Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Blog

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bare Root Transplanting

Here's a bit of a story in pictures for you. We moved this tree from one spot to another using the bare root method. Transplanting trees this way is great because the tree is much lighter to carry without all of that soil attached (which means we can actually take more of the root system with us than we normally could), and the root system begins to establish in its new environment right away.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In the Business for Too Long...

We're working at this commercial site today, taking down 3 pines. Something seems oddly familiar with the landscape. I think I ran this planting job back in the 80's with good-ole Laflamme Services. We drop the last pine and before El Chivo starts in with the stump grinder I see a green plastic strip stuck in the wood of the stump. I pulled it out and it's a tagging-seal, number 453, with the name "Laflamme."

I tagged the darned thing in a nursery 25 years ago with an architect and planted it at the site...

Evidence: The Laflamme tree tag
When you get called to cut down 40' trees that you planted when they were 6', it's got to be telling you something.

-Bob Bociek, CT Branch Manager at Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Company

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lion's Tailing

En route to an early appointment, I couldn’t help but notice this “pruning” job along the way and imagined the request that led up to it:

“We’d like to get more light to the house and raise the tree up so the branches won’t cause any damage if they break off in a storm.”

There’s no doubt that they got what they asked for, of sorts... Unfortunately, in fulfilling the homeowner’s request, the tree has been become more liable to fail than before the job was started.

The practice of removing all but the most extreme limbs is known in the trade as “lion-tailing” and it may cause irreparable damage and drastically alter the trees ability to withstand moderate to heavy winds. The dampening effect the lower limbs once provided is gone and all the weight is now at the very end of the branches. As even moderated wind gusts occur, the top of the tree will sway excessively leveraging the end of the limb against the branch collar, the point of connection below and if it’s at all weakened the limb comes off crashing to whatever waits below.

There are ways to effectively reduce the canopy of a tree to help protect it against high-winds and ways to prune to allow more sunlight into an area; this unfortunately does not fit that bill.

-Bob Bociek, CT

Friday, August 20, 2010

If you build it, will it fall?

We saw many ways trees can fail, in whole or part during the storms encountered this year. Some were unavoidable in the above average winds, many we may have had a hand in creating. Our quest for more and more paved surfaces has had a less than desirable effect on the urban forest and in many cases has created safety issues that may not be easily detected.

Case in point: this tree began the downward spiral when the decision was made to put in a driveway and retaining wall. The original root system was compromised by a cut-and-fill and the support system on the driveway side ultimately became inadequate to support the massive canopy above. When the winds gusted to seventy miles per hour in a direction against the damaged root system below, down it came. Fortunately little more than a play-set and some landscape fixtures suffered any serious damage.

Many of this tree's roots were severed during installation
of the driveway, creating an unsafe situation.
If you see a similar situation in or around your property, it’s best to get a professional opinion before the next storm rears its head.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Beating Heat Stress

As we're sure you know, the weather has been hot this season, and precipitation has been relatively low. (In fact, the heat has escalated to the point of being newsworthy... Horticulturally speaking, the first place many people notice the effects of heat stress is on lawns, which have the good sense to go dormant and wait it out. We definitely recommend a combination of overseeding and core aeration this fall to help rejuvenate your grass as the summer comes to an end. However, lawns are actually faring better than many trees, although the symptoms may not be as obvious.

Arranging a soaker hose to cover the critical root zone
of a tree is a great method for the slow, saturated
watering that's best for trees.
Plants are constantly losing water through tiny holes in their leaves through a process called transpiration, and when it's hot, the rate of that water loss increases. Add to that a lack of adequate rainfall, and the result is often stressed plant material. The problem facing trees is that they're really big, and they do not have the luxury of going dormant in hot summer months, like lawns. Instead, trees have a lot of active leaves, so they lose a lot of water, and their roots are searching to replace that water in some pretty dry ground.

Trees suffering from heat stress face problems with producing new growth, healing over wounds, and fighting against diseases and insects. If they're stressed enough, they eventually run out of energy to support their existing growth and begin to decline (sometimes irreversibly). Newly planted (within the last 2 years) and mature trees are the most at risk for serious decline, and we've seen both this summer. Particular species that seem to be suffering most include Birches, American Dogwoods, and Japanese Maples.

