stories and information about trees, and some side topics...
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May 9, 2012 - Ash tree leaves dropping
Most of the ash trees in our area have been losing leaves in the past few days because the rainy weather is ideal for the ash anthracnose fungus disease. Learn about ash anthracnose from this article in the Jacobs Tree Surgery blog: May 23, 2009
April 25, 2012 - Arbor Day
Today was the annual Arbor Day of Service for the Penn-Del chapter of
ISA. Arborists from many area companies came together to donate
tree maintenance work at the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge.
Trees were pruned in the Medal of Honor grove, where our climbing
championship will be held on May 5, as well as elsewhere on the grounds.
Highlighting the day was the planting of a replacement crabapple tree in the circle of trees honoring 13 marines who were killed in a horrific accident in Vietnam in 1967. Veterans, some traveling from pretty far away, came to witness the event, and it was very humbling to hear their expressions of gratitude, knowing what THEY have given. This video will help explain the story.
April 11, 2012 - Planting trees from a container
I was in Walmart recently, looking at the
plants. Ok, I suppose I've already turned off parts of my
audience! But seriously, looking at all those trees in 2-gallon
pots, I couldn't help feeling a little bit sad. "Sad?" You
might think, "Why sad? You love trees, and the idea of people
planting trees is such a hopeful, positive thing." Well yes it is.
But I'm an arborist, and I get to witness so much disappointment when my
clients show me trees that were planted a few years before and just
aren't going to live to be old. I don't like to be negative, but
the reality is that most of these trees will fail to fully live up to
the hope and expectation of the persons who adopt them. So I
bought two of them, took them home, and made this video while they
were being planted.
Please watch it, and pass it on in order to make more happy endings.
March 18, 2012 - Jacobs Tree Surgery Goes to School
I’ve been taking advantage of Morris Arboretum’s School of Arboriculture. On Friday I attended Larry Weaner’s Native Wildflower Meadows class. WOW! I can’t wait to put all the great information now in my head into practice as I help implement Lower Frederick Township’s Cuddy Park’s Environmental Restoration plan.
Advanced Climber School
Ricky, meanwhile, attended the Advanced Climber School (focus on crane takedowns) at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnwood. I stopped by on Saturday, the third and final day, to observe. I don’t need to say too much about it, this slide show pretty much tells the story!
March 14, 2012 - Emerald ash borer
discovered in Bucks County
Sunday, October 30, 2011 - Snow Damaged Trees
The snow is melting and the tree branches are springing back up. Tomorrow we’ll mostly be cleaning up the debris from the broken trees. After that , we can inspect the damaged trees and make the right pruning cuts where branches are broken.
I’ll be able to fix a lot of the bent arbs etc by bending them and reducing co-dominants. And I can talk to you about phasing in a new tree to replace that beat-up Bradford pear.
More stuff on how to deal with snow damaged trees at Snow Damaged Trees
October 5, 2011 - European Hornets (Followup)
Renee wanted me to help her get rid of the hornets. So I had to decide how to go about it. The most effective way to control European hornets would be to destroy their nest and colony. But we have no idea where the nest is – probably not even on her property. If we went to spray the hornets we see on the trees with an ordinary contact insecticide we’d just kill those individuals present at the time.
So I opted to coat the bark of the trees with a material called dinotefuran. It’s a neonicotinoid, like Merit, with which you may be familiar. But it’s much more soluble, so when applied to the bark of a tree it can be absorbed, and then conducted through the tree’s phloem. And the phloem of the birch branches is where these hornets are feeding.
I made a visit to Renee’s today to check the results. There were no longer any hornets on the tree. But there were MANY on the ground, all either dead or dying.
So I think we made a good choice. Though we did have to intervene with a pesticide, the one we used – dinotefuran – is unlikely to cause harm other than to the target pest. It is extremely low in toxicity to humans. And with the trunk application method, the material all goes where we want it – in the tree. The only exposure is to whatever eats the tree. And, being so highly soluble, it dies not last very long (like Merit does). So it won’t be affecting beneficial insects like bees next year, after its job is done.
Post Script: I found a really good article since I had this experience. It’s by Frank Santamair, in the Journal of Arboriculture from 1984.
September 29, 2011 - European Hornets
These are European
I never really thought of them as tree pests before. When I see them on trees, usually they’re feeding on sugar that’s been excreted by aphids or scale insects, or on the alcoholic wetwood flux oozing from a mulberry or a dying elm. But I may be changing my mind a little bit , after what I saw today. Renee, from Audubon, showed me these insects, which she had attempted to identify by searching on the internet. She had noticed them before, but could no longer tolerate them because her son was stung by one of them, and it was a pretty bad experience.
They were congregating on two of her river birches. I waved my hand a few inches from a group of them and they didn’t react at all. They really aren’t very aggressive, normally.The branch of the birch tree was stained with sooty mold, indicating sugar, such as from an insect injury.
On closer inspection, I could see that the hornets were not feeding on the sugar; they were actually causing the injury that produced it. These hornets had chewed away the bark all the way around one branch, killing it!
I know they need cellulose to make the paper to construct their nests, but this is the first time I’ve seen this type of damage. You learn something new everyday!
One more interesting observation: while I was trying to get a photograph, I watched a baldfaced hornet approach a group of the European hornets. The Europeans reacted immediately and chased it away. After that, their behavior was completely changed- they were very aggressive toward ME and would no longer let me get close!
(check back later to see what we did about it)
August 11, 2011 - Diagnosis: Probably herbicide injury (second time this week) This time: IMPRELIS!
Mrs. B from Royersford called yesterday concerned about her douglasfir trees. She told me one was turning brown at the top, and also the white spruces didn’t look so good. She reminded me that I had sprayed them to control a disease problem a few years ago and was wondering if maybe they had the same problem again or maybe bagworms or something. As soon as I saw them I knew that it was neither of those problems. I explained to her that similar symptoms on different species most likely indicated an abiotic problem, not a disease or a pest, which are usually host- specific. The way the young growth of the doug firs was wilted and killed made me think of herbicide poisoning. In fact, it looked exactly like the symptoms of poisoning from Imprelis, Dupont’s new turf weedkiller.
Douglas fir - Imprelis injury
White spruce - Imprelis injury
Douglas fir - Imprelis injury
Douglas fir - Imprelis injury
The story of Imprelis is a really interesting one, and it is soon going to be big news. Heres the condensed version. Last year Dupont introduced this completely new product with great expectations for its potential. It is extremely low in toxicity to humans and at the same time very effective at controlling broadleaf weeds. So it was immediately popular. But this spring, all over the country cases of dying evergreen trees were being reported, mostly white pines and Norway spruce. And it wasn’t long before it became evident that there was a connection between these injured trees and Imprelis herbicide . The thing that these mysterious cases all had in common was the turf around them had been treated with Imprelis. Dupont initially did not acknowledge responsibility, but just last week they pulled Imprelis from the market. I’ll try to get some of the news articles and Dupont’s statements up here soon.
