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Tree care: Winning season after season with the simplest of techniques

Posted on August 16, 2015 at 11:49 PM Comments comments (135)
Summer is drawing to an end and the hot, rain less days of August are upon us. Between the heat and the dryness, the vigor of urban trees here in north central Alabama is being tested.  Just the other day in Arab, Alabama I was called to assess a thirty year old Ginkgo tree.  When I arrived it was glaringly obvious the tree was stressed and possibly in the clutches of a mortality spiral. (A mortality spiral is an industry term that encompasses all of the causes and effects of a tree that has crossed from a healthy and vigorous state to one that is stressed and on the road to death.)  This particular Ginkgo was painted in yellow leaves with a hint of green in the tips from the top to bottom.  The upper region was spindly and devoid of a nice green leafy crown that a healthy tree of this age should display. At the bottom of the tree just a few inches from the ground there were obvious wounding scars from what most certainly was contact by haphazard weed eaters and mowers.  Add all of this to the fact that the tree was undersized and in essence "puny" and it became doubtful that we might not be removing this tree.

I began by asking the customer about any past information she could recall about the tree.  She said there had never been any excavation or construction around or within the drip line of the tree. (Being that the it was located in a secluded part of her large yard this made it easier to discount the idea that any digging in the past might be adding to the present stressed state of the tree.)  

I then asked her if she or her lawn care provider ever fertilized the tree or any of her yard for that matter and she replied "no".  This is important because her tree is in an urban environment that is not conducive to a long tree life.  In fact urban environments are often hostile to tree health.  Often times when homes are built the top soil (the most nutrient rich part of soil) is stripped away.  Whatever soil is left is more often compacted and less permeable than not which further adds to the nutrient deficiency problem.  After a tree is planted and begins to grow it uses whatever nutrients are left in the low quality soil.  Typically a tree would receive nutrients from the break down of organic matter such as grass clippings and yearly leaf drop but as is common in an urban yard all of these debris are removed for aesthetic appearance.  Since no nutrients were being replaced in the soil it was no wonder the tree looked like it was starving to death.

After i had explained the importance of keeping a nutrient rich soil I asked her if she had ever had anyone trim the tree.  At first glance it looked untouched but she told me a local tree cutter had topped it out at some point.  Upon hearing this I took a more detailed look at the sickly specimen and understood why the top was so spindly now. Unfortunately, for the Ginkgo and also for the woman's pocket book, she had not only thrown her money away but also allowed the "tree cutter" to perform a very destructive practice on her undersized ornamental. 

As we talked about negative results and the inflicted wounds from improper tree cutting techniques I asked her about the scars on the bark at the base.  She confirmed my initial suspicion that these were caused by the lawn care providers lack of care for the tree.  The easiest fix for this wasn't telling the lawn service to be more careful but actually to add a nice mulch ring so they didn't have to even worry about hitting the trunk again.  This simple fix did more more than just keeping the hazardous lawn equipment away from the trunk, it helped in several other ways that you can read about in my other blog post about by clicking Here.

Finally I had a pretty good picture of why the tree was in the state it was.  I first recommended a soil and foilar test to be absolutely positive of the nutrient content in the soil.  Secondly, she agreed to beginning a fertilizer regiment and also adding a healthy mulch ring around the tree.  Even though the top of the tree had almost no taper and leaned a bit, the low level of the health of the tree did not warrant any action on it yet.  Believe it or not that is all the poor Ginkgo is going to have done to it right now.  We are going to wait until the next growing season and do another inspection.  Hopefully this is the beginning of an upward healthy spiral and the reversal of a mortality spiral. Time will tell.

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On the importance of a tree survey...

Posted on March 15, 2015 at 11:51 PM Comments comments (215)

Recently our company was approached by a local municipality about conducting a tree survey.  This particular city has no tree care plan or even idea of the health and well being of the trees in their care.  As I explained the process of developing an inventory and management plan, the importance of a complete tree inventory was once again impressed upon me.  Not only does a tree survey help a municipality with the many, many trees they are responsible for, but it also can help home owners.  Despite its thoroughness, a tree survey is rather easy to conduct when weighted against the benefits which include: a full knowledge of the condition of the trees in your care, a guide to follow to implement proper tree care, and a reduction in the overall time and effort spent maintaining the trees.
Now most folks who own their own property would probably balk at the idea of spending any amount of effort/money to correctly inventory their trees, but it is important none-the-less.  A tree inventory/survey allows the owner to visualize the hazards and health of a structure that can be both a liability and an asset.  When a survey is done, each and every tree (as specified) is identified, numbered, and scored for the hazard it may impose.   For example, a healthy and mature oak tree can add between $1500-$3000 to overall property value. The key word being "healthy".  That same tree, when in a location to cause injury or damage, could fail and cost the home owner many times more than its estimated worth.  A tree survey could have identified any known risk and provided the owner with a guide to properly addressing it. 

