Choosing the Right Tree Service

Choosing the right tree service protects one of your largest investments; your home. When looking for tree work many folks have some idea of the pruning or removal they wish to have done while others are looking for advice and an ‘experts’ opinion. In these circumstances, a consultation is a great first step to adequately assess and diagnose the trees in question and understand the clients needs. It is common for a reputable business to charge a consultation fee to reimburse a qualified arborist for their time, knowledge and experience. Of course, there are some businesses that offer this service for free. As anyone should know, nothing is for free and many times wrong recommendations are given in order to drum up business when there could be other alternatives. Hiring a Certified Arborist with a good reputation provides assurance that you have hired a knowledgable and qualified professional.

Most tree services are basically tree removal services and know little if anything about trees. They are in the business of removing trees and this is their underlining business plan. When seeking advice or the ‘Free Consultation and Tree Assessment’ from a tree removal service it should come to little surprise that their recommendation is to remove the tree or to drastically prune it to make it ‘safe’. While sometimes this is the reasonable and logical thing to do, often times there are other alternatives that only a trained and qualified arborist can prescribe. Each tree species is unique and requires different management needs depending on its environment and the clients interests. Sometimes that involves removal, sometimes pruning, and sometimes nothing at all.

Ask the right questions and get the right answers. Why does this tree need to be removed or pruned? How will my job be performed (felling, climbed, spiked, bucket truck, crane)? What can I expect my yard to look like when you are done? How much of the tree is going to be pruned and what will be the long term effects? How will this affect the surrounding trees, landscape and buildings? These are just a few of the questions that should be asked and hopefully answered in detail.

If preserving and managing your trees are your top priority, then starting the whole process with the right company is the first step. Always hire a company with a good reputation, proper insurance and a qualified consultant.

Introducing the IML Resistograph

  I am happy to have purchased a new instrument that will aide in my consulting and tree assessments services called the IML Resistograph.

The resistograph is an instrument that detects decay and cavities in trees and timber. Through resistograph technology, an arborist is able to detect wood decay, stages of rot, hollow areas, cracks and ring structure. The resistograph is an ideal device for estimating tree stability and longevity. The resistograph is based on a drilling resistance measuring method developed by Frank Rinn in Heidelberg, Germany. The Resistograph in action.

The Resistograph machine uses a 19-inch long, 1/8-inch diameter drill bit. When drilled into the tree, the wood’s resistance to the drill is recorded on a strip of paper (it looks like an EKG). We usually drill three to four points at the base of the trunk and the major root flares. The tiny drilling hole closes itself up without any damage to the tree. Not every tree needs the resistograph test, but there is no substitute for this crucial test when it is indicated.

The Resistograph is used to determine the amount of decay in living trees. It is also used in root, trunk and climbing inspections. In some species, the resistograph can be used to measure tree growth diameter and bark thickness. The instrument was initially developed for the tree care industry, but is now used in multiple industries: termite and pest control, utility poles, building inspection, timber bridge inspection and playground inspection.

The resistograph is fast, accurate and reliable. Its biggest advantage is that it detects decay with virtually no tree damage. It also enables an arborist to analyze annual ring structures and to determine the growth tendency according to the width of annual rings.

The resistograph will provide you with measurable data which will determine to what extent a tree is at risk of failure. The resistograph is also a key tool for planning a landscape design. It helps homeowners, landscape architects and builders decide which trees are worth keeping and which trees may have serious problems. It is best to find out if the feature tree has any cavities before you invest in planning the rest of your landscape around it. Prevent an accident before it occurs!

Checking for decay in a Douglas fir

This Resistograph reading indicates sound wood

Restorative Pruning After the Ice Storm

The recent demand we have experienced due to the ice storm has been both overwhelming and humbling. We greatly appreciate everyone’s request and patience as we deal with the crisis at hand. We have been and will continue to prioritize hazard and safety issues first and focus on restorative pruning and non-emergency removals as things settle down.

Your trees just went thru quite possibly the most stressful experience of its existence-and survived. So certainly you would not choose to hire just anyone to ‘prune’ and restore their damaged branches. The process of restorative pruning is crucial and can be the difference between long-term recovery and short-term decline and downright ugliness.

