Friday, October 7, 2011

Since You Asked...Jud Scott

Welcome to the Friday Since You Asked feature! Because arborists are so vital before and after extreme-weather events strike your landscape, today we're shooting questions at Certified and Registered Consulting Arborist Jud Scott, working out of Carmel, Indiana.

While researching Weatherproofing Your Landscape: A Homeowner's Guide to Protecting and Rescuing Your Plants, I picked Jud's brain more times than a less generous man would have permitted. He isn't just knowledgeable about trees—he's passionate about them.

Courtesy Wabash College
Q. Jud, how important is it to develop a working relationship with an arborist before disaster strikes your landscape?

A. A working relationship with an arborist is always a good idea—much like having a regular doctor who knows you and understands your problems.

For example, property inspection and annual care by an arborist can save you thousands of dollars in repairs if installing a support cable (for $150 to $200) can keep a tree from falling on your house. Or the removal of a tree that is decayed can be done when it is noticed during a regular inspection, instead of in the middle of the night at emergency storm rates.

Finally, and maybe most important, in the event of a real serious storm, regular clients get taken care of first. If you don't have a relationship with an arborist, you may have to wait.

Q. Arborists tend to have their hands full during and after an extreme-weather event. How long can a damaged tree wait to be repaired?

A. Unstable trees should not wait, but stable trees can often wait until "after the storm," or even until winter. Each case will differ according to the need. Sometimes the tree will be just plain ugly after a section splits out, and you may not want to wait. Sometimes we will say, "Let's get this off the house, and then we will come back for the rest after the storm."

Q. What can an arborist do for last summer's drought and flood-ravaged trees and shrubs?

A. The best thing you could have done for drought-ravaged trees was water them—one inch or more per week. Next best thing is to water them now until the snow flies.

Trees damaged by construction present other problems during droughts. Most people don't know that roots are only 2 to 3 feet below grade, so cutting roots for construction leaves them prone to drought damage. The best care is preventive pre-construction planning with an arborist who understands construction, trees and preservation. Often you need to give trees that were near construction areas extra water in drought times.

As for flooded trees, they may be okay—trees sometimes can take standing in water for a while. This is an individual tree-to-tree diagnosis (thus the need for a working relationship with your arborist).

Q. This year has already produced the most natural disasters on record in the US in one calendar year...and we still have nearly three months to go. What is the most important piece of advice you can give to landscape owners whose trees and shrubs have suffered damage from extreme-weather events?

A. Realize that, before you call out a Consulting Arborist for an appraisal of damages, the Internal Revenue Service will allow deductions for "sudden unexpected or unusual events," which a storm event might be—but it will not accept "formulaic" appraisals like the Trunk Formula method. It is best to talk with your accountant, and maybe your attorney, before your arborist. It is also important to hire an arborist who has experience with this kind of work.

[Note: The subject of tax breaks and insurance deductions for landscape damage is covered in Weatherproofing Your Landscape: A Homeowner's Guide to Protecting and Rescuing Your Plants.]

Q. What's the difference between a Certified Arborist, a Registered Consulting arborist, and a tree-trimming service that employs neither of the above?

A. Certified Arborist or Board Certified Master Arborist are designations given by the International Society of Arboriculture These designations are a sign that the person has a good working knowledge of arboriculture. The arborists will often use personal protective gear [PPGs], which is best for them and a good indication that they will take care of your property too.

A Registered Consulting Arborist [RCA] has passed the American Society of Consulting Arborists Academy, and written a series of rigorously graded papers. RCAs are the group you are looking for when you have a litigious situation, a tree preservation project, a neighbor dispute, or an insurance issue.

Another group to look for are Certified Treecare Safety Professionals from the Tree Care Industry Association If the company is a TCIA member and/or has Certified Treecare Safety Professionals on staff, this is a good sign they are progressive and will be safe to take care of your property.

Then there is the company that has none of these. My question would be, "Why not?" They may be good—they may not. I would ask a lot of questions of them, and definitely ask for a certificate of insurance from all.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Serial Killers in Your Landscape

Extreme weather has hammered landscapes around the country—and around the world—this year. Depending on where you live, if your trees and shrubs weren't being parched by record-smashing heatwaves and exception drought conditions, they were being waterlogged or iced over. Throw in destructive high winds, hailstorms,  tornadoes, and...well, you get the picture.

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration/
Department of Commerce
Even if your major landscape plants made it through the growing season, they probably didn't do so unscathed. Trees and shrubs subjected to serious drought and long-term flooding nearly always incur some degree of root loss. Or perhaps they lost limbs, or were defoliated, by other extreme-weather events.

Whatever "ill winds" your valuable landscape plants have suffered, they are now in mortal danger of succumbing to subsequent "serial" assaults while still in their weakened condition.

Roots take time to regenerate. Wounds from lost limbs or other injuries take time to callus over. This recuperative period can last up to five years, during which a plant pours all the energy it can into recovering from its injuries. If it hasn't had time to restore itself before being hit by one or more additional extreme-weather events, this year's injuries could result in its death this winter, next year or even several years later.

[Note: Weatherproofing Your Landscape: A Homeowner's Guide to Protecting and Rescuing Your Plants, provides guidelines on repairing damage, as well as how to manage long-term post-damage care.]

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration/
Department of Commerce
 I have trees that were severely damaged by a catastrophic ice storm in 2007. They've been in particular danger this past year during our record-setting heatwave and exceptional drought. So has a big oak tree that lost a substantial part of its root system during a construction project a year of so ago. For years to come, I'm going to be on pins and needles each spring, waiting to see if these specimens have the energy to leaf out.

But there are things you can do to help make sure your stressed landscape specimens have the best possible chance to recover. (And whatever measures you take now could save you the work and expense of replacing dead specimens later.)

Where serious root loss is concerned: our big root-damaged oak was treated with a growth retardant that reduced its top growth while its roots regenerate. [See the Surviving Dead Roots posting—9/9/11.] This might help your drought or flood-stressed tree as well. (Consult a certified arborist.)

Deep-soaking the root system is essential in drought-stricken landscapes. Last month, I dug a hole in a frequently watered border bed, to plant a new shrub. The drought was so extreme that, once I got down about a foot, the moist soil turned brick-dry. So in extreme, prolonged droughts, even digging down several inches to check soil moisture doesn't always tell you what's going on deeper still. I've found that deep soaking with a drip hose...then deep soaking again a few days later while the soil is still moist...gets moisture down to the deepest feeder roots (which can be up to 20 inches below the surface).

Deep-soaking stressed specimens now and throughout winter (when the ground isn't frozen) is essential. Soil moisture helps insulate plants against winter cold.

If too much water is the chronic problem, you might want to consult a landscape architect to advise you on how to improve drainage without doing more damage than good. For instance, raising the soil level around plants, or trenching French drains within their critical root zones, are major no-nos!

So keep in mind that a stressed plant is highly vulnerable to future stressors that occur before it has had time to recover. Do not fertilize stressed trees during their recuperative period. And check with an arborist or your cooperative extension agent if you feel that your specimen might be diseased or infested. (Stressed plants are magnets for bugs and diseases.)

We're curious: What kinds of special problems have extreme-weather events caused for your landscape plants?