Protecting Trees From Winter Damage

Protecting Trees From Winter Damage

Winter weather — you know it’s coming, but there’s no stopping it. Even in the South, the impact of winter can take a toll, especially where poorly advised homeowners plant trees in USDA Zone 7 that are best suited for Zone 9. In the North, extreme fluctuations in temperature and moisture can wreak havoc with the survivability of valuable specimens. The question is, since it’s inevitable, how can we at least slow it down or lessen the effects?

The best way to address winter protection is with the mindset that it’s much easier to prevent than cure. Actually, this is also true for lots of tree maladies, including fungal infections, planting errors, soil compaction, irrigation equipment installation and most insect infestations. Putting toothpaste back in the tube after it’s been squeezed out, or in this case, water back into the tree after winter, is much harder than preventing it from being lost in the first place.

As we all know, there are many parts to a tree, all of which would benefit from protection, or at least, prevention of damage in winter. Many of these parts are seen — bark, leaves, trunk, limbs, flowers and fruit, and many are unseen — roots, heartwood, sapwood and cambium. In terms of protecting them, focusing efforts on three main tree structures will yield positive results:


  • The goal for root protection is centered around hydration; we want them moist, not soggy or dry heading into winter. As summer turns to fall, and fall produces the glory of colors and textures that it’s known for, monitoring for soil moisture is a key stop in winter protection. While your customers’ kids are making piles of leaves and jumping in them in autumnal bliss, digging a few holes or simply poking a piece of rebar into the soil in various locations of the root system will provide a good snapshot of how moist the soil is at any given time.

Compaction from small or large vehicles is an issue when wet soils are compressed.

  • There are several reasons why soil moisture monitoring is important. First, most homeowners don’t know how to do it themselves, what “moist” actually means or where the roots are.
  • Second, all the above-ground parts of the plant depend on soil moisture for continued hydration throughout the winter. Third, it allows the tree care provider an opportunity to strengthen the client relationship and provide instructions on how to water trees properly in fall.

Dehydration of conifers in winter is a considerable concern.

  • No question about it, watering trees in fall is more difficult than in spring and summer. In most cases, in mid to late fall, customers ask their sprinkler service provider to blow out their system to prevent damage from freezing of water in the lines once temperatures plunge into the mid 20s. Once the sprinkler system is nonoperational, one valuable tool has been removed, requiring watering to be done with hoses, temporary drip lines and ad hoc sprinklers drained after each use. These devices can be quite effective, but they’re less convenient to use.

Leaves and buds

  • For most clients, leaves are the symbol of tree health they see every day. From a plant healthcare standpoint, leaves are only one of the many important tree parts, but certainly a very important one indeed. For deciduous trees, the focus is on the buds and new twigs as they contain tissues that are ready to push forth leaves and flowers for the following year. Fortunately, these are covered with bud scales that function to retain moisture. But in some severe winters, they may not be sufficiently thick to prevent desiccation. Conifers can lose water through two structures, the leaves/needles and buds. Again, windy days and cold temperatures can accelerate the drying of essential tissues.
  • Two main methods can be utilized for preventing loss of hydration in leaves and buds: the previously mentioned soil moisture monitoring and watering, and applications of anti-desiccant products to coat the needles with a light arboricultural wax in an effort to retain moisture. Though products may vary slightly in terms of application timing and length of protection, a time frame of every six week should be considered. If it helps with marketing, it can be tied to winter holidays, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Be sure to read and follow all label directions when applying these products.


  • Trunks are the sometimes overlooked “prone to injury” tree part. The most common injuries in winter are from rodents and sunscald. Mice, voles, squirrels and rabbits are often frolicking about in December and January, looking for something to eat. They find tree trunks, especially young ones, to be a tasty treat. Typically, they chew bark and cambium tissues, interrupting nutrient and water flow. Installing PVC collars are a good way to prevent this sort of damage.
  • Sunscald occurs on sunny days in winter when the rays of the sun warm the outer bark layers, softening them and the cambium underneath, causing a dehardening of the tissue. The injury occurs when temperatures plunge into the teens and single digits after sunset, causing the moisture in the softened tissues to crystallize. When repeated several times over the winter, the bark and conductive tissues flake off and become nonfunctional.
  • If painted a light color, white or beige, PVC collars work well to reflect winter sunlight and lessen the degree of the injury.

