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Tree Pruning Basics: Hiring the best tree service. By Gary Walker, Certified Arborist

Proper tree pruning is one of the main things that distinguishes a great and reputable tree service from basic and run of the mill, tree services.  The world’s leading authority on tree pruning and all things pertaining to trees, is Dr. Alex Shigo, my personal mentor, friend and teacher.  His pioneering arboreal research and tree pruning techniques, along with the numerous books and papers he’s authored, are the worldwide gold standard for Certified Arborists, teachers and reputable tree services.  What follows are some of the major points on tree care.

Tree service workers should not remove more than 25 to 30 percent of any trees’ canopy at any one time, as doing so can open up the tree to sun scald and diminish its ability to photosynthesize (the process whereby plants convert the photons from sunlight into chemical energy-sugars, starches, etc.-to feed itself).  Over pruning trees can also stress them to the point where they can be more susceptible to pathogens and insects and other harmful elements.

Knowing how, when and exactly where to prune branches is critical to the overall process.  In essence, all pruning creates wounds. It’s knowing precisely how and where to prune that makes all the difference to trees in terms of how they heal. Dr. Shigo proved that the old and generally accepted method of ‘flush cuts’ (cutting of branches back to and directly parallel with the trunk, which doesn’t allow for proper healing of the wound), are harmful to trees.  Because of his extensive research over many decades, we know that branches should be cut just outside the branch  bark collar, which is that slight bulge at the connecting point of each branch to its parent branch or trunk.

Dr. Shigo is responsible for discovering the universally accepted principle of CODIT, which stands for Compartmentalization Of Decay In Trees, which basically states that tree cells form a barrier zone around wounds that serve to protect trees from further decay.  Those tree services that understand this principle will render proper care to trees and good, valuable service to their clients.

We also now know that the unsightly act of  leaving ‘stubs’ is equally harmful to trees, as well.  The ends of the ‘stubs’ do not compartmentalize like a proper cut should and thus become a port of entry for harmful pests, as the tips of the blunt cut tend to rot out and the bark peels away from the stub.

Crown Reduction, or the radical lowering of the Crown or tops of trees, is practiced far too often by tree service companies.  Again, we go back to the world’s leading tree authority, Dr. Alex Shigo.  He taught us that Crowning, sometimes known as Topping or Hat Racking, is harmful, and sometimes fatal to trees and should be done in only the most necessary of situations, the main one being, safety.  Topping or Crowning trees causes excessive sucker growth, opens the tree up to sun scald (just as too many Ultraviolet.Rays  are harmful to humans, so too, are they harmful to trees), and otherwise seriously stresses the tree.  Topping also destroys the natural shape of the tree forever.

When deciding which tree service to hire, out of the many tree services available, be sure to factor the following into your decision.  First and foremost, your tree service specialist should be an ISA Certified Arborist (click the green, Oak Leaf ISA logo on my Biography page for a detailed explanation).  Your tree service provider should also be a Licensed Contractor, have liability insurance and be bonded.  After you have all these components in place, you may want to check some references of the tree service you’re about to hire.

It’s important to remember that your trees have great economic, emotional and psychic value.  Feeling comfortable with your tree service provider and trusting that they will perform the proper procedures as agreed to, is paramount.  So interview several and choose your favorite tree service.

Trees for Life, by Gary Walker, Naturalist and Arborist – Part 1

With all the recent talk about the environment, global warming, carbon footprints, ‘going green and the economics of all this, I find there is usually one critical element left out of the discussion: trees. The individual and collective planting, combined with the intelligent stewardship of trees, together with enforced legislation of this vitally important species, can and would do much to mitigate and ameliorate these pressing problems. How, you might ask?

Tree communities and their ubiquitous and diverse natures, are truly amazing structures and systems and their benefits virtually limitless and renewable. First and foremost, they act as natural air filters by removing huge amounts of carbon and other harmful toxins from our atmosphere. They in turn produce pure oxygen which is essential to all life forms. Trees mitigate sound and beneficially moderate temperature. Trees also provide shelter, food and habitat for an astounding array of insects, animals, humans and yes, other plants. “There were three Ravens sat on a tree, They were as black as they might be. The one of them said to his make, ‘Where shall we our breakfast take?’ ” -The Three Ravens

Through Nature’s vast and relatively untapped pharmacopoeia, trees produce an astonishing array complex compounds, etc., some of which are used in all kinds of medicines and remedies for people and animals the world over. Indigenous peoples the world over have known this for thousands of years. And let us not forget that, in addition to the gift of healing, trees also provide ineffable beauty, solace and priceless inspiration to all willing to take the time to see, acknowledge and appreciate them.

