Tag: Trees

Mark Chisholm on Large Tree Pruning Safety

There is no plant quite as majestic as a tree. Not only do they provide some of the basic necessities such as clean air and shelter, the landscape would be barren without their green canopies and regal trunks. Trees also benefit homeowners by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. According to some studies, increasing the resale value of the property between 7 to 20 percent. So it just makes sense to take care of our trees. When it comes to mature trees not much maintenance is required, but if there are signs of trouble it is important to call in a certified arborist to diagnose a problem before it gets out of hand. Beyond a basic tree pruning service, a good arborist will be able to help you with tree pruning, preventive maintenance, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, insects, and general health issues. If you are thinking of adding trees to your garden, a certified arborist can help you with selection, planting and care.

There are seven post oaks at the Garden Home Retreat that I call the "Seven Sisters" and they are the pride of the landscape. When I began the Garden Home Retreat project, one of my first tasks was finding a certified arborist to take a look at the Sisters.

One of the Seven Sisters
Finding an arborist is somewhat like selecting a new doctor. It’s always good to contact one with a solid reputation. During the Tour des Trees cycling event, I met a lot of arborists and they all recommended Mark Chisholm, a third generation arborist and tree climbing champion. Mark has won many competitions for tree climbing including the 2001 International Society of Arborculture International Tree Climbing Championship and the ISA New Jersey Chapter Tree Climbing Championship for fifteen years straight. This competitive streak combined with his skill and knowledge made him the ideal person to consult about the 7 post oaks growing at the Garden Home Retreat.

So, Mark came out to the farm to show me the things I need to do to keep the Sisters strong and healthy. Here is an excerpt from our conversation where Mark discusses tree pruning and tree pruning safety.

Mark Chishom Speaks with AllenAllen: We are really excited about the work you are going to do here.

Mark: Yes, I’m excited too. These trees are magnificent.

Allen: We call them the Seven Sisters but I guess one of them should be designated as the big sister.

Mark: I’d say the one right in the center.

Allen: Yes, that one is in the epicenter of all the activity. Well, tell me what you think of these trees and what we need to do.

Mark: Sure. First, we need to do a little hazard evaluation to make sure everyone is out of harm’s way.

Allen: What are the first things you look for when evaluating a tree?

Mark: Generally speaking I look for what is called the three "Ds" – dead, diseased and dying.

Allen: What about getting to the actual cuts? There is a proper way to do things.

Mark Chisholm Demonstrating a Proper CutMark: When making a cut, there is a lot to consider depending on the size of the branch. If the branch is small, a pair of hand snips or a hand saw is a sufficient pruning tool. Make sure you have secure footing and make a clean cut. But when tackling larger limbs you have to think about a few things, especially when using a chain saw. You have to know about chainsaw safety. When making the cut, what I try to do is make a cut that will eliminate the branch without damaging the trunk tissue. So, I use what is called a 3 step-cut, which is basic on a large limb. Make an under cut slightly into the underside of the branch, stopping before it gets too deep. Then make a topping cut right above or slightly out from the under cut so that when the limb falls it will break cleanly from the tree.

Allen: So, Mark is there a time when a homeowner should consider bringing in a professional tree pruning service?

Mark: Yes, absolutely. It depends on a lot of things, to be honest with you. For example, the current positioning of the tree – if it is near power lines, a house, a roadway. A rule of thumb to follow is that if you haven’t tackled tree pruning yourself very often or you are just not feeling comfortable with the situation, call in a pro. Another reason to hire a tree pruning service is whenever you have to take your cutting or pruning practices above ground. This makes the project quite dangerous. As an arborist I don’t work without firm footing on the ground, a secure anchor to the tree or in a lift. Those are the only places where I feel comfortable and safe.

Allen: I’m sure having the right tree pruning equipment is really important.

Mark's Protective GearMark: Yes. I never work in a tree without having personal protective equipment, what we in the business call PPE. It starts with head protection, which is a helmet or hard hat depending on the job. As a climber I need to have a helmet on my head. This helmet is built for climbers because it has a chin strap so if I turn upside down it stays on and keeps protecting my head. The hard hat styles are made for working on the ground to deflect falling debris from felling and such.

Allen: Very good. Well, I didn’t know the difference.

Mark: You also need hearing protection. You can either go with an ear plug like I use or you can use the ear muff style hearing protection. And then there is eye protection, which of course is definitely a must have. Eye protection should be impact resistant and made for this type of work.

And lastly, we have chain saw protection in the form of chain saw pants. You can also get leg protection in chaps. These protective pants or chaps are made of material that will actually stop the chain from moving once it comes in contact with the material. The material pulls out and stops the chain very quickly.

