Your Company And Pest Management Decisions

Fall webworm

How does your company handle pest management?

That was one of the many topics of conversation on Monday, July 31 at the International Society of Arboriculture’s Annual International Conference & Trade Show, held at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland on the National Harbor.

Joe Boggs, of Ohio State University

In his presentation titled “Your Pest Management Strategies: Which Pests Matter?” Joe Boggs, assistant professor with the Ohio State University extension and department of entomology, explained how every tree care company needs to carefully categorize where to put their pest management emphasis.

“Share your philosophies with your customers,” Boggs explained to the attendees. “There’s a whole lot of pest management decisions that stop with saying, ‘This pest causes no harm to that tree.’ That’s a rough position to be in, when you’re looking at a tree covered in fall webworms and you’re saying they’re causing no appreciable harm.”

Boggs explained that proper pest management practices support good tree health, identify the problem (subsequently making a diagnosis) and separate “serious from not-so-serious” pests. He also explained to the attendees that, “tree death without a correct diagnosis is malpractice.”

In terms of how individual tree care companies evaluate pest impacts, Boggs said that a common dilemma faced is “How do I make money if I’m not treating, and I’m just telling my customers that those fall webworms aren’t hurting the tree?” Boggs went on to say that, “On one hand we have clients that have zero tolerance with a tree looking bad; we can’t convince them to plant a plastic tree. On the other hand, all of us in this room know that there are very few tree pests that require treatments — if we measure strictly based on tree health.”

The problem, Boggs said, is  that “not all pests are equal. We can’t say all defoliated caterpillars act the same. We can’t say all scales act the same.”

Boggs recommended sorting out pests into three categories:

  1. Pests that are damaging to trees;
  2. Pests that are serious problems but management is no longer possible or is beyond your capacity to manage;
  3. Pests that can be managed by your efforts, (which need to form the core of your service).

Determining which category each tree pests fits into is a creative exercise all tree care companies should engage in each year, to “be the most productive and profitable this coming season,” Boggs said.

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Woodbanks: A Way For Arborists To Give Back

Arborists possess many skills that make them valued parts of the communities in which they live and work. What better way to utilize those skills than for a good cause that involves helping people in need?

This is where woodbanks come into play. Simply put, woodbanks are programs that aim to help community members with life essentials by supplying firewood at little to no cost to those in need that rely on firewood as a heating source.

“Woodbanks are similar to the idea of a food bank, but it’s for fuel wood for folks that are in need,” explained Matthias Taylor Nevins, a land conservation specialist with the Athol, Massachusetts-based Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust, in an article from The Greenfield Recorder.  “So, if [a] town had a woodbank that was open during the week, folks could go in and grab a little bit of wood to get them through a tough time or get them to their next shipment of oil or load of wood.”

There are woodbanks located across the country and many are in need of skilled arborists with knowledge of proper chain saw safety protocols and skills that would be useful in cutting, stacking and splitting wood. Woodbanks are also always in need of volunteers and laborers (of any skill level) to stack and organize the wood, among other things. Arborists can even lend their tools and equipment to help in a woodbank effort.

Looking to get involved? Start at, where you can find guidelines and basic information on the programs, including a map and directory of where they’re located across the country.

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All About Leaf Feeders

All About Leaf Feeders

Insects feed on all parts of trees — roots, leaves, transport system, heartwood; each can be damaging in their own way. Keeping a handle on the most damaging of these is a key component of providing good tree care for your clients. A little research and a lot of effective communication goes a long way toward delivering a quality insect control program that does the job for the trees, puts money in your pocket and makes your customers happy.

Outcomes, results, consequences

Why focus attention on leaf feeders? In short, these critters are plant food-maker removers. They chew, extract and sponge up the very material that’s needed by trees to keep them vigorous and healthy. If not controlled, they’ll slowly cause a decline in a tree that, over time, can weaken it to the point that it may not recover.

The good news is that in most cases, an otherwise healthy tree can withstand one year’s worth of defoliation and still recover. Two years of defoliation… maybe, but maybe not. Beyond that, it gets pretty dicey.

How does this occur? Because leaves are the primary creator of necessary plant nutrition, removal of or damage to them brings about a need for the use of stored carbohydrates in the stems and branches to produce a new set of leaves. If the feeding occurs in spring, the usual result is the growth of new leaves to replace the ones lost earlier. If the damage is in summer or fall, the result is a prevention of the food that would have been made if the leaves had remained on the tree for the full season.

Another reason to focus attention on leaf feeders: they’re visual to the customer. Clients may not be able to see borer damage or stem girdling roots in the early stages, but they’ll surely see beetles and sawflies.

Scouting and monitoring

Perhaps the best place to start with managing leaf feeders is with scouting. Most arborists in the field know what the desired tree is supposed to look like, whether it’s a linden, crabapple, oak, hickory, spruce, Kentucky coffeetree, larch, pine, birch or persimmon. When a tree appears slightly different than what you’re used to seeing, a red flag should be raised. Keep in mind that this could be due to an actual disease, insect damage or any number of abiotic causes. For example, the culprit could be compacted soils, deep planting, overwatering, root damage from trenching, previous topping procedures, inadequate infiltration of water on a slope or a nutrient deficiency.

To get a good handle on the initial symptoms of tree insect problems, it’s wise to consult one of the many available references. For fear of leaving some of them out, the authors suggest typing “leaf-feeding insects on trees” into your favorite search engine (Yahoo Image Search, MSN Images and Google Images are examples).

Several good textbooks and mobile device apps are also available. It’s best to start with the ones in your state — or at least your region — as some insects can appear differently from place to place. The sources that include color pictures of early and fullblown signs and symptoms tend to be the most helpful.

Observation of the initial symptoms of a leaf feeders’ presence is of key importance to keeping them in check. When noticed early in the life cycle, before feeding damage is heavy, several options for control may be available. In some situations, the lower recommended rate of a control product can be utilized rather than the higher end of the range, which saves on money for materials as well as puts less insecticide or miticide into the environment and increases the chances for success.

Scouting involves observing differences in a tree’s appearance. You can also investigate by taking a closer look using a hand lens. Factors to consider include recent cultural practices, weather events that took place in the area recently and making comparisons from a tree species one location in the neighborhood to another.