This type of winter protection is good for sunscald but lacking for rodent damage prevention. PVC buried below grade is called for when it comes to mice and voles.

Other considerations

  • During winter thaws, tree roots are especially susceptible to damage from compaction from heavy equipment; even normal-size trucks can impart sufficient compressing force to cause damage to roots. These types of damage are often hidden or removed in the memory of customers when trees fail to perform well the following year. They simply don’t see the cause and effect, as the length of time that has occurred between the compaction and the thinned canopy or stunted growth prevents them from considering it as a contributing factor. It’s the job of the tree care provider to remind them of possible causes when visual symptoms are observed in the growing season.
  • One of the most dramatic influences in winter is wind damage. The forces of Mother Nature are often unpredictable and unrelenting. From a protection standpoint, it’s important to inspect tree crowns and branch attachments in late fall to note any suspect limbs and areas of concern. When observed, create a proposal to convince customers that action is needed to prune and stabilize defects to prevent them from further damage to the tree, the trees around them and from falling on valuable targets in winter.
  • In regions of the country where snowfall is common in winter, trees that are in close proximity to sidewalks, streets and parking lots are susceptible to injury from being struck with a snow plow. The injury from being struck with a fast-moving truck with a snow blade is difficult for a tree to recover from, as bark, cambium and sapwood are usually ripped loose and dehydrate the tree in the process. Installing snow stakes in late fall can reduce the damage, but perhaps the most effective prevention technique is simple and straightforward conversation with the snow removal provider.
  • In these same regions, ice melt products are commonly used to prevent pedestrians and vehicles from slipping on the ice and causing damage to their bodies and cars/trucks alike. Prevention of damage to trees from these materials isn’t easy, as the best (and cheapest) product to remove ice is caustic to cement and damaging to tree and shrub roots, as well. Less caustic options, such as calcium magnesium acetate, are less damaging but more expensive. Another option is to use less ice melt product and mix sand with driveway salt for traction. Of course, then the undesirable result is the need to sweep up the sand, as well as the possible negative effects of mixing sand with clay soils where tree roots are growing. Sand and clay mixtures are not desirable for root growth, as they provide less capacity for oxygen exchange, water penetration and root expansion.

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Looking To Upgrade Your Mini Skid Steer? Keep This In Mind

Talking Skid Steers

We asked experts from three leading equipment manufacturers: “What’s one thing tree care professionals should keep in mind when looking to upgrade their mini skid steer?”

Here’s what they had to say:

Austin Bonnema
Commercial Business Manager/ Vermeer

The operating specs and performance of mini skid steers have only improved over time. Companies are continuing to launch what the market is after: more lift capacity and horsepower in the same small footprint. When looking to upgrade, tree care professionals should take into consideration the type of work they’re performing and how versatile the machine can be in different ground conditions. When considering a new mini skid steer, customers should look at specs such as the hydraulic flow capabilities and lift and tip capacity. This will give them an idea of what types of attachments can be used to finish the job. Another feature to keep in mind is whether or not the machine is equipped with a universal mounting plate. This gives the operator the convenience to work on various jobsites with the same machine. The last consideration should be overall fuel usage within their fleet. There are a variety of gas and diesel options in the market today, which can help make it more convenient to keep the fuel type consistent.