Anyway back to Mrs. B’s trees. I told her my suspicion. She said “but I have a lawn company that just uses organic treatments.” I responded; “maybe so, but there are NO weeds in your lawn. There is no organic weed control that is truly that effective.” I suggested she call the lawn company and ask them what chemicals had been applied. And told her to google “Imprelis.”
Then I left to go visit another client. Before I even got to Limerick, Mrs. B called me to tell me what happened. She had called the lawn company as soon as I left, and they were completely upfront with her. They acknowledged that they had applied Imprelis on June 13. And they now know there is a big problem., and want her continued feedback.Do you note the irony here? A person thinks they’re being environmentally responsible by choosing the supposedly “organic” option, and this is what happens to them. Drag.
August 8, 2011 - 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
Well, they didn't really look wilted to me, but they were distorted and curled.
The curled 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.
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.
The Kousa dogwood
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
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
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.
July 27, 2011 - Emerald ash borer update
Have you noticed all those purple sticky traps?
The PA Department of Agriculture has hung them in ash trees all over eastern PA this summer. My guess is we're going to find out about a considerable range increase for this terribly destructive insect. Already this year, 2 new counties have been added to the list, Huntingdon and Wyoming. IT IS NOW IN THE EASTERN PART OF PA, having been detected just north of Wilkes-Barre.
Things you need to know:
- Adults can fly on their own approx. 1/2 mile. So the pest isn't moving very fast on its own.
- It gets help in colonizing territory from people moving infested firewood.
- If emerald ash borer gets close to your area, your landscape trees can be treated by soil injections. Bigger trees can only, so
far, be successfully treated by trunk injection of insecticides. Treatments need to be done annually to be effective.
- Experts do not suggest treating trees unless an infestation has been detected within 15 miles. To treat before the threat is
there is a waste of money. And trunk injection is an invasive procedure. Don't injure the tree with it until you need to. And
don't believe anyone who tells you that their trunk injection method causes no injury to the tree.
- If your trees are monitored by a competent arborist, you are not likely to be caught by surprise by emerald ash borer. If it
shows up, you will have time to control it if you choose to.
- NEW information: A new chemical is available that is highly effective and lasts more than one season. Hopefully it will be legally registered for emerald ash borer control in Pennsylvania soon. And hopefully the price will come down (it's very
- MORE NEW information: A new monitoring tool may soon become available. Recent research on developing a sex
attractant (pheromone) has been promising. The purple monitoring traps now use two aromatic tree oils as attractant.
- Still more new information: Research has also uncovered promising indications of natural biological control of emerald
We in southeast PA are lucky to have the benefit of a decade of other's experience and research before having to face the emerald ash borer.
June 20, 2011 - Interesting removal job
Beech tree is surrounded by house.
Album has lots of pictures. If you look through them quickly it looks cool!
June 16, 2011 - 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!
June 1, 2011 - 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.
Look at the trunk flare on this nice rivers purple beech we planted this morning. See how the roots are evenly spaced around the trunk, and they all grow outward? And the flare is ABOVE GROUND! This is how it's supposed to be! I got this tree at Watercrest Farm in West Grove, PA. It was worth the drive. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to find really nice quality trees like this.
This beech is the replacement for one that died. When we pulled the dead one out, it was obvious why it didn't survive:
It has a TERRIBLE root system. Whoever planted it in the nursery didn't bother to spread the roots out. See how they're all tangled and wrapped in a circle, and all aimed in one direction?
It's nice to know that good quality trees are available if you look hard enough.
May 18, 2011 - Ash trees doing this?
Don't panic. See 5/23/09 article
May 15, 2011 - Nursery trees: why tall + skinny = low quality
Last winter I started a little landscape renovation project at my house.
This patch of woods along my driveway wasn't that pretty. There
were a lot of invasive foreign plants like Norway maples, bush
honeysuckle and multiflora rose, and many of the trees were mutilated by
the power company because of the overhead wires. So I cleared away
a lot of that stuff, and just left some of the nice understory trees
like the dogwoods, blackhaw, and hophornbeam. I've replanted with
wildflowers and intend to add some nice native shrubs. It looks
nicer already, and now you can see the creek.
Some of the little hophornbeam trees that I left are tall and skinny because they've been in competition with the adjacent trees their whole lives. Today, I noticed that after last night's rain, this tree is bent over.
That's because when trees are crowded they can't sway in the wind. That movement is what causes a tree to develop a strong, tapered trunk. Strong lignin bonds develop in the tree's xylem as a reaction to bending.
When you buy trees in a nursery, the size of the tree is measured by caliper (except smaller trees). Caliper is the trunk diameter at a half a foot above ground. If you have the choice between a taller or shorter tree of the same caliper at the same price, you want to pick the shorter one. Its more tapered trunk will be stronger than the other tree's.
This is also why we try to avoid staking newly planted trees. If they must be staked we do it in such a way that the trunk can still bend in the wind.
April 28, 2011: Penn-Del Arbor Day-of-Service 2011 at Friends Hospital
Tomorrow is National Arbor Day (Friday). We celebrated it a few days
early, at Friends Hospital in Northeast Philly. That’s where we got
together with other Penn-Del ISA companies to help restore a magnificent
but neglected landscape through donated tree maintenance work.
Aerial photos of Friends Hospital. This is the
first time we’ve gone to the same location in consecutive years, and I’m
happy that we did- I believe we have helped them catch up to the point
that they can maintain these grounds so the public can truly appreciate
what is there.
Arbor Day 2010
Arbor Day 2009
Some photos of what we did:
This weeping European beech had lots of dead wood and was overgrown with vines.
Scott gives Dave a tree biology lesson before the pruning starts. He’s explaining why the sprouts that are growing from the roots are genetically different from the rest of the tree, by pointing out where the tree was grafted
(see the non-weeping rootsprout behind Scott, on the left?)
We had the pleasure of meeting Paul Freda, a self-employed arborist from Pottstown. He and Ricky worked together pruning the beech.
Paul is a great climber an very knowledgeable ( he taught us about the amur corktree adjacent to where we were working). I hope sometime we get to work together in “real life!”
Scott got the worst of the dead wood out of this red maple (for the second year in a row!) This tree is in it’s final years, it’s doomed because of girdling roots.
Then we moved on to this red maple. Here Scott is setting his climbing line from the ground, while Paul works his way up the tree setting the line as he goes – the old fashioned way. Fun for me to watch- reminds me of “the day.”
Yes, Scott made it up there, too!
A final little detail- a round ended bark tracing on a nasty storm-damaged wound
April 25, 2011 - 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.
Update: Additional photos the crew sent me -
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.
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!
March 20, 2011 - Announcing the first JTS photo contest
Topic: Most Ridiculous
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
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!
Topic: Most Ridiculous
The biggest problem is deciding whose advice to take. There is a lot conflicting information out there.
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 for a really powerful story on this topic.
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.
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:
Before pruning After pruning
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!
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
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.
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.
November 17, 2010 - Needle loss, color change, on evergreen trees
As usually happens in the fall, I’ve been getting calls from people concerned about the yellowing or dropping of needles from their evergreen trees (another call this morning).
In most cases this is normal – the older needles drop off in fall. The tree doesn’t need that full canopy for photosynthesis in the winter, and the reduction in surface area could benefit the tree by decreasing water loss and lessening potential for storm damage.