How can a survey provide the owner with a guide to properly caring for and maintaining his or her trees?  Essentially the survey is a map of your yard showing which trees are healthy and which ones are not; which trees need just little maintenance and which ones need none; the ones that need to be removed due to impending failure and which ones can stay.  This knowledge coupled with ANSI standards for tree care are a road map for the home owner to address what needs done.  This allows effort to be applied directly where it is needed most and not wasted where it doesn't.  In the long run a home owner, armed with a tree survey, will spend less money and time on their tree care and more time reaping the benefits of having healthy, and structurally sound, trees around.

Having the results of a tree survey in your hand allows you to prioritize tree care needs without needing the expertise and experience required to recognize those needs.  Most people do not know the signs a tree exhibits when in need of care. They don't need to be able to either if they have a professional put the results of a tree survey in their hand.   The survey acts as a checklist for the homeowner to go through and as time goes by less and less maintenance will be needed.  This happens because if a tree is pruned properly it will continue to grow on healthy wood in a safe manner and not just willy-nilly with the hopes nothing will go wrong.

At the end of the day having a tree survey just makes sense.  It is a life plan for the assets that make up the urban forest your yard encompasses.  So call a professional and see about having a survey done, it can only save you money.

Tree damage from storms and/or neglect

Posted on February 23, 2015 at 7:10 PM Comments comments (145)
Spring is fast approaching, Maple tree buds are starting to swell, and its high time to do a visual inspection of the trees in your yard to make sure they are ready for the extra stress of producing and maintaining foliage.   Here in the South we still have many trees that have damaged and broken limbs in their canopy from storms over recent years.  Also with so many trees per capita (higher than the national average) it is difficult to maintain every tree under our protection and provide yearly or even adequate maintenance.  With all of this in mind now is the time to either go out and visually inspect your trees or hire someone to do it and here is why.  
When a tree has damaged and broken limbs several factors that are detrimental to the trees health are at play.  First of all, any damaged limb that needs removed is using vital energy reserves from the tree to try to fix itself.  When a tree uses to much of its energy reserves it is more susceptible to health decline from any number of effects including: drought, disease, flooding, insects, etc.  Secondly, damaged or broken limbs are obviously a potential hazard to whatever is below or nearby. As spring comes damaged limbs can still add foliage making them even more dangerous.  The reason damaged limbs are more dangerous with leafs on them is because the leafs add a substantial amount wind resistance.  This added wind resistance will inevitably stress the area damaged  and greatly increase the likely hood of complete failure to the limb.
Apart from the health hazards damaged and broken limbs add to a tree, there is also the visual aspect to consider.  A well maintained and trimmed tree is much more visually appealing than one that is busted up.  Visually appealing trees can add a great deal of value to overall property value.  So if you either need help doing a visual inspection or need your trees maintained or fixed, contact Heritage Tree and let us set you up on a maintenance plan that will lead to lasting benefits to your trees and property. Hurry! Spring is fast approaching! 

Topping: Common practice, destructive results

Posted on March 26, 2013 at 11:43 PM Comments comments (62)
Today we will discuss the practice of topping.  Here in the South topping a tree is a common and accepted practice thought to make the tree safer and less prone to breaking.  In theory this seems to work but upon further examination we begin to see just how destructive and costly it truly is.  Traditionally when a tree has the top removed from it, the branches are cut indiscriminately to form numerous stubs.  The customer sees that the tree has had a drastic amount of height and weight removed and is happy with the immediate result.  However the true damage is not immediately felt (unless an unqualified "tree company" had been hired and dropped a limb on the house, then the damage is most definitely felt).

When a tree has its branches cut (which hold all of its leafs i.e. food factories) to form a stub, its food producing functions have been removed.  This throws the tree into a starvation mode.  Once in starvation mode the tree begins to release dormant bud growths, in the form of numerous new shoots, to compensate for the loss of leafs.  Most of these new shoots are located at the end of each freshly cut stub.  Now where a once healthy limb was, many quickly growing shoots are precariously located.  These shoots will grow rapidly and be weakly joined to the end of the stub.  As they grow larger most of the new growth will fail and break and what is left will more than likely be more dangerous than the original limb.  The result will be a disfigured and extremely ugly tree that has reduced value and also has reduced your property value (remember trees can account for up to %20 of a homes property valuation).  Of course this all assumes the tree survived the original procedure in the first place and has not needed to be removed.

