Perhaps the winter weather has caused your yard to look unkempt. Branches, twigs and left over fall leaves litter your landscape. This is a good time of year to look at the trees and bushes close to your home, before the leaves are on the branches, and decide what needs pruning and thinning. Perhaps you may be wondering how best to care for your trees and shrubs, because you want to keep them healthy and Firewise, and you don't want to cause more harm than good.
I decided to contact a certified arborist to learn about and share some best practices for maintaining your healthy Firewise landscape. I contacted the Massachusetts Arborists Association who referred me to board member Chris Fallon. Mr. Fallon is a Massachusetts and ISA certified arborist. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Massachusetts in Arboriculture, Urban Forestry, and Soil Sciences. He took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions that Firewise communities had asked me.
Q. What is an arborist, and when should I call one?
A. An arborist is a professional in the practice of maintaining health and safety of individual plants and trees. This is not to be confused with logging or forestry. These specialties focus on forest health and management. Arborists understand individual plant species, their culture, and characteristics. A certified arborist has achieved formal certification through field experience and testing.
The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) has provided a great deal of training and certifications in Arboriculture and certain specialties within the industry. Most states also have certification processes for a skilled arborist. Each requires maintenance of accreditation on an annual basis.
Most states also offer training and licensing in the application of pesticides to treat tree and shrub pathogens. A skilled arborist diagnoses and controls insects and diseases, climbs and prunes trees, installs cables and braces where necessary and installs lightning protection.
If you are planting something, connect with an arborist first to make sure you are putting it in the right place. You want to plant the right tree in the right place -- not under powerlines or next to homes or sidewalks -- and pick the correct species for the zone that you are living in. Many home accidents occur when homeowners try to trim large trees or remove tree limbs themselves. Call an arborist if you think you will have to use a ladder to prune or remove a tree, or if you may have to use a chainsaw. Arborists are formally trained and experienced in the use of chainsaws. Call an arborist if you notice the tree or shrub doesn't have the color it used to or as much foliage. Before hiring an arborist, check his or her credentials and insurance.
Q: What is the best time of year to trim trees and bushes?
A: Spring and summer may be the seasons to try to avoid, as in the spring, things are blooming and sap is beginning to flow. Wet springs are good for the spread of disease and fungus. Summer pruning can stress trees through drought and sun scald when trees are pruned removing leaf cover and exposing branches to direct sunlight. As an arborist working in the Northeast, I prefer to prune in late fall and winter because there is less leaf material to deal with, making brush disposal easier. There are also fewer insects and fungal spores in the air that can invade new pruning cuts. Pruning in fall or winter allows the pruning cuts to begin growing over immediately in the spring. This energy can be provided by removing the leaf area while the photosynthetic material it made is still overwintering in the roots. Less tree plus more food should begin the season with a healthy tree.
When you're ready to do your yard work, here are some cutting and pruning tips. If you are trimming a branch, trim to the collar of the branch. You don’t want to leave a stub sticking out that can allow the entry of parasites or pathogens. For trees, remove only 25% of the crown at a time or you can stress the tree out.
Q. How do I look for signs that my tree or bush is unhealthy and might need help?
A. Observe the tree or bush from the base of the trunk all the way to the tips. Look for wood decay, fungal bodies, wet spots, cracks in the trunk or seams. Look for dead branches which should be removed. These are found with fraying bark or no bark, and dry branch tips without green growth that break when bent rather than spring back. You can tell that a branch is dead if it has no leaves when neighboring branches’ leaves are out. Browning foliage around leaf margins can indicate issues related to stress. Note the location of the browning on the leaves and share this information with an arborist. Another way to determine if your bush or tree may be unhealthy is to look for holes or frass (fine sawdust-like material) at the base of the trunk. This can be a sign of wood-boring insects. You may also want to seek the advice of an arborist if you notice the tree or shrub doesn't have the color it used to or as much foliage, or chewed leaves.
Q. What are your tips for keeping trees and shrubs watered during drought conditions?
A. For maximum watering, soak the area around the trunk to within the drip line (the area from the trunk to the outer edge of the crown). This should be where the majority of the active roots are. This means moistening the soil up to 18" in depth for mature trees because that is where the roots are. Don't rely on lawn irrigation to water trees and shrubs. Grass actually competes with larger vegetation for water. Installation of mulch at a depth of 1-2 inches around the trunk is recommended for moisture retention and keeping the trunk safe from lawn maintenance equipment. Do not overmulch -- it should not look like a volcano around the stem. It's very important to maintain a good watering schedule for newly planted trees. Don't just plant them and forget them. They must be watered 2-3 times a week for the first year and again the next spring and summer at a minimum.
I hope you learned as much as I did from arborist Chris Fallon. Remember that many of the plants in your yard may not be native to your environment and must be treated as individuals. A certified and insured arborist may be able to give you the expert help and advice that you need to maintain a healthy, green Firewise landscape surrounding your home. For more information about Firewise landscaping and Firewise plants for your yard, check the Firewise website.