Trees are Nature’s timekeepers; the harbingers of regular seasonal change, the timings of which are perfectly set for all to gage and annotate their lives, memories and experiences by. Spring, summer, winter, fall; in every glorious season do trees present a welcome and unique change in a way reminiscent of a fair maiden periodically changing her beautiful raiment time and again for her special one. “As it fell upon a day, In the merry month of May, Sitting in a pleasant shade, Which a grove of Myrtles made. Beasts did leap and birds did sing, Trees did grow and plants did spring…” -Richard Barnfield.

Trees are very sensual life forms as well: we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell them. Redolent with their soothing, alluring and refreshing aromas, what person has not been made the happier for the experience. There are indigenous peoples of the great Amazon basin that can and do communicate with trees; and why not since trees are actually are living, sentient life forms as humans, animals and other organisms are. In Macbeth, Wm. Shakespeare puts it this way: “Stones have been known to move and trees to speak.“ I’ve coined a phrase for trees (and flowers). ‘Visual Valium’ is the term I use for them because of their calming effects on people. “I think that I shall never see, A poem as lovely as a tree. Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” – Alfred Joyce Kilmer

The universal appeal of trees cuts across social, cultural, age and economic lines: people of all ages and climes innately and intuitively love trees. Trees are an important component of all gardens small and great. As Naturalist Mirabel Osler puts it: “To be able to walk under the branches of a tree that you have planted is really to feel that you have arrived with your garden.” And who among us, perhaps at some point in our lives, has not found friendship and courted love under the protective and romantic boughs of a special tree? “She was more beautiful than thy first love, This lady by the trees.” -W.B. Yeats.

Who that has seen the iconic water lily paintings of the Impressionist Master Claude Monet, has not been deeply touched and moved by their transcendent natural feel and timeless aura? Who can forget his brilliant use of evanescent light and the organized images of the atmospheric and reflective water holding up colorful water lily’s in the foreground, with the famous green arched Japanese inspired bridge in the mid ground and the towering, majestic weeping willow’s in the background? His reflective images and the lessons we can learn from them will go on through the ages.

Asher Durand, another masterful painter of the 19th century Hudson River School, created some of the most exact and visually stunning nature paintings ever. One of his trademarks was to have at least one dominant tree in each outdoor painting he did. Because of the detail and feel of his works, Durand is highly regaled as one of the greatest painters of trees, rocks and foliage ever. Not long ago I saw a retrospective showing many of his paintings at a museum, and was so taken and overwhelmed by the scope and magnitude of his abilities and portrayals, that I kept going though the show, again and again, in a seemingly endless loop to try to soak as much of it as I could. What makes his accomplishments all the more great is the incredible fact that all his paintings were done from exacting sketches he made on site and subsequently took back to his studio to paint from, because outdoor or au plain aire (painting outdoors) did not come along until the advent of the Impressionist painters some years later, which happened in the latter part of his ninety year long life. “Of all the trees that grow so fair, Old England to adorn, Greater are none beneath the Sun, Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.” -Rudyard Kipling.

One great aspect of trees, unlike some people, is that what you see is what it really is. You never see bananas growing on an apple tree or Papaya’s growing on a Pine (Conifer) trees. Cones grow on Conifer trees and papaya on Papaya trees. “The tree is known by his fruit.” -St. Matthew. The great German Poet/Philosopher, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe put it another way: “All theory, dear friend, is gray, but the golden tree of actual life springs ever green.”

There are many lessons we can learn from Monet, Durand and their trees and the interplay of light they used in portraying their subjects. Consider the fact that trees act as vast solar panels/batteries. Through the intricate and amazing process of photosynthesis via the leaves and bark, trees magically store, assimilate and metabolize light (photons) and convert it to sugars and starches to feed itself. “Monet’s gardens serve to teach us that in gardening we have an opportunity to work with natural elements in an artistic, organized manner.”