It seems like the phenomenon is more apparent than usual this year; Penn State has been getting a lot of calls too. Here’s the news alert they recently sent out: My evergreen is turning brown!
But there ARE some needle diseases that might deserve a closer look. In particular, I’m going to re-examine some of the Colorado blue spruces I’ve seen this fall to make sure that they’re not infected with Weirii rust. That’s a new disease in our area, and it has the potential to be more problematic than some of the other fungus diseases because it doesn’t require an alternate host species for reproduction. It’s hard to identify now, but in the spring, the “rusty” looking spores will give it away! (I’ll show you some pictures tomorrow)
You do not necessarily need to cut down your oak tree if you find out that it has bacterial leaf scorch. Yes, BLS is incurable. But hey – so is diabetes. If you find out you have diabetes are you going to go right to Dr. Kevorkian? Of course not! Your doctor is going to tell you how to manage the disease. And if you follow his advice you probably have a lot of good years left!
Here are some trees I’ve been watching for a while. All the photos were taken late in the growing season when the symptoms look the worst.
Red oak, Paoli, tested positive 2007 and below Photo, Sept. 2010
This tree has some problems besides the BLS – old root and other injuries. But the owner wants to keep it as long as possible. It is not declining quickly.
Row of red oaks, Valley Forge, photo Oct. 2010
These trees are healthy. Do you see the gap in the treeline where the man is standing? There was another oak tree there until 3 years ago. It tested positive for BLS in 1992. Before that, it was injured when the adjacent driveway was bulldozed. Its health never recovered. It stood diseased and declining for many years. The trees right next to it were never affected although the spittlebugs and leafhoppers that can transmit the disease were surely present.
Pin oak, Collegeville, photo Oct. 2010
This pin oak tested positive for BLS in 2003. At that time, it was treated by trunk injection and prescription fertilizing to treat chlorosis (chlorophyll deficiency) NO antibiotics. It looks like it is due for treatment again – see the yellow leaves? But it’s hanging in there, not declining, no tip dieback.
Pin oak near Norristown, Oct. 2010
This tree tested positive for BLS in 1997. It was treated with antibiotics and prescription fertilizer. It had significant decline symptoms at that time, including tip dieback. It has not been treated since, except for routine crown cleaning pruning. It looks better than it did 13 years ago. The owner is glad she kept it.
Pin oak in Royersford
This tree tested positive for BLS just last year. The tree is full of sprouts because of bad pruning. It is chlorotic because of soil chemistry. This summer when the scorch symptoms appeared again the owner decided to invest in the treatments I suggested could improve its health. We mulched as much of the root zone as he was willing to sacrifice from lawn area, to help preserve soil moisture. This fall we will treat the soil with a prescription fertilizer treatment as per Penn State soil test results, along with a biostimulant. Next spring I’ll evaluate leaf color and, perhaps, inject with micronutrient (iron) to treat chlorosis. I will keep you posted next year with results!
What will happen to our oak trees in the future as a result of this disease? Nobody really knows. Here are some of the possibilities:
- Some predict doom and gloom – a big percentage of red oak group trees will be killed. Maybe, but I doubt it. Remember that when you read a statement in a news article that says something like “90% of the trees tested in New Jersey have bacterial leaf scorch” that’s just the trees that are tested. Nobody is testing trees that look healthy.
- My guess is that we may find that the probability of infection is going to depend more on the individual tree’s genetics and health than just exposure to the bacterium.
- Severity will probably vary from year to year. Cold winters seem to suppress the disease. Drought weakens the trees.
- The oxytetracycline treatments used by some people really don’t seem to work.They definitely don’t cure the disease. But that doesn’t mean a better treatment won’t be discovered. After all, Xylella fastidiosa is what causes Pierce’s disease in grapes. It’s the same bacteria, though not genetically identical. Xf is a big problem for the grape industry. And there is a lot more money for grape research than for shade trees.
- I also predict that in many cases bacterial leaf scorch might end up being similar to a lot of other leaf diseases. Like anthracnose of ash, sycamore and walnut, horsechestnut leaf blotch, scab of apples – more of a nuisance than a killer, especially if overall tree health can be maintained.
We will learn more as the years pass. I will watch these and other cases, and keep you posted on them as well as on new developments.
GO TO MAIN ARTICLE on Bacterial Leaf Scorch
Mrs. H and Mr. M from yesterday’s story have something else in common besides being surprised to find out the trees at their new houses had problems. Both Mrs. H’s red oak and Mr. Ms pin oak have foliage that shows scorch symptoms. Both could possibly be infected with bacterial leaf scorch (B.L.S.) (Xylella).
I think the causes of the bad appearance of the leaves on Mr. M’s tree are primarily abiotic – caused by environmental conditions rather than disease. Mrs. H’s looks like bacterial leaf scorch. But there is no way to tell for sure without a lab test. Bacterial leaf scorch can’t be cured. But BLS alone does not normally kill trees, at least not quickly. We’ve only been able to reliably diagnose bacterial leaf scorch for about the last 20 years, and we still have more questions than answers about it.
But it’s been in the news a lot lately, and the news sensationalization of it has helped fuel a minor epidemic of fear.
Both Mrs. H and Mr. M solicited the help of other tree service companies besides mine. Interestingly, both told me similar stories about their experiences. Each was advised by at least one company that their trees were diseased and should be immediately removed. And each had a company advise them to inject antibiotics into their diseased trees. None of these companies suggested testing to find out if the trees actually had bacterial leaf scorch! YOU CANNOT, WITH CERTAINTY, DIAGNOSE BACTERIAL LEAF SCORCH WITHOUT A LAB TEST!
I have a hunch that the companies that suggested removing the trees make a lot of their profit by removing trees. And the ones who offer to inject them with antibiotics when they are symptomatic at the end of the growing season make a lot of their profit by selling snake oil pills. Neither of these suggested actions is in the best interest of the trees or their owners.
LEARN MORE ABOUT BACTERIAL LEAF SCORCH at September 18, 2009.
Tomorrow I’ll share some case studies that will support my opinion that bacterial leaf scorch is not a death sentence. I have been watching some cases for close to 20 years!
On Tuesday night I talked on the phone with a potential customer in Worcester whose trees I had just looked at. One big pin oak was dead, another had health problems. Mr. M told me he had just bought the house last winter. The trees were a selling point – one of the reasons he chose the house. He didn’t notice any problems because it was winter and the leaves were off.
Pin oak in foreground has been dead for over a year. The one behind it is chlorotic and has sparse foliage, and had a trench dug through the root zone 3 years ago.
Then, the next morning I went to Wayne to see Mrs. H’s red oak. She too had recently bought her house. Her tree even came with a built-in tree house, which she thinks is very cool, and is using! (it IS cool, I went up in it when I checked out the tree). Same disappointment as Mr. M’s, however. She didn’t notice health problems with the tree until she moved in.
The scorch and dead tips weren’t obvious until summer.