Restorative pruning is a skill. Just because someone has a saw and a truck does not mean they are qualified to correctly prune storm damaged trees – or trees in any state of existence. Please do not just hire whoever knocks on your door or who is available the soonest and cheapest. Trees can and often will recover from storm damage but they do not always recover from an unskilled ‘tree cutter’. Be patient. Remember that quality takes time and skill.

What is the goal of the restorative pruning? Often times it can take years and multiple pruning applications to fully restore a tree. Every species is different in the way it responds to injury and some can tolerate heavy pruning and major foilage loss better than others. Furthermore, we have learned from ice storms that end-weight reduction pruning and the installation of dynamic cabling has proven itself again and again to help prevent major branch and whole tree failure.

Please do not remove your trees out of fear. Become educated about your trees and have them assessed by an ISA certified arborist. Again, if they just survived a catastrophic ice storm followed by a windstorm and are still standing and in decent shape then what more are you asking for? Unfortunately, it is somewhat predictable to drive thru town and see the overwhelming amount of BAD pruning and unnecessary removals taking place as a result of this storm. While some trees do not belong in our urban environment, condemning them all is just ignorant. Again, many trees will recover in time with proper pruning and patience. Please contact us to see what we can do for your trees.

Yikes. This is not restorative pruning.


The Importance of ‘Habitat Trees’

The importance of habitat trees (snags) in the urban environment is something I rarely get asked about but am always trying to encourage property owners to consider. The value of keeping a tree standing as long as possible is vital to many of our local species. I realize this is not always possible given the proximity of houses, fences, etc plus sometimes the thought of having a half dead tree in the yard is not always an easy sell. However, in the right setting, maintaining a habitat snag can be very benificial to both the animals that use it and the people who get to see nature at work.

Standing dead trees provide an amazing range of microhabitats. Deadwood is crucial to many insects, invertebretes, fungi, lichens, and mosses. Cavity-nesting birds such as nuthatches, swallows, wood ducks, owls and wood peckers as well as bats make their homes in snags. The majority of cavity-nesting birds are insectivorous, meaning that they feed off the insects that are residing in the snag. Because they make up a large proportion of the forest-and urban forest dwelling bird population, they play an important role in the control of insect pests.

Believe it or not, but there is actually more life and diversity in a dead tree than in a living one. Nearly every part of the dead tree is used by wildlife in every stage of decay. Keeping snags in urban settings is crucial for these species survival.

When possible, we try to leave some limbs on the trunk and rough up the top to make it look natural. If requested, we will also burrow a few holes in the trunk to speed up the natural process.

Creating snags in a neighborhood greenbelt

Maple snag in a wooded area

The Myth of “Windsail Reduction”

“Should I have my trees ‘wind-sailed’?”
In recent years, one of the most common requests I get as an arborist is to ‘wind-sail’ or ‘wind-thin’ a tree. You may of had a door-to-door salesperson from another company knock on your door and try to sell you on this fabricated notion. This pruning technique is marketed to make trees ‘safer’ in the wind by allowing wind to pass through the canopy of a tree, thus reducing movement and strain on a tree. This is done by indiscriminately removing branches throughout the canopy to reduce it’s overall foliage mass. This may sound reasonable and may even seem to have some logic behind it. But beware, the truth is that there is really no formal scientific study that definitively shows thinning to increase resistance during a windstorm.

In fact, many studies have shown that the outside limbs can actually divert some wind from the center of the tree and act as a buffering shield. The more limbs a conifer has from bottom to top, the more of a ‘shield’ they provide.

Aggressive thinning can also make the remaining branches more vulnerable to failure now that they are isolated and must take on the elements alone. Thus, the idea of removing a major portion of the trees live canopy for the sake of not falling over during a windstorm is in fact harming most trees in the long run. Especially healthy conifers, which beyond necessary deadwood removal, crown-raising and/or end-weight reduction, do not require much if any crown-thinning.

Remember, trees need leaves and needles to produce food for its survival.

Furthermore, and this is a topic in and of it’s own, but trees do not heal from wounds. Trees only have the ability to compartmentalize and seal themselves off from a wound. So removing live branches actually depletes the energy already stored in the tree by forcing it to compartmentalize the areas around pruning cuts rather than growing new wood in areas that will stabilize the tree. Therefore, aggressive pruning takes away a trees ability to produce food for itself and as a result causes unnecessary stress. This stress can be an invitation to disease, bacteria, insect and sapsucker damage, and general decline due to ‘starvation’.

