Monday, November 2, 2009

Problem Trees Coming Down and Limbing Up

From In the Garden

Trees in the garden are a must for me. I thank my lucky stars every single day that Mr. Fix-it and I were able to find a home with mature hardwood trees on the property. We are blessed with oaks, black gums, eastern red cedars, maples, a hickory, dogwoods, and wild cherries. I have also planted many other trees on the property that include: crabapples, crepe myrtles, redbuds, a spicebush, viburnums, Japanese maples, and a silverbell. Did I say we have only one acre? It is a small lot for all of these trees to be sure but I have worked very hard to balance the taller trees with the understory trees. All the trees I have planted are smaller trees and mostly understory trees so the tree situation works fairly well. I am finally getting to a point that I can say I am mostly happy with the mix here at Tiger Gardens but with all the trees we have here it is inevitable some will have problems. To fine tune the mix of trees and take care of the problem trees we recently hired some professional tree trimmers. What is the issue with problem trees? And why should they be tended to?

Taking down mature trees is never an easy thing to do, but when you have a tree that has damage or has died it should come down. Additionally, if that tree is likely to hit something (target) when it falls it should be removed immediately. It is much better to spend the money taking the tree down on your terms than on Mother Nature's terms. Now on to my problem trees.
Moving into this house eight years ago we could barely find the ground let alone trees or even our way out of this jungle. The house had been empty for four months during the growing season and had not seen any maintenance in that time. If that wasn't bad enough, the previous two homeowners were not gardeners. Oh sure there were a few perennials here and there (hostas, daylilies, irises, lily of the valley, and sedum to be exact) but the homeowners never seemed to have cut the lawn or maintained the trees. The place was a mess and had at least three dead trees and many more saplings growing everywhere when we first moved in.

The first order of business was to remove all the small saplings we were able to remove on our own. Mr. Fix-it must have cut down a hundred large and small trees himself but some of the trees were beyond his capabilities. We hired a professional tree trimmer and had half a dozen more trees cut down over the years. This included the dead trees and some other trees that were growing in the wrong spot or too close to more desirable trees. Tree trimmers charge a pretty hefty fee to cut down trees so we had to be most selective with which ones we cut first based on our budget.

One tree I failed to have taken down was a black gum (Nyssa sylvatica) that had been infected with flathead borers. We discovered the borer damage when all of the bark began falling away from the tree trunk soon after we moved in. The damaged trunk is pictured above. I treated the borers by peeling away the bark and physically removing all flathead borers and destroying them. The tree seemed to recover as evidenced by its bark growing back along the edges of the wound, but never fully regained its glory. It became a problem tree and had to be removed.

Since this black gum was within 10 feet of Mr. Fix-it's garage and in and amongst many gardens it had to be limbed prior to it coming down. Removing large limbs is a must to ensure a smooth drop into a small area. Here is our tree trimmer (Dan) in a bucket truck safely removing the limbs for the gum tree. The huge tree fell perfectly and is now gone. This was not a job we could safely do ourselves. I can't stress enough that safety if vitally important when dealing with large trees on a property.
Another problem tree was a mature oak tree that we think got struck by lightening at some point in 2007. I don't know when that could have happened though since that year we saw a severe drought and not too many thunder and lightening storms. Ironic huh? It completely died and had lost almost all of its limbs over the past two years. We are most lucky if did not come down before now. It had to go because it was a problem tree. It too was limbed and then dropped right between the gardens in front of you.

The last thing we had done was to get some trees limbed up. I am a big proponent of limbing up. There is nothing worse than walking or mowing your lawn and running into tree branches. A bit of ducking out of the way while driving a riding lawnmower does not make for a happy camper. My neighbor does it every time he cuts his yard and it is kind of amusing for me but probably not for him when he is getting whacked by low limbs while mowing the lawn. Anyone else have that problem? Ducking and bending to avoid low tree limbs?