Allen: I’ve seen that at work. It’s amazing and really clogs up the chain.

Mark: It doesn’t protect you 100 percent from getting a cut, but these pants greatly reduce the risk of having a major injury.

5 Outstanding Trees for Winter

I met garden designer and author Rosemary Verey when I was a student at the University of Manchester. She was such an inspiration to me that I made it a mission to keep in touch. When she came to the states for book tours I attended her lectures and contacted her whenever I was in Great Britain. It was years ago at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens in Memphis that I heard her speak about her book The Garden in Winter. There is a line in this book that I just love. "If our gardens are to be more than graves commemorating summer’s beauty, we must start by using our eyes." Rosemary VereyShe goes on to discuss how she noticed that her garden would take a backseat to the surrounding countryside during the winter months. It seemed that her garden was designed with just the growing season in mind, but Mother Nature created a landscape with year round interest. So she began to look at winter with fresh eyes. Even on the grimmest winter day there was something to admire – a frost covered seed head, rain soaked hues of gray, brown and lichen green, or sunlight reflecting off an evergreen hedge.

I had the opportunity to put this philosophy to practice when I visited the New York Botanical Garden one winter. That’s right, I purposely toured the gardens in winter and I have to say that the trip was a great inspiration to me. I used my eyes as Rosemary instructed and discovered a whole world of possibilities.

I found the trees at the Botanical Garden to be particularly eye catching. Their silhouettes really popped out against the dormant landscape. And the barks! Some of the trees really had amazing color and texture to their bark. I only wished that I had room in my garden to squeeze in one of those tree.

Sadly, I don’t, but perhaps you do. Here is a list of 5 outstanding trees with interesting bark that will add color, texture and form to a garden any season of the year.

Paper Bark MaplePaperbark Maple
Acer griseum
Whenever space allows I recommend a maple. They are an excellent shade tree in summer and most offer brilliant autumn color. The paperbark maple has the added bonus of a flaky, orange brown bark. Its lovely contrasted with spring greens and winter grays. Grows 30′ tall x 30′ wide, deciduous, slow growing, zones 4 – 9.

Tanyosho PineTanyosho Pine
Pinus densiflora ‘Umbraculifera’
Not only does this tree have striking red bark, but the form is exceptional as well. An evergreen dome sits atop multiple, twisting trunks. In addition to the bark, the winter buds are a deep brown-red. Grows 12′ tall x 20′ wide, evergreen, slow growing, zones 4 – 8.

London Plane TreeLondon Plane Tree
Platanus hispanica syn. Platanus x acerifolia
I recommended this tree to a friend who has a home in the country. It’s a tree that needs a lot of room to grow. The bark is a lovely patchwork of brown, gray and cream. Grows 100′ tall x 70′ wide, deciduous, zones 5 – 8.

Lacebark PineLacebark Pine
Pinus bungeana
This tree is a chameleon. It starts out conical like a Christmas tree, but as it matures, it develops into a more irregular form with a flat top. As the tree ages the smooth bark becomes flaky creating round light green and cream patches that fade to reddish brown and gray-green. Grows 30 – 50′ tall x 15 ‘ 20’ wide, evergreen, slow growing, zones 4 – 7.

Coral Bark Japanese MapleCoral Bark Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’
This Japanese maple has striking red bark that is prominent in the fall and winter. The autumn foliage is a bright, yellow-orange. This tree prefers shade in the afternoon in warmer climates. Grows 20′ tall x 15′ wide, deciduous, zones 5-8.

Good to Know: Selecting the Right Tree for Your Garden

Before you select a tree, take note of the area where you want to plant it. Is the location in sun or shade? What type of soil does it have? Is the area soggy or well drained? Your tree will grow and thrive if make sure the site matches the tree’s optimum growing conditions.

Another important consideration is to compare the site to the expected size of the tree.

You will also need to consider proximity to buildings, sidewalks and other hardscape features. Tree canopies and root growth can be troublesome if planted in the wrong spot.

How to Propagate Willow Trees

We have several of willows and would like to know if you can cut a branch and use that branch to start a new tree?

Willow trees are some of the easiest plants to root. In fact, you can actually grow a new tree by simply taking a stem and sticking it in moist soil. It’s the hormones in willows that cause such rapid rooting. So rapid in fact, that a rooting solution for other plants can be made by boiling willow stems in water. Our ancestors called it willow water.

To mix up a batch of willow water simply cut a few willow branches that are green and supple and about the size of pencil. Then cut the branches into 1-inch pieces and smash them with a hammer. Next, bring a pot of water to a boil, drop the willow stems into the water and remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to steep, stirring occasionally. Once cooled, it is ready to use.