The overall process of inspection is called monitoring, which essentially is a series of individual scouting events. Monitoring usually involves consulting customer records to look for notes on outbreaks of insect and mite problems, their extent, when they occurred and any control measures that were taken.

In terms of scouting frequency, at a minimum, it’s helpful to monitor before and after a pesticide application to confirm the presence of the feeder as well as to determine the effectiveness of the control attempt. Depending on weather conditions and product used, more frequent inspections can be necessary.

Treatment Methods

With relation to leaf feeders, each of the four treatment methods have positives and negatives:

Trunk injection

Pros: Direct product movement into the transport system of the tree and reduced potential for off target site movement of the active ingredients via slopes and drift.

Cons: Tree wounding and time for treatment depending on product choice.

Soil drench

Pros: Direct uptake, especially appropriate for smaller trees.

Cons: Potential for movement to water sources and damage to pets/children.

Basal spray

Pros: Translaminar movement into the xylem, good for smaller trees.

Cons: Certain products aren’t appropriate for this treatment method; drift may be consequential in some landscapes.

Foliar spray

Pros: Direct contact with pests in vulnerable life stage.

Cons: High potential for drift when wind speeds are greater than 5 to 8 mph.

Selling the program

In order to accomplish the true goals of scouting and monitoring, it’s necessary to sell a program of some type to your customers. After all, waiting for a call from a client to complain that their tree has been damaged allows for tree damage by its very nature. Again, this may be satisfactory for healthy, vigorous trees, but for those that are struggling or have a common number of flaws, it runs short of ideal.

A more proactive approach is to presell a bi-weekly or monthly or seasonally timed inspection program. What do you want to include in the program? Start with the following:

  • Documentation of the species;
  • Condition of the tree;
  • Any observed pests;
  • Previous pest damage evidence;
  • Previous treatments of property’s trees

These programs are commonly referred to as plant health care programs, which are designed to keep the tree healthy and provide for its needs, whatever they may be — soil improvements, pest control, fertilization, pruning, traffic avoidance, replacement, short-term cabling or bracing and tree risk assessment.

A key difference between the two approaches is that the react style of tree care usually involves getting paid for the volume of product that can be sprayed or injected into a tree. The plant health care option hangs its hat on obtaining compensation for an arborist’s training, experience and knowledge, as well as the control measures.

Some classic leaf feeders include:

An elm leaf beetle.

Image Courtesy Of James Kalisch, UNL

Elm leaf beetles

  • They feed on the foliage of European, American and Siberian elms.
  • As an adult, they measure about 0.25 inches long and are yellowish-green with a black stripe on the outside of each wing cover.
  • Larvae reach about 0.375 inches in length and are yellow with black spots and stripes.
  • Overwinters as an adult, hiding in and around buildings or in leaf litter and bark crevices. As new spring foliage begins to expand, these overwintered adults will emerge and begin feeding. After this they mate and lay clusters of yellow eggs on the undersides of leaves.
  • The eggs usually hatch in springs and the emerging larvae will feed and go through three larval stages of growth. The larval stage feeds by skeletonizing the underside of the leaf surface, creating a window pane effect at first and then a lacy leaf later. After feeding for a few weeks, the larvae pupate on the tree trunk and emerge as adults.
  • Adult beetles may also feed on leaves, leaving behind characteristic shot-hole type damage. Heavily infested trees often prematurely lose their leaves.

Spring cankerworm larvae.

Cankerworms and other caterpillars

  • They feed on most species of deciduous trees and some shrubs, but elm and hackberry are their favorites.
  • There are both spring and fall cankerworms and the difference lies in how they spend the winter. Fall cankerworms emerge as adults in fall (October typically), mate and lay eggs that overwinter. Spring cankerworms overwinter in the soil as a pupae and emerge as adults in the spring. Both species’ eggs hatch in the spring and cause damage at the same time of year.
  • It can be hard to tell the species apart, as both are grayish-brown and about 0.312 inches long. Females are wingless while males have greyish-brown wings, with an average wingspan of 1.125 inches.
  • Wingless adults emerge in the spring, when they mate and climb a nearby tree to deposit eggs under flakes of bark on the trunk and branches.
  • The larvae also look very similar, about 1 inch in length and yellowgreen to brownish to blackish.
  • You can distinguish the two species by counting the number of prolegs on the back half of the abdomen; fall cankerworms have three pairs, spring cankerworms only two.
  • Upon hatching, the caterpillars or “measuring worms” feed voraciously on the leaves, at times completely stripping the tree. Severe defoliation over a few consecutive years may weaken, but is unlikely to kill, the tree.
  • After feeding, larvae enter the soil near infested trees to overwinter. There’s only one generation per year.

Spider mites in various life stages


  • These occur on almost all species of woody ornamentals. They feed predominately on the undersides of leaves, but also are found on the tender shoots of plants.
  • Most are green, but they can vary in color from pink to black.
  • Aphids have needle-like mouthparts that help them to feed on plant sap. As they feed, they cause plant leaves to curl and their defecation is known as honeydew, a sticky liquid that can coat leaves, branches and even objects under the tree. Honeydew can also serve as a breeding ground for black sooty mold.
  • The best time to control aphids is early in their life cycle, for three reasons. First, smaller aphids succumb to treatments more readily than older and larger ones. For greatest effectiveness, insecticidal sprays should be directed toward the undersides of the leaves.
  • There are several options for aphid control, ranging from organic products like neem, insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils and synthetic insecticides such as permethrin, lambda-cyhalothrin or cyfluthrin.
  • Because aphids have a relatively short life cycle and can regenerate quickly, multiple treatments may be necessary for acceptable control.

