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Trees

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.

Risking arrest to see California’s Eucalypts

By | Events, Trees | No Comments

This past August I found myself in Lake Forest, California because of my son’s soccer tournament. It was yet another sunny morning and it was getting hot. It was too hot for the boys to have a serious soccer practice. So I left the team at the tennis courts and walked across the street.

 

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Private property!

My target was a nearby line of beautiful and huge Eucalyptus trees. It was like Christmas for this arborist. The trees looked awesome and as I took more pictures I drifted onto a church parking lot. There I shot many other landscape plants. I was having a fantastic California morning until a voice woke me up from my plant trance.

 

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I love these Eucalyptus trees.

 

“Can I help you? This is private property!” Immediately I thought oh, shit, was this an open carry state? Then I mumbled something about visiting California and loving their church landscaping. “We get all kinds here!” was his reply. So I apologized and told the dude I was leaving. No need to call the police. He then wished me a pleasant visit and I wondered what the Sunday sermons were like.

 

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Note the security camera.

 

Trees in Paradise

I have since learned that Lake Forest used to be an Eucalyptus plantation. Now it’s a master-planned community with beautiful landscaping. I was blown away by the landscaping so much, I walked into the nearest bookstore desperate for some sort of plant guide. And I found a door stopper gem there called Trees in Paradise by Jared Farmer. (I will review this excellent book in a future blog.)

Farmer devotes a one hundred page chapter to Eucalypts and it’s a wild ride. The trees were imported from Australia and became very popular in California. And then it all swung the other way. Eucalyptus plantations in San Francisco were abandoned and the trees were allowed to go wild.

One glitch stands out from this book chapter. Californians wanted to reproduce the success Aussies had with their fast-growing Eucalypts. But what they didn’t notice was that the Aussies were processing old growth Eucalypts.

The new growth Eucalypts in California were extremely difficult to process because the young trees behave badly when they’re run through saw mills. Farmer does a great job of explaining this. Basically the trees break apart at the saw mill so it’s hard to get the nice straight lumber saw mills wanted. Bummer.

I think the Eucalypts I saw in Los Angeles looked great. I can’t wait to see them again in August 2020 but I will be more mindful of private property lines. “Canadian pro blogger dead in California” would be an unfortunate headline.

 

 

Remembrance Day

By | Events, Trees | No Comments

Today is Remembrance Day, a day to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom today. Unfortunately, I had to work today but I did stop at 11 a.m. to remember those who made their ultimate sacrifice.

A new bed

In 2014, while working for the City of Coquitlam as a park labourer, we created a new bed for Remembrance Day at Blue Mountain Park. And now I drive by the park weekly so I remember fallen soldiers all year.

In subsequent years the municipality redesigned the front planted bed but the plants in the back remain. And I’m glad they do because I planted them with my city gardener boss. We planted yews (Taxus), Astilbes, maples (Acer) and one dogwood (Cornus).

 

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I planted all of the back plants in 2014 with my city gardener boss. They all look fine.

 

First bare-root planting

The dogwood planting was very special because it was my first bare-root planting. Bare-root planting is recommended because when you wash off the root ball you can clearly see the tree roots. This then allows you to arrange them so they look like spokes on a wheel before planting. We want all roots to run out and get established, not keep running in circles. Feel free to prune out any rebel roots.

When you wash off the root ball, hold on to the mud you create. You will use it to plant the tree after your roots are nicely arranged like spokes on a wheel. The mud anchors the bare-root tree in the hole. At the time I didn’t know this. Keeping mud in the back of the truck seemed crazy.

The procedure is to install the muddy soil in phases: soil and water go in and then you wait for it to settle, and repeat the procedure until the hole is filled. The mud cements the tree in the hole.

When we did the planting in 2014 the lawn and soil were wet so I got very muddy but it didn’t bother me. I loved the new experience of bare-root planting.

2019

Now, five years later in 2019, I finally stopped by to take a picture of the dogwood and it looks healthy. I gave it a quick wiggle test by moving the trunk back and forth. The base felt solid which means the tree is established. Yay! Success. The other plants look fine as well.

 

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The dogwood in the middle was planted bare-root in 2014.

 

It feels good to know that my work will be on display for many years to come. I have since done one solo bare-root planting project and I hope to do many more. You should try it next time, too.

I hope you had a great Remembrance Day!

 

 

 

When your chestnut tree dies

By | Trees | No Comments

I read the Globe and Mail newspaper regularly but I often ignore the latest news. Instead, I look for interesting stories and recently I got lucky. I found a story about a Toronto street horse-chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum). It’s almost a love letter to a lost friend.

The writer had a huge specimen in front of his house and one day city crews came out to remove it. They showed him how the hollow areas inside made it likely that it would collapse on the sidewalk or street. It was in everyone’s best interest to remove it and plant something new.

The story reminds me of how trees can become your friends, even if they annoy you by dropping stuff all year. Flower parts, chestnuts, leaves, etc.

Even I remember doing crafts with horse-chestnuts as a kid. I recall we made animals out of them. And now, many years later, I still can’t resist picking up the shiny brown chestnuts. Then I forget them in a work truck and the boss freaks out.

As soon as the tree was removed the author immediately noticed the lack of shade; and, of course, trees provide many free ecosystem services, shade is just one of them. The street also didn’t look the same post tree removal. Large trees give streets character.

There is lots to like about horse-chestnuts. The large prominent flowers look great, the leaves and buds are huge and the chestnuts are fun to hold and look at.

