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Alerts and Sightings

This page will be frequently updated to bring you Alerts and Sightings.

Alerts will notify you of things to be aware of, such as current environmental conditions affecting trees or the recent appearance of problems and dangers specific to a certain species.

In Sightings, we will report the unusual and fascinating things we spot — for example, an exceptionally beautiful tree, a unique feature of a tree, or wildlife seen in a tree — while out in the field. You may want to go look at these yourself!

Spring 2007


Now is the time of year when many folks start thinking about their lawns and trees after a long cold winter. New flowers and leaves alert tree owners to the presence of recently developed dead wood in the crowns of trees. Pruning may be necessary to prevent damage to roofs and autos parked underneath. Spring storms can easily dislodge dead limbs and cause much damage to other green limbs in the tree or smaller trees and shrubs beneath. Itís a perfect time to call for a tree inspection.

If you see an abnormally large number of dead limbs falling from your trees, save them so your arborist can inspect them when he arrives. The branches will help your arborist determine if the tree has a serious problem. Donít try to preserve them in plastic or bring them indoors; fungi may be present and will grow rapidly if kept in an airtight or moist environment. Insect egg masses are already on the branches of many trees, and will hatch quickly if brought into a warm home or garage.


Box elder bugs. Speaking of insects, spring is when the box elder bug appears. This insect, a dark blue arthropod with red markings on its middle, is roundish in shape and about 3/8 to 1/2 inch across. It is known to swarm on exterior walls of homes or buildings and cause many a homeowner to panic, thinking a home-invading insect is trying to consume their home.

Have no fear! The box elder bug poses no threat to homes, but rather is merely warming itself en-masse before gorging on box elder (Acer negundo) leaves. After a few days, these insects will wander off or be eaten by birds and other predators. If they gather on walkways or driveways, just sweep them away with a broom.

Ladybug larvae. Also known to swarm on buildings, the ladybug larvae also make themselves known in spring. They do not resemble the cute red-to-yellow polka-dotted round insects everyone recognizes, but rather are long and narrow in form, only 1/4 to 3/8 inches long, and have large pincher-like mouth parts. These larvae are highly prized as a natural biotic insect control agent, feeding on harmful landscape pests such as aphids and mites. Spare them at all costs, and be thankful your garden is blessed with their presence!


Enough about bugs Ė letís talk plants! Spring may signal the emergence of the most dreaded wild plant to some: the sometimes shrubby, sometimes viney, always itchy poison ivy (toxicodendron radicans). This plant has pale green leaves arranged in groups of three, a hairy stem or vine, and a tendency to climb trees. It can become a real problem well before summer arrives. In fact, it has been known to irritate some gardeners so severely as to require a trip to the emergency room!

Just because it wasnít in your garden last year doesnít mean poison ivy isnít there this year! Birds and deer eat its leaves and fruit-containing seeds, and the seeds can pass through an animalís digestive system and begin to grow wherever they are deposited. Poison ivy can also reproduce by creeping vines from adjacent properties.

In the warm climates of the South, poison ivy has the ability to grow up into tree crowns and actually shade trees out until they die from lack of sunlight, a process that usually takes several years. If you see a hairy vine with three leaves crawling up your tree, call a certified arborist to inspect your tree and remove the vine. It would not be wise to cut the vine yourself, as its sap, a milky white liquid, can be very dangerous to some people and if touched to the skin can cause blackening and necrosis (cell death). Any tool used to cut the vine may also cut your treeís bark and cambium tissues, causing tree decay.

Should you decide to cut the poison ivy vine yourself, however, be sure to wear long sleeves, long pants, and gloves. Do not touch your face or bare skin! The oils in the leaves, stem, and fruit -- which cause the red, blistery rash -- can remain viable for years. They are often transmitted to sensitive persons via laundry or tools used. By all means, do not burn poison ivy vines! The smoke can cause swelling of the lung tissue, resulting in death by suffocation!

If you happen to develop an itchy rash, your local pharmacy can help with a product called Technu. Technu is sold as a soap for washing the oils off the skin and as a cream to protect the skin from exposure.

Fall 2006


Breaking Branches

Itís the time of year when two common species of trees, pecans and sweetgums, are shedding large branches. There are three major reasons which, when taken together, explain why this is happening now.

1. Unusually large crop of nuts or gum balls. Like other fruit-bearing (nuts/seeds) species, pecans and sweetgums produce an extra large amount of fruit every few years. The additional weight causes the branches to snap.

2. These two species are composed of brittle hardwood, which is prone to breaking when overloaded.

3. Rainwater resting on leaves puts added weight on the branch until the water is shed naturally (drips off) or evaporates. A tree can actually weigh up to one-third again its normal load just after rainfall. Most brittle branches snap during or immediately after a rain.

Things to Do:

1. Look at your trees. Most people donít notice their trees until something breaks. Use binoculars to see higher up and check the ground below for unusual seed buildup.

2. Park your car out from under these trees when there is a heavy crop of nuts and seeds. To be thoughtful of others, put up a few orange cones to keep people away.

3. Inspect your roof after a rain. Even a small branch can puncture the roof and start a ceiling leak if it lands point first. Have the branches over your roof pruned back.

4. Keep your homeowners insurance paid up. Donít call your insurance company if you are worried about a tree but nothing has happened; you may lose coverage if the insurer feels they have been put on notice that you are aware of a hazard. Call a certified arborist for a consultation, and then take action as advised.

5. Have any tree checked and/or removed if it has a history of breaking large limbs.

Do Not:

1. Donít call a tree removal contractor for consulting purposes if you want to save a tree. ďFreeĒ tree inspections are often a marketing gimmick of people looking for work, and some people calling themselves arborists try to instill fear as a way of getting a large removal job. Call a certified arborist to help you preserve your trees.

2. Donít