Spider mites

  • Although not technically an insect, (insects have six legs and three body parts, while adult mites have eight legs and two body parts) they’re the prototypical sap suckers.
  • Under cool and moist springtime conditions, Spruce spider mites multiply rapidly on conifers such as spruce, juniper and others. Damage isn’t usually noticed until the weather becomes hot and dry later in the summer. As the summer progresses, two-spotted spider mites can become a problem on essentially all landscape ornamentals.
  • Mites can be detected in two ways: First, use a 10-times hand lens to look for moving critters on the underside of a broadleaf tree leaf or on the new growth of a conifer. The body and legs of motionless mites should be clearly visible, while moving mites in motion may simply appear as moving dots. Second, place a white sheet of notebook paper under a branch or group of leaves and rap them with a small stick. If mites are present, they’ll fall onto the paper where they can be easily seen.
  • If one or two mites are found on a leaf, immediate treatment is usually not necessary. But continue to monitor the tree for any changes in the mite population. If more than six to 10 mites appear on the sheet of paper, consider a treatment with a miticide such as bifenthrin (Talstar).
  • While sap-sucking insects may have a common method of feeding, keep in mind that each should be considered individually when it comes to selecting the most appropriate control strategies.

An adult Japanese beetle.

Japanese beetles

  • These are invasive scarab beetles that, as adults, feed on over 400 different kinds of plants. Preferred hosts include lindens, birches, roses and grapes.
  • They’re found in most of the Eastern and Midwestern states.
  • Adults have sharp, chewing mouthparts that skeletonize leaves, eating the green tissue and leaving behind only the veins of the leaf, shred flowers and can hollow out fruit.
  • Control of adults that feed on trees begins before you see the first beetle. Most adults emerge between June and August — if a tree is to be preventatively protected, a systemic application of imidacloprid should be applied to the soil at the base of the tree in April or May to allow the tree to absorb the treatment. (You can’t treat linden trees with any neonicotinoid insecticide.)
  • If you’re treating for already-present adults, bifenthrin, carbaryl and cyfluthrin all provide two to four weeks of residual protection. Chlorantraniliprole also offers four weeks of protection, with minimal effects on nontarget organisms such as pollinators.
  • Organic products like neem and pyola protect leaves and need to be reapplied every three to seven days, depending on the weather and pest pressure.



  • These are common pests of evergreens, junipers and occasionally deciduous trees and shrubs.
  • The case or bag that provides a home for the bagworm caterpillar — which gives the insect its name — is constructed of silk and fragments of leaves or needles.
  • Bagworms overwinter as eggs within the bags. In the spring, during the first or second week of June, tiny larvae hatch from eggs and immediately begin construction of small protective bags.
  • Caterpillars feed from within their bags and move along the branch in search of food. Applying Bt in June, when the larvae are small, is the best control strategy.

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Caring For Newly Planted Trees

The drought, homeowner wishes, new development — whatever the reason, a new tree was planted, and now it’s time to make sure it thrives. As a tree care provider, it’s your responsibility to integrate solid best management practices for mature specimens, new additions and trees of an intermediate age.

Providing for newly planted trees is not as simple as it may sound. There’s a lot more to it than just a little water and mulch. The long-term success of any new installation is largely due to proper planting procedures and follow-up care in the first year after planting. Mistakes made early on in a tree’s life are not easily made up for later on.

Poor tree staking

Poor staking procedures lead to many future problems. PHOTO: JOHN C. FECH


Staking is generally considered a no-no, as the benefits simply do not outweigh the negative consequences that usually occur as a result. In the first year following planting, it’s crucial for trees to develop a strong matrix of lateral roots that provide structural support for the stem and branches. When newly planted trees are allowed to sway and bend slightly in the wind, the natural response is to produce roots in sufficient quantity and size. On the other hand, when staked, new plantings aren’t exposed to the same forces and, as a result, often don’t develop as many structural roots.

As with many procedures or management practices, there are exceptions. In this case, trees that have been planted in windswept areas that are overly prone to strong prevailing winds may need some level of staking to prevent being blown out of the soil. If so, three guidelines should be adhered to in order to help the tree develop a lateral root system. First, the stem should be tied to the stake loosely, in such a way as to allow an inch or two of lateral movement. Second, a wide strip of nonabrasive material, such as rubber inner tubes, old T-shirts, drapery remnants, soft canvas, etc., should be used around the trunk to create a snowshoe effect, rather than one that causes damage to the bark and cambium. Third, the stake should be removed after a year’s time to allow for future root development. A tree that is dependent on a stake is not a sturdy long-term element in the landscape.

Good staking tree

Good staking allows for slight movement of the trunk and a wide attachment with the bark. PHOTO: JOHN C. FECH

Soil testing

To gain valuable insights into the makeup of the soils that surround the newly installed specimen, it’s wise to sample the areas just outside of the root-ball. Many valuable insights can be gained from a soil test, such as the percentage of organic matter, pH, soil type, cation exchange capacity and concentrations of various nutrients. Gathering this information will indicate the need for added nutrients, pH adjustment and the likely rate of water infiltration surrounding the tree. Starting with these foundational measurements will help provide for the tree’s needs for years to come.


Unless a nutrient deficiency symptom presents itself, or a soil test indicates a need, fertilization is generally not necessary in the first year after planting. In fact, not only is it not needed, it can be detrimental. Absorption of high quantities of nutrients by a new tree often leads to excessive growth of the new shoots at the expense of the root system. As mentioned above, a foundational goal for establishment is for the tree to develop an extensive lateral root system that will support the tree and serve to take up water and nutrients from the existing soils. Preferential growth of shoots over roots can be problematic. When fertilizer application is required, seek to provide an even application across the entire root system.

No, No, Nanette

At this point, you might be thinking: “OK, so no staking and no fertilizing … what can I do?” Initial tree care is equally about what not to do as it is what to do. In short, fertilizing, staking — probably not. Soil testing, mulching and watering — yes. Pruning falls into a third category of “maybe.”

good mulch placement

An example of good placement and extent of mulch. PHOTO: JOHN C. FECH


There are many benefits to mulching. However, like many other tree care operations, it must be done in balance with other procedures and the overall environment where the tree is growing. The main goal of mulching is to replicate the conditions where the tree is native. An urban lot comprised of turfgrass growing over the top of subsoil is rarely a suitable site for trees.