I have a chainsaw 'on a stick' and I spend a lot of time during the winter limbing up trees so I don't have to duck and dive while walking or mowing the lawn. I am always sure to cut all the way back to the tree trunk and I make sure not to cut into the tree trunk when I cut limbs. When the cut is clean and done properly the tree heals the wound by growing bark over the opening. It takes a period of a few years but it does happen. I had gone as far as I could go with my chainsaw on a stick with these mature oak trees on the southern side of our property. I now needed some professional help to take off some heavy limbs. The tree trimmers worked in a tight spot to make sure the limbs did not hit the wisteria arbor or my chain link fence on the other side of the arbor. I am so thrilled with the change! The garden can now get more sun, no one will be running in to limbs, and the beautiful views are opened up. I think the trees actually look better and are happier as well. I can tell you some of the limbs that were removed were interfering with my neighbor's parking area and still others were hanging close to our power lines.

The trees are all much happier losing some of those lower limbs and what a difference limbing up has made for the garden and light in the garden. Removing problem trees was also a very smart move because they were problem trees....

in the garden....

P.S. We had four trees cut down this time (including one in the neighbor's yard that was threatening our garage) but I have to admit (gladly) that I recently planted four more trees-though not gigantic monsters like cherries, gums and oaks. Cut a tree-plant a tree is my motto.

While cutting trees the butterflies were flying like crazy despite it being the end of October. I asked Mr. Fix-it which butterfly picture he liked best. I guess I should not be surprised he likes the long pictures 'because they show the big picture'. He chose the first picture showing two butterflies along with the lantana and beautyberry in the background. I have tons of monarch pictures I am just itching to post so expect more in the future. The garden is still green here and butterflies are still around. Fall is taking a long time to settle in to my area here in Tennessee-a good thing!


  1. When we built we had 5 trees removed including a 70 foot hemlock that was 3 fett in diameter. They were going to leave it for us to saw it into a beam but we had no way of budging it. About 8 yaers ago....hummm 100 buckros a tree!

  2. I love the monarch photo~~such a delightful creature. Isn't lantana the best plant! It's amazing how expensive tree removal is~~but something has to cover their insurance, workers and equipment costs. Great shots of the workers in the towering canopy Tina. Enjoy the beautiful day~~finally. gail

  3. I love the cut a tree plant a tree motto! I'm sure you'll be planting a lot more things to take advantage of the new exposure and those irresistible fall sales!! It's exciting having trees cut. It's amazing what took decades to grow is cut down in minutes. It's best when the trees are cut and the stump is ground, I hate it when they decided to top a tree because it's cheaper. Luckily it doesn't need to be done that often.

  4. I just recently took out two hackberry trees that were covered with aphids. They also seems to grow low branches that I had to limb up each year.

  5. I would love to see more monarch photos, Tina. Especially since we didn't get many here this year.

    It was interesting to read the "tree story" of your property. We have about 1/3 of an acre with lots of saplings constantly popping up. It does get expensive to hire tree professionals, doesn't it? As I learn more about tree health and trimming I find myself wishing for one of those cordless chainsaws so I can do more maintenance myself! I love the low limbs but they can be a problem with the kids and delivery men.

  6. How lucky you are to have so many Monarchs, Tina! The first photo is beautiful, and it's good to see the sun shining in your garden! Great advice on tree care. My husband has done a lot of the maintenance on his own around here, and I cringe every time he attempts something too high. Hiring professionals with the right equipment is definitely the best choice for large trees. I can relate to your neighbor: I don't mow often, but one of the times I relieved Hubby for awhile I almost got knocked off the mower by a pine tree limb that appeared out of nowhere:)

  7. Gorgeous shot of the Lantana with the Beautyberry in the background. We've had to take down a couple of trees in the past that were problems. You are so right, it's better to remove them before they do any major damage.

  8. Hi Tina, I, too, love hardwoods. I actually don't have too many trees on my property, but there are many int he adjoining park. I had to have a cottonwood cut down because 40 years ago, it was planted way too close to the house and its roots were getting into my pipes. :( I have a lot of shrubs and love them, too. P.S. Chainsaw on a "stick"? Huh?

  9. Dawn, That hemlock would've been a beautiful beam!

    Gail, Lantana is indeed wonderful. I'll never garden without anymore due to its effect on the butterflies.

