Diagnosis: Probably herbicide injury

On Monday I checked on an ash tree for a client in East Greenville.  She said the leaves appeared to be wilting.

The ash tree

The ash tree

Well, they didn’t really look wilted to me, but they were distorted and curled.

The curled ash leaves

The curled ash leaves

The curled ash leavesThe curled ash leaves
I unrolled some of them to check for pests; none were there.  No aphids, no silk from any caterpillars.  There was an outdoor fireplace nearby.  But if that were the cause, I would expect the symptoms to be the worst closest to where the fire would have been.






Next to the ash is a young saucer magnolia.  Last year I treated it for a bad magnolia scale infestation; so while I was there, I examined it.  The scale was gone, but it too had a lot of distorted leaves.  And, like the ash, no pests, no aphids.

The magnolia

The magnolia

When trees of different species have the same symptoms, it’s probably abiotic – not a disease or a pest.  Pests and diseases are usually host-specific.
Near the ash and magnolia is a Kousa dogwood.  Same thing – distorted leaves.  And the type of distortion that is generally seen with certain herbicide poisoning.  That is, elongated parallel veins and interveinal chlerosis.

Kousa dogwood

Kousa dogwood

Kousa dogwood leaves

Kousa dogwood leaves

There is another ash a few hundred feet away also at the rear of the backyard.  It has the same symptoms, only even more pronounced.

The other ash

The other ash

Well, all the symptoms are consistent with the effect of herbicides, but the client’s lawn is definitely not weed free.  If that is the cause, the likely reason is spray drift from the hay field adjacent to the yard.  The field looks very clean, hardly any weeds.

The hay field

The hay field

So that is my theory – all the trees were damaged by herbicide drift from the application to the hay field.  And that is what I told the client.  And she confirmed that the field was recently sprayed.  She will ask the farmer to be more careful in the future.

Unfairly maligned part II

The Northern catalpa.  Some people HATE this tree. It has big leaves and seeds to rake up.  I don’t see the problem though.  The seed pods are light and dry when they fall and disappear when the lawnmower goes over them.
Mr. Dirr says: “Limited value in the residential landscape because of coarsness; has a place in difficult areas but the use of this and the following species (he names the other catalpas) should be tempered.”
Mine is right in front of my house and provides wonderful shade.  And when it blooms in late spring, it is a sight to behold!

Underappreciated/Unfairly Maligned

I don’t always agree with “the experts.”  Michael Dirr is a famous expert.  His book Manual of Woody Plants has been the main textbook for courses on the subject.  Here’s what Michael Dirr says about one of my favorite shrubs:
“Old favorite for sweetly-scented flowers; does not have much to recommend it for the modern landscape” “All Philadelphus types require about the same care – none.  They are vigorous, easy to grow plants but are strictly of single season quality.  In flower they are attractive to some but the rest of the year (about 50 weeks) are real eyesores.  My garden space and labor are too valuable to waste on shrubs which only return a small interest.  Consider these factors before extensively planting shrubs of this type.”

Well, he does admit in the introduction to the book that he is opinionated.  With no apologies.  I respect that.  But I still think he’s a plant snob.  I would grow mockorange for its perfume alone, even if it only flowered for one day!  It fills the hollow where I live with a heavenly and unique scent.  If only Estee Lauder could pick up on it!
And so what if it’s only a green bush the rest of the year?  What about privet?  Taxus?  Juniper?  Oh yeah, you can hack them into garish topiaries, I forgot.
My mockorange is a remnant of a very old landscape, dating to a time before plant snobs were so prevalent.
My next wrongly snubbed favorite will bloom tomorrow or the next day.

