Arbor Day-of-Service

Today was Arbor Day for us!  Not the official arbor day – that’s not until Friday here in Pennsylvania.  But it is the day the Penn-Del Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture held their annual day-of-service Arbor Day celebration.  Each year several companies from our area get together and provide pro bono tree care at the grounds of a worthy non-profit organization that just is not able to budget for the tree maintenance work they really need.  This year’s recipient was Friends Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia.  A great time was had by all of us, many of whom compete against each other in the tree care business every other day of the year.  But this day was different – there was great camaraderie among us as we teamed up and worked on some really special and sometimes historic trees for a good cause.

cedar of Lebabon, Arbor Day

The Jacobs Tree Surgery crew pruned this cedar-of-Lebanon.  It was in bad shape from snow-storm damage.

Penn-Del Arbor Day

Mike Chenail, our Penn-Del Arbor Day committee chairman, coils his climbing line after an aerial interview with KYW’s Karin Phillips.  Here’s a link to the interview, if you click the audio part on the right you’ll hear all the background banter.

The perfect day for cedar-apple rust

Every spring, the first time we get the right combination of temperature and rain, the eastern red cedars “bloom” with the spore producing structures of cedar-apple rust galls.  YESTERDAY WAS THE DAY!  And this year, the phenomenon seems especially spectacular, with some trees that look like they are completely covered with fluorescent orange jelly.  Not surprising, considering how the wet weather last summer caused severe infestations of the disease on the alternate host, apple trees, where the spores that infect the cedars originate.

cedar-apple rust galls

cedar-apple rust

cedar-apple rust

More explanation of the disease and photos of the apple trees can be found at July 15, 2009 article.

cedar-apple rust

Mulch Madness Part II

I saw this mulch prep job in progress during my travels a couple of weeks ago.  It shows how NOT to mulch so perfectly, I could not resist sharing.

The landscapers have dug trenches around the trees and piled the soil they dug out up against the tree trunks.  Look at this pile!  You can see why we call them mulch volcanoes.

mulch volcano

Look at all the roots that were cut in the trenching process.

mulch volcano

mulch volcano

How could these guys not be aware that root injuries like this harm the tree?

mulch volcano

mulch volcano

Maybe it’s almost time to remove those stakes?

mulch volcano

Well, you can’t fault them on thoroughness – look, they’re mulching the dead tree!

mulch volcano

And here, they’ve even got the low branches covered!  That’s really extra effort!

mulch volcano

Ok, all this is incredible malpractice.  But some people, not knowing any better, think it looks nice.

If your landscape maintenance effort is really eye-catching, the neighbors might try to emulate it.  Here, the guy across the street apparently was inspired to mulch his pin oak.

mulch volcano

Unfortunately, the material he had available was old mortar and stucco!

Ok, I’m done complaining for a little while.  Next, I’ll show you how to do it right and why.

(go to March 19 for Mulch Madness Part I)

A lot of arborist work is about helping people plan

The trees in your landscape today – and their values based on condition, location, and species – are a result of decisions that were made years ago.  What you decide today determines the future.  With trees, you need to think long term.  Here are 3 jobs we did last week and the plans we decided on.

1. Pruning to make a (damaged) tree safer This customer had 2 silver maples in the backyard – both in poor condition.  The one in the rear was in such poor health (almost dead) that removing it was the only sensible option.  But the one near the house provided shade over the deck, and the owners would miss it terribly if it were gone.  This tree had lots of problems – big broken branches from past storms, weak co-dominant branch structure, and the biggest portion of this misshapen tree hung out over the roof of the house, where if it broke it would cause plenty of damage.  And silver maples are very prone to breakage.  We decided to prune the tree in such a way that the new growth on the broken branches would be in a desirable direction and we pruned the big leader over the house to reduce its size.  And we cleared out the dead wood.

silver maples

After - much less of a threat now, and it really doesn't look that bad!

After – much less of a threat now, and it really doesn’t look that bad!

Of course, I can’t guarantee that this tree won’t be damaged again.  After all, it is a silver maple.  But the owners should be able to enjoy it for several more years with much less concern for their safety.

2. Pruning to train for the future The next day (Thursday) we pruned several healthy young trees in Collegeville.  The goal was to train them so that as they grow, they will have the strongest possible branch structure, and won’t encroach on the house as much.

The honey locust had two main leaders, and the one towards the house had grown larger than the other.  Ideally, it should have been pruned when very young to maintain a single central leader.  It’s now too late for that, but we can reduce the larger leader to subordinate it and to help keep it away from the house.

honey locust before


honey locust after


The tree was pruned to reduce the larger leader, without destroying its appearance and in compliance with Ansi A300 pruning standards.

Also on this property was a young Sawtooth oak – healthy and vigorous, but beginning to develop several co-dominant stems.  These are the upright branches with the tight-angle crotches that will be likely to split in a storm when the tree is bigger.

sawtooth oak before


sawtooth oak after


We pruned the co-dominants to subordinate them, so the center leader will remain dominant.  In a few years, the co-dominants can be removed or further subordinated and the tree will be much less prone to storm damage as it grows to mature size.

3. Getting the new tree started is sometimes the best plan The last big snowstorm broke a really large branch on the red maple in front of a client’s house in Limerick.  The tree is on the south side of the house and the owner really appreciates its shade in the summer.  But now it’s really disfigured, and it has other problems that make it unlikely it will still be there in another 10-15 years:  It has a girdling root problem due to improper mulching in the past, and it is really too close to the house.  Whoever planted it did not take into consideration the potential size at maturity.

Once the client was aware of all of this, he liked my idea of getting a new tree started – a new tree that would eventually get really big, but would be planted where it had room to grow.  In a few years, when the red maple finally has to go, the new bur oak tree will be established and the loss will not seem so great.

Digging the new tree in the nursery

Digging the new tree in the nursery

Planting the new tree

Planting the new tree

 Planting the new tree

Another Big-tree Removal

We did another big-tree removal job yesterday.  This tree was a (catastrophic!) accident waiting to happen.  The owners have been aware of its condition, but had been reluctant to have it taken down, partly because of the expense.  But the last windstorm caused a big branch to fall near the house, and now they realized the job should not be put off any longer.

As much as I love trees, I wouldn’t want a monster in this condition towering over my house.


The tree had a large split from an old lightning strike


Some pretty big wood! Imagine the damage it could do.

We are very busy now.  The early spring weather is contributing to this, I’m sure.  And seeing all of the tree damage from the last few storms has caused a lot of people to move tree maintenance higher up on their priority lists.  And I’m no economist, but I know that an economic downturn is usually followed by lots of work for us.  There is always plenty of deferred maintenance to catch up on when spending confidence returns.  I’m hoping this is a good sign.

Slideshowmore photos of the removal job

I was asked to “top” a tree

On Monday I got a call from a man who wanted me to give him a price to prune a tree.  He told me on the phone that he would want me to cut a considerable amount off of the top.  Yesterday I went to look at the tree.  It was the only tree in the back yard, and would have been a very nice tree except that it had obviously been “topped” about 5 years ago.

topped tree

Can you see where the topping cuts were made?

The crown of the tree was made up of clusters of long, weakly attached sprouts as the result of the trees’ growth response to the previous incorrect pruning.

What I now need to explain to him (he wasn’t  home at the time of my visit) is that cutting the top off of his tree again will not achieve anything positive for him.

If he doesn’t want the tree to become “too big” and threatening to his safety, re-topping the tree would actually be completely counterproductive to his goal.  Because what happens when a tree is wounded this way is that (if it’s healthy and has the necessary stored energy) it produces vigorous new growth.  This tree has grown approximately 15 feet in the last 5 years.  Normal annual growth for this species (it’s a sugar maple) is about 6 inches.  If NOTHING had been done 5 years ago, it wouldn’t be any bigger (maybe even not as big) as it is now.  And all that new vigorous sprout growth is less sturdy that the natural branching structure would have been – the point of attachment of each sprout is made up of only 5 growth rings, plus there is a column of internal decay below each of the old topping cuts.

The sprout attachments are weak, tight-angle crotches.

Now, after 5 years the trees growth rate is becoming closer to normal.  I could do some corrective pruning – cut away the dead stubs, thin the sprouts to remove the excess and  retain the stronger ones, and train for  future growth  that will produce the strongest possible branch structure.  This will be a pretty lot of work, but it would be worth doing – it’s a young, vigorous tree without any other problems, and there is plenty of space for it to grow to its natural size.  The tree would  have needed  way less work (at way less cost!) if all it needed now was normal maintenance pruning.  But  it will need nothing more than a little minor pruning every few years once we take care of the corrective work.

But first I have to explain all this to the customer and convince him not to just repeat the previous mistake.

TOPPING IS MALPRACTICE!  Those who perform it are either ignorant of tree biology, or unscrupulous!

P.S. – The next time we do a removal of a tree that was damaged by topping I’ll post some autopsy pictures.