Now if you are wondering if there is a safe way to remove dangerous weight from a tree the answer is yes.  The proper procedure is called a crown reduction and involves strategically cutting limbs back to secondary/lateral branches thereby promoting growth to an already established limb and reducing shoot growth.  This form of trimming does not leave a stub which enables a tree to properly heal preventing rot.  This procedure should never take more than %25 of the trees crown (that goes for any tree trimming) to keep from killing the tree.  When done properly a crown reduction makes a tree safer and healthier and compared to topping is the obvious choice.  

Here is a more in depth look at the practice of topping compared to crown reduction:

Mulching: The easiest way for a homeowner to take care of a tree.

Posted on January 11, 2013 at 7:31 PM Comments comments (102)
Trees set in an urban environment are essentially out of their element.  The forest is the natural habitat for trees and because of that offer many benefits that an urban setting does not.  One of the primary benefits is the upper soil layer in a forest is composed of 8-12 inches of decaying leaves, twigs, insects and many other important biological elements.  In your yard however these debris are typically removed so the grass can grow green and healthy.  As a tree grows up in this environment, essential nutrients are used up and not replaced by the debris layer found in the forest.  This leads to a gradual decline to the health and vitality of the tree.  One way to avoid this and provide a healthy soil for the tree to grow in is to add a layer of organic mulch around the tree base.

Organic mulch is any type of mulch consisting of once living plant life.  Typically the best organic mulch is composed of a mixture of shredded leaves, broken twigs, and tree bark.  Organic mulch slowly degrades into the soil replacing essential nutrients and also provides a home for beneficial insects.  It is important that the mulch is applied properly otherwise it can be harmful to the tree health.

Mulch should be spread no thicker than two to four inches.  Any thicker than that and the mulch will hold too much moisture and be a breeding ground for harmful fungi.  Also when mulch is piled to thickly poor drainage and soil aeration can result.  Typically a healthy mulching regimen will extend the mulch out to the drip line of a tree.  In an urban setting this may not be practical however but don't let that discourage you.  Remember to never pile the mulch directly against the tree bark or root flare, give the base of the tree several inches of clearance to avoid fungal infections.

Other benefits of mulching include not have to expend extra energy mowing around exposed roots and the trunk of the tree.  Also there would be no need to weed eat against the tree and thereby no weed eating scars could be left.  When done properly, mulching along with a proper border can add aesthetic and monetary value to your yard.  

Trees add BIG value to your property

Posted on December 28, 2012 at 7:13 PM Comments comments (67)
Before you have a tree removed or mutilated by topping it (topping is a very destructive practice) you should asses the value it adds to your property.  According to The Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers a mature tree can be worth $1000 to $10,000! That's quite an asset to be paying someone to remove.  Also if you are thinking of selling your property The United States Forestry Service says that trees can add %10 to your total property value, that's $20,000 on a $200,000 house! With these types of values you should be very diligent about who you hire to take care of your tree health needs.  Remember, anyone can cut a tree, only a professional can take care of it. 


Dormant Time Trimming

Posted on December 28, 2012 at 7:00 PM Comments comments (88)
Christmas has come and past and winter is in full swing.  During this time your trees are in their dormant period, as are most insects and dangerous pathogens.  With that in mind, now is the best time to get any maintenance done you may need for your tree.  Why you ask?  Well with winter comes several beneficial aspects to trimming.  First, most insects and pathogens are dormant right now and whenever a tree is trimmed open wounds are left.  These wounds are access points and potential tree health problems.  Getting your tree trimmed during dormant time allows the wounds to begin healing without potential problems and also lets it enter the growing season with a head start.  So with tree health care in mind, give us a call for a free assessment. 

New sight features on relaunch

Posted on December 11, 2012 at 11:29 PM Comments comments (78)
Today is the re-launch of our new website.  There are several new and exciting features.  Now through your mobile phone you can call and video chat to do an over the phone quote.  Also new to the site is our Heritage Products list.  Heritage Tree offers many products from the simple fire wood to custom log benches and planters. There are many other features that are continually being added so please search the sight and share us with your friends.  We hope you enjoy the changes and if you have any questions please ask because we are happy to reply.  Thanks all.