In addition to using willow water for rooting cuttings, you can also pour it around young transplants to help accelerate their root development.

You can propagate willows by cutting branches any time of the year. Spring may be the best season because of the ample rain and the new tree will have the entire summer to become established before winter.

Take a cutting that is about 10-inches long and the diameter of a pencil. Next place the cutting in water. In time roots will begin to form and you can plant your new tree outdoors.

In areas where the soil stays moist such as beside a pond or river bank, you can just stick the cutting in the ground. Push it down fairly deep so that about 2-inches rises above the soil surface.

When planting your new willow tree it is important to choose a location that is about 100 feet away from buildings and underground pipes. Willow roots are notorious for wandering in search of water and will often cause damage to water or sewer lines and house foundations.

Also, willows must have copious amounts of water. Heat and drought stressed trees are susceptible to a number of diseases. So be sure to plant your willow where it will receive plenty of water.

Black Walnuts

My neighbor has a huge Black Walnut tree in his back yard and I am trying to create a small garden spot in my back yard. I was told that the Walnut tree roots give off a substance that will affect some plants growth. Is this true? What can I do to counteract this substance.

The answer is both yes and no. Let me explain. The roots of black walnut and butternut trees produce a substance known as juglone, which is a growth inhibitor. The toxic zone from juglone can average 50 to 60 feet radius from the trunk of the tree but can be as far as 80 feet. Many plants such as tomato, potato, blackberry, blueberry, azalea, mountain laurel, rhododendron, red pine and apple may be injured or killed within the root zone of these trees because of this substance.

However, not all plants are susceptible. Some understory plants that are not affected include anemone, jack-in-the-pulpit, lady fern, cyclamen, dog’s-tooth-violet, gentian, green hellebore, hosta, iris, lilies, resurrection fern, double-file viburnums and boxwood as well as Japanese Maple, Eastern Redbud, Rose of Sharon, Black Raspberry, Calendula, Pansy, Peach, Cherry, Plum, Hollyhocks, European Wild Ginger, Sweet Woodruff, and Spiderwort.

Vegetables such as squashes, melons, beans, carrots, and corn are immune as well.

How to Prune an Overgrown Rose of Sharon Tree

I need information on when to prune rose of Sharon hedge. The hedge I have is over 20 feet tall with foliage and flowers only at the top of the plants. Specifically, could I prune the hedge down to say 4-5 feet or lower without damaging the plants? And when to do this – spring or fall? We moved into this home and inherited this hedge that has not been taken care of for many years.

I have developed a deep appreciation for low maintenance shrubs such as rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), also known as althea. It is one of the few flowers in bloom during the lag time between midsummer and autumn. For that alone, it deserves a gold star. Let me share a little background about the plant.

Rose of Sharon is a large deciduous shrub or small tree that grows to about 8 to 10 feet tall and 4 to 6 feet wide. The papery, single petaled blooms are similar in appearance to a hibiscus and range in color from blue to magenta to white. Most have a dark eye. I am particularly fond of the variety ‘White Chiffon’ for its crisp white blooms, which look very refreshing during the heat of late summer.

Rose of Sharon will thrive in just about any soil type although it is sensitive to moisture levels. You will notice that the flower buds will drop before they open if the shrub experiences big swings between dry and excessively moist soil. Making sure the soil is well drained and adding a layer of mulch around the base of the shrub goes a long way in eliminating this problem.

When planting a young shrub, site your rose of Sharon in an area that receives full sun and it will grow rapidly and produce an abundance of blooms with little care.

Rose of Sharon is an old fashioned favorite so it is common for gardeners to inherit one of these shrubs when they move into a new home and more often than not it will be overgrown. Young plants can be cut back pretty hard to encourage branching, but when reshaping an overgrown plant such as yours I always recommend removing only about a third of the length of the branches. In addition to reducing the height, you can cut out dead or diseased wood and remove any out-of-control branches back to the base.

Because rose of Sharon blooms on the current season’s growth it should be pruned in late winter. Next winter,┬áremove any new growth from the previous year and an additional third from the existing old growth. Continue this pattern in subsequent years until the hedge reaches about 8 feet tall, which is a more natural height for the shrub and about as short as you should take it.

If you have your heart set on a 4 to 5-foot hedge, I recommend that you remove these bushes and try another deciduous flowering shrub such as ‘Limelight’ hydrangea or ‘English Butterfly Purple Emperor’ butterfly bush.