Jukka Lyly-Yrjanainen
President/Avant Tecno USA

Avant articulated loaders are popular among tree care professionals as a small and powerful workforce, offering a full line of tree handling attachments. The grapple, log grab, stump grinder, grapple bucket and tree shear attachments provide versatility, eliminating the work of multiple workers to save time and money. Tree care professionals report saving one day on every job due to Avant’s low impact on grass, eliminating the cleanup time or turf repair. Avant is powerful enough to lift heavy logs, yet compact enough to fit in tight nooks, small yards and narrow pathways. Additionally, 360-degree visibility from the operator station allows for safe and efficient work for the crew.

Jason Showers
Boxer Product Manager/ Morbark

When looking to upgrade a mini skid steer, there are several considerations. Some will depend on the length of time between upgrades. If it’s been several years since the last equipment upgrade, there’s likely many technology improvements that may be of benefit. The user should know and understand the job they’re trying to accomplish, which will aid tremendously in the search for a new piece of equipment. Take an assessment of current equipment and formulate a wish list for a new unit, looking at items such as lift height, dump height, operating capacity and auxiliary hydraulic flows. It may also benefit users to envision what they plan to do with the machine a few years into the future. This ensures the purchase will fit any needs until it’s time for the next upgrade.

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Aerial Lift Safety 101

Aerial Lift Safety 101

Aerial lifts aren’t just limited to bucket trucks anymore. These days, they’re are available in a wide variety of configurations and power packages, ranging from the traditional truck-mounted lift (center or rear mounted) all the way to self-propelled units with four-wheel drive or even leveling, spider-like appendages.

Aerial lifts allow operators to put themselves in a safe, stable position to make chain saw cuts aloft.

While the options and choices have increased for tree care companies interested in purchasing an aerial lift, one thing hasn’t changed – the importance of operating these machines properly and safely. With this in mind, we’ve combed through our archives and compiled some helpful safety tips and pieces of advice for staying safe while operating aerial lifts. Though many tree care workers have this information memorized, it never hurts to have a refresher course or be reminded of what to do and what not to do:

  • An aerial lift, regardless of size, configuration or power source, is an expensive, complicated piece of equipment. Such a significant investment should not be put into the hands of your least-experienced and least-trained crew members.
  • A simple safety and function check should always take place prior to aerial lift operation. This check will vary depending on the type and capabilities of the lift, but should include an inspection for loose pieces/parts, cracked or leaking hoses and wear on metal/fiberglass components. The device should also be tested with no one in the bucket or on the platform to ensure that it’s functioning correctly.

  • Cleanliness does have an impact on the performance and safety of aerial lifts, particularly in regard to electrical conductivity. Regular cleaning with the appropriate products is recommended.
  • Almost all lifts create more noise in an already noisy work space, thus knowing what’s going on in it, and controlling access in and out, becomes vitally important.

  • Roadside operations, which are commonly carried out with aerial lifts, require another layer of work site precautions. Federal/state DOT regulations should be followed in regard to signage, flaggers, high-visibility apparel, cones, etc. The noisiness of aerial lift work sites means pedestrian approaches often go unnoticed, so flagging, perimeters and even spotters may be required.
  • In addition, noise levels will require that an effective communication system between the ground crew and the operator be in place.
  • Options such as whistles, radios or hand/arm signals are all acceptable as long as all crew members are familiar with their meaning and use.

