Tree Topping Fiction vs. Facts
Definition: Tree Topping – the removal of main tree branches to stubs in either a straight-across hedge fashion or a complete delimbing of the tree, leaving only the main trunk or trunks of a tree.
Fiction: “Topping rejuvenates the tree.”
Fact: Tree topping usually removes so much of the tree’s crown that it can unbalance an older tree’s root-to-shoot ratio and temporarily cut off its ability to make food. When trees are topped, they will typically respond by readily growing new shoots. From that point forward they become high-maintenance. Most must be pruned regularly in an attempt to restore normal structure and growth. Pruning a tree annually is not environmentally sustainable or cost-effective. Your tree will also be more susceptible to disease and insect problems.
Fiction: “The tree is too big and casts too much shade, and needs to be reduced by topping.”
Fact: By their very nature, trees create shade, which means you really can’t plant anything underneath and expect full success. But in some instances, proper selective pruning, NOT topping, can reduce the bulk of a tree, letting in more light and allowing wind to pass through the tree. Proper pruning does not stimulate regrowth, and the tree will not respond as drastically as when topped or over-thinned. A qualified arborist is trained to understand which kinds of cuts to make (thinning cuts, not heading or topping cuts); he/ she also knows when to stop.
If problems caused by a tree cannot be solved through acceptable management practices, the tree should be removed and replaced with another species, or other plant material more appropriate for the site.
Fiction: “Topping a tree is cheaper than having it pruned.”
Fact: Initially, it might seem cheaper to cut the tree in half to get the result you are looking for. But over time the tree will require more frequent maintenance, and become a danger.
Drastic topping cuts create opportunities for epicormic shoots on the remaining trunk to grow quickly into large, poorly attached branches, if the tree doesn’t just die outright. The potential for them to break off and cause a hazard to property or people is very high. From a legal standpoint, the owner or owners of such a tree may be responsible for damages if it can be proved they were negligent. Incorrect pruning can cause trees to become hazardous, and therefore is negligence.
Fiction: Topping is a time-tested way to prune a tree.
Fact: Topping is not a standard practice, and in fact is “outlawed” by national tree care standards. Topping has always been controversial. If someone tells you they have always done it that way, it’s a good bet they aren’t up to speed with the latest, scientific tree care methods.
Fiction: A banana split with all the toppings is considered a serving of fruit.
Fact: We may not know diets, but we do know trees. Topping is for ice cream, not trees.
So how can you reduce a tree’s growth without the injurious effects of the “toppings?” Consult with a professional arborist who is bound by an industry code of ethics to provide proper pruning according to the profession’s tree care standards.
Hedges or Hedgerows are any shrubs, trees or plants placed in a close-knit line to form a barrier. In fact, the word hedge dates back over 800 years from the Old English language, and simply means, ‘enclosure’.
While their original function was to mark property boundaries, over time, they have grown to serve many different uses such as blocking wind from smaller adjacent crops, providing privacy such as a ‘Live Fence’ or as an artistic design element.
If you are thinking about adding hedges to your landscape, it’s important to understand the many different features and needs of each variety. Let’s take a closer look at the more popular hedges we see used today:
Close your eyes and imagine a formal garden. Chances are, you are envisioning boxwoods! These are the most commonly used hedges for topiaries, mazes and pathway borders. Their tidiness and ease of maintenance make it a favorite just about everywhere it grows. If boxwoods are your shrub of choice, take the time to do your research. There are many different varieties of boxwoods, some that do better in full sun and some that can withstand strong winds. Selecting the wrong variety could result in bronzing, which is probably not the look you are going for. Learn more about boxwood problems in our previous post, “Why Are My Boxwoods Turning Brown?”
Native to North America, these evergreens are hardy and grow to a height of 12-14ft with a spread of 2-3ft. Because of their height, they make great privacy hedges. These evergreens are not drought resistant, in fact they thrive best in moist and swampy soils. There are several pests that like to make arborvitae their home, and it’s important to inspect often, because if left unnoticed, Spider Mites or Bagworms can cause irreversible damage.
