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Arborist Insights

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.

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)

 

IMG_0011

 

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)

 

IMG_4496

 

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)

 

IMG_0269 (2)

 

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.

 IMG_0974

 

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)

 

IMG_1549

 

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.

 

IMG_1634

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!!