    Lzyjo, One of my tree trimmers told me "all trees need to be topped". Little did he know I am very against this practice but I wisely held my tongue. They don't get it. I was out there with them guiding them along and 'supervising' you might say. I also helped quite a bit. They should've paid me!

    Dave, Sometimes you just have to do it. It is so sad to see a tree come down. Limbing up-no fun at all.

    JGH, I paid about $100 for a small electric chainsaw on a stick and I swear that is one of my best buys for the garden. It is perfect for me and I've more than gotten my money's worth. It works for small trees and limbs easily. I only wish I had bought one sooner instead of using a hand saw to trim-grrr. More monarch photos on the way. Thanks! I have some great close ups but hubby said the long one. I was surprised. We still have a few hanging around in the sun.

    Rose, I got a chuckle on that pine tree. Those silly things surely do seem to come from out of nowhere!

    Racquel, Oh yes I'd hate to see another ice storm and have a tree fall on something-very bad. Problem trees need management for sure. Glad you like the lantana and beautyberry.

    Monica, Yup, chainsaw on a stick and the stick even extends! You should see me trying to control it when it is fully extended and I'm on a ladder. Hubby says no more unless he is home. Ha! Plus you can take the chainsaw off from the stick. I simply love it. Sure beats cutting with a hand pruner on a stick. Cottonwoods are such cool trees! Just had to say that. I've not seen any here but they do grow in Indiana and in Germany.

  10. liebe Grüße aus Bremen von Kathrin

  11. Over the years we've had a number of trees taken down, and over the last 10 years the price, like the price of everything, has escalated steeply! I am glad that now the the most falling trees will take down is a section of fence.

  12. HI Tina, taking trees down is hard and can be dangerous work. That Black Gum bark damage is interesting, I will have to read up on the flathead borer. We have two pines that are dead from pinebark beetles. Lucky for us they are in an area that they will not hit anything coming down.

  13. If they don't threaten a structure or power lines, I always leave my trees up for the woodpeckers. As limbs fall, I deal with them. I'm lucky to have enough land to be able to do this without danger of them falling on the house or barns.

  14. Kathrin, Hello!

    Sweet Bay, That is a relief no more possible harm from trees.

    Janet, The borers are most yuck! Large whitish worms with flatheads. They were easy to remove but picture the complete bark falling away and finding them underneath. It was a mess. No more though now since I manage the trees better. The flatheads can be an issue but I do not spray-ever.

    Marnie, That is a very good point to leave up a dead tree for the wildlife. I hated taking these ones down because the wildlife loved them and made many cavities but they had a target and had to go. I'll miss that.

  15. I agree to leave even dead trees if you can. But that is not always possible. I hate to see any tree go but better for it to go than take a lotta other stuff with it. It is good that you will have a little more sunlight.

  16. I agree it's better to take them down than to let Mother Nature. Do you have more sun to garden in now? We had to take down a pine that destroyed our driveway our neighbors with its roots, but we replaced it with another smaller tree.
    I can't believe how many trees/saplings you had to clear when you first moved in.

  17. I remember learning that you can tell if a pruning cut has been made correctly by the shape of the callus (sp?) tissue that grows around it. Ideally, the wound should be surrounded by a perfect circle of tissue. Cutting to close will prevent the tissue growth. It's interesting to walk around our neighborhood and see which trees have good callus donuts, and which have been poorly pruned. You'll have to check out your pruners' work in a few years to see how well they did!

  18. Good post about trees. I am amazed at the damage lightning can do. We respect it a lot more now that it has hit nearby trees. Bring on the butterflies.

  19. Fall is here, but not cold. Very nice. I love this time of year in Texas.

    Excellent advice about taking the trees down. So many people don't realize that a tree is as heavy as it is. Better to be safe, let the pros do the big jobs.

  20. Mom, The sunlight is heaven. So many more possibilities now. I called Christy today and we talked for a while. It was cool she has a phone.

    Catherine, The lot was a mess when we first moved in. Even now I fight a battle of baby maples, dogwoods, oaks and cedars. Mainly in the garden areas since I mow the lawn-I think I have more garden areas than lawn now. A big job. A bit more sunlight for sure too. Those pine trees are most destructive. We have only one here and already it's root is on the surface. I hope your driveways got fixed and don't suffer again.