“What do I do if I am concerned about my trees falling in a windstorm?” Trees have been around a very, very long time. For the most part, they have figured out how to react to wind. The reality is that all trees move. It is crucial that they bend. Movement is what creates growth. By moving in the wind, a tree figures out where to add wood to strengthen weak areas (compression and tension wood). When a tree is aggressively wind-sailed, it no longer bends or moves and thus no longer builds up holding wood or necessary anchoring roots. Wind-sailing can create a false sense of stability.

Most trees that have not been damaged by human interference or affected by root rot are more than capable of withstanding our regions fiercest windstorms. It is the trees that do not fit into this category that we should be most concerned about. While our goal and many of our clients goal is to preserve their trees, some may need selective pruning or even complete removal. Techniques such as end-weight reduction of branches and selective crown-thinning of canopies has been shown to reduce limb breakage but has not been proven to necessarily prevent whole tree failure. The only sure way to prevent trees from falling is to reduce the overall canopy or to completely remove the tree. This reduction is called ‘topping‘. The only time this practice should be applied is in extreme circumstances where removal is not wanted but prescribed with the understanding that once you top a tree you have basically given it a death sentence. Often times, it is better to remove the tree and replace it with a more suitable tree that is appropriate for it’s surroundings.
We always strive to listen to our clients concerns and consider as many factors and options as we can before giving recommendations. We understand that trees are a long term investment both to your property value and to everyone’s basic survival. In the end, we always encourage our clients to think about the benefits and/or risks to any tree care decision. If you feel that your tree is a hazard, please contact us. Our arborists approach each task with a basis of understanding tree biology. If your tree is unstable there may be methods to keep it safe and improve its health. Pruning, cabling, crown reduction or complete removal may be necessary. Whichever course is best, we can help with your decisions and carry them out in a safe and effective manner.

To read other recent articles posted by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources click here: “Windsail Reduction: a Northwest Controversy” Also, “Trees don’t windsail, do they?”

Often, this is what windsailing looks like.
Maybe they were paid by the pound?

Needle Drop and Cedar Flagging

Needle dropping and cedar flagging is a natural process that is often confused with a disease. Evergreen plants, including conifers (cedars, firs, hemlocks, redwoods, etc) and broad leaf types (laurels, rhododendrons, etc) naturally shed some old foliage each year. Although the loss of your evergreen’s needles may at first be disconcerting, the period of natural leaf fall for the species must be taken into consideration. However, if the trees are shedding the current season’s needles, or if the current season’s needles are turning brown, it may be time to consult an arborist.

As a result of both natural and environmental stresses, evergreens shed their older needles. As do other plants, evergreens shed their older needles after a number of years. In conditions of natural leaf drop, the needles usually last around three years. Juniper and Douglas fir needles last for 10 or more years, while Bristlecone pine needles can persist up to 30 years.

Symptoms of needle drop and cedar flagging include the development of brown foliage on the tree or shrub in late summer and persist into mid-late fall. Affected foliage is growth from previous years while foliage developed during the current year (new growth at branch tips) remains green. The brown branchlets, called flags, are generally spread uniformly through the canopy. Most of the dead foliage is blown or washed out of the plant by wind and rain in fall and winter and the tree typically looks green and healthy again by spring.

Management includes:

– Additional irrigation may be needed during periods of summer drought.
– Alleviate root disturbance from construction damage or other factors.
– Correct poor planting practices when feasible. If affected plants were planted too deeply, it may be possible to replant them during the dormant season if they are not too large.
– Doing nothing and let nature do it’s thing

Cedar “flagging”

How to Recognize Potential Tree Problems

With the storm season approaching, here are eight potential warning signs that a tree may need attention. While these examples may be indications that your trees need the care of an arborist it is important to keep in mind that all trees are natural shedding organisms. It is normal and necessary for trees to be in a constant state of flux. This is the great and wonderous nature of these large organisms and their place in the natural ecosystem. What is important is how to identify the risks that your trees present and how best to manage these risks.
1. History
Past tree care, construction and landscape activities can affect the health of your trees. Construction, trenches, soil elevation changes, poor pruning and tree topping can all have adverse effects on your trees. If roots have been cut or disturbed, the tree may become unstable or if the tree has been topped, it may have multiple tops with rot at the base.