HOLLY OR ILEX
Also part of the evergreen family, Holly is another popular choice for hedges. Popular for good reason, it is fast growing, easy to prune and stays green year-round. Holly’s most distinctive features are their dark-green glossy leaves and red berries which show up in winter months. There are hundreds of different varieties of holly, so similar to boxwoods, be sure to do your research before planting. Some of the more modern varieties are very good at resisting diseases and insect infestation.
With a growth rate of approximately 2 feet per year, Laurel is well known for being the fastest growing hedging plant, but that’s not all, they are also the cheapest! Laurel leaves are rounded, glossy, bright green and look great all year round. They can be trimmed into formal box-shaped hedges or they can be left more natural for a less formal looking hedge. They really are beautiful and can grow in nearly any light or soil types. If left untrimmed they will grow to about 18 feet tall.
Hemlocks are a slow-growing evergreen that when trimmed and maintained properly can make a wonderful privacy screen. Their elegant and wispy leafage give them a soft and natural look. It’s one of the few evergreens that can handle full sun and full shade. The first thing to note about these beauts, is that if left untrimmed, they will grow up to 80 feet tall, so it’s important to constantly be trimming and pruning. Also, they are very susceptible to mites and insects, so be sure to get them sprayed several times a year.
These are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hedge options, there are hundreds of different species and varieties to consider. Whether you are trying to replicate a formal English garden, or just plant a few smartly places conifers for privacy, it is always important to consult an arborist before ordering your plants and trees. As mentioned above, each variety has a unique makeup with unique needs, and the best first step to take is always a Plant Site Analysis.
What is the Gypsy Moth?
An invasive bug native to Eurasia that is well known for the damage that is causes to trees. They prefer Oak Trees, Birch Trees and Willow Trees, but will also prey on a number of different shrubs and trees that are in close proximity.
A female Gypsy moth cannot fly; she will lay clusters of eggs on bark, rocks, or really any surface that is convenient. Each cluster she lays can contain anywhere from 100-1000 eggs. In the springtime, larvae hatch from the eggs and hang out near the cluster until heavy winds come and carry them away. From there, they find their way to a host tree and feed on the leaves causing defoliation to occur.
History of Outbreaks
The gypsy moth was introduced to North America in 1868, and was first spotted in Connecticut in 1905. While there is a known population in the forests of Southern New England, it typically remains contained and outbreaks are small and manageable.
There was however, one very notable outbreak that lasted nearly 20 years in Connecticut from 1960-1980. At the peak of the Connecticut outbreak, defoliation had occurred in 1.5 million acres of trees, which is nearly 80% of the state’s forestland!
Our arborists here at Emerald Tree and Shrub Care were recently called to a property in Cortlandt Manor where a population of “caterpillars” had invaded last summer. Upon inspection, we identified countless egg hatches throughout the oak and willow trees on the property. While we treated this specific property, it’s very possible that Northern Westchester could experience an outbreak this Spring. Please keep your eyes peeled for eggs masses that look like this:
And call us immediately (914-725-0441) for help identifying and treating the issue before they become a major outbreak.
Native to Asia, this sap-sucking insect was found for the first time in New York State on November 29, 2017. These insects change their appearance with each life stage, but adults are about 1 inch long. Their outer wings are a muted gray color with black spots, very inconspicuous until they hop or fly and expose their bright reddish/orange inner wings. While their wings are their main distinguishing feature, the lanternfly is actually more likely to hop from surface to surface as opposed to fly.
Why is the Spotted Lanternfly so dangerous?
- They have a very powerful ability to reproduce in mass quantities. Females lay between 30-50 eggs at a time, in what looks like a disgusting gray goop. With an average of two hatches per season, that means each female is creating roughly 100 new spotted lantern flies each year!