The good news– I don’t think either Mr. M’s pin oak (the live one, of course) or Mrs. H’s red oak are hopeless cases. Their declining conditions may be reversible. But the surprise could have been avoided. After all, when you buy a house you get almost everything else inspected by professionals, why not the trees?
There’s more to this story –both of these people avoided being victimized again- watch for the follow-up tomorrow
It was hard for me to build this website. I procrastinated for years. I had too many ideas of articles to write or tree topics. It would be a book… a novel…War and Peace ! Where do you start when you have War and Peace in your head? Then I began to realize it wasn’t going to be War and Peace. Not even a novel. If I could manage to do it at all it would just be a textbook. Who reads a textbook?
So finally I got the bright idea that if I could just start writing down some of the daily stories I’d eventually cover most of the topics in an incremental sort of way. I have the rest of my life to do it, after all.
Now the problem is – I know I have to keep stories concise if anybody is going to get anything out of them. But it is hard. If you know me you know how hard it is to get me to shut up once I get going.
But I STILL want to share some of the stuff that doesn’t fit. The overflow, the digressions and divergences. The cool stuff that happens at work that falls slightly outside arboriculture. Any maybe some stuff that might not “really interest anybody outside of a small circle of friends.”
You’re welcome to join the “circle” – here’s how:
become a fan of Jacobs Tree Surgery on Facebook.
If you decide to check it out, I’ll tell you about the Ukranian tomato.
A good friend of mine, Shawn, who is a landscaper, called a couple of weeks ago. He wanted me to go with him to look at a tree that needed work, and so I did.
The tree was owned by the parents of an old friend of Shawn’s, who now lives on the west coast. Shawn’s friend had called him and asked him to get the tree work done for his parents, and told him about The Accident. The tree, a white pine, had been damaged (like so many in our area!) by that last big snowstorm last winter. Several broken branches were still hung up in the tree where, if they were dislodged, they might land in the street and hurt someone. That, I guess, was probably why Shawn’s friend’s sister wanted to help. Visiting her parents and seeing that they appeared to be in no hurry to take care of the tree, she decided to do it herself. She climbed the tree and a branch broke and she fell to the ground. Her mother told me they all feel fortunate she will walk again, but she is still recovering from a broken back, broken neck, and broken ribs.
After the incident, I think everybody in the family was anxious to get the job done, and done by a professional.
This is the tree:
We did the job for them today. It cost $312.00 .
So, is tree work dangerous?
My answer has always been NO, or at least there is no reason it needs to be.
Often when we’re pruning or removing a big tall tree a client will comment that the work looks dangerous, or “isn’t that climber scared?” My stock answer is “the scariest thing we did today was the drive to your house.” We had to share the road with all those distracted or impatient or angry people who are late for work. Once we’re on the job, we’re in control of the situation. Everybody knows all the safety procedures, we work as a team, we have good modern personal protective and fall safety equipment and know how to use it. Nobody does work they are not trained for and skilled at.
The chances of getting seriously hurt are pretty small until the ride home!
But we don’t take safety for granted. We are always learning from organized training programs. Everyone attends formal training in first aid, aerial rescue and electrical hazards. We go to seminars where we learn from others’ mistakes – accidents and near misses. We analyze the potential hazards on all our job sites.
Years ago an insurance agent gave me his opinion why workers comp rates were so high for the tree industry. He said something like “you guys and painters- it’s not that your work’s so dangerous. Just that you seem to hire an awfully lot of alcoholics and druggies.” I can’t say there aren’t still some marginal characters lurking in a few companies disgracing the lower echelon of tree “services”, but the stereotype definitely does not accurately portray the whole tree care industry!
Our trade organization- TCIA- Tree Care Industry Association- continually works to improve safety in our workplace. They publish lots of safety training programs and co-sponsor the ANSI Z133 safety standards for tree care.
And each month TCIA magazine prints a collection of the latest accident stories gleaned from the news. Here’s this month’s:
You can see more in the archives: TCIA.org
Each month as I read between the lines of these tragic stories, my opinion is reinforced that serious accidents among trained and skilled arborists are relatively rare. A disproportionate percentage of these stories imply some indication that the victims were unqualified to be doing the work that hurt them. So many casualties seem to involve fly-by-night type companies or individuals, landscapers and others doing work beyond their qualifications, and do-it yourselfers. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY!
This morning we did a pest monitoring visit for a good client, a 250unit townhouse complex. Historically the worst pest here (invertebrate that is) has been the bagworm, because of the preponderance of arborvitae and juniper in the landscape.
A big problem with bagworms is that to the untrained eye they are not easily seen, so they’re often not noticed until late summer when they are no longer easy, or possible, to control, and the tree has been killed or severely damaged.
But early instar (young) larvae are EASILY controlled, you just need to know when and how to spot them.
Cocoon of early instar larva. Can you see it? The caterpillar has camouflaged itself by attaching juniper needles to the cocoon!
We examined all the important host plants today, and only found one very small bagworm outbreak (thus the lousy photo-not a lot of subjects from which to choose.)
But what we DID find was lots of assassin bugs! That’s a good thing! They’re a predatory insect – one of the few predators of bagworm.
The bagworm larva’s cocoon protects it from most predators, but the assassin bug can attack it successfully because it has a long, pointy mouth part (rostrum) that it can insert right into the cocoon
See the rostrum? It’s the reddish brown spike curving down and rearward from the head
Anyway, the point of this story is that this clients landscape has very few pest problems. And it is because they DON’T use regularly scheduled pesticide cover sprays. When we encounter a pest problem that reaches a threshold requiring an intervention we just target the actual pest population, we don’t blast the whole landscape with pesticides. And we use a control measure that can do the job with the least impact on non-target species. Bagworm can be easily controlled with Bt if caught in time. Bt only kills Lepidoptera, no other insects
So natural predators control almost all the pests for this client. The bagworms rarely get out of hand anymore. There are never any mite problems on the spruces or arborvitae or junipers. This job is really easy if you know what you’re doing
More insect eaters we saw today
predator mite (eating an earwig)
Unfortunately a lot of companies still manage pests with regular sprays, whether needed or not. This is stupid. It’s like bombing the hell out of an entire country just to try to get one terrorist bad guy when you don’t even know if he’s there or not! It’s a huge waste of money and ammunition, there’s loads of unnecessary collateral damage, and a lot of the casualties turn out to have been your allies!
The lesson : diagnose before you treat. (treatment without diagnosis is malpractice) Monitoring plants is the first and most important step. It is the key element in an IPM (integrated pest management) or PHC (plant health care) program.
On my travel route today: more lionstailed trees. (See June 10). Again in Pottstown. Maybe Pottstown has an epidemic. Or would that be called an infestation (2-legged pests)?
Sometimes in the course of my travels something catches my eye and I am compelled to pull over and snap a picture. This is one of those things.
Somebody stripped out all the inside branches of this pin oak!
This is unfortunately a pretty common malpractice – the ignorant tree pruner sometimes claims to the unsuspecting tree owner that “thinning” the tree will let wind through and lessen the chance of storm breakage, and they do THIS. But this is not thinning – the name for it is LIONSTAILING. It doesn’t achieve the effect claimed because all the leaf surface area is now at the end of the branch where the wind force has the most leverage on the branch, instead of evenly distributed as “nature intended” (as evolution perfected).