  • Setup choice and location are key to safe aerial lift use — these factors can influence how quickly or slowly a job is completed. The lift will only be as stable and dependable as the ground it is set up on.
  • All required outriggers should be extended as fully as needed and placed on secure positions. Pads, cribbing or other methods will often be needed to ensure stable outrigger placement. A lift’s boom extension will create a great deal of pressure on the outriggers, so skimping on pads or cribbing is nothing more than a recipe for disaster. In addition, tires should be properly chocked with something more substantial than a chunk of wood or a hard hat.
  • The bottom line can be affected when a lift has to be moved continually throughout the job. As much as is possible, the lift should be positioned to carry out the maximum amount of work with a minimal amount of repositioning.
  • Basic personal protective equipment for aerial lift use remains the same as climbing operations: hearing, eye and head protection. The operator is required by federal standard to wear a body belt and fall-restraint lanyard, though some states require more, so check your local and state standards.
  • A full-body harness and decelerating fall-arrest lanyard are much safer and will provide a gentler stop should an operator fall from the lift. The use of a longer, non-fall restraint lanyard with a body belt negates the whole purpose and allows the operator to get into a position where they can fall, so operators should ensure they are matching up their pieces of equipment properly.
  • The dielectric capabilities of some lifts can lead to operators being a bit casual around energized conductors or utility wires. Minimum approach distances must be followed by all arborists. Those working within them must be line clearance arborists or arborist trainees with the required knowledge and training of electrical hazards.
  • The insulated or dielectric capabilities of lifts need to be inspected regularly as part of a maintenance plan, typically by the manufacturer or their representative, to ensure that they are still functioning correctly.

A prepackaged aerial lift evacuation system manufactured by Buckingham Manufacturing.

  • Bouncing large, woody debris off what is keeping one aloft is always a bad idea, and aerial lifts are no exception. If necessary, rigging systems should be used to avoid or minimize impacts on the lift and its structure. Even minor impacts will, over time, take a toll on the structure of the lift and could lead to catastrophic failures.
  • Emergency preparedness plans are vital in aerial lift operations. All crew members should be familiar with the lower controls of the aerial lift and be trained in the proper actions to take in the event of an injured or incapacitated operator. In addition, systems that allow the operator to evacuate or regain the bucket should be present and the operator trained in their use.
  • 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.

Pushing an already cut and rigged piece off from the bucket, which allows easy movement to better spots on the piece for leverage and safety.

  • 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. Also, it’s crucial to make sure that the chosen anchoring system doesn’t put the operator in a difficult body position to exit the lift.
  • An evacuation system can certainly be simply a climbing system in the bucket. Keep in mind, this will take up much more space than one of the manufactured systems. Therefore, users should make sure that it works with the harness they wear in the lift and that appropriate anchors are available.
  • 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.

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Celebrating Veterans With An Annual Day Of Service

Celebrating an Annual Day of Service

The tree care industry is chock-full of examples of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. Take the Saluting Branches program.

This wonderful, heartwarming program, is a partnership between Rainbow Tree Care and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a day of volunteer tree care — Sept. 20 this year — for veterans’ cemeteries across the country.

“The tree industry is passionate about honoring our veterans and doing what they can to improve the veterans’ sites and it’s really a way to communicate the benefits of trees and how arborists can help,” Debra Peterson, the person responsible for starting Saluting Branches, told The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Saluting Branches started in 2015, when on Sept. 23 that year, more than 1,000 volunteers in 20 states spent the day climbing and strategically trimming trees to ensure the safety of visitors at national cemeteries.

This year, participation was even better than in the previous two: over 1,600 volunteers, at 39 cemeteries in 34 states, donated their time to honor our veterans. (Planned work at six cemeteries was postponed or canceled due to Hurricane Irma). The estimated value of the work this year, according to Saluting Branches, was $1.6 million – just for the man hours. This figure doesn’t include any costs for cranes or other equipment that was used at the cemeteries.

“A lot of the veteran cemeteries do not have the staffing or the funding needed to take care of their trees,” Patrick Platenberg, Saluting Branches site leader at the Fort Harrison Veterans Cemetery (Helena, Montana), told KTVH-TV on Sept. 20. “Arborists who are visiting the cemeteries, who have family or friends buried, they noticed and got together and decided that this is a good thing to do as a tree worker.”

Many volunteers have a personal connection to this annual day of service. “My father was a veteran; this was a way to participate in a day of service and honor veterans,” volunteer Betsy Nordell told KTVH-TV.

At Baltimore National Cemetery, volunteer arborist Steve Castrogiovanni explained to WBFF-TV, “we wanted to give back to those that served that paid the ultimate price. It’s the least we could do to make the cemetery a little bit prettier.”