Girdling root job

The client has 3 cherry trees in his front yard, and he wondered why they were not growing at the same rate.  He also noticed wounds on the trees that were not closing. The wounds turned out to be nectria cankers (a fungus disease).  The trees varied a lot in size, even though the same age.  All three trees had soil piled against the trunk and no visible trunk flare.  I couldn’t pull the soil away because ornamental grass was planted in it. There were no other obvious health problems above ground, so I suggested we blow away the soil from the base of the trunks and look for root system problems. Today the crew went to the property and did just that.  Using the airspade, they blew away the soil mounds and found roots encircling all the trunks.  This is surely the limiting factor for growth, and the stress from the trees’ reduced ability to conduct water and sugar reduces their ability to resist the nectria infection. Ricky called me to ask my advice about cutting the girdling roots.  What needed to be done was really radical surgery, and he was a little timid about it.  After all, we want to “first do no harm.”  So he sent me photos from his smart phone and I looked at them on my computer.  I reassured him that it was ok to cut the big roots.  Although the surgery would seem radical, there is no way the trees could live to be old without it. By the way – the big girdling roots in the perfect circle are probably the result of the tree having been raised in a pot.

girdling root

Update: Additional photos the crew sent me –

girdling root girdling rootgirdling rootgirdling rootgirdling root


Field Trip to Longwood Gardens

I needed to show a client some examples of how an old and fragile tree can be supported by props.  So I used that as an excuse to take Jodie and go on a little excursion to Longwood Gardens. (Note to the IRS: that’s why the company paid for our trip.)
Longwood has 2 nice examples of this kind of support system.  One is this big cedar that has a threatening lean.

leaning cedar

The other is this old decrepit mulberry.  It looks like it should be cut down, doesn’t it?  But Longwood keeps it alive because it is the record holder for largest mulberry in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes there is a reason to make “heroic” efforts to preserve a “veteran” tree.


The props are made out of decay-resistant black locust logs that were cut somewhere on Longwood grounds.  Pretty cool, huh? With that mission (getting those photos) accomplished, we spent the rest of the day enjoying Longwood’s many indoor and outdoor exhibits.  I’ll share a few things I found interesting. Some of the lawns are meticulously maintained, like a golf course.  But not all.  I especially like the areas that are filled with spring-blooming flowers, like here.

Inside one othe the greenhouses, Jodie pointed out a plant that caught her eye (I forget what it was).  I looked at it and said I didn’t think it was pretty.  It had pale colored leaves.  My sense of beauty appreciates dark green colored plants – I guess because I’m looking through arborist eyes.  Green = chlorophyll = energy = healthy. Right after we stepped out of that building, I said “Look! That’s what I like.  Look how dark green that tree is!”

Lastly, I shot a few pictures to show how Longwood mulches around their trees.  This is the right way to do it!

Note: No trenches around the perimeter, you can always see the trunk flares, they cover a lot of square feet, and the material is: partly composted wood chips!

Announcing the first JTS photo contest

Topic: Most Ridiculous Mulch Volcano Valuable Prizes!
About the Contest: The idea here is to raise the level of public tree awareness. I picked the volcano topic because it’s the biggest, nastiest tree problem out there. Mulch volcanoes are a bigger threat to the trees of suburbia than any insect, even the dreaded emerald ash borer! All are welcome to enter, whether you are an ordinary citizen with just the slightest interest in trees, or a green industry professional. You don’t need to be a skilled photographer either. We’re going to judge these photos on lots of different criteria. Photographic composition might be one of them. “Artiness.” But also anything that makes the photo interesting. Maybe the perps caught in the act. Maybe the root injuries or girdling roots depicted. Maybe something about the location, that it’s somewhere that you’d think they’d know better. Maybe just the sheer outrageousness of the volcanic mass. Some little detail that makes it humorous. Be creative…
If you are a serious gardener or plant person, you know about the mulch volcano problem. If you don’t know, Google it. And marvel at the number of hits! And then read the articles I’ve posted on this site.

Mulch Madness I
Mulch Madness II

mulch madness
Stay tuned for more details. I’ll have a page for the contest within the next few days. And start carrying your camera in your car. There are so many photo opportunities out there!

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