And then, all that light let in on the previously shaded bark causes the tree to waste valuable stored energy putting out sprouts, and it can’t make the needed amount of food (sugar) (energy) because of the reduced amount of foliage. This could likely be the beginning of the irreversible decline of the health of this mature tree. What a shame.
Actual thinning is not harmful, it can be good. It takes skill to get out to the ends of the branches where the thinning cuts need to be. And if the cuts are made correctly, according to ANSI standards and using the 3 to 1 rule, you probably won’t even notice it was pruned if you are driving by.
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.
The Jacobs Tree Surgery crew pruned this cedar-of-Lebanon. It was in bad shape from snow-storm damage
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.
More explanation of the disease and photos of the apple trees can be found at July 15, 2009 article.
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.
Look at all the roots that were cut in the trenching process.
How could these guys not be aware that root injuries like this harm the tree?
Maybe it’s almost time to remove those stakes?
Well, you can’t fault them on thoroughness – look, they’re mulching the dead tree!
And here, they’ve even got the low branches covered! That’s really extra effort!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Slideshow - more 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.
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.
Mulch Madness is in full swing now!
Everywhere I go it seems that employees of the assembly-line landscape maintenance companies are doing their annual GROSS MALPRACTICE of piling soil and mulch against the tree trunks.
When these guys dig their little trenches to define the edge of the mulched area they cut and injure the trees roots. Then, often, the soil that's dug in the process gets piled on top of last years mulch. Then they'll cover it with more mulch. In addition to the health problems caused by the mulch being in contact with the bark of the trunk, this is one of the primary causes of the growth of roots in a pattern that girdles and eventually kills these trees.
But may be you're thinking "I see this going on everywhere." Maybe even at every house on your street. So Warren must be full of crap, everybody besides him couldn't possibly be wrong! Well, if you don't believe me, just Google the term mulch volcano and see what you come up with! (mulch volcano is the derisive term used by knowledgeable people in the world of horticulture to describe this abomination.)
WHAT THE HECK ?!?!
Since this is probably the biggest tree health problem I have to deal with, you will see MUCH MORE on this subject coming to this page. Stay Tuned.
The Daffodils are in bloom outside my office window! Spring at last!
What to Do When Your Tree is Damaged By a Snowstorm
Let me start with the story of one persons’ misfortune because it is such a powerful learning experience.
“The mysterious case of the death of Mr. Key’s
Ted Key was famous for his cartoons –particularly “Hazel” – which you surely remember if you are of a certain age. Less famously, he also loved his trees.
For me, a visit to his house near Valley Forge was always a delight because he would insist on giving me the tour of his personal little ”arboretum.” He’d always test me, pointing to an unusual specimen such as his beautiful Cunninghamia, and saying “you know what this is?”
One day in 1997 he called and asked me to look at his big sycamore tree. It was suddenly dying and he had no idea why. The whole top of the tree was dead and the trunk was covered with sprout growth. Mr. Key was heartbroken to lose this magnificent tree, but it now needed to be cut down; in this condition it was a threat to the house.
The top of the Keys sycamore is nearly dead and the main trunk is covered with sprouts (above)
With the sprouts removed you can see the cankered spike injuries (below)
So we cut away the trunk sprouts and the mystery was immediately solved: the bark had evidence of injury due to someone climbing it using climbing spikes. The spike wounds had become the site for a canker disease infection. Each year for the past 5 years, the vulnerable woundwood surrounding the injured tissue was killed by the canker, leaving widening concentric rings of dead wood. After about the 5th year, as the increasing dead areas coalesced, half of the circumference of the trees cambium was killed.
When I explained this to Mr. and Mrs. Key, they both said my conclusion could not be accurate – no one was ever allowed to climb any of their trees using spikes – the Keys knew better. I showed them the concentric canker rings, counting them backwards to the little hole in the middle, and said yes, unfortunately someone did and it was in about 1991. Mrs. Key suddenly said “OH NO! Now I remember!” There had been a nasty ice storm about 6 years before, and some guy knocked on her door and told her that, for the small price of 50 bucks (since he was in the neighborhood) he’d climb up the tree and get the broken branch that was hanging in the top. She agreed, and the man went out to his truck and began to strap on his climbing spikes. Mrs. Key was watching and said “you can’t use spikes, they’ll injure my tree.” The man assured her the injury would be insignificant and it would heal right away, it wasn’t going to hurt the tree. So he did it. 6 years later we knew that she was right and he was wrong. But a terrible way to learn the lesson.
A lowering device is lashed in place in preparation for the removal . Can you see the spike mark in the center of the concentric rings of canker dieback?
Don't panic – it’s not a health emergency for the tree! The tree doesn’t need first aid. It’s not going to bleed to death.
· Don’t panic – once safety issues are resolved – things like broken branches precariously suspended over targets like your house, sidewalk and driveway, there is no longer an emergency.
· Don’t panic – trying to remove heavy snow or ice from trees or shrubs is likely to cause additional damage. The damage is already done. Wait for it to melt. Once the weight is gone, branches often remain bent in position. They may remain “frozen in place” for a while after the weight is gone, but they will recover amazingly as the weather warms. I can then bend some branches back to where they should be, or make targeted pruning cuts so that the subsequent growth will be of the desired form. (If some type of unprofessional hackery occurs before I can do this, it will be much more difficult for me to get the desired results.)
So the message here is – if nothing is blocking your driveway or threatening a target – wait. Wait until the restoration and pruning can be done by someone who knows what they are doing. Improper pruning cuts or those that damage branch collars will cause permanent damage. Malpractice such as this is the biggest potential problem for storm damaged trees.
Malpractice by unqualified handypersons or homeowners poses the greatest threat to the future health of damaged trees.
The past week's tree-related headlines were topped by a tragedy
Torrential rains soaked southern California for several days. In San Jose, a family returning home parked their car under a large shade tree in front of their house. Just as the parents were unbuckling their 2-year-old son from his car seat, the tree fell and crushed the car, killing the young boy. News articles on the story were accompanied by many reader comments about the accident, some readers blaming the city for being negligent for allowing a hazard tree to exist, and some asserting that such an "act of God" was horrific, but unpredictable.
A casual observer probably could not have anticipated the failure of this tree. But evidence I saw (from 3,000 miles away, of course) showed some defects that would have raised red flags for an arborist, had one been employed to assess the condition of the tree. Previous improper pruning and the burying of the tree's trunk flare was obvious, and would have indicated to the arborist a need for a more comprehensive inspection, which in turn would likely have resulted in the prediction of a high probability of failure. But of course, it is too late now.
After the tree had fallen the reason for its failure was obvious - there was very little support root structure remaining.
But the question (for the lawyers to decide) - whose fault was it? Was this an unpredictable "act of God" or should the church, on whose property the tree stood, be held liable for the car owner's loss because it failed to remove a predictable hazard?
Once again the average person probably would not have noticed an impending catastrophe by looking at the tree. It probably looked reasonably healthy, and there were no really obvious defects to the above-ground portion. But, (also once again) an inspection by a qualified arborist would surely have turned up evidence of this tree's hazard potential.