On Facebook, the Saluting Branches page displays hundreds of photos of the work volunteers did across the country on Sept. 20. The Facebook page shows many appreciative comments left by people who participated in the program, work for the cemeteries involved or simply have loved ones buried there.

You can also follow Saluting Branches on Twitter @SaluteBranches.

The Saluting Branches program is truly a fantastic endeavor. Let’s hope that in 2018, even more arborists and volunteers participate and join in on this special day of volunteerism and remembrance.

I’d like to thank these thoughtful and selfless arborists — and all participants – who decided to use their talents, skills and resources to improve and make better where our late veterans are laid to rest.

Once again, we salute you.

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New Product Roundup: December 2017

Wood rings

Barko’s recently released Strong-Arm grapples provide a solution for log handling and delimbing applications, the company says. Designed to optimize the performance of Barko B-Series loaders — including all trailer/truck mount, tracked, rough terrain carrier and stationary loader models — the grapples deliver desired rotator torque, clamping force and arm speed. The Strong-Arm 4250, 4850 and 5250 grapples have maximum openings of 42, 48.1 and 52.1 inches, respectively, with each rated for up to 50,000 pounds of lift capacity. A compact rotator allows for hoses to be contained in a single bundle between the boom and grapple, providing better hose protection, Barko says. Other features include 360-degree continuous rotation and a fully supported rotator drive pinion gear. The grapples are constructed of high-tensile, wear-resistant steel and include hard face welding on the arm tips to extend working life, according to the company.
Stump Cutter
Rayco recently added electronic fuel injection (EFI) to its compact, self-propelled stump cutters. The new models — RG37 Super Jr and RG37T Trac Jr — are powered by Vanguard 37-hp Big Block gasoline engines, with EFI. Vanguard designed the new Big Block EFI engines to have more reliable starting characteristics and improved load pickup and fuel economy, according to Rayco. The RG37 Super Jr is available in two- or four-wheel drive versions, while the RG37T Trac Jr rides on rubber tracks. Both models come standard with Rayco-exclusive features such as swing-out operator control station and hydraulic backfill blade, the company says.

Chain Saw
ECHO recently introduced the CS-2511T top-handle chain saw — the lightest gas-powered chain saw in North America and the most powerful in its class, according to the company. ECHO says the CS-2511T is ideal for the professional arborist looking to increase maneuverability and productivity — also, it comes in at over one pound lighter than the ECHO CS-271T. “With a lighter product, end users have less operator fatigue which equals greater efficiency. A more compact saw gives users more maneuverability around tightly woven branches,” says Joe Fahey, ECHO’s vice president of product planning. Among the CS-2511T features is a top-mounted bar oiler, located on the top of the chain saw as opposed to the bottom. This allows for easier access by the operator, the company says. The feature also prevents the oiler adjustment screw from getting clogged with wood chips and debris.



Have a new product? Send a 75-to-100 word description and a high-resolution color photo to us at with the subject line “New Products.”

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Challenges Of Tree Work: During And After Winter Storms

The first step to tree work after a snowstorm is to get rid of the snow, at least on the immediate job site. “We actually bring a snowblower to job sites with us to clear the snow, or sometimes we have a small skid steer on the job … or we’ll just have four or five guys shovel out the area … because it’s so hard to trample through the snow if we remove wood debris off the property,” says Robert Vedernack Jr., president of Arbor Care Solutions Tree Service in the Chicago area. “We’ll sometimes remove all the snow from an entire yard throughout the day if we have to.”

He emphasizes that the time spent to move this snow at the beginning of the job will easily pay off in the form of improved efficiency while tree work is taking place. Trying to drag branches to a chipper through a foot of snow is no fun, and it’s slow. “Believe me, you make up for that 20 or 30 minutes of snow-clearing work if you’re going to be on a job all day,” he states.