One of the best ways to duplicate what Mother Nature intended is to apply wood chip mulch over the root system and extend it as far into the landscape as the customer will allow. These materials serve to suppress weed growth and turf competition; keep lawn mowers away from the fragile trunk; keep the soil and roots a bit cooler in summer than bare soil; and reduce evaporation from the soil. Over time, natural mulch materials will degrade and recycle nutrients back to the tree.

bad volcano mulch placement

A mulch volcano usually leads to future problems. PHOTO: JOHN C. FECH

When well mulched, a newly planted tree will be surrounded by 2 to 3 inches of wood chips, pine needles, ground corncobs, stump grindings or some other naturally occurring material that begins 2 to 3 inches away from the trunk. An unfortunate recent trend in many parts of the country is the placement of a large quantity of mulch — often called a mulch volcano — around the base of the trunk. This is an unnatural mulch arrangement and can lead to collar/bole issues such as Armillaria root rot. On the other hand, if inexperienced lawn mower operators are working around the newly planted tree, they may run the machine into the volcano before hitting the trunk. However, the dumping of mulch on the trunk is to be avoided. Plastic sheeting is also an unnatural component, and though it blocks some light and therefore weed growth in the short run, it causes oxygen and water infiltration problems, which are difficult to recover from. Fabric sheeting is not much better in this context, and should be limited to locations such as slopes where it helps to keep mulch in place.

tree without mulch

With no mulch in place, trees and turf compete for water and nutrients. PHOTO: JOHN C. FECH


Providing water to new trees is essential, but it must be done in an appropriate manner. When determining the need for water, several factors must be considered. Probing the soil to check for moisture content is a good first step. Many tools can be used for this, including a piece of rebar, a cut-off golf club, a long screwdriver or a moisture probe. Secondly, keep the depth of the root system in mind. Newly planted trees will generally have a root system that is roughly the size of the root-ball. As the season progresses, new “sinker” roots will grow deeply, and “stabilizer” roots will grow horizontally. The moisture needs of both need to be accounted for.

Working with a landscape designer is helpful to the overall process of placing water near the root systems of trees. As much as possible, endeavor to separate trees from turf and water them according to their own needs. A good designer will understand this principle and aid in providing the correct amount of water for each component of the landscape.

Water should be applied slowly and steadily for newly planted trees. The use of soaker hoses and drip bags is a good approach for applying adequate water without runoff. The bottom line when watering is to keep the roots moist, not soggy or dry, and to water to the bottom of the root system plus 1 inch, and then stop. Any less and the bottom part of the roots won’t get enough and die, and any more than that is a waste.

soaker hoses around tree

Soaker hoses are useful for watering around new trees. PHOTO: JOHN C. FECH


Pruning should only be done when necessary. A new tree needs every leaf it has to photosynthesize and send carbohydrates and sugars to the rest of the tree. Removal of stems and leaves reduces the potential for the tree to get off to a good start. As such, pruning should be limited to correcting flaws in the tree’s structure, such as double leaders, broken branches, and crossing or rubbing stems. When pruning cuts are made, identify the branch bark ridge and the collar and use them as a guide, cutting just outside of the imaginary line between the two.

Trunk protection this fall

Depending on the circumstances and location of the tree in the landscape, it is advisable to place a durable material around the trunk to prevent rodent damage. Hardware cloth, poultry netting and PVC are good materials to use to help avoid injury from voles, mice and rabbits. In most situations, pushing the material 3 inches into the soil will be necessary, as well as covering the trunk surface. This trunk protection should be installed as the tree enters dormancy and then removed in spring as new growth appears.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2013 and has been updated.

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Lessen Chances of Injury with Overall Safety Practices

Safety First

There’s plenty of legitimate and pertinent reasons why safety is emphasized to such a great extent in the arboriculture and tree care industries. Whether on the ground or high in a tree, arborists and tree care providers constantly deal with dangerous equipment, risky situations and the hazards of their work environment. For those reasons, following all guidelines and being prepared for an emergency must be a priority every time a worker steps foot on a job site. With the goal of continuous promotion of safety and safe work practices, we’ve curated and selected safety content that highlights the following topics:

The bottom line is this: There’s nothing more important than making it home in one piece each and every night, so let’s work together to make sure safety never gets put on the back burner. After all, what’s more important than your life, health and well-being?

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Rescue And Retrieval In Aerial Lift Operations

Although aerial rescue is a topic that gets a great deal of attention in the tree care industry, the focus is often on the rescue of climbers using any one of a variety of rope climbing systems. And, although this focus is certainly merited and important, the capability to rescue and/or retrieve an operator from an aerial lift should not be neglected. While a rescue operation involving an aerial lift may not be as physically challenging to the rescue personnel as one involving a climbing system, it is still a complex process, and one that requires foresight, planning and training if it is to be successful. Obviously, companies using aerial lifts a great deal should put more focus on this type of training and preparation, while climbing companies less so, but all tree care professionals should be familiar with the general process and considerations, as a tree care professional can never tell when they may be confronted with an aerial lift operator in need of help. Knowledge of a few basic ideas will assist tree crews in being ready in the moment of need.


Aerial lift rescue and/or retrieval can be broken down into two types or categories: self-rescue or evacuation and rescue/extrication. Evacuation is when the operator is unhurt or mildly injured, but the lift is disabled or inoperable, leaving the operator to regain ground level safely without the use of the lift. Rescue/extrication operations occur when an operator is unconscious or otherwise unable to operate the lift, and fellow crew members must return them to ground level and extricate them from the bucket for medical treatment.

This system allows the user to ascend to get back to the bucket or release their lanyard. A small belt pouch unit on right is used to step up to release pressure of the harness. Photo: Michael Tain

Common sense

Aerial lift operators who do not use the appropriate safety equipment such as five-point/full-body harnesses and accompanying lanyards will require little in the way of rescue skills beyond medical treatment, as they will, if ejected from the bucket, hit the ground at a high rate of speed. Not wearing some form of fall prevention/fall restraint system is not only a violation of standard, but is also an excellent, though painful, way to learn that gravity is the law no matter where one is located. The use of body belts in place of full-body harnesses, while legal in some states under standards, makes evacuating a disabled lift while aloft extremely challenging, if not impossible, and more or less ensures severe pain, if not injury, in the event of an ejection.