Do you see the "mushroom" at the base of the tree trunk?
This is the fruiting body of a decay fungus (it appears to be Inonotus dryadeus). This would have told me that the tree probably has an extensively decayed root system. With that information the tree owner might have decided to do something to avoid this problem.
But, once again it is now too late. And, as I said, it's now a job for the lawyers.
Herbie the Famous Elm tree of Yarmouth, Maine has been cut down. See the excellent TV video of the story.
The tree news story of the week has been about the demise of a veteran tree in Yarmouth, Maine. It was probably the largest remaining American elm in New England, and one of the few big ones that has, until now, escaped the deadly Dutch elm disease. This excellent TV video includes an interview with the 101 year old former town arborist who helped keep the tree alive for the past 50 years.
Today we did our first cat rescue
There's no such thing as a cat stuck up in a tree. If he could get up there, he can get down. Never saw a cat skeleton in a tree, ever!
So today, the phone rang while I was at my desk (indoors, my least favorite work environment). The caller said he had an unusual question and didn't know who else to call. His cat had been in the top of a tree in his backyard for over two days. He sounded like he was slightly embarrassed to ask me to come out and rescue it. He also sounded worried.
I told him I'd call him right back, after I contacted my crew. I called the crew's two cell phones and got no answer (our job sites can be loud). While waiting for their return call, I pondered this job request. Should we do it? The cat will probably come down itself eventually. Will my climber be reluctant to risk getting scratched and bitten over a cat? Then I decided "yes - of course we're going to do this - we can use the blanket method of wrapping the cat, like when we need to take ours to the vet, to avoid being injured if the cat's response is ungrateful. And besides, this guy's concern is genuine - he didn't even ask what I'd charge, he just wanted his cat safe.
So I called the man back and told him we'd be there within an hour. I drove to the nearby property where my men were working and enlisted my foreman, Ricky. We took the tree truck (which contains every piece of equipment we could possibly need) and together we went to Eagleville to meet the anxious cat owner.
He was waiting outside when we got there and pointed immediately to the top of the tallest ash tree at the rear of his property. The cat's name is Budweiser. A big orange tom cat. It was petrified. Its free paw was actually shaking as it looked down at us. Ricky proceeded to set his climbing line in the tree, using the throwball. This scared the cat even more, causing it to pee. A lot. Thankful that the cat's bladder was now probably empty, Ricky ascended the tree.
"Bud" is bundled for the trip down.
Ricky wouldn't have needed the blanket - the cat seemed very agreeable to receive company up there. The descent was uneventful.
So back to the beginning of this story. The myth that it is impossible for a cat to get into a situation where it can't come down is just that - a myth. In most cases they eventually will get out of the predicament on their own, especially if left alone without too much fuss and attention. But if several days go by and they are still up there with no food and especially with no shelter in bad weather, they probably actually do need intervention.
I learned a lot about this topic and you can too, from Dan Kraus's website: catinatreerescue.com. Dan is a world-class professional climber and a really good guy, and his website contains a directory of climbers throughout this country and internationally (!) who are willing to take on this type of emergency rescue job.
It's been a while since I've showed tree news through this column, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been any. The last months of 2009 were actually very eventful in the local arborworld, I've just been a little too preoccupied to report on it. But I promise to get back on here really soon with a recap. Check back next week if you're curious.
Does your oak tree look bad?
It might be bacterial leaf scorch. OR IT MIGHT NOT. There is NO WAY to be certain except by laboratory analysis using an immune response test. Of course, it's always important to correctly diagnose a problem before deciding how to treat it.
The wet weather we have experienced this year has provided favorable growing conditions for many leaf diseases of trees - in the case of oaks these would be oak anthracnose, Tubakia leafspot, leaf blister, and powdery mildew. (If you are trying to diagnose the cause of your oak's disease symptoms by looking at pictures on the internet be aware that oak wilt disease has not yet been found east of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania).
None of these leaf diseases (all caused by fungi) normally warrant control measures. They are very unlikely to permanently impact tree health, and probably won't be an issue next year unless we get another very wet growing season.
Bacterial leaf scorch is a different problem. The bad news is it will not go away (even if treated with antibiotics - don't be misled). The good news is that BLS alone is not going to kill your tree, at least not quickly and not without the combined impact of other factors.
Bacterial leaf scorch has had a lot of media publicity in the past several years. Unfortunately, it seems like a few unscrupulous tree care "professionals" have risen to the occasion, victimizing unsuspecting customers by recommending inappropriate, or bogus, treatments, or by recommending removal of trees based on strictly visual diagnosis. Bacterial leaf scorch CAN NOT BE DIAGNOSED WITH CERTAINTY WITHOUT A LAB TEST. And usually a symptomatic tree will be suffering from other ailments such as chlorosis, pest problems, previous moisture stress, root damage, soil problems, etc. that may actually be a bigger factor than the disease.
Don't be scammed. Get an accurate diagnosis before you make a management decision. If in doubt get a second opinion, preferably from someone who has no financial reward at stake, such as your Penn State Extension office.
More information about bacterial leaf scorch is available in my article on this site.
Interesting Removal Job
It was a great big tuliptree and it had been struck by lightning the previous Sunday. I agreed with the owner that removing the tree was the best option, even though you can’t always tell right away whether or not a lightning-struck tree will survive. It was a double-trunked tree and both trunks were significantly splintered from the strike. There were other defects too – it had been improperly pruned (topped) at least twice over the last 40 years and, though not obvious to a non-professional, there were large decayed and hollow limbs and weak re-growth as a result. And it was right next to the house!
It would be a pretty expensive job, but the client told me I was the low bidder! I thought perhaps the other 2 tree companies thought the job might be a little too tricky for them and they didn’t really want it. The client suggested perhaps they (the others) felt they could take advantage of the situation because insurance would be paying for it. (The claim was denied, at any rate).
So we decided to treat it as an emergency- the owner was really concerned about the danger. We did the job on Monday. We were well prepared, with a big crew, and the job looked like it should actually end up being fairly routine until I spotted the bees!
Honey bees. In the hollow created by one of the old topping wounds was a colony of honey bees. Now what? We opted not to kill them, as it appeared they were not easily agitated. Honey bee colonies vary in their levels of aggressiveness depending on the queen. It seemed like this was a very docile queen.
The climber was not afraid of them, and he simply went about his business piecing down the tree with the bees paying him hardly any attention. The last cut, however, did get them riled up as it dumped their home forty feet to the ground. We waited until the next morning to fell the remaining trunk.
Here is a slide show of the day’s work. Note the photos of the climber working with bees buzzing all around him!
It has been a somewhat hectic past couple of weeks – lots going on for me including several violent thunderstorms that inflicted lightning strikes and wind damage on numerous trees in our area. But today I’m taking some time out to catch up on posting some of the interesting tree phenomena I’ve observed recently.