“It takes a lot longer to get a site set up,” after a snowstorm, says Trumbull Barrett, owner of Barrett Tree Service East, servicing the Boston area. Not only clearing the snow, but even just getting property owners’ vehicles out of the way after a snowstorm can be tricky, because there’s often no place to put them. Enough snow must be cleared so that there’s a safe area to work in. “Once everything is set up, though, we can usually operate at a pretty normal pace … And it’s definitely worth putting in the effort upfront, because then you can do a really nice job for the clients,” he states.

“It takes a lot longer to get a site set up,” after a snowstorm, says Trumbull Barrett, owner of Barrett Tree Service East. He points out that all of that work does at least keep the crew warm.

Image Courtesy Of Barrett Tree Service East

James Rehil, a climber with Alexander and Wilson Tree Care and Services in northern Michigan, says that tree care equipment needs extra attention, as well, when it’s out working in and after snow events. “We check to make sure that there’s no ice or snow buildup on our ropes and that everything is working correctly with our blocks. We don’t want that buildup to make things slippery, make the hitches not work correctly or make our ropes not run through the blocks properly,” he explains.

All of the normal safety practices remain important, but you also need to always be thinking about what additional impacts the snow and ice might be having, he stresses. “Just about everything about doing tree work can be more dangerous in the winter,” says Rehil. “Everything is colder outside, so the trees react differently. Then there can be snow and ice loads on the trees.”

And Rehil says that calls after snowstorms often involve trees down on structures. “They come down on houses, barns, sheds, vehicles, etc.,” he says. In that regard, working after snowstorms is a lot like cleaning up after any other time of storm event, adds Rehil. “There are a lot of pressure points you need to watch out for — spring poles, things like that. You need to be prepared for just about everything.”

Winter mode

“We dress a lot differently in the winter — different gloves, different boots,” says Vedernack. “You can’t move at the same pace, both because of the snow itself, because of safety concerns and because you’re wearing different clothing. When you’re wearing bigger clothing, you’re just naturally going to be a little more sluggish and slow.”

In some ways, that’s just as well, he points out. “When we’re working in snow, we’re definitely not in a hurry to do anything. Everything we do, we really think about before we do it.”

Sometimes it may take an hour to set up to get a limb off a roof, when it only takes 15 minutes to do the actual job, says Vedernack.

While the clothing is different, Vedernack says that, for the most part, the equipment he uses is set up for all-season use. “The exception would be on a big land-clearing job,” he notes. “If you’re running a skid steer, there are actually winter tracks and summer tracks — hard metal tracks and rubber tracks — so there are some changes you can make so that equipment runs better in the cold and snow.”

Vedernack says that working in snow is part of the job. “We work all year-round, so snow is just something that we have to deal with,” he says. He also notes that sometimes the most dangerous part is running the company trucks out on the roads after a snowstorm. “It’s not exactly easy driving around in a 50,000-pound truck when there’s snow flying everywhere,” he says. Even if crews are trained on the safe operation of vehicles in the snow, there is always danger from other drivers. “Sometimes just getting to the job is more dangerous than the tree work on the job.” says Vedernack.

There’s also usually more work to do when the trucks come back at the end of a day out on snowy roads, says Barrett. “We do a lot more washing of equipment than we normally do, just to get all of the salt off the trucks and chippers. So that adds some time, too,” he explains. Overall, though, Barrett says that things have a way of evening out. In the summer, much more care must be taken when working to avoid doing any damage to the property. “You have to take a lot more care of the lawn and the flowers and vegetable gardens,” he says. In the winter, the ground is often either snow-covered or frozen hard. “Things are either dormant or dead, so you can have a little heavier footprint in the winter,” he points out, “so there’s often more access.”

Barrett also notes that, at least when it’s not actively snowing, winter is a great time to do tree work. “If you have the right clothing and footwear, you can work in pretty much any condition that nature can throw at you. So, it’s important to make that investment in the proper clothing,” says Barrett. “We really work hard to make sure everyone has the right clothing and equipment, and then we can do great work in the winter, as well.”

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