Branch managers

The first, and best, option in the event of an unconscious or incapacitated lift operator is for the ground crew personnel to operate the lower controls to bring them to the ground as swiftly and safely as possible. This requires that all crew members be aware of not only where the controls are, but also how they are operated correctly. After all, in an emergency situation, trying to find the one branch manager who knows how to operate the lower controls is not an activity that time should be spent on, nor should time have to be spent determining what lever causes which movement, particularly when the operator is aloft with a severe chain saw laceration or huddled unconscious in the bottom of the bucket from a head injury. If electricity is involved, the entire equation changes, and, once again, all crew members must be familiar with the protocols involved with an energized aerial lift. Operating the lower controls with a pole pruner, saw or “chicken” stick is certainly possible, but is much easier in theory than in practice, so all personnel should have a chance to practice it prior to an actual emergency situation.

This system, from Buckingham, has both an Anthron descent device and a fiber ladder for lanyard release in the event of an ejection. Photo: Michael Tain


There are a number of scenarios that can result in the need for an aerial lift operator to carry out a self-rescue or evacuation, but in general the operator is unhurt or mildly injured and the lift is disabled. The situation could be created by a hydraulic or electric failure in the lift, an engine fire in the truck that prevents usual use and descent, or even an operator thrown out of the bucket dangling from their harness and unable to regain the controls. Many different systems are available for these situations, even ones that allow the operator to get back in the bucket after being ejected, but none of them will work if they are not present, connected properly and the operator is familiar with their use and operation. The majority of the systems are “all parts included,” meaning they typically include some form of descent device and their own rope, most often a light smaller-diameter line meeting the strength requirements. Operators should examine, once again prior to an actual emergency, the method in which they are going to anchor this escape line, not only for safety and security, but also to avoid chafing and rubbing against sharp edges of the lift, and to make sure that their chosen anchoring system doesn’t put them in body positions that require an advanced degree in yoga to exit the lift. An evacuation system can certainly be simply a climbing system in the bucket, though it will take up much more space than one of the manufactured systems, and users should make sure that it works with the harness they wear in the lift, and that appropriate anchors are available.

Suspension trauma

Dangling in a five-point/full-body harness from the dorsal attachment point, though more comfortable than hanging with a body belt lodged in one’s armpits, is not only uncomfortable and painful after a short period of time, but it can be physically dangerous. A condition called suspension trauma can sometimes develop where blood gathers and pools in areas where full circulation is restricted by the harness. Straps are available that live in a belt pouch on the operator’s waist and allow the user to step up periodically, relieving the harness’ pressure.

A pulley mechanical advantage system to remove an unconscious operator from the bucket. Anchoring strap which would attach to the boom is on left. Photo: Michael Tain

Release of lanyard

Having an evacuation system present, properly installed and trained in its use still does not guarantee an easy return to ground level. An ejected user will be dangling from the deceleration lanyard, securely attached at both ends, otherwise they would be on the ground in a poor state of repair. Thus, training in and access to a system that either allows the operator to get their weight off the lanyard and onto the evacuation system or regain some height to the bucket for lanyard release is imperative.


Removing a severely injured or unconscious arborist from the bucket or cage of an aerial lift can be both physically and mentally challenging for an unprepared and untrained ground crew. Typically, this operation is called extrication, and there are a variety of systems of assistance that are available to make it easier. A number of lifts have built-in existing systems, either manual or powered, that allow the bucket to be turned from the vertical to the horizontal, allowing the victim to be easily accessed and slid out for medical treatment. These systems will vary in operation on different manufacturers’ machines, and must be examined and practiced in calmer times to ensure safe, effective use when it counts. For those tree care companies with buckets that do not pivot or swivel, there are a large number of mechanical advantage systems available that may be used to lift the victim up vertically out of the bucket, all of which require some foresight and training as to anchor points, operation and installation.

Treatment/emergency response

Would-be rescuers must always first evaluate the scene for safety prior to starting any rescue operations, regardless of the seriousness of the injuries involved. A “second victim” is not only going to be unable to help the first, but is going to add to the chaos and confusion of the situation. Hopefully, all crew members will have basic first aid and CPR training, if not more; regardless, they should remember that their first obligation is to “do no harm.” An unconscious victim returned to ground level that is breathing and has a pulse may best be left in the bucket until the arrival of the emergency medical professionals, as removal from the bucket may create additional problems or injuries. Standard written emergency response protocols that all crew members are familiar with and trained in will go a long way towards making sure that all necessary actions are carried out in an emergency situation, which will in turn give the victim the greatest chance of recovery and/or survival.

Aerial lift rescue and retrieval operations require foresight, training and preparation, as do most safe, successful activities in the tree care industry, but a little time and basic preparation will go a long way toward making sure that in the event of an emergency involving a lift, the crew will respond safely, quickly and to the best of their abilities.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2011 and has been updated.

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ISA International Conference and Trade Show Preview

International Society of Arboriculture International Conference and Trade Show

The International Society of Arboriculture’s Annual International Conference and Trade Show is one of the world’s premier gatherings of arboriculture professionals, where practicing arborists and urban foresters come together with top researchers and educators to learn the latest in research, technology and innovations in arboriculture and urban forestry.

International Tree Climbing Championship (with Arbor Fair & Expo): Friday, July 28-Sunday, July 30 at the U.S. National Arboretum.

* Free educational opportunities include tree/plant ID walks at the National Arboretum and a Bonsai 101 workshop.

Tree Anatomy workshop: This intensive, three-day Tree Anatomy workshop (Friday-Sunday, July 28-30) will teach reading trees from the inside-out, helping arborists more accurately diagnose tree health and vitality issues. Learn about the differences between woody and absorbing roots; assess the structure of woody plant parts from three different planes to aid in the process of identification and diagnosis; better understand how large woody monocots grow; and discover the tree health and function implications of good and bad pruning cuts. Dozens of hands-on activities and practical demonstrations are planned.

* Several other preconference workshops will be held from July 28-30.

* This workshop will be held at the U.S. National Arboretum. Break refreshments, lunch and transportation from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center to the arboretum is included.

* Preregistration is required and fees apply.

Educational sessions: Earn more CEUs with a large, diverse selection of educational sessions held on Monday- Wednesday, July 31-Aug. 2.