- Another "Emerald Ash Borer" Scare
- Cedar apple rust in Collegeville PA
- Violent storm tests cable system
- and an update on the tomatoes
Another “Emerald Ash Borer” Scare
I was called to the clients' home because her beloved huge white ash was not looking healthy- lots of dead wood- and had been receiving a hammering from wood peckers. When I checked the tree, besides the woodpecker holes, I observed many exit holes in the bark that had been produced by boring insects. Some were the typical oval shape of the ash-lilac borer, but some had that dreaded “D” shape that could possibly indicate EMERALD ASH BORER.
Sure looks similar to E.A.B!
I looked closer, picking away at some of the dead bark and poking into the borer holes. Eventually I found, to my relief (and the tree owner, Anna’s!), the wing cover of an adult ash- lilac borer in one of the “D” shaped holes. False Alarm!! Not EAB!
The client REALLY wanted to save the tree, but I didn’t want to waster her money on an expensive pruning job if it were doomed anyway because of Emerald Ash Borer. So my men climbed the tree and checked the dead branches, also, for signs of E.A.B. infestation. All clear. We went ahead with the pruning. The tree is not in the greatest health but it’s now a lot safer without all those dead branches above the driveway and patio. And it looks nicer too, don’t you think?
Cedar Apple Rust
A client in Collegeville asked me to look at her apple trees, which appeared unhealthy as the leaves were turning color and dropping off.
Viewed up close, the leaves display the orange colored lesions typical of cedar apple rust.
Nearby, at the property line, is an Eastern red cedar tree that is completely infested with cedar apple rust galls.
This is an interesting disease because it has a two year life cycle – spores (aeciospores) released in summer from the fungal fruiting bodies on the apple leaves travel through the air and when they land on Eastern red cedar or another susceptible juniper infect that host and produce galls that, in the spring, produce spores (basidiospores) that, in turn, infect leaves of nearby apple trees. To see the fruiting galls on juniper in spring (an incredible sight!) scroll to the April 21 entry in this column.
I also noticed evidence of a canker fungus disease (possibly Botrosphaeria) and fireblight, a disease caused by a bacteria – Erwinia amylovora – both causing injury and death of branches.
If my client can convince her neighbor to remove the cedar tree (it is not a nice tree, either location or health-wise_ her apple trees will probably have much less leaf-spot problems in future years.
This winter we will do maintenance pruning on the apple trees, including removing the dead wood. This should reduce the problem with the Botrosphaeria and Erwinia diseases.
Violent Storm Tests Cable System
Back in May of 2007 a client from Schwenksville came to me with a dilemma: she has a big Norway maple near the street in front of her house that was very much alive, but in very fragile condition because of extensive decay from old injuries. The best thing to do, I told her, would be to cut down the tree, because it was a hazard – if it broke, which it eventually would, it was likely to land in the street, pulling down high voltage wires and possibly hurting someone driving by.
She did not want to remove the tree because it provided a screen from the road, plus it would be an expensive job. She wanted an alternative solution to reduce the risk. A typical cable system would not be a long-term repair, the tree was way too far gone for that. But I offered a compromise plan of installing a non-static cable – a special very strong hollowbraid Dacron rope with big eye splices connecting it to the main trunk and the perilous leader over the street. This would protect the weak branch to a degree but, more importantly, keep it from crashing into the street if it did break.
Well, yesterday it broke. There was no way it could withstand the extremely violent winds from the thunderstorm that came through yesterday afternoon. But the cable held, and the big heavy branch remained suspended above the street. We had the mess cleaned up by 8:00 this morning, to the relief of the concerned client.
I still haven’t lost any more tomato plants. I have been spraying them after each rain and I guess that has been working. It hasn’t rained for a whole week up until today, and there is some nice lush green new growth on top – not marred by the phototoxic “burn” of the phosphorous acid.
I have never applied regular chemical sprays in my vegetable garden in all my 40+ years of gardening. My crops are normally 99+% organically grown, not because I have any fanatical fear of modern crop protection chemicals or synthetic nitrogen but because I just don’t normally need them. The soil is fertile because I till in cover crops and lots of composted wood chips. And this year I made my own fish emulsion fertilizer out of all the filleted carcasses of the bluefish I caught this spring. If I were to use pesticides the decision to do so would be based on the same IPM/plant health care principles I use when caring for a client’s trees. First watch plants for potentially damaging pests, then intervene only when those pests reach a threshold population. For me the threshold is losing the crop – I’m not trying to please any fussy supermarket shoppers that would freak if they found a caterpillar on their broccoli. When I do nothing, natural predators usually keep the pests under control.
Pardon the digression, back to the tomatoes. I actually feel kind of lucky that I detected the late blight in time. Apparently the disease is still rampant in our area. Just last Saturday I was at a client’s property and she showed me her sick tomato plants. I advised her to take a sample to the Montgomery County Cooperative Extension office in Creamery. When I came back to do the tree work on Friday the plants were gone. She lost them all! And these were established plants from a reputable source pretty far from the nearest neighbor.
And in Harleysville there is a huge community garden I can’t help gawking at every time I drive by. Beautiful vegetable plants of all kinds immaculately maintained. But driving by on Friday it appeared they were about to lose the tomatoes – hundreds of plants that appeared perfect up until now.
So this story is not over.
Update on Tomato Late Blight
It looks like I might not lose my remaining tomato plants. Last Saturday - 1 week ago today - I removed and burned all of the plants that showed severe symptoms. But most of the plants had some part that looked infected, and instead of destroying them I pruned out the bad parts. I have been spraying with Daconil, and a week ago I started also using Agrifos - a fungicide containing potassium salts of phosphorous acid. This is a material that can possibly be used by organic gardeners. I have used Agrifos experimentally, along with a material to enable it to penetrate the bark, on trees, and just learned it's registered for food crops also. In the past week I have seen no spread of the late blight disease in my garden.
Oh, and by the way, I got my first ripe tomatoes this week. The earliest in the summer I can ever remember. They are on the Rutgers' Mortons that are advertised to be an early ripener. I guess they are!
More on Tomato Late Blight
What Should the Home Gardener Do?
So up to now the only advice I have heard has been, basically, : if you have late blight there is nothing you can do to save your plants - rip them all out and carefully dispose of them to prevent the spread of the pathogen. But today, I found some more in-depth advice on the Penn State Master Gardeners blog. Check these 2 very interesting articles:
You need to click Permalink at the bottom of the articles to see the comments.
Also, here are 2 good articles that explain a little about who and what are responsible for this problem.
* Greenhouse Grower - Disease Costs Bonnie Plants $1 M in Recall
!! UPDATE !!
LATE BLIGHT TOMATO DISEASE CONFIRMED
Recently I sent samples of my unhealthy tomato plants to the Plant Disease Clinic at Penn State. They called me right back and confirmed that my plants had late blight. If you grow tomatoes PLEASE READ my previous article about late blight, and please examine your plants. This is an extremely serious situation. And if you do have it, it affects not only you but your neighbors and any local tomato farmers!
GARDENER ALERT - TOMATO DISEASE OUTBREAK
A couple of weeks ago I bought a tomato plant at Home Depot and planted it in a barrel on my deck. Shortly after planting it, it developed severe disease symptoms, so I pulled it out and tossed it in the weeds.