Magnolias with Larry Lowman

Larry Lowman’s love of nature has earned him many fans who admire his passion for plants that are native to North America and in particular the diverse region of Arkansas called Bayou Meto where Larry’s home is located. Larry shares with us his collection of magnolias, a true symbol of the south.

Larry Lowman, Ridgecrest Nursery, Wynne, Arkansas: The magnolia family as a whole is extremely diverse. And there is just a multitude of uses, it’s a very adaptable plant and can perform any number of useful purposes in the landscape. More often than not the Asian magnolias with the really elegant flowers are used as centerpieces, just a solo specimen out there really shining by its self and they are often planted in the open by themselves in full sun.

We blend with them, the shrubby forms like the star magnolias. I like to use these as a mixture in a shrub border. The southern magnolia, the big green grandifloras, is usually used as solo specimens in the middle of a large space. So it just depends on what you want out of a plant.

The flowers are very elegant if they are situated against a back drop that’s dark. The magnolias that are evergreen such as ‘Sweet Bay’ and ‘Southern Magnolia’ do most of their root growth during the warm weather and it is best to try to plant them in April or May if possible. If you dig them or disturb them in the middle of winter or in the fall they won’t be able to re-grow their roots quickly enough to recover from winter.

A lot of organic matter near the surface of the ground is important. We mulch with a leaf humus whenever possible and shredded hardwood bark that has been partially composted-not hardwood mulch, just hardwood bark. These trees typically grow in a forest habitat and are used to having leaf mulch completely covering their root system. Their roots typically seek the surface and oxygen and air and are very shallow and so they need a lot of surface mulch to protect them to be at their best. Whatever dead leaves that fall from the tree itself should stay in place in my opinion and then add a little bit more or some mulch to anchor them, to keep them from blowing away. On a tree that had a spread of 10 feet then I would have a mulch ring that was 10 or 12 feet around it.

The question of why I like magnolias is like asking someone why they like redheads. I, for some reason, am just attracted to them. The flowers, the plant organism itself, even the roots smell good when you are transplanting them and messing with them. But there is just something about the flowers in the spring. I’m also very attracted to daffodils from my childhood on, and so things that bloom early in the spring are the main reason that I like them.

How to Grow a Redbud Tree

I love the Eastern redbud tree. I saw some last spring and decided that I would like to plant 2 of them. Are they an easy tree to take care of? The blossoms are breathtaking in the spring. Elizabeth, PA (zone 6a)

The North American native
Eastern redbud (Cercis
) is an
ornamental tree whose
clusters of purple blooms
are a favorite harbinger
of spring. At a mature
height of 30 feet with an
equally wide spread, this
little tree is perfect
for small spaces, mixed
borders or planted in
groupings in naturalized
gardens. Eastern redbud
is native to the eastern
half of the United States
and is cold hardy from
zone 5 to 9. So it is
widely adaptable and
should be well suited
to your Pennsylvania

Plant your trees in an
area that receives full
sun to partial shade.
The blooms are more
prolific in sunny areas,
but it does appreciate
some protection from
intense afternoon heat.

Redbuds will tolerate
most soil types, but
prefer moist,
well-drained locations.
Poor drainage is the
kiss of death. On the
flip side they will
survive short dry
periods, although you
should water regularly
during extended

Whether your soil is
acidic, alkaline or
neutral doesn’t seem
to affect redbuds.
They should thrive
in any soil pH. To
encourage lots of
blooms feed the tree
with a high
fertilizer in early
spring. Something
like super-phosphate
with a nutrient
ratio of 0-20-0 would
work well.

There are several
varieties of redbud
with exceptional
Here are a few to
consider planting
in your garden:

  • ‘Red Forest

    – In addition to
    the purple blooms
    this tree produces
    dark burgundy
  • Cercis

    – This is the
    red bud’s white
    flowering cousin.
  • Cercis
    texensis ‘Oklahoma’
    – This
    variety produces
    deep wine colored
    blooms. The leaves
    open pink and mature
    to a nice glossy
  • ‘Royal

    – Another white
    blooming variety.
  • Lavender

    – This tree has a
    weeping form.
  • ‘Silver

    Green and white
    mottled foliage
    make this variety
    unique. Best for
    partial shade

What to Plant Under a Southern Magnolia

I have a mature Southern magnolia tree with large roots rising out of the ground. What can I plant under the tree that will survive?

Rising up to 60 feet tall with a canopy often reaching 50 feet wide, Southern magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) are one of the more majestic trees that grace our gardens. Because of their attractive evergreen foliage, sweet smelling blooms and interesting berries these giants are a treasure if you have room to grow them.