Tiny Talks–Big Ideas sessions: Attendees can hear insight on the wider arboriculture industry during these short talks (less than 10 minutes) on Monday, July 31. These are intended to stimulate the exchange of new and exciting ideas in a short period of time. These short sessions will be held back-to-back and are eligible for CEUs.

Visiting the area: The Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center is 8 miles south of the U.S. Capitol, monuments, memorials and museums on the National Mall.


Friday, July 28 — Wednesday, Aug. 2


Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center National Harbor, Maryland


Facebook: International Society of Arboriculture

Twitter: @ISArboriculture, #ISAdc, #ITCCdc



Sunday, July 30 | 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. (welcome reception);

Monday, July 31 | 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Tuesday, Aug. 1 | 8 a.m. – 3 p.m.


Sunday Arboriculture Celebration keynote: Dr. John Gathright, Director, Japan Arborist Training Institute. “Bridging Arboriculture and Medical Professionals — TreeHab: The Healing Power of Scientifically Designed Rehabilitative Tree Climbing Programs.” Gathright focuses on physiological, psychological and societal benefits of purpose-specific tree climbing programs in urban forests and green spaces— “TreeHab.” Through his organization, Tree Climbing Japan, he has impacted the lives of thousands in Japan by providing rehabilitative and therapy-designed tree climbing programs that help lower pain sensitivity, stress and anger while increasing vitality, self-worth and physical strength.

Monday opening general session keynote: Mark Buscaino, Executive Director, Casey Trees. “D.C.’s Tree Canopy: Past, Present and Hopes for the Future.” Nonprofit Casey Trees has worked to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy in the U.S. capital. Buscaino will talk about the 15-year progress Casey Trees has made by working with concerned residents, the Washington, D.C., government and other nonprofits to restore the city’s street trees.

Tuesday closing session keynote: Ari Novy, Executive Director, U.S. Botanic Gardens. “Basking in the Shade: The Importance of Trees in the City.” Novy will discuss the importance of arboriculture within an urban-horticulture framework, specifically about how well-executed arboriculture practices are often multijurisdictional and are a primary determinant of connection to historical landscapes. Novy will also talk about the importance of designing horticultural spaces that serve as educational nodes for arboriculture.

Climbers’ Corner: Climbers’ Corner sessions will be held Monday, July 31, and Tuesday, Aug. 1, on the trade show floor at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

More on CEU opportunities: Individuals who attend the maximum number of sessions each day and purchase tickets to participate in preconference workshops could earn 30 or more CEUs. The number of CEUs offered are based on the length of the workshop/session.

* All information courtesy of the ISA

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Tree Care By Category

Your customer wants you to look at an oak tree that’s having trouble. Sure it has some problems; it’s been topped, the bole has mower blight, the leaves are infested with aphids, but the real problem is that it’s way too close to the house and picture window, which is probably why it was topped. You can help your customers with problems like these by focusing attention on the purpose and care of each tree on the property.

Site assessment and analysis

Any landscape, regardless of function, can be improved through site assessment and site analysis. Though more helpful when conducted before installation of plant materials, considering all aspects of the site is truly an underutilized and advantageous process.

The difference between a site assessment and a site analysis is simple. A site assessment is a documentation of the status of each plant in the landscape, as well as the observed growing conditions for them. In short, it’s the raw information. A site analysis is conducted after an assessment, taking the observations and assigning a diagnosis, value judgment or recommendation to them.

Here’s how it works: Step one is to walk the site with a clipboard, sketching in the various hardscapes (anything nonliving) and plants. As each plant is encountered, notes such as “spots on leaves,” “gash in trunk” and “stunted current season’s growth” are written on the sketch. This can be done in sections, or the whole landscape can be done all at once; there are advantages and disadvantages to each. It’s usually easier to focus on specifics when smaller areas are reviewed, while a more cohesive and overlapping view is realized when larger areas are assessed.

It’s easy to see the value of a good shade tree. Photo: John Fech

Step two is to determine the cause and seriousness of each noted concern; to make a value judgment for each. For example, a tree might be struggling because the sprinkler system has been in disrepair recently and runs for an hour and a half every morning regardless of natural rainfall. Thus, “pale leaves and stunted growth” could translate into a recommendation for an audit of the sprinkler system. It’s also possible that weather conditions have led to the infection of common pathogens, such as apple scab and anthracnose, and a treatment program to address it may be necessary.

Site assessment/analysis promotes plant health directly and prevents maladies through common sense changes in plant material. The opportunity to replace severe or moderately susceptible specimens is a good one in that it creates voids that must be filled with better-adapted plant material.

Right plant, right place

More than likely, you’ve heard the green industry catchphrase: Right plant, right place (RPRP). If it weren’t such a good guide, I’d probably stop using it. The danger associated with a phrase such as RPRP is that it can become numbing or automatic in that it’s easy to overlook the many parts involved, and skip to the two or three that are most commonly used. For example, since sun/shade and eventual height are the most referred two plant selection guidelines, the others can be forgotten or ignored, especially if a choice must be made quickly.

These RPRP components are just as important as sun/shade and eventual height:

  • Width — The other side of eventual height. Commonly overlooked, especially with small trees such as crabapple and cherry.
  • Soil moisture and pH — Trees located next to a parking lot of limestone rock are suspect for high pH soils, which usually leads to micronutrient issues.
  • Disease resistance — Disease resistance equals low maintenance, which is commonly requested by commercial clients.
  • Leaf color — In summer and fall.
  • Growth habit — Columnar, spreading, etc.
  • Flower/fruit/fragrance — Butterflies are always welcome, but bees can be a real problem, especially for home-owners, medical patients and shoppers that are allergic.
  • Native choices — Chances are good that if it’s native, it’s going to survive.
  • Hardiness zones — Cold and heat.
  • Blooming sequence — Great to have something blooming at all times; it just takes a little planning.
  • Level of maintenance — High maintenance can be tolerated in high-visibility areas, but other areas can be planted for low maintenance.
  • Color — “Wow” factor.
  • Safety — Landscape debris.

