Arboriculture and Arborists – An Introduction

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As a certified arborist a large percentage of my day is answering questions – What tree should I plant, what is wrong with my tree, Etc. But on average the question I field the most is what is arboriculture? Although there are a plethora of definitions for arboriculture I prefer this simple one given by treesaregood.com: arboriculture is the art, science and practice of tree care. Arborists are the certified professionals that work within the field of arboriculture to care for and maintain trees in all its stages of growth and life.

Trees are amazing organisms with many complex systems working simultaneous to create, promote and sustain health and growth. Trees are constantly affected by both internal and external forces that dictate the trees health. Because of this Arborists need a vast knowledge base that includes botany, entomology(bugs) physics and soils to list just a few. Arboriculture encompasses all these fields and puts it in the context of tree health.

On occasion when explaining what I do for a living people will ask: so you cut down trees? Although Tree removal is an aspect of an arborists job, it certainly isn’t the only. I compare it to someone asking a dentist if all he/she does is pull teeth. Sure that’s one procedure preformed but primarily their work revolves around maintenance. Such is the case with arborists, the maintenance of trees for sustained health and safety is a key aspect while tree removal is necessary when that health and safety are in question.

The arboriculture industry in Canada is somewhat misunderstood. I believe this is due to our heritage as loggers and foresters. This country was partially built on the backs of loggers and its hard to see anyone working with trees as anything different. It comes as no surprise then that many see arboriculture and forestry as the same industry. Although a few tools and techniques span the two industries they are on the whole, quite different. Forestry is an industry focused on the health of a forest so as to harvest a crop; lumber. Arboriculture is focused on individual trees and the maintenance of health, proper growth and the safety of people and property.

I hope this article and the ones to follow will educate and enlighten you to the world of Arboriculture and trees, a world that has given me my career and passion. By educating the public about trees and their care we guarantee their prosperity in both a rural and urban setting due to more informed decisions regarding their care.

Common Tree Stresses

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In this article I would like to discuss some common tree stresses. This topic seems fitting to me as we are having an exceptional year for tree pests and diseases (P & D). The dark, cool and wet spring (and summer thus far) has created the perfect environment for P & D to thrive. However, the focus of this article will not be on P & D but instead identifying the initial stress which makes them susceptible to P & D attacks.

Similar to people, when trees become stressed or fatigued their defenses weaken and there is an increased chance of sickness, Consider P & D attacks like a cough, the cough itself isn’t the problem but it does indicate other underlying issues. Discovering these issues can be difficult as trees have a storage of energy primarily found in the roots. This stored energy can postpone any indications of injury or stress for several years.

Here is just a short list of common causes for trees to be stressed:

Improper Planting – I find it amazing how many tree problems can be traced back to improper planting. Although tree and site selection is vital, site preparations and proper planting techniques are extremely important.

Root Compaction – This is especially a problem in urban areas and high traffic areas including parks and construction sites. Roots in these areas not only get physically crushed but are also unable to access nutrients and water due to the compacted soils. Two techniques to alleviate compaction are to install barriers to divert traffic and the application of mulch to lessen compaction and to retain moisture.

Nutrient Deficiency – Trees in a forested setting have the benefit of obtaining nutrients from the decomposing organic matter (fallen leaves, fallen trees, etc.) on the forest floor. In an urban or manicured landscape the leaf or “thatch” layer is removed to allow turf and create a more aesthetic landscape. Trees constantly compete with turf for moisture and nutrients and often loose to the shallow rooted grass. Placing mulch around the base of trees when possible and providing supplemental fertilizing can increase the vigor of the root system.

Raised Grade – This is a situation usually affiliated with newly landscaped or construction sites. Problems can arise when soil is mounded or raised around the base and root zone of a tree. This can cause root starvation and suffocation as well as cause rot to form at the base of the tree. To avoid this always make sure the pedestal flare (area around the base of the tree where the trunk meets the roots) is always visible.

Wounds and Improper Cuts – moisture, insects, pathogens and decay can all enter in the tree through wounds. These wounds can be caused by an impact from machinery or improper pruning cuts. These wounds can stress the tree by expending precious energy as it attempts to seal the wound and form barriers to avoid infections. This process can take years or even decades depending on the vigor of the tree and the size of the wound. It is suggested to never dress a wound with paint or sealant as it can actually create a positive environment for P & D. Proper pruning cut placement is vital to ensure the wounds are sealed as quickly as possible.

Of course this is just a simplified short list of possible causes of stress but they are some of the things that I look for when a client calls me with a tree problem. I hope this had shed some light and answered a few question. Till next time, take care.

Protect your Trees from Construction – Creating Tree Protection Plans

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As an arborist most of the work I do is reactive. A branch is hitting the roof- I prune it, a tree is sick- I diagnose it, a tree is dead- I remove it, etc. Unfortunately being reactive can often offer limited options and finite results. A proactive approach can be a much more efficient, effective and economical approach to most situations. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

I see this no more evident than with trees and construction. During construction trees can be subjected to a wide array of stresses that can have long term and irreversible consequences. This can affect the functionality, aesthetics and most importantly the safety of a tree and their surrounding property.

Creating and implementing a tree protection plan is an effective way to insure the elimination or reduction of stress endured by trees during and after construction.

What is a tree protection plan? A tree protection plan (TPP) is a multi phase plan that is created to protect trees during construction/renovations/landscaping or any other event that may affect trees on your property. It creates guidelines and rules to be followed through the construction process. An efficient TPP relies on open communication and cooperation between the client, the contractor and the arborist. As previously stated a TPP is multiphase and can be organized into 3 stages: pre-construction, during construction and post-construction.

During the pre-construction phase it is important to decide on the goals and objectives of the TPP. An inventory of all trees possibly affected by construction activity should be recorded. Deciding what trees are high priority as well as where construction machinery will be driving and dumping are just a few considerations. Barricades and barriers are to be setup as well as means to protect the root zone from compaction and damage. It is wise to have a TPP document created as a contract which must be followed by all parties involved.

During construction it is important to ensure that the TPP is being adhered to. Situations will arise that will need immediate attention (i.e. Root and branch pruning and watering). These events should be addressed and documented.

Post construction activities involve dismantling and removing barricades, addressing any immediate tree concerns and implementing a monitoring program. A continuing monitoring program is important as trees rarely show stress or decline until several years after the initial damage.

With the implementation of a tree protection plan it is possible to be proactive and protect trees or at least alleviate the stresses endured during construction. It will also increase the chances of having healthy trees to enjoy well into the future.

As always I hope this has been informative especially to those of you getting ready to start some summer projects.