    VW, We always use the thumb joint as a comparison to cut limbs. You would not cut the complete joint but only to the knuckle. That works with the tree limbs too. A good callous is most important and they do look like donuts when they are growing in. A nice comparison.

    Rosey, Thanks, you bet on the butterflies. They are still thick. I just could not imagine having so much snow already and no butterflies so early in the season. I've gotten spoiled here for sure and it has been a mild fall so far but soon we'll have snow. I've been to high elevations (in Europe) and understand the differences in climate but boy would I miss the soil for the winter. You deal with it so well.

    Janie, Hello and welcome. Thank you for your very nice comments. They are much appreciated! Fall is a great time of year and this fall sure seems extra special. I've never been to Texas but perhaps some day. I hear it is pretty special.

  21. I really would love a chainsaw-on-a-stick!! I too love trees and am so privileged to have the space for many of them. The deer want to nip at the young ones so it's hard to get them started without ugly bulwarks of netting, fencing, etc but it's worth it. I have had a lot of fun with the Arbor Day Foundation trees - they come as tiny sticks but they do grow quickly and you can't beat the price... Also I got many lovely baby native trees cheaply from my local Conservation District sales each February. You have posted some really great info about trees here. I enjoy your blog! Bonnie

  22. Very educational!

    Now that the leaves are off our large weeping willow (and it is 4 years old, too), I can see overlapping branches that need to be taken out. Is it okay to limb up and clean up a willow this time of year? If so, I'm out there!


  23. A scary topic for me is tree cutting. We have cut down over 30 since moving into this house and we have about 10 more in our sights. Hopefully, some of those will come down this winter. Spring was too soggy with rain so we are waiting for the fall dry out to arrive. The Saint, our neighbor and I are experts at getting the trees to drop where we want them to go. (knocking on wood here for good luck in the future!) We only cut the ones which need to be cut such as the target ones you talk about. We leave the dead trees away from the house in the front and side woods for the woodpeckers to enjoy.

    Loved seeing those monarchs when I was at Tiger Gardens recently. Cant wait to see more pictures. If you have an itch, scratch it by posting a topic of all butterfly pics! :)

  24. Bonnie, Hello and welcome! Anyone with trees is truly a priviledged person. I only wish I had more room. The chainsaw on a stick is a really great invention for us women. It is just the right size to limb up and take down small saplings.

    Cameron, The only trees I know that have a restraint on pruning are birch trees (due to borer activity and fresh cuts) and maple trees (due to sap running). I would think now would be an ideal time to trim a limb on a willow. As long as you can see it it is a good time but I am not 100% sure on willows. I don't have any here but have heard they need lots of trimming and usually this can be done anytime. I'd say go for it. Have fun.

    Skeeter, Trees! They need so much maintenance yet we can't live without them. It is an ongoing thing for sure. Glad you had a great visit with your parents. The beach must've been nice. P.S. I finally used some seashells today on some hypertufa pots. Thought I'd let you know since we are speaking of beaches. I might just post a butterfly post. I have several just itching to get out there and I even wrote a poem to go with them. Imagine that!

  25. Do you know how lucky you are? I mean one acre! My garden is only 1/5 acre!!! I would bee the luckiest girl in the world if I hade a one acre garden!!! Now you made me want to move again "lol" / gittan

  26. What a pleasure must be waking up in the morning and looking at all those tall and small trees. What a beautiful post! But I agree with you, that maintaining that quality must be quite hard.

    Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  27. Hi Tina, you are a great proponent for a very important task, good job educating the public about the right decisions to make regarding trees. Every single house we have ever lived in has had professional tree work done. So many homeowners either don't know about the problems or don't want to spend the money by hiring the right guys for the job. It's a shame, it adds much more value to the property than the cost takes out of your pocket. Too bad about the black gum, that is a beautiful tree not seen as much as it should be. Love all the understory trees you have planted, makes for a wonderful magical scene. :-)

  28. Tina, I never thought of using the shells in the pots! Wonderful idea and you must send me a pic of them....

    We did have a fun time at the beach but mostly just touring and not beach sitting. Had no idea it would be beach sitting weather so no suits were packed. Dogs all over the beaches as it is low season and the locals can take their fur babies with them! It was awesome to see the happy doggies on the beach!