Then last Monday (6/29) I got an email message from Rutgers University Ag. Station, warning that the Northeastern U.S. has a disease problem that is different from other years.
The disease is late blight (Phytopthora infestans). This is the disease that caused the Irish potato famine. It kills infected tomato, potato and other related species of plants VERY QUICKLY and is also EXTREMELY CONTAGIOUS. The cool wet weather we’ve experienced is the ideal condition for late blight development.
But what’s really different about this year is that late blight has never been seen this early in the season over a large region. And worst of all, infected plants have been distributed from Ohio to Maine through large retail stores that sell a big volume of plants all originating from the same supplier (Bonnie Plants, of Georgia, according to sources I located on the internet).
So yesterday, I stopped at the same Home Depot and tried to warn the person in charge of the plant department. She said “what do you want from me?” I was only trying to be helpful, but that wasn’t at all appreciated. I guess there’s a lot of money at stake for these big companies, but I do not agree with their apparent unwillingness to face up to the problem. Then I went home and examined the tomato plants in my garden, about 80 plants, mostly heirlooms I grew from seed. Five of the Rutgers Ramapos were infected with late blight and I yanked them (and disposed of the properly this time!)
So the message is monitor your tomato plants VIGILANTLY to watch for late blight symptoms, especially is you got some of them at what the Rutgers and Penn State alerts refer to as “the Big Box Stores.” The wet leaf lesions and dark colored lesions on the stems are quite obvious to the naked eye.
Photos – infected leaf and stem on Ramapo tomato in my garden
If you find infected plants, remove them immediately, don’t compost them-bag them and get rid of them to reduce the chance of spreading the innoculum. For more info go to http://www.njfarmfresh.rutgers.edu/documents/Lateblightalertforgardeners_001.pdf
Emerald Ash Borer found in Kentucky
Last week the office of the State Entomologist in Kentucky confirmed reports of this devastating invasive insect in Shelby and Jessamine Counties.
Emerald ash borer was introduced to the US from China by way of imported wood products. Since its discovery in 2002 it has spread rapidly, and will probably continue to do so.
Emerald ash borer was detected in Pennsylvania in the westernmost part of the state in 2007, and hasn't been found farther east until just this past February (2009) when it showed up in Mifflin County (in the middle of PA) so learn what to look for if you have ash trees - apparently there is no stopping it from eventually reaching us. More info at http://ento.psu.edu/extension/trees-shrubs/emerald-ash-borer.
DON'T PANIC! Your ash tree is going to be OK.
Have you noticed lots of leaves falling from your ash trees this past week (week of May 17th)? Do the leaves look like this?
These trees will recover within the next couple of weeks, and will look fine for the rest of the season, with no permanent harm. The culprit is a fungus disease called ash anthracnose, and the reason it is so noticeable this year is because we had a week of rainy weather just as the leaves were in their most vulnerable stage -partially expanded. Once the leaves are fully formed, they will no longer be susceptible to the ash anthracnose pathogen, even if the spores are present and climatic conditions favor the disease. Don't let anyone talk you into treating this disease - sprays, injections or any other treatments will do absolutely no good. In order to effectively treat this disease, the fungicide must be applied BEFORE the symptoms reach this point. Because we can't predict the weather in any given year, to treat a tree for ash anthracnose involves a fungicide application PREVENTIVELY, whether it will make a difference (wet spring) or not (dry weather at leaf expansion time). Ash anthracnose poses very little impact on the health of a healthy ash tree. It is mostly a nuisance (and perhaps a surprise) to the tree owner. I do not recommend bothering with preventive sprays, unless the tree is already in precarious health or the tree is located where the leaf-drop nuisance is actually a real problem.
We removed a couple of big trees yesterday. They were in a tight spot, with lots of obstacles. But the right people and the right equipment really made the job easy. Can you believe we got paid to have this much fun?
Penn-Del ISA Arbor Day of Service
There are many landscapes consisting of wonderful specimens of old and valuable trees whose owners - public institutions, parks, old cemeteries, etc. - do not have the financial means to provide the care these trees deserve.
The local chapter of our professional society, The International Society of Arboriculture, tries to do something about that.
Each year a nice bunch of volunteer arborists from Penn-Del ISA gets together to perform a day of free tree care service for a needy organization.
This year the very worthy recipient was the Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia. What a magnificent site this is! It's a National Historic Landmark, and a horticulturally significant 54 acre oasis right in the middle of Philadelphia, near the University of Pennsylvania.
Today, "Earth Day" 2009, was the day. Rick, Scott and I had a really fun time working together, in well-organized teamwork, with fellow arborists from around the chapter. Some of use are competitors in business the rest of the year, but that doesn't keep us from being best of comrades for this labor of love.
We met new friends, shared stories (many with similar themes) and got a lot of really high quality pruning work done.
What a satisfying day it's been! I'm tired! Good Night!
Cedar Apple Rust
This morning as the rain was clearing out, I went to a clients property in Collegeville to quote some pruning work. While there I noticed an eastern red cedar tree that was just beginning to "bloom" with the reproducing stages of cedar apple rust.
This common disease has a very interesting lifecycle : the fungus that grows as a leaf spot disease on apple trees produces spores which, when carried by the wind are deposited on cedars or other species of juniper, grow to form galls on the juniper twigs. Then, after a spring rain when the temperature is suitable, the galls erupt into a brilliant orange jelly-like substance that is the spore producing stage on cedars. This reproducing stage occurs magically fast after the rain, then only lasts a few days. Spores from this fruiting body then infect the leaves of apple trees to complete the 2-stage lifecycle.
Galls just starting to expand
The beautiful weather of this weekend will surely kick off our spring busy season. I can’t wait, it’s been a long winter!
The Virginia bluebells in front of my office window
are now in full bloom.
Note the spring beauties and a few dandelion in the lawn in foreground :mine’s not the typical suburban sprayed sterile lawn.
Today I saw the first blossom in my strawberry patch. Spring’s definitely here
Also today, in my driveway, I spotted this beautiful emerald green beetle.
THIS IS NOT THE DREADED EMERALD ASH BORER! (the adult EAB does not emerge for another two months). And, thankfully, they still have not been found here in Montgomery County, although they are in western PA.
The webs of eastern tent caterpillar are starting to become noticeable on the native cherries in the woods, as well as on the crabapple in my nursery.
I get a lot of calls about ETC, (with people often confusing it with other more destructive pests such as gypsy moth). Don’t let them worry you - they are not going to invade like some of the introduced pests and populations are kept in check by natural enemies such as assassin bugs, parasites and birds. (it’s a favorite food of the Baltimore oriole) I’m not going to spray the ones in my nursery, I’ll probably just destroy the nests before they eat a lot of leaves.
If I’d noticed this egg mass – the things that look like a swollen area on the twig - over the winter, I could have just pulled it off then and prevented its hatch.
Exciting things are happening outdoors every day, and at an especially fast pace at this time of year. I’m going to try to keep you updated with regular posts here on this site, hopefully with some links to more information on some of the topics.
252A Fulmer Rd. Perkiomenville, PA 18074 610-287-7107 email@example.com