- They are not picky about their host. While their preferred host plant is the Ailanthus altissima, (Which is an invasive itself known as the tree of heaven) they will also feed on over 70 other plant species including grapes, hops and fruit trees. Not only can they hop around easily, they pose a threat to a variety of different industries.
- As they suck the sap of a plant’s stems, leaves or trunk, they excrete a sweet honeydew secretion that coats the host plant and is a catalyst for the growth of sooty mold.
- There are no known predators. Birds do not seem to like to eat them and no other predator has been identified, keeping their population relatively stable for the time being.
The USDA has recognized the serious threat that this insect poses, and in February 2018, they announced their commitment of $17.5 million to stop the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly.
What can you do to help?
- Avoid quarantined areas where the insect has been spotted. Eggs are very easily transported on wood, plants, nursery stock, cars, furniture and waste.
- If you see a Spotted Lanternfly in an area where it’s not known to exist, try and capture it in a closed container and report it to the department of agriculture.
- Regularly check known host plants, like Ailanthus altissima trees, for egg masses and actual insects. Dusk is the perfect time to do this, because they tend to cluster on trunks of their host trees around this time.
For more information on the Spotted Lanternfly, read the USDA’s fact sheet, aphis.usda.gov/publications/plant_health/2014/alert_spotted_lanternfly.pdf.
Arborists Are Trained To Diagnose Plant Illnesses
Walk around your property at any given time and chances are you will probably notice some dead branches, brown spots in bushes, bare spots where leaves dropped too early, white mildew or if you look super close you may see insects that have made themselves a nice little home on your precious greens. Are these all symptoms you should be concerned about? Not necessarily, but it would be wise to call an arborist that is trained at identifying the underlying cause of these problems. For instance, the bugs could be completely harmless, or, they could be spider mites that will slowly increase their presence and suck the life out of your hedge’s leaves and eventually, cause them to stop growing.
Early Detection & Environmentally Safe Remedies Are Key
Now we have to ask, how often are you walking your property and looking closely? We mean really closely, to check for these symptoms? Our guess is maybe once or twice a summer… if that. Unfortunately, if the plant problem goes undetected for some time, often times the issue cannot be fixed and removal is the only option. The key to keeping your trees and shrubs healthy and vital is ongoing monitoring and prevention. In fact, these are the two main objectives to our Plant Health Care Program. By remaining ahead of the problem, we are able to rely on nontoxic and organic treatments, some of which include:
- Insecticidal Soaps
- Beneficial Nematodes
- Soil Drenches and Injections
- Aerification of Compacted soils
- Hand Pruning of Nests or Localized Infestations
- Mauget Systemic Injection Systems
- Custom Blended Deep Root Liquid Fertilization
A Holistic Plan That’s Designed Specifically For You
Since every property is different, and the needs of plants vary, it’s impossible to devise a “one size fits all” Plant Health Care Plan. Instead, we rely on a detailed inventory of your property’s elements and a strong working relationship with the property owner to understand the comprehensive needs of your yard. Below are the promises we make to all of our loyal Plant Health Care Customers:
- Initial property inspection to determine baseline needs and any immediate problems that need to be remedied.
- A thorough write up with our recommended Plant Health Care treatment plan. This includes how often we will visit your property (anywhere between 2-6 times a year), what plants we will prioritize, what treatments we will administer and approximate dates when you can expect our crew to visit you.
- We will also propose any additional recommended actions that we feel will benefit your property (ie. tree fertilizations, tick and mosquito prevention plan or tree trimming, bracing, cabling or removal).
- Once our arborist and the property owner have an agreed on plan, it is our mission to monitor, detect and treat your plants and shrubs to the best of our capability. We consider it our duty to protect your precious greens from insects, diseases and anything else that may effect their health.