 

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Aesculus hippocastanum: note the huge buds, leaves and nuts.

 

The author’s municipality offered him a free replacement tree and, of course, he will plant one. He just won’t live long enough to see it mature into a giant. And that’s fine. We need more trees to give cities some character and to combat Global Warming.

Easy to identify landscape trees, volume 2

By | Species, Trees | No Comments

There are many beautiful landscape trees in our gardens and landscapes and some are easy to identify. We’ve covered five easy to identify tree species in a previous blog post and here we continue with five more. Do you know them already or are they new to you?

 

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

 

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The sweetgum tree is a nice alternative for places where maples dominate. The pointy leaves resemble maples but what gives away the sweetgum are its hard spiky fruits. When you see them, you know its a sweetgum tree. They remind me of spiky floating mines from war movies.

 

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)

 

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The common name gives it away but as soon as you see the gorgeous cinnamon coloured peeling bark, you know it’s Acer griseum. Sometimes, when no one is watching, I peel one section of the bark just for fun. This is beautiful landscape tree.

 

Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

 

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There is lots to look at on the Horse chestnut. The buds are huge and so are the leaves; the key identifier is the inedible chestnut.

 

European beech (Fagus sylvatica)

 

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The key identifier are fuzzy cupules which contain triangular beechnuts. Wait for the cupules to open up or take some home. They will pop open in your kitchen. My wife loves this.

 

London plane ( Platanus x acerifolia)

 

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The London plane leaves are huge and the key identifier are the spherical fruits produced on long stalks. You will never forget this tree if you get close enough. I don’t suffer from any allergies but this tree can make me cry. That’s because young leaves shed short stiff hairs and so do the fruits. Backpack blowing around these trees is a nightmare.

London planes are also extremely effective at removing pollution.

 

Now, it’s your turn to practice identifying these five trees. They are easy to identify especially now that you know what to look for.

Get ready for volume 3.

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.

Trees lose when the game is Trees vs Construction

By | Trees | No Comments

At last year’s CanWest Hort Expo I attended a lecture by local tree expert Dr. Julian Dunster. During the lecture he made a key comment about trees in construction zones. There is so much disturbance on some construction sites that it’s better to remove all trees and start over.

But in practice people fight to preserve all trees on construction sites. I was in that camp myself until Dr. Dunster showed that most trees on severely disturbed sites will not survive for long. It may be best to start over by removing the existing trees and planting new ones.

One recent example

I recalled all of this when I saw a picture someone had posted in a Facebook group. Take a look. What do you see?

 

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It’s not a pretty picture and it fits Dr. Dunster’s lecture comments. It’s possible that the people in charge of this project couldn’t get a tree removal permit or that it cost too much.

Structural roots

I’m not a construction expert but I do know that there must be a foundation in place for the structure on the left to go up. Now, considering the size of the tree, I’m almost certain that big, structural roots had to be cut before the foundation could go in. And when this happens, the stability of the tree is compromised.

Compaction

I don’t see any orange exclusion fencing around this tree which means there was a lot of construction activity around its root zone. This activity leads to soil compaction which is a silent tree killer.

Why? Because compacted soils prevent surface water from percolating down to the roots where it’s needed. The water just runs off compacted soils.

Also, the fine roots just under the surface which collect water and nutrients for the trees can’t do their job in compacted soils.

Conclusion

I believe this site should learn from Dr. Dunster’s experience and remove the tree so a smaller specimen can be planted instead. I can’t see this tree surviving for long. Start over.

Have you used the “wiggle test”?

By | Landscaping, Trees | No Comments

I was recently sent to a new strata site to re-stake a Japanese snowbell (Styrax japonicus) tree. The owner was concerned because the tree was leaning on his gate. So I picked up the required tools and materials for tree staking: stake pounder and a headset, two stakes, arbor tie, and a staple gun.

A sad specimen

Compared to its cousins in neighbouring yards, this tree wasn’t doing as well. And I wonder why? It has fewer branches thanks to past pruning, and there is a distinct bump on the trunk close to the ground which almost looks like the result of previous injury or girdling.

 

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This doesn’t look right.

 

 

First, I removed the old stakes. Tree stakes shouldn’t stay on for more than a year and clearly this tree is older than one year. Then I installed two new stakes so the tree wasn’t leaning anymore. When I moved the tree trunk, the root ball moved as well.

This is where the unscientific “wiggle test” comes in. I learned about this test from Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott. When you gently move a tree trunk the root ball shouldn’t be moving on healthy, well-established trees. The same is true of shrubs.

On this Styrax there was a lot of movement so I jumped over the fence into a neighbouring yard and performed the same test on another Styrax. The trunk moved but the root ball held nicely suggesting that the tree is well-established and healthy.

I used a staple gun to attach the arbor tie to both stakes and I had just enough staples for the job. Always bring spare staples and extra stakes just in case things go wrong.

FutureĀ 

I worry about this tree because it should be well established like its cousins nearby; I’m assuming, of course, that all of the trees were planted at the same time. When I performed the “wiggle test“, the root ball was moving which is bad. Considering the size and age of this Styrax, it should be nicely established. But, since I’m new on this site, I have no idea what happened in this yard in previous seasons.

If you have doubts about trees and shrubs in your gardens, try the “wiggle test“. It’s unscientific, but it gives you a good indication about the health of your plant.

 

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Re-staked Styrax is on the left.