The value of a good shade tree is evident as the path gently leads toward respite. Photo: John Fech

Care guidelines by category

Screening Trees

Purpose: to block objectionable views, to provide privacy or both. Screening trees are often planted in rows along property lines. Because the primary purpose is functional rather than aesthetic, the common temptation is to choose fast-growing, weak-wooded and pest-prone species, such as poplars. Resist the urge to yield to the desire for fast growth and advise your customers to be patient and wait for sturdier choices to mature. If planted and maintained correctly for the first few years, “medium growth rate” trees will establish soon enough to serve the purpose and avoid future pest and functional troubles. In some cases, a row of large, dense shrubs, such as arrowwood viburnum, will provide adequate screening, as well.

Care: Because establishment is a large concern, proper planting depth, watering and vegetation control are important factors. The growth rate of properly mulched and watered trees will be twice as fast as those trees where these guidelines have been ignored. When pruning, achieving sufficient density to create a screen is the primary goal.

Ornamental trees

Purpose: Ornamental trees are selected to offer a special feature to the landscape, such as colorful bark or fruit in winter; interesting shape, such as topiary or cascading; or softening of harsh architectural lines, including the corners of houses. Care must be taken to avoid planting too many ornamental trees, as well as to place them within landscape beds instead of in the middle of a lawn.

Care: Proper care starts with proper placement; some prefer shade or filtered sun. Special soil requirements are also important, so soil testing to determine pH, texture and water holding capacity are essential services to provide for your customers.

Shade Trees

Purpose: The name says it all. Shade trees are put into landscapes to shield the people from the harsh rays of the sun. This is important near patios, at shopping mall refreshment stands and the bleachers of sports facilities. Shade can be heavy, light, filtered or dappled, depending on the need of the situation.

Care: Shade trees must be properly sited and given adequate room to grow and fill the intended space. Plant shade trees so that the first lateral root is at or slightly above grade. Apply 2 to 3 inches of a loose, coarse mulch, beginning 2 inches away from the trunk. Probe the soil and water when the soil is dry or becoming dry, pay special attention to the care tag or the instructions from the nursery pertaining to soil moisture; some trees prefer wet soils, while others like it on the dry side.

Framing trees

Purpose: In backyards and commercial sites where depth and perspective is needed, framing trees provide a sense of scale and focus the view. Framing trees are common on properties that are adjacent to golf courses, rivers and mountains, or where structure and order are needed in the landscape.

Care: Generally, framing trees grow large; tall and wide enough to change the perspective of the viewer. Care is the same as for shade trees.

Framing trees can highlight and direct the view of the landscape user; in this case, the Pacific Ocean. Photo: John Fech

Fruit trees

Purpose: In some residential landscapes, the owners enjoy growing their own food. Veggie gardens, small fruits and tree fruits fit the bill.

Care: Fruit trees should be established in the same manner as shade trees, but the maintenance differs greatly in terms of pruning and pest control. Overall, fruit trees are pruned to allow maximum light to penetrate to the center of the tree canopy by removing about a third of the inner wood each year. Late winter and midsummer are the best times for pruning. Unlike a well-adapted shade tree, most fruit trees tend to be pest prone, and therefore require frequent applications of pest control agents to keep pests at bay.

Windbreak trees

Purpose: Like screening trees, windbreak trees are much more functional in purpose than aesthetics. Good windbreak trees are dense in nature and hold their needles all the way to the ground. Initial spacing is a key factor in the success of a windbreak planting; spacing trees too close together will result in early wind reduction, but increase the potential for foliar disease and create competition with each other. Trees spaced too far apart result in a major delay in the desirable effects.

Care: Because windbreak trees tend to be far away from water sources, initial soaking after planting and proper mulch application go a long way towards successful establishment. Regular monitoring for foliar diseases and insects is important throughout the growing season.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published February 2011 and has been updated.

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Support the Future of Arboriculture

Please, Support the Future of Arboriculture

About two years ago, I implored you to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and support TREE Fund. In a nutshell, I reminded you that even though there are many things that require your attention each day, the future of arboriculture also warrants your consideration.

Well, it’s time to remind you again about TREE Fund and why it’s so important, crucial and relevant.

The Tree Research and Education Endowment — a 501(c)(3) charity — offers numerous grants and scholarships in support of research, outreach programs and education in the fields of arboriculture and urban forestry. It’s the leading nongovernmental source of funding for these two fields, and it serves to support scientific discovery and dissemination of new knowledge in both.

To date, the foundation has distributed more than $6 million in the form of scholarships and research grants. Knowledge gained from more than 400 TREE Fund research grants since 1976 directly affects tree care companies, peoples’ lives and arborists’ techniques each day.

“Thanks to TREE Fund, I am able to obtain a quality education and focus on my studies instead of on tuition bills,” Matthew McKernan, a Robert Felix Memorial Scholarship recipient, told “I greatly appreciate the support and reassurance I have received, knowing that there are professionals in the industry who care and support my education and success at Kansas State University.”

More recently (March 27), TREE Fund announced its final round of 2016 grant awards for urban tree research and education. With these grants, the charity reached a record-breaking $550,000 in new awards in 2016, bringing its total disbursement of funding to nearly $3.2 million since 2002.

“We achieved this higher level of grant-making in 2016 by increasing both the number and the value of several of our grant lines,” TREE Fund President and CEO J. Eric Smith said in a statement. “We are proud and excited to be able to empower a larger body of new work, all through the tremendous international support we receive from our individual and organizational partners.”

Grants issued in the latter part of 2016 included an important long-term utility arboriculture test program in California; three grants supporting research on safe rigging, accurate tree surveying and proper root removal; and TREE Fund’s signature Research Fellowship, which is designed to cultivate emergent lines of inquiry in the field.

Two Jack Kimmel International Grants, supported by Canadian TREE Fund and its riders in the STIHL Tour des Trees outreach and fundraising event, will fund work on soil cell technology and climate change.

As you can see, this charitable organization continues to do great things for the industry.

So, how can you help?

To actively contribute to the advancement of the arboriculture industry, please visit TREEFund. org, where you can make an online donation. You can make a contribution to the general TREE Fund, or you may choose to support a specific program of your liking, such as the Safe Arborist Techniques Fund.

