Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Post Storm Cleanup

Anyone who has trees – and a few who don’t – is now faced with post-Sandy cleanup. While you’re surveying the trees and branches that have fallen on your property, don’t forget to look up. As you clean up your yard and get back to pre-storm life, it is important to carefully scrutinize the surrounding trees.

These crossing branches can indicate a
shift in one of trees.
Many branches that snap off in the wind don’t make it to the ground right away. They can be hung up on the lower branches of a tree or powerlines. These branches could drop to the ground because of a gentle breeze, a frisky squirrel, or just the passage of time. If branches are hanging on an electric line, stay clear and call your electric utility. If they are in a tree, stay clear and call Almstead.

Look at your trees carefully. Has there been any shifting? If you are familiar with your trees, you may notice a change in their outline against the sky. Take a good look at the roots for any sign of upheaval. If a tree’s balance has shifted, it could fall without the aid of a hurricane. Sometimes stress cracks will appear that make the tree vulnerable to failure. Also, any tree that has been cabled or braced should be checked to see that everything is still intact. An annual inspection by an arborist is always a good idea, but it is even more important after a major storm.

This cracked soil indicates a shift in the roots. 
It is often necessary to follow up storm damage with additional pruning. Branches that have been snapped or ripped off – or incorrectly pruned by an emergency service – are much more likely to decay. Following up with proper pruning cuts is better for the health of the tree.

When cleaning up after the storm, we don’t recommend that you use a chainsaw unless you are trained and are wearing protective clothing: our tree crews wear glasses, gloves and chaps. Chainsaws are dangerous even in experienced hands; there is always a danger of the log or the saw springing back. Our advice is to call us to cut up any large branches or fallen trees. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Leaves: Move 'em or Mow 'em?

Norman Rockwell: Grandpa and Me Raking Leaves

All the beauty of autumn eventually lands on our lawns. Pleasant childhood memories of jumping into piles of leaves are quickly supplanted by the drudgery of raking them -- or herding them with a leaf blower. Yet there is another option: mowing them.

If you have deciduous trees, you have leaves falling – often a lot of them. Whether you manage them yourself or hire someone to take care of them, it’s time for all of us to think about how (and where) we dispose of our leaves. Most of our communities here in Westchester have leaf recycling programs.  We put our leaves by the curb, either loose or in bags, and local government collects them. Some communities have a facility for turning the leaves into mulch or compost onsite while others truck the leaves away to larger facilities that are often hundreds of miles away.  

The cost of leaf collection and disposal is causing many of us to question whether we’re spending money and squandering resources in order to get rid of something that is actually valuable – leaf mulch. Many communities are discussing whether to stop collecting leaves entirely, a move that would improve their budgets. (Leaf collection can cost a municipality hundreds of thousands of dollars.) Several university studies have demonstrated that mulching leaves in place does no harm – and may do a lot of good.  Mulching leaves returns nitrogen to the soil; lawns need nitrogen to be green.  If you currently apply nitrogen to your grass, mulching will allow you to use less.

Mulching mowers have become increasingly common both for do-it-yourselfers and for lawn care companies; these mowers were designed to return grass cuttings to the lawn where they decompose and return their nutrients to the soil. The mowers do a good job of shredding leaves as well, with the same results.

So how do you begin? Start mowing. Studies show that, even when mulch is piled 4 to 6 inches high, the lawns do well.  It’s safe to say that our lawns will usually benefit from as much mulch as all the trees in our yards can produce. If the mulch is so deep that the grass isn't poking through though, it’s probably time to redistribute it.

As you probably know, different trees have leaves that differ in their chemical makeup, for example oak leaves are more acidic than maple. One of the benefits of mulching with a mower is that the leaves are shredded where they fall: beneath the tree that grew them and will benefit most from their decomposition.

One place where you may have to take out the rake (or the blower) is your perennial bed. If your bed is bare for the winter, you can wait until the first hard frost and then mow right over it. More typically though, our beds include shrubs or perennials that have attractive winter forms: for these locations, you’ll need to remove the leaves, shred them and then pile them back on. A thick layer of leaf mulch on these beds will help to insulate them from temperature fluctuations over the winter. It’s important to shred the leaves rather than leaving them whole, however, because a thick layer of whole leaves will inhibit growth.

Whether you choose organic or traditional lawn care, leaf mulching is a good strategy. The shredded leaves nourish, insulate, keep the grass greener longer, reduce the need for soil amendments, increase beneficial microbial activity and actually make the turf feel springier. So you improve your lawn, help the environment and save money. 

--Ken Almstead, CEO and Arborist

Friday, October 19, 2012

High Flying in Manhattan: Removing a Backyard Tree by Crane

A property management company for whom we've done a number of difficult jobs, inherited a large dead tree when they took over a new location. They called us to remove the problem.

A neighbor later told me that the tree had been dead for 4 or 5 years. Because of the tree's condition and location (in back of a row of brownstones in the Upper West Side), traditional forms of removal were not an option. So, we hired and worked with a 40 ton crane. The crane was parked on the street in front of the building; from there it could reach over the top of the buildings into the back yard and hold, and then lift, sections of the tree over the buildings.

A neighbor later told me that the tree had been dead for 4 or 5 years. Because of the tree's condition and location (in back of a row of brownstones in the Upper West Side), traditional forms of removal were not an option. So, we hired and worked with a 40 ton crane. The crane was parked on the street in front of the building; from there it could reach over the top of the buildings into the back yard and hold, and then lift, sections of the tree over the buildings.