In trees we can also find meaning: a place to dream and in that state fulfill our whimsical fantasies as if in this resplendent reverie we may find some sort of fruition of desire, if only in thought. “I read, and sigh, and wish I were a tree – For sure then I should grow To fruit or shade; as least some bird would trust Her household to me, and I should be just.” -George Herbert. The Bible says it this way: “I see men as trees, walking.” -St. Matthew.

Trees for Life, by Gary Walker, Naturalist and Arborist – Part 2

Trees are amazing survival mechanisms. They say Oaks grow a hundred years, live a hundred years and die a hundred years. But the oldest living things on earth are the Bristle Cone Pines native to some of the mountains of California. Think in terms of thousands of years old, with some predating the great pyramids of Cairo, Egypt. The oldest known Bristle Cone Pine, called the Methuselah tree (so named after the longest lived person in the Bible, Methuselah), is known to be in excess of 4,700 years old! Giant Redwood and Sequoia trees also can live for thousands of years as well. “Generations pass while some tree stands, and old families last not three Oaks.” -Sir Thomas Browne

Even the oldest/longest lived trees, like all living things, don’t last forever. They fall to the earth and their decay lays the groundwork to host and feed the succeeding generations. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day, to-morrow will be dying.” -Robert Herrick. The great Bard put it this way: “When lofty trees I see barren of leaves, Which erst from heat did canopy the herd, And summer’s green all girded up in sheaves, Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard.” -Wm. Shakespeare

Trees, not surprisingly, are the largest living organisms on our planet with some of the great California Redwoods reaching heights in excess of 350 feet with the tallest of them over 370 feet with their bark (which is basically insect and fire repellent) over one foot thick! Next time you’re on the 37th floor of a tall building, imagine yourself being at the top of one of these giant Redwoods which exceed the height of the Statue of Liberty in N.Y. Harbor. Consider this: a typical Redwood forest contains more bio mass per square foot than any other place on earth, including the Amazon rain forests. Also, since pretty much all bio mass, particularly trees, are photo-tropic (lean towards the strongest light source), fallen Redwoods have been known to sprout numerous vertical trunks, themselves trees in their own right, off the fallen/horizontal trunk/parent tree. These titanic, larger than life and awe inspiring giants seem other worldly when you stand in their midst. Being in a cathedral of giant Redwoods is an ineffable and completely unique spiritual experience.

If you’d like to read an amazing and true story about a group of daring college students who recently pioneered the climbing and botanical study of giant Redwoods, pickup a copy of the best selling book, ‘The Wild Trees’ by Richard Preston. This book will tell you about how these intrepid pioneers climbed and slept at the tops of these majestic giants and how they discovered strange worlds of plant, animal and insect life high up in their crowns/canopies. Spending reflective time in a giant Redwood forest can be every bit as humbling and transcendent as gazing at the Milky Way on a clear summer night, which is why we must protect them from further degradation.

The rapid and widespread deforestation of large tracts of old growth trees (over 97% in the United States alone are gone!), which leads to the catastrophic destruction of vital watersheds and animal habitat should greatly concern all peoples worldwide. Trees, which significantly effect many things, including our weather and general quality of life, need strong and intelligent protections from the agressive forces of greed and ignorance that would destroy them for temporary monetary gain. As the poet Bryce Nelson said: ‘People who will not sustain trees will soon live in a world that will not sustain people.”

So…what can we do to help out? Plant trees, shrubs and flowers! Plant them in your yard. Offer to plant some in a neighbors yard. Get your children involved. They’ll love it and the whole family can watch them grow along side the kids. See if you can plant trees in public places. I got permission from the Park Ranger at a local park years ago to plant trees in the park, and to date I’ve planted at my own expense, over thirty trees (deciduous and evergreen) to help beautify the park and help the environment. The trees you plant today will help everyone tomorrow; they’ll live on for many generations as your generous legacy to future inhabitants of Spaceship Earth. Trees truly are one gift that keeps on giving. Now…get planting!

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