time, add shrubs and trees. There is no obvious end.

Ph.D.s

The seminars included three lectures by two awesome, articulate, Ph.D.s. One is an expert on plant diseases and one on urban forestry. The fourth lecturer was a citizen master beekeeper and she delivered a lecture on honeybees and her family’s history. I must admit, half-way through I was close to nodding off. But, to be fair, it was the worst time slot right after lunch.

All done

At the end of the day, there was an ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) sheet circulated for ISA arborists to sign for education credits. I collected 5 CEUs for this event; and 5 CEUs towards my landscape industry certified designation. Beautiful.

And that’s how I walked out of the building, with CEUs and a notebook full of notes. I also stuffed my pockets with fruit and bars for the kids.

It pays to hook up Bartlett Tree Experts with work. They just might invite you to their client training seminar in 2021. Definitely attend.

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.