There was a problem with trying to remove this tree using traditional methods. Usually, we would use the main part of the tree as an anchor to support and lower pieces as they were cut. The cut pieces are dropped from their location until they are caught by the rigging we install. But at the moment they are caught, there is stress put on the trunk of the tree. If the stress is too great, the trunk will break and the whole tree -- climber included -- will come crashing down. We couldn't take that chance with this tree. The climber was able to tie sections of the tree to the crane, make the cut, and have the crane bear the weight away. This way there was no shock to the trunk.

We do crane removals frequently, but this is the only one I have seen or heard of in the city where we had to reach over the top of a posh brownstone!

-- Chris Busak, Arborist

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Transplanting 6 Tons of City Trees

Weekends are quieter than weekdays in Manhattan’s financial district – 
Early Saturday morning: pruning to reduce the 
canopy size and improve the overall 
branch structure.
so that’s the best time for moving a tree through the crowded city streets. Trane Construction Company at 55 Water St. needed to make some renovations to their site which would displace two large Callery Pear trees. A new location was chosen at a public school on the island side of the Manhattan Bridge.

Work began on Friday night when a crew came in to break up and remove the sidewalk cement surrounding the trees. The City of New York would allow for the closure of the sidewalk only until 7 p.m. on Saturday, so the pressure was on!

Our Almstead crew began early the next morning, painstakingly digging a trench around the base of the tree, excavating 5 feet down to get as much of the root structure as we could. We knew what the size of the new sidewalk planting pit would be, and pruned the roots to form a root ball as large as possible. City trees rarely have the luxury of developing an extensive root system; they struggle to survive under adverse conditions. Our job was to give these trees the best start possible in their new location.

We also pruned the trees so the canopies would be smaller – making less work for the smaller root structure. We wrapped the root balls in burlap and tied them to keep them intact. We also gently tied the canopy together to prevent damage on the journey.

Digging out a tree. Because of the existing 
curb 2’ from the trunk, we elongated the root ball 
to retain as much root mass as possible.
Then we brought in heavy construction equipment to lift the 6,000 lb.trees from their holes and carry them to their new home. We took them on a 25-block journey through the streets of Manhattan – past the South Street Seaport, under the FDR Drive – accompanied by an NYC Dept. of Parks and Recreation escort.

We placed them in their new holes and filled in the remaining space with high end compost, specialized soil, organic biostimulants and additives to increase water retention in the soil and promote healing and rooting. Finally we covered them with a 4” layer of hardwood mulch to further protect them from temperature fluctuations and inhibit moisture evaporation from the soil.

We’ll be stopping by every 2 to 3 days to make sure the trees are well watered and not showing any ill effects from their journey. We have designed an ongoing Plant Health Care program for the next two years to give these pear trees the best start possible in their new home. We hope to see them thrive in front of the school.

-       Chris Busak, Arborist

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Unwanted Pest #1: Bronze Birch Borer

We have gotten to the end of our list of the Most Unwanted Insects. For #1 we chose the Bronze Birch Borer (Agrilus anxius).

Why did we choose the Birch Borer for the #1 spot rather than the insects that can destroy an entire tree species? (i.e. the Emerald Ash Borer or the Asian Longhorned Beetle)  Because it’s HERE. NOW.  And because, as arborists, we’re dealing with damage – often fatal -- from this insect all the time.

We all love birch trees. The bright, white, striped paper bark birch is often the first tree we recognize as children. As an understory tree, white birch can light up the forest. Seeing a birch grove in the snow is breathtaking. And other birches, such as river birch with its curling peek-a-boo bark revealing a salmon-colored trunk, are popular planting choices as well.

The problem with birch is that they are really not meant for our landscapes.  Under the best circumstances, birch trees don’t have lives as long as most of our other trees. And our yards and parks are not the best of circumstances. Birch trees grow best in slightly acidic, moist, well-drained soil.  They like sun on their faces but not on their feet. They don’t like pollution. When they don’t have the right conditions, they become stressed; this makes them more vulnerable to both insects and disease. The attacks of insects like the birch leafminer and aphids or diseases like rust and mildew further compromise the tree’s health.

This is where the Bronze Birch Borer comes in. The Birch Borer lays its eggs beneath the bark of the birch tree – and prefers to have its path cleared by another insect or other damaging agent  first. So Birch Borers rarely attack healthy trees, but can be deadly to trees already experiencing some decline.

As the Birch Borer larvae emerge they ravenously eat the underside of the bark, gouging out galleries as they munch. These channels cut through the phloem of the tree, interrupting the tree’s ability to transmit water and nutrients.

Larva and gallery of the Bronze Birch Borer
Source: David G. Nielsen, The Ohio State University,

Because the larvae grow beneath the tree bark, often the infestation goes unnoticed until the tree canopy starts to yellow, at which time it can be too late to save the tree.  It takes aggressive treatment to halt an attack of Bronze Birch Borers. In an infested tree, the trunk can be injected with a control that can help to stop the larvae from developing. The trunk can also be sprayed with a substance that helps to prevent new insects from colonizing the tree. The correct treatment depends upon the health of the tree, the degree of infestation and the time of year.

Not all birch species are equally vulnerable to Bronze Birch Borer. The River Birch, in particular, seems to resist the insect, while the Silver Birch is particularly susceptible. Ultimately, the best way to prevent the Bronze Birch Borer from killing your trees is to keep your Birches as healthy as possible.  Birches need deep watering  -- weekly, at least.  Although the leaves need sun, the roots must stay cool, so a layer of ground cover or mulch will help to insulate them from the heat.

We recommend checking Birch trees frequently for signs of pests and disease. Any yellowing leaves or dieback could indicate a potentially fatal problem; early intervention can sometimes avert a fatal infestation.