2.Dead Top
Visually inspect the top canopy of your trees to make sure they are not in decline or dead. Significant thinning or smaller leaf/needles size can indicate root problems or other issues.

3. Lean
Not all trees necessarily grow straight up. However, trees with a significant lean may indicate a problem. Look for cracked soil and exposed roots around the base of the tree which may indicate the tree has recently begun to lean. Also, if the lean does not ‘correct’ itself and turn upright there may be a problem.

4. Multiple Trunks
Some trees develop multiple trunks. Trees with multiple trunks can break if the trunks are weakly attached or if the trunks are excessively heavy with branches on one side. Inspect these trees for cracks or splits where the trunks meet. Also, inspect if the tree is ‘weeping’ sap or other fluid. Severe cases of ‘included bark’ can split apart in a storm.

5. Weakly Attached Branches
Inspect branches where they attach to the trunk. Tight V-shaped forks are more prone to break than open U-shaped unions. Trees with splits, cracks, and/or several branches arising from the same point on the trunk may also present problems.

6. Cavities & Decay
Inspect the trunk or branches for peeling bark and hollow or decayed areas. Large decay pockets and decay where branches meet the trunk can indicate serious structural problems. Mushrooms or conks growing on or at the base of a tree are signs of decay-causing fungus.

7. Trunk & Branch Cracks
Inspect the trunk and large branches for cracks. Deep, large cracks indicate structural weakness in the tree and need careful evaluation.

8. Hangers and Deadwood
Hangers are broken branches still lodged in the tree. Whether partially attached or separated completely from the trunk, hangers are likely to fall unexpectedly and should be removed. Dead branches, or what some call ‘widowmakers’, will eventually fall. Removal of deadwood may not be critical, but it should not be ignored.

Again, while all of these signs could lead to potential hazardous situations it is important to understand what, if any, risks these trees pose to the things that matter most to us. Obviously, houses, driveways, high human traffic areas, playgrounds, valuable landscapes, etc, are such areas. Some trees may need pruning, others cabling, while some may need complete removal. Other times it is important to just let trees go through there natural process. This is why hiring a Certified Arborist for a consultation is often a good first step in managing your landscape.

Conks at the base of a Black locust

Included bark in a maple

Does Spiking Hurt My Trees?

As arborists we should be concerned with minimizing injury to a tree. A tree is alive just underneath the bark. This is where the vascular cambium is and really the only ‘live’ part of the tree. Spiking (spurring, hooking, gaffing, etc) up a live tree causes multiple injuries to the phloem, cambium and xylem and destroys the tree’s own protection against outside invaders, such as insects and other pathogens. For example, it seems a healthy fir or pine tree with no injuries is less attractive to sapsuckers and borers than a sick bleeding one. Make a couple of holes in that same healthy tree and you will undoubtedly attract more sapsuckers and borers. They can smell/sense the sap and therefore will target the tree.

Some research has also shown that infected climbing spikes can transfer some disease organisms from diseased trees to healthy trees, much the same way the common cold can be spread from person-to-person.

A tree must also use energy to recover from a wound much the same as an animal or human would. The overall vigor of the tree is reduced since energy that would normally be used for other normal metabolic functions must be redirected to heal wounds. The tree will probably survive but overall will not be as vigorous as it would have been had it not been injured. Spike holes also provide entry for bacteria and fungi which could infect the tree, possibly leading to its death. Hiring a skilled arborist that has the correct equipment and knowledge is the best step towards preserving your trees when pruning.

In addition to health concerns for the trees, the holes that climbing spikes leave are just plain unsightly and can diminish the value of your trees!

These are sad examples of a fir tree that was spiked by someone from a door-to-door tree company when “wind sailing”:


The Benefits of Trees

While I did not write this myself, I do find it very interesting and worth sharing:

Most trees and shrubs in cities or communities are planted to provide beauty or shade. These are excellent reasons for their use. Woody plants also serve many other purposes and it’s important to consider these other functions when selecting a tree or shrub for the landscape. The benefits of trees can be grouped into social, communal, environmental and economic categories.

Social Benefits
We like trees because they make life more pleasant. We feel serene or peaceful in a grove of trees. Hospital patients have been shown to recover from surgery more quickly when their hospital room offered a view of trees. Heroic efforts have been put forth by community residents and organizations to resist tree removal when widening streets or when particularly large or historic trees in a community are cut.

