Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Blog

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Don't Squash That Worm - He Works for Me

Every gardener knows the benefits of earthworms: they are little humus-creating machines that recycle organic material as they travel, aerating and enriching the soil as they go. Worm castings (excrement) –  and eventually the worms themselves  – decay and release nutrients back into the soil. Grass, plants and trees all benefit from the activity of worms.

It’s tempting to try and improve your soil by adding more worms -- and there are plenty of places willing to sell them to you for this purpose. But soil that is inhospitable to your own worms is not going to be any more attractive to imported worms – and you wind up with some really expensive dead worm fertilizer.

There are ways to make the soil more worm-friendly, and that can start a cycle of soil improvement. Aerating compacted soil can help to make a better environment for both your worms and your plants. In addition to core aerating lawns, our Almstead arborists also use compressed air (with a tool called an Air Spade) to loosen soil around tree roots or heavily compacted places. Tree and plant roots are able to receive more water through the aerated soil – and moist soil is also worm heaven. The other thing that worms (and plants) need is nutrition. That is one reason that we enrich soil with compost and leave a thick layer of mulch on top: the worms will eat the organic material and then recycle it through the soil.

Healthy soil is not just filled with earthworms – it also contains beneficial bacteria and fungi. All these organisms, along with the roots of trees and plantings, interact to perpetuate a cycle of healthy soil creation. Here at Almstead, we like to help this process with applications of Compost Tea -- a carefully-balanced, liquid compost. We brew our Compost Tea from top quality leaf and twig compost and add organic nutrients like worm castings. We nourish the beneficial microorganisms with humates and fish oil to create a nutrient-rich liquid that helps to jump-start tree, lawn, plant (and earthworm) health.

Ken Almstead, Almstead arborist and CEO

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Should I Plant Birch?

The Birch is one of our iconic American trees. Many species of Birch can be found growing wild in our forests (the Paper Birch, Yellow Birch and Grey Birch to name a few). So it's easy to believe that -- like many native plants -- a Birch would be relatively disease and pest resistant.  Wrong.

In the suburban garden, a Birch is essentially an ornamental tree. When planting a Birch, the first consideration should be where to site it. A healthy Birch can easily reach 40-50 feet in height, so give it some  room. Birch need full sun (or close to it) --  BUT they also need cool moist soil. If you think of them in their native habitat -- such as an Appalachian valley -- their trunks and leaves would grow above the low-lying vegetation that insulates and protects their roots. So when you plant a Birch in your yard, the shallow root system needs the same protection. A thick layer of mulch helps to even out the temperature and retain soil moisture; this is a tree that definitely needs water in dry weather, since the roots lie in the top layer of soil.

Birch trees are also susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, such as the Bronze Birch Borer and the Birch Leafminer. It also is susceptible to several fungi. Careful pruning of Birch is very important since opportunistic fungi can enter an unhealed wound. The picture above shows a bleeding canker on a Black Birch -- a sign of seriously declining health. Unfortunately, this client consulted us too late to save this tree, although it doesn't have to be taken down immediately. Part of the problem for this tree was too much mulch piled around the trunk -- mulch is good for the roots but NOT directly around the trunk.

So given all these issues, why do we continue to plant Birch? It's obvious. Just look at the picture below.

-- Ken Almstead, Almstead Arborist and CEO 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hate to Say We Told You So ...

In our last blog post (Prune in June) one of our arborists discussed the incredible amount of growth we've seen this year on many trees. His warning about the importance of lightening the load on some of these trees was right on target -- as this unfortunate beech tree found out.

This Beech tree lost half of its canopy when a major branch
split from the weight of unusual spring growth.
According to the owners, the tree had been declining somewhat over time. This spring, for the first time in years, its foliage was lush and magnificent. Then - CRACK. The owners were lucky that it missed their house.

In all honesty, pruning alone wouldn't have prevented this damage -- the tree  needed to be cabled and braced because of the size and weight of the "branch"  (really a second trunk, which is never a good idea for a big tree). For a typical tree however, pruning some of the branches could remove enough weight to prevent this kind of damage.

What is the future of this tree? Not good. While it might survive the loss of the branch (with a little help from Almstead), aesthetically it's lost half of its canopy. I wouldn't be surprised if, within a few years, the owners opt for removal.

Jeff Delaune, Almstead arborist, New Rochelle

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prune in June

The incredible spring growing season we’ve had here in the New York area has produced a thick, heavy canopy for our trees and shrubs. In many cases, this is too much of a good thing. We’ve been seeing a lot of trees that have too much leafy weight to be safely supported by the branches, making them vulnerable to snapping off, and putting stress on the tree’s health. We're also still finding branches damaged by last fall’s storms either hung up in other branches or ready to break off.

And there are several other good reasons to “Prune in June.” Selective pruning helps to maintain your plantings by stimulating healthy new growth, enhancing the form and beauty of your trees or shrubs. Right after the spring growth is also the right time to prune to create a thicker privacy screen. And of course, selectively pruning the tree canopy will allow more light to reach your lawn, shrubs and perennials.

-      -   Alan McCullough,  Almstead arborist and Branch Manager, New Jersey