You can also reach TREE Fund on Facebook, on Twitter @TREE_Fund, by phone at 630-369-8300 and by email at

You can also support TREE Fund via your local International Society of Arboriculture chapter. (Contact your chapter to find out how.)

The bottom line is this: If you’re in a position to give, or if you want to help make even a small difference in your profession — not to mention make a difference for the next generation of arborists and tree care professionals — consider making a donation to TREE Fund. You’ll feel great knowing that you’re contributing to an outstanding, essential cause.

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How to Prioritize Tree Plantings

Prioritizing Planting

It would be great if budgets were unlimited and wherever and whenever trees were needed, they would be available.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in utopia and, as such, must use real-world solutions to the problems we face. One such issue is how to incorporate woody plants into a landscape, commercial property or recreational facility to maximize function and aesthetic value without breaking the bank. There are many pertinent considerations.

Consider the master plan and purpose of the tree when replanting after a storm. Photo: John Fech

Guidelines for prioritization

In the prioritization process, the first step is to identify the tree’s purpose. Is it for fall color? Is it for erosion control on a slope? Is it to replace a screening tree? The function of the tree will help guide all other decisions and considerations going forward. It’s all too common for trees to be replaced automatically without a thought as to why they are there in the first place. If there is no real purpose or reason for the tree to be in a particular location, then, chances are, the money could be better spent somewhere else.

The next concern is the current condition — the tree’s state of health and vigor. Many defects are easy to spot, while others can be hidden. The classic weaknesses of cracks, co-dominant leaders, basal/root plate disorders, heartwood decay and leaning are relatively easy to spot. The other three — insects, diseases and lack of favorable growing conditions — are more difficult to analyze in that further investigation often is necessary to evaluate how they contribute to the tree’s condition.

On top of identifying a defect or malady, one must determine its extent. A small pocket of decay is not a particularly troublesome problem, whereas a tree that is leaning to the west accompanied by a pushed-up mound of soil on the east side is a pretty heavy-duty concern. These considerations help quantify the degree of priority that should be placed on keeping or replacing a specimen and are related to the probability of failure (PoF) as referred to by the International Society of Arboriculture. During evaluation and assessment, each tree is given a PoF value of 1 to 5, or categorized as unlikely, moderately probable or likely to fail based on all the defects, pests and growing conditions.

Ongoing diseases, such as diplodia tip blight, present a gradual consideration of planting prioritization. Photo: John Fech

Common high-priority scenarios

Right from the start: In the situation of new projects, residential properties and sports turf/golf course/park plantings, a lack of trees can be seen as a positive in that a decent amount of time can be spent on planning for location and purpose rather than removal and replacement. This scenario is the proverbial “clean slate.” As such, program statements that define the objectives for eventual contributions to the property should be devised and clearly stated. Examples include “incorporate a mixed planting of deciduous and evergreen trees to provide screening, wildlife habitat and background scale for year-round human activity” and “create a natural setting in which trees are of high, medium and low heights on the edge of recreational spaces for picnics and other recreational activity.” These statements provide the overall context of a master plan, offering lots of foresight to a new planting.

After a storm: Following a major weather event, the appropriate action step is one of balancing the evaluation of condition of individual trees, the intended purpose, desirable tree availability and the funds available for replanting. In fact, a reasonable approach is to move forward in that order — evaluation, recall of purpose, determining availability of tree stock and labor and obtaining funds. The latter part of the protocol is much easier to accomplish if the former are finished before talking to stakeholders and officials responsible for approving expenditures. Having a plan in place and assessment of inventory is just doing your homework.

Read more: Planting near power lines? Take these tips into consideration.

Obvious defects, such as heartwood decay and co-dominant leaders, make prioritization a little easier. Photo: John Fech

Gradually: During disease and insect outbreaks such as apple scab, bagworms and diplodia tip blight, trees die steadily over a period of a few years. This scenario differs from the previous one in that it is generally uncertain if all the trees of a certain species will be affected. Weather conditions often encourage the development of certain insects and diseases, but the healthiest trees often will resist a pest invasion. As trees die, priority should be focused on replacement, but in the context of changes that might have occurred since the landscape was installed as well as program statements that guide the outcome. In the case of more aggressive maladies, such as emerald ash borer and pine wilt, the scenario changes to become more of a hybrid between gradual and the aftermath of a storm. The timeframe on these situations tends to be one of a few years rather than once in a while. Nonetheless, the considerations of importance on function and amenity in the landscape are still crucial to the success of the process.

Using several species of oak adds valuable diversity to a property. Photo: John Fech

Diversity plantings: Sometimes, when a particular property has been inventoried and a high percentage of a certain species is noted, diversification becomes a priority. Increased diversity on a property usually results in greater resistance to losses from pests and weather-related occurrences. General diversity in the landscape is a laudable outcome. A former guideline was to have no more than 10 to 15 percent of a particular genus represented among tree specimens. An updated recommendation is to further diversify, carrying it down to the species level. For example, an attempt should be made to include several species of a particular genus in a planting, i.e. Shingle oak, chinkapin oak, swamp white oak and red oak instead of utilizing only sawtooth oak. As well, the “value” of a tree can be taken into account. Some species, such as mulberry and Siberian elm, are generally considered to be of lower value. In most cases, these trees were planted from seed by nature rather than intentionally planned, thus underscoring the need for considering the overall diversity of the planting.

Memorials: One category that can be difficult to manage is memorial or historic tree replacement prioritization. In addition to function, condition, amenity, intended purpose and diversity deliberations, this scenario adds the element of distinctive human emotion to the picture. When a tree that is merely one of a dozen that need replacement fails, it is usually considered strictly in terms of its value as a living organism.

When the factor of the trees’ origin and/or age is added, prioritization becomes more complicated. Stakeholders tend to be less supportive of replacement when the 100-year-old walnut is slated for removal or a tree planted in honor of a major donor is struck by lightning. To the extent possible, keep the memorial aspect of a tree in perspective. Yes, it is an important factor, but ultimately, the physics, health and vigor of a specimen must be worthy enough to support its retention on a property. In such cases, pointing out that lawsuits and insurance claims can occur if due diligence is not taken may help in tree prioritization.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 2015 and has been updated.

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