Trees potential for long-life make them appropriate living memorials and people often become personally attached to trees that we or those we love have planted.

Communal Benefits
Even though trees may be private property, their size often makes them part of the community as well. Since trees occupy considerable space, planning is required if both you and your neighbors are to benefit. With proper selection and maintenance, trees can enhance and function on one property without infringing on the rights and privileges of neighbors.

City trees often serve several architectural and engineering functions. They provide privacy, emphasize views, or screen out objectionable views. They reduce glare and reflection. They direct pedestrian traffic. They provide background, soften, complement, or enhance architecture.

Trees bring natural elements and wildlife habitats into urban surroundings, all of which increase the quality of life for residents of the community.

Economic Benefits
Property values of landscaped homes are 5-20% higher than those of non-landscaped homes.

Individual trees and shrubs have value; but the variability of species, size, condition, and function makes determining their economic value quite difficult. The economic benefits of trees can be both direct and indirect.

Direct economic benefits are usually associated with energy costs. Air conditioning costs are reduced when a home has a windbreak. Trees increase in value from the time they are planted to the time they mature. Trees are a wise investments of funds since landscaped homes are more valuable than non-landscaped homes. The savings in energy costs and the increase in property value directly benefit each homeowner.

The indirect economic benefits of trees are even greater. These are available to the community or region. Lowered electricity bills are paid by customers when power companies are able to use less water in their cooling towers, build fewer new facilities to meet peak demand, use reduced amounts of fossil fuel in their furnaces, and need fewer measures to control air pollution. Communities can also save if fewer facilities must be built to control storm water in the region. To the individual these savings are small, but to the community, reductions in these expenses are often in the thousands of dollars.

Environmental Benefits
Trees alter the environment in which we live by moderating climate, improving air quality, conserving water, and harboring wildlife. Climate control is obtained by moderating the effects of the sun, wind and rain. Radiant energy from the sun is absorbed or deflected by leaves on deciduous trees in the summer and is only filtered by branches of deciduous trees in the winter. We are cooler when we stand in the shade of trees and are not exposed to direct sunlight. In winter, we value the sun’s radiant energy; and because of this, we should plant only small or deciduous trees on the south side of homes. Wind speed and direction can be affected by trees. The more compact the foliage on the tree or group of trees, the greater the influence of the windbreak. The downward fall of rain, sleet, and hail is initially absorbed or deflected by trees and this provides some protection for people, pets, and buildings. Trees intercept water, store some of it, reduce storm run-off, and the possibility of flooding. Dew and frost are less common under trees because less radiant energy is released from the soil in those areas at night.

Temperature in the vicinity of trees is cooler than that away from trees. The larger the tree, the greater the cooling. By using trees in the cities, we are able to moderate the heat island effect caused by pavement and buildings in commercial areas.

Air quality can be improved through the use of trees, shrubs, and turf. Leaves filter the air we breathe by removing dust and other particulates. Rain washes the pollutants to the ground. Leaves absorb carbon dioxide from the air to form carbohydrates that are used in the plant’s structure and function. In this process, leaves also absorb other air pollutants- such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide and give off oxygen.

By planting trees and shrubs, we return to a more natural, and less artificial environment. Birds and other wildlife are attracted to the area. The natural cycles of plant growth, reproduction, and decomposition are again present, both above and below ground. Natural harmony is restored to the urban environment.

Trees Require an Investment
Trees provide numerous aesthetic and economic benefits but also incur some costs. You need to be aware that an investment is required for your trees to provide the benefits that you desire. The biggest cost of trees and shrubs occurs when they are purchased and planted. Initial care almost always includes some watering. Leaf, branch, and whole tree removal and disposal can be expensive. To function well in the landscape, trees require maintenance. Much can be done by the informed homeowner. Corrective pruning and mulching will give trees a good start. Shade trees, however, quickly grow to a size that may require of a professional arborist. Arborists have the knowledge and equipment needed to prune, spray, fertilize, and otherwise maintain a large tree. Your garden center owner, cooperative extension agent, community forester, or consulting arborist can answer questions about tree maintenance, suggest treatments, or recommend qualified arborists.

Lukens Tree Preservation

A certified member of the International Society of Arboriculture.

ISA Certified Member