  29. Gittan, To have any land is a blessing. I am pretty glad we don't have more because gardening takes ALOT of time. You know with your beautiful garden. Don't move-oh dear-too too much work! Just build up and out and borrow your neighbor's yard to garden in. It's what I do:)

    ACIL, I love the trees so much. It is indeed a lovely place to live and wake up to.

    Frances, I didn't even address the value trees add to property but you are right. They surely do and just like a house they need proper maintenance to last and really have good value. It is an ongoing chore as you know-but so worth it.

    Skeeter, I've been a pot making/leaf cast making fool because I'll be selling them and marker stones at a local craft fair at the end of the month. I hope they go over well and suspect they will. Especially the leaf castings. I am preparing a short post for the end of the month and will try to get some of the shells. There are so many I better to get pot making to use them all:)

  30. Hello Tina, I love trees, too. Unfortunately, our property is not that large to have many trees on there. I do have a few which are growing surely but slowly. In the States I had some trees which were threatening our power lines. Kansas Power & Light came and cut those down. There was no charge to have that done. I was quite surprised then.
    Love your Monarch photos. I have quite a few, too. Didn't do all that much posting this summer, but I am picking up again. Take care, greetings from Germany, Andrea

  31. Always a little sad when a tree must come down, but you seem to have the replacement all ready to go every time. I have had to call in the tree choppers before, they are kind of like pirates, scrambling up the trunk with a lit ciggie while dragging a chainsaw. I hope you post your "fence fashion" piece, I'd love to see it!!

  32. I just hate having to take down trees, but your criteria is dead on, sometimes it's the only responsible thing to do. Your chainsaw on a stick and professional trimmers do a nice job, your trees look fabulous. Here's to a future of happy healthy trees in the right spot!

  33. I'd love some advice...
    We have a large gum tree in our block of apartments that was dropping leaves onto some external stairs and causing slipping issues for the tenants - also birds and possums living in the tree left droppings on the stairs.
    The Body Corporate arranged for an arborist to clear the overhang...almost all of the limbs were removed close to the trunk leaving one limb on the side and a few at the top - we basically have a trunk with a canopy.
    We didn't intend for the tree to be so severely pruned, it was a miscommunication.
    Will the gum tree die? How long will it take to regrow? It has left the building really exposed and the tenants don't feel the building is as private as it was...
    I'd love to hear the tree will grow back quickly, healthier than ever...

  34. Jane, This is Tina here. I will try to help you out a bit. First of all most municipalities have what is called forester positions. Even our little town here has one. He is the expert and will usually come out and evaluate problem trees. Normally a tree is deemed a problem if when it falls it will hit something-like your house. He will also tell you the condition. There are special tools that are usually available to tell one if your tree is hollow or has rot. That being said though just because your tree was limbed severely does not mean it will fall and die. It is possible for sure. There is a lot that goes into pruning a tree and how the tree will react. Normally when trees are shrubs are cut they should not have more than one third of their canopy cut at one time as a general rule of thumb I follow. If all of your limbs were removed and only about 5-10 feet at the top are left then that does not sound good at all. That is extreme pruning. The best way to prune is to laterally prune and to prune selectively but most arborists, unless certified arborists, are not arborists at all and do tend to hack on trees. Here is what I recommend for you to do, call your city to find out if they have a forester who can come out and properly evaluate your gum tree with eyes on. That person is the best person to do it. If you do not have a forester then contact the extension office and ask for the horticulture agent and get some advice from them on how to proceed. Our extension agent happens to be a certified arborist so she is well qualified here, perhaps the same is true in your community? If you don't have a forester and the agent cannot help, look for certified International Society of Arboriculture arborists in your community for professional help. I hope it all works out. Some trees may regrow side branches but it is not a guarantee and it will take time-probably years. The forester can further advise you. If the tree is determined to be too severely pruned and compromised look for a new tree right away and do some research prior to planting. Good luck.