As the name implies, Southern magnolias are best suited for warm climates. They are only reliably cold hardy to zone 7 where winter temperatures do not drop below 10 degrees F on a consistent basis. However they can be grown in zone 6 and some varieties will survive as far north as zone 5. They thrive in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Plant them in well-drained, humus rich, moist and slightly acidic soil and they will be a relatively carefree addition to your garden for many years to come.

The root system on a Southern magnolia is fairly extensive and shallow, resulting in the problem that you are experiencing where the roots rise to the soil surface. Couple this with the low, dense canopy and year round dropping of leaves and you have an area where it is very difficult to grow anything.

The first thing to understand about the situation is the relationship between the roots and the canopy. The canopy serves as a protection for the roots from sunlight and helps them to remain cool and moist. So you really don’t want to remove the lower branches. Also mature trees don’t heal quickly from pruning and can develop a wood disease.

If the tree is young you can plant a shade loving ground cover, such as liriope, under the canopy, but with a mature tree such as yours it is best not to dig around the roots.

Your best option for tidying up the area is to apply a thin layer of mulch, no thicker than 3 inches, under the canopy. Keep the mulch at least 2 feet away from the trunk of the tree.

If space allows you can use the shady shelter of the branches as a relaxing retreat from the summer sun. A comfortable chair, good book and glass of lemonade can quickly turn this otherwise dead space into a secluded spot that will bring back fond memories of childhood tree houses while staying securely on the ground!

Lightning Rods for Trees

The mechanics of a lightning cable system are not very difficult to employ, but you will probably need a professional to do the job. There are some calculations that must be made by professionals to ensure your tree is well protected.

There are 4 different types of systems depending on whether additional support is needed for branches that are weak. But generally for a healthy tree the Hub and Spoke system can be used. This is where all cables are connected to a central hub or main cable. The main conducting cable should run between the highest accessible part of the tree down the trunk and into the ground.  If a tree is forked, both forks need a cable. If it is fewer than three feet in diameter, one cable is fine, but for a larger trunk use two or more cables along the trunk on opposite sides.  Smaller cables then run along major branches and are spliced securely into the main cable(s).   Usually, three to eight branch cables are used, depending on the tree size and shape. Allow enough slack for swaying in the wind and for moving air terminals as the branch grows longer. Copper is the wire of choice for both the main cable and the branch cables.

Lightning protection systems need to be adequately grounded. If it is within 25 feet of water pipes, sprinkler systems or well casings you can make interconnections with these for grounding. Otherwise, place ground rods around your tree.  The pattern of the rods depends on your soil type. In a clay soil, generally the rod(s) are placed 10 feet deep and the main cable is run through a trench and firmly secured to the rod. In sandy soils or in limited space you can use multiple rods that are at least 10 feet apart. In shallow or rocky soils, multiple rods of varying lengths can be buried in different patterns and interconnected to provide the necessary grounding.

As a final note, all tree lightning systems should always carry a name plate with the installer’s name and address.

How to Manage Sooty Mold Fungus

I have searched for this answer with no results at all, so please help. I have a lemon tree planted in a large container; the leaves have a black substance on them almost like soot, black spots under the leaves and little white bugs that fly around the leaves. I wipe the leaves off but the substance returns. What can I do?!!! Thanks.

It sounds like your lemon tree is suffering from sooty mold. This is a fungus that appears as black speckles on the tops of leaves.

Sooty mold thrives in the secretions, or honeydew, of common pests such as mealy bugs, aphids, whiteflies and scale. Honeydew is a sticky substance, which attracts windblown sooty mold spores.

The first step you should take is to check your other houseplants for insect infestations and sooty mold. Then you should isolate your lemon tree and any other contaminated plants to prevent the problem from spreading.

Next, with a soft cloth, gently wash the leaves with a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol to remove the mold and honeydew. Complete the process by rinsing with water.

Now you should tackle the insects, which are really the source of the problem. Because you mentioned "little white bugs that fly," I’m going to assume that you have whiteflies.

You can confirm that you have white flies by doing a simple test. Just shake the foliage and if a cloud of white insects fly out then you’ve spotted the culprit. The only way to keep the sooty mold from recurring is to eliminate the whiteflies.

To control whiteflies I suggest repeated applications of an organic fruit and vegetable pest spray. It should be organic because you want to be able to eat the lemons later.

Now, for this to work best, you really need to soak the underside of the leaves and the top of the plant all the way down to the base.

To help prevent the return of these pests hang a whitefly trap on a branch of your lemon tree. This is an adhesive strip that is yellow in color. The bright color is attractive to whiteflies and other insects so they’re drawn onto it, stick, and die.

You can pick these up at your local garden center and they’re easy to apply.