GARDEN THERAPY: Tree Trauma, Treatment and Transitions – February 2017

By Mel Bellar

Let’s face it, trees are kind of a big deal and they come with a proportionate amount of big expense and big emotion. Yes, on 88th Street in Manhattan, I witnessed a knock-down-drag-out screaming match over a tree (a Honey Locust to be exact) in a brownstone courtyard. The culprit, our feisty neighbor at the time, had an arborist on site under the guise of pruning some limbs on a tree in her courtyard garden. But she had a secret agenda as well! Anyone who knows the Honey Locust, knows that they can make a mighty mess. And our dear neighbor had her eye on the Honey Locust that resided in the courtyard of the brownstone next to her (the brownstone where we happily resided for many years).

She literally called this maligned Honey Locust the “weed tree.” Most of all she hated the way our Honey Locust dropped spent flowers onto her beautiful flagstone paving. So our sweet and very annoyed neighbor talked her arborist into sneaking in some cuts on the loathed tree. Her goal was to take out some branches that were overhanging her property. But the tree-war started in earnest and all hell broke loose when one of the other residents in our building got wind of it. If memory serves, after much shouting back and forth, our building residents relented and let her cut the branches immediately over her property, as that is the law. But I assure you that the poor arborist had his every move scrutinized by the tenants in our building.

This story pales, however, in comparison to one involving our neighbors on the other side of the street. This neighbor tried to have a huge tree removed “on the sly” when the neighboring brownstone was on the market and unoccupied. It shaded her back garden too much and she wanted it gone! The real estate agent caught her saw-in-hand and charges were nearly filed. Her very influential husband had to pull some hard-earned favors to calm the situation down.

Think this is only for neurotic city folk? Think again! It happens in our Catskills, even with our large properties and abundant trees. I know someone who actually made the police blotter in the Catskill Mountain News for taking down some trees on a neighbor’s property thinking he wouldn’t notice. I know a consulting arborist who often has to testify over the value of trees that have been damaged by some contractor. I would love to hear all of your related stories, as I am sure that you have them.

It is very “treematic” to lose or have important trees on your property lost or endangered by your neighbors or nature herself. Large trees often define a property and render its very soul. Losing them feels like losing an old important friend; they are not really replaceable. Maybe I am being a bit dramatic but I believe it. I am always amazed when someone takes down an important tree because it is deemed “too near the house” unless it is really in poor health and dangerous. Almost always, I am for trying to save the tree. If you have important tree on your property I strongly recommend that you have them checked out by an arborist if you haven’t already done so. And continue to do so every now and then. Preventsave the tree. If you have important trees on ion is MUCH easier and less expensive than remediation.

A few tips to keep in mind: Don’t drive heavy equipment or pile stuff up on the roots of your trees. The quality of the soil and roots is the most important thing to keeping your trees healthy. Compaction and soil changes from exposure to chemicals can cause profound changes on the root system and health of your tree. Wounds to the trunk and tears from broken branches need to be cleaned up as much as possible to help the tree repair itself. Trees are actually amazingly capable of compartmentalizing damaged areas above ground and repairing themselves. A tree’s longevity and structural stability could greatly benefit from having an arborist prune it; it really helps to know what you are doing. It may seem expensive and could be seen as a luxury but taking compromised trees down can be equally or more expensive than having them pruned. AND they will look nicer.

I complain about invasive species all the time as I think they are a major destructive force in our landscape, but I think that it is particularly sad when our beautiful native tree species are threatened. It pains me that we are losing our ash trees to the Emerald Ash Borer. Ash trees are being taken down prophylactically all through the Catskills. Please note that there is a treatment to protect ash trees from the borer. Granted, it is too expensive to do on any large scale. However, if you have an ash tree that is important in your landscape, it is worth looking into. It will cost a few hundred dollars every couple of years and may well be worth it. There are many other tree species that are threatened by pests as well but none so imminently as the American ash species which are Fraxinus. The Mountain Ash, Sorbus, is not their target.

The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA) is another exotic pest that attacks hemlock trees and has been in our area for a while. It is not as virulent a killer as the ash borer and some trees are resistant. It can take up to 4 years to kill a tree. As with the ash, if there are important hemlocks in your landscape that you want to save, there are effective chemical treatment options, but do it before it is too late. Don’t wait for an infestation.

Many of us are blessed with beautiful old trees that were always there and have never caused us any trouble. And many of us have also experienced the joy of planting little 6” whips from Soil & Water, (which are practically free) and watching them grow into beautiful specimens. Let’s all remember to be grateful for our beautiful trees and do our best to choose well and take care of these amazing friends.~

Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4 Landscapes and a passionate Andes gardener.