Treegators are bags with tiny holes that slowly
release water into the root zone of a tree. You can
achieve a similar effect by poking holes in the
bottom of buckets or garbage cans, filling them
with water, and placing them under trees.
Signs of heat stress in trees tend to develop toward the top of the canopy first, so they often aren't noticed right away by property owners. They include smaller leaf size, leaf scorch (browning and/or yellowing), wilting, and sometimes loss of foliage (a particularly bad sign). 

So, What's the Solution?
The best way to fight heat stress in trees is through a combination of proper irrigation and organic soil amendments. Proper irrigation means focusing water on saturating the root zone of a tree. Sprinklers, for instance, aren't going to get the job done for trees, but a properly placed soaker hose will. Treegators are great solutions for young trees, which run a high risk of suffering heat stress. With a traditional garden hose, it's also possible to set the flow to a trickle and move the mouth of the hose around to four or five different areas of the root zone over the course of the day.

In terms of soil care, organic amendments increase a tree's drought tolerance without spurring new growth that it can't afford to support (which is the result of synthetic fertilization of heat stressed plants). Also, by using a soil needle injection method for applying soil amendments (as opposed to a soil drench), we can break up compacted ground and introduce better flow of nutrients, air, and water into the root zone.

In addition to Almstead's organic soil care services our arborists are always glad to advise you on irrigation practices, and we also provide watering services for plants out of reach of irrigation. To formulate a heat stress survival plan for your trees (and shrubs, and lawn), please schedule a complimentary consultation with your Almstead arborist.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dutch Elm Disease

Elms are beautiful and majestic trees that are certainly worth the disease prevention measures available against the devastation of Dutch Elm Disease (DED). Quick to wipe out Elms, DED is caused by a fungus that leaks toxins into the xylem (water-carrying vessels) of trees. Ultimately, water flow is so impeded that the trees wilt and die.

DED is spread not only by the elm bark beetle, but also from tree to tree through grafted root systems. So if you have elms next to each other and the disease has infected one, it may make sense to sever any grafted roots. Unfortunately, once the disease travels to the root system of a tree, its chances of survival are almost nil. If, however, the initial infection takes place in the crown, then treatment with a control and sanitation pruning to remove infested areas can be a viable treatment option.

Although we have disease resistant elms available to us now (Princeton, Liberty, Valley Forge, Olmstead are the most common available in the nursery trade), it will take a lifetime for these trees to reach the size and form of some mature elms. Dutch Elm Disease is very heavy this year and we have been injecting larger groves of elms through Central Park. We will also be beginning to treat elms throughout Riverside Park this week and for many residential and commercial clients.

Injection treatments are made by drilling at the base of the tree and pumping a control through the vascular system. Depending upon size and weather, one treatment can take up to 6 or 8 hours. Treatments are repeated once every 3 years, and the drilling site is small and heals relatively easily. I cannot stress enough that investment in this type of preventative treatment program is well worth avoiding the deterioration and removal of a beautiful tree.

To learn more about Dutch Elm Disease and available treatments, visit

Take a look at some photos I took of trees suffering from DED the other day in this slideshow:

-Ken Almstead

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Girdling Roots on a Bradford Pear

A girdling root is one that circles around the trunk of a tree rather than growing out away from it. The structural damage is twofold: Every root that grows around a tree’s trunk is one fewer root that offers the tree lateral support; additionally, as girdling roots grow, they press against the tree’s trunk, cutting into the tree like a self-imposed tourniquet.

For this Bradford Pear I photographed the other day, you can see that girdling roots eventually cut through the trunk so deeply that the structure was irrevocably damaged and the tree fell. This is the ultimate danger of unhealthy root systems.

Girdling roots are wholly a result of human involvement and only appear in the urban forest. Usually, a girdling root problem is established while a tree is being planted – and it gets progressively harder to correct from then on. In nurseries, trees begin their lives in small pots with little room for their roots to spread outward, so they begin to circle. By the time saplings are ready to plant, they often have many jumbled, circling roots. It is important to prune and rearrange these roots as part of the planting process, otherwise a girdling pattern is established. Girdling roots also appear when the natural growth pattern of a tree’s root flare is obstructed. Just like in the small nursery pots, if a tree root hits a barrier (such as a sidewalk curb) it will alter its course and potentially circle back around the tree trunk.

One more major cause of girdling roots is the absence of a root flare. The root flare is where a tree trunk transitions into its roots, and should be located just above ground level. However, trees are often planted inappropriately deep, burying their root flares in soil (or excessive volcano-shaped piles of mulch). Roots then have the opportunity to grow up around the buried base of the trunk, invisible to observers above ground.