Scalable Programs For Every Budget
Many people ask us, “Well what does a Plant Health Care program cost?” The only commonality among all plans is the goal, to keep the property safe and healthy. Beyond that, one plan may be as simple as a couple of annual visits to check on and feed two trees. Alternatively, another plan might involve monthly inspections and treatment of every tree and shrub on the property. As your partner, we want to help you make informed decisions that address the highest level concerns of your property. With that being said, the complexity of your program will depend entirely on how much you, the property owner, is willing to invest. We are here to protect your property no matter what size, shape or variety.
Start With A Plant Site Analysis
- Amount of space available for the tree to mature. This includes visible structures such as garages, sheds and sidewalks, as well as underground objects like pipes, septic systems and bedrock.
- The topography of the land. Steep hills, ditches and slopes are all an important factor in the ability of a tree to remain nourished and stable.
- Soil composition is a vital element of plant site analysis. Knowing and understanding how differences in nutrient makeup effect certain species of trees makes all the different when selecting the right tree.
- Your location and the recommended hardiness zone for the particular tree of interest is also an importance factor to examine. Just about every type of tree has a recommended growing zone where they will prosper best. Unfortunately, not all trees will survive in our zone (Zone 7a). Hardiness Zone Map.
- The amount of sun and shade an area receives is key. Sun and shade patterns change with time of day, as well as time of year.
- Other things to consider would be exposure to elements like harsh winds, sprinkler systems and heavy foot traffic.
The entire east coast is covered in snow, iguanas are freezing and dropping from trees in South Florida, single digit temps have us all hunkering inside and somehow, the trees all prevail. Have you ever stopped to think just how trees and plants survive prolonged freezing temps and still manage to bloom in the spring? The answer is that science is truly amazing and trees are pretty good at preparing for the winter.
The first step occurs in autumn, when low temps and longer nights act as a warning signal for trees to store their nutrients, slow down on producing chlorophyl and drop those leaves! The tree is preparing to become dormant. What most people don’t realize, is that dormant doesn’t actually mean inactive, instead the tree strategically turns on the genes that will help it survive the cold and turns off those genes that are associated with growth.
When the temp drops to moderate freezing (20s and 30s) the trees have a very complex way of controlling where the ice will form within their makeup. The tree will often separate out their more vulnerable cells, allowing them to become the nucleator of ice growth. Since moisture is attracted to ice (think about frost growing in your freezer) ice will continue to form in these concentrated areas, leaving the remaining more important cells protected.
But what about when the temp gets dangerously low, like the 5-10 degree range we are experiencing now? Trees in much colder climates have a final defense against the cold that is truly remarkable. Trees sensing an extreme drop in temperature will begin producing protein molecules and sugars that will lower the freezing threshold for liquids inside the tree’s cells. These sugars act just like anti-freeze, turning the cell liquid into a really dense, concentrated solution, thick like molasses, that literally cannot freeze. The tree also produces more molecules that will act as ice nucleators, but smartly only grows them in the intercellular spaces, protecting the cells from ever freezing and drying out. “At this stage where trees are fully cold-acclimated, you can put them into liquid nitrogen and they would survive” says Sally Aitken, Forestry Professor at the University of British Columbia.
So now that you’ve learned how hard-working and smart trees are, you can breathe easy knowing they can withstand the winter… well almost. There is definitely reason to be concerned when we have an extremely cold winter. The trees will survive, but they are working overtime to produce those sugars and transform their physiology to prevent freezing. After harsh winters (like the one it seems we are in for) it is more important than ever to feed and fertilize your trees and shrubs in the spring. They will absolutely benefit from the added boost of nutrients before they enter their real busy seasons, Spring and Summer.
Call today to schedule a spring fertilization from our certified arborists at Emerals Tree and Shrub Care: (914) 725-0441.
It’s that time of year when municipalities, homeowners and local businesses are liberally spreading rock salt on sidewalks, roads and steps to prevent human falls from slippery surfaces. Did you know though, that while this is a great safety precaution to take for humans, it can have severely damaging effects on your landscape’s plants and shrubs? It may take some time for you to notice the effects salt has on your plants, as it will first be absorbed into the soil, and will slowly move to the roots, stems and buds causing permanent decline and even death. Over time, sometimes years, exposure to salt will result in wilted, disfigured foliage, stunted growth and overall bad health.
Because the damage won’t be recognizable until the next growing season, or even for some time after, it’s important to take steps to help avoid salt runoff from reaching your precious greens.
- When possible, avoid using rock salt all together. And if it must be used, dilute it with sand or another abrasive.
- Improve drainage of your soil by adding organic matter such as activated charcoal or gypsum.
- Build barriers between your plants and nearby sidewalks, roads and walkways that may be subject to de-icing salt runoff.
- Select salt-resistant trees to plant in areas where salt exposure is inevitable. Need suggestion, just call us 914-725-0441.
- Prune properly and add fertilizers to correct nutrient deficiency as indicated in spring soil testing.
If you have plants, shrubs or trees that are showing signs of salt damage and you’d like a professional opinion, please call us today for a free arborist consultation: 914-725-0441. As always, we are here to help protect your precious greens in every season.
Storms Approaching – Will Your Landscape Survive?
Winter is the season for some of nature’s most severe weather. Storms in all shapes and forms create havoc throughout the country. One of the greatest dangers posed by storms is presented by falling trees. Unsafe trees are a threat to lives and property.
“Many shade and ornamental trees are damaged throughout the year by windstorms, lightning or ice and snow accumulations,” notes Tchukki Andersen, CTSP*, Board Certified Master Arborist and staff arborist with the Tree Care Industry Association. “Damage usually consists of a few broken branches. However, more severe damage – such as splitting or pulling apart of branch unions, removal of large areas of bark, twisting and splitting of the trunk, or even uprooting – pose possible dangers.”
A few tree species, including Chinese elm, silver maple, boxelder and various poplars, have brittle wood that is easily broken. These rapidly growing trees cause a considerable amount of damage to homes, cars, buildings and utility lines each year. Homeowners should be aware of these characteristics and avoid planting them close to potential targets. If such trees are already growing in these locations, preventive pruning, bracing or cabling may help reduce storm damage this winter. This is particularly true as the tree grows in size and the weight and surface of the leaf and branch area increases.
Over the years, growing trees will “catch” more wind and become heavier, so they are prone to increased mechanical stresses, thus increasing the chances of failure. Larger trees will also affect an increased area should they or their larger limbs fall. This means that power lines, homes and other structures that might not have been threatened a few years ago might suddenly be under threat by a tree that has grown. Preparing trees for these natural disasters is a must and should be done well in advance of the stormy season. To help ease these dangers, have a professional arborist evaluate your trees. Doing this will help you determine potential weaknesses and dangers.
Look at your trees for the following warning signs:
- Wires in contact with tree branches. Trees may become energized when they are contacted by electric wires.
- Dead or partially attached limbs hung up in the higher branches that could fall and cause damage or injury.
- Cracked stems and branch forks that could cause catastrophic failure of a tree section.
- Hollow or decayed areas on the trunk or main limbs, or mushrooms growing from the bark that indicate a decayed and weakened stem.
- Peeling bark or gaping wounds in the trunk also indicate structural weakness.
- Fallen or uprooted trees putting pressure on other trees beneath them.
- Tight, V-shaped forks which are much more prone to failure than open U-shaped ones.
- Heaving soil at the tree base is a potential indicator of an unsound root system.
Remember, too, that a tree is a living thing, and its integrity and stability change over time, so don’t assume that a tree that has survived 10 severe storms will necessarily survive an eleventh.
Call a professional
A professional arborist can assess your landscape and work with you to determine the best trees and shrubs to plant for your existing landscape. Contact Emerald Tree and Shrub Care today to have a certified arborist come evaluate your property and identify any threats before winter storms hit. (914)725-0441.