Snow damaged trees – what to do?

Basically, some sources will tell you to knock the snow off with a broom to prevent more damage.  Others will say NOT to do that because you risk causing more damage.

The truth is: once the snow is over, the damage is done.  You can’t undo it, but you can indeed make it worse of you aren’t careful.  Usually – except in cases where big branches are actually broken – the damage is not nearly as bad as it looks.  If you can just be patient and wait until the snow or ice melts naturally, you are likely to be AMAZED at how well the branches eventually recover their positions.  After that, you will also be amazed at how I can restore the tree with a few expertly administered pruning cuts.

Go to Feb. 14, 2010 

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Before and after: A couple of December’s pruning jobs

Mr. B told me he had concerns about his big silver maple. It had a big leader that grew toward his house, and another over the neighbor’s yard. He wondered if we could make it less threatening. He even asked if I’d suggest topping it.

I went to see the tree, and his neighborhood was marred with many examples of bad pruning, like this “topped” silver maple a few houses away.

topped silver maple

Topped silver maple – DON’T DO THIS

Maybe that’s where he got the “topping” idea.  Anyway, I explained to him why topping would be counterproductive to his goal of keeping the tree safe and healthy.  (see April 2, 2010 if you want to read more about THAT). Then I described how I could reduce those leaders by 25% without making any heading (topping) (internodal) cuts. Mr. B liked that suggestion, so that is what we did.

Here’s the tree when we were setting up the climbing ropes:

We pruned a LOT of wood from this tree – those leaders were reduced by at least ¼.  But the type of pruning wounds we made are not significant injuries. The tree will compartmentalize them way better than if they’d  been heading cuts. And there are plenty of auxin (plant hormone) producing tips left in place to inhibit excessive re-sprouting.

Elaine, from Oaks, called me the week before Christmas to ask if I could prune her two cryptomeria (Japanese cedar) trees.  Both trees, and an arborvita, were very close to the house, with branches rubbing on the roof and gutters.  Nice old house.  Nice old trees.  Although the both cryptomeria had a lot of dead branches, possibly an indication of past health struggles, they were in stable condition and did not seem to be facing imminent decline.  And they add a lot to the curb appeal of the house (in my tree-biased opinion!)

We pruned them away from the roof, cleared out the dead wood, and gave them a good inspection to make sure they were not hosting and Japanese cedar longhorn beetles, ANOTHER imported pest new to our area.  (They were clean of pests – just a few sapsucker holes near the top).

A beautiful clear-blue December sky helped me get these nice before-and-after photos of the pruning job!

cryptomeria

cryptomeria

cryptomeria

A Case of Attempted Arboricide?

Back in October, we were at a client’s property in Oaks, PA to do some tree pruning when I noticed something odd.

A surface root from one of her trees had been chopped at with an axe where it grew onto the neighbor’s property.  Nothing unusual there, I’m used to seeing roots cut by people who object to their presence on the lawn surface.  But there were several little white balls lying on and around the cut root.  What were they?  They looked like moth balls.  I picked one up and smelled it.  Chlorine.  Someone had spilled a little pile of pool chemical tablets.  Then I noticed something else:  two pieces of copper tubing had been hammered into the root.  THAT wasn’t an accident.

The chopped root

The chopped root

I’ve often heard people recite the old wives tale that if you want to kill a tree, drive copper nails into it.  (Copper sulfate DOES have herbicidal properties, but this trick will not work).  So, what’s going on here?  Axe cuts, pool chemicals, copper – sure looks like someone doesn’t like this tree!

Looking at the tree itself, the leaves on the side closest to the neighbor were curled at the edges, dry and scorched looking.

scorched foliage

I don’t think it’s at all unlikely that the pool chemicals could be responsible for this leaf scorch, especially if it is one of the many formulations that contain an algaecide.

I shared my suspicions with the client.  She is brand new in the neighborhood, and hasn’t even met the neighbor yet.  I suggested that she let us prune the maximum practical amount where the tree’s branches hung near the neighbor’s pool.  Better not to give him reason to complain.  And it seems nobody likes trees too close to a pool.

Of course, I can’t prove the neighbor intentionally tried to poison the tree.  But later in the day while the climbers were in the tree pruning it, they were discussing the symptoms they were seeing.  Unknown to them, the neighbor had walked over and was listening in on their conversation.  Overhearing them speculate on the likelihood of cause and effect, he announced his presence by yelling “Yeah, yeah buddy, whatever you say.”  And then, in a very hostile tone, he denied involvement and rambled on until the men became quite tired of listening.

If indeed this was an intentional tree poisoning, it’s not the first one I’ve seen.  Probably the most scary was a few years ago, in Worcester. My client suspected his neighbor of sneaking onto his property and drilling large holes in the tree trunks and dosing them with Roundup herbicide.  (Lab tests confirmed the herbicide).  Not everybody is a tree lover.

Back to the story – the client in Oaks knows to be vigilant.  And the neighbor knows he’s a suspect.  I sure hope they end up getting to know one another and become friends!

Click here to read another tree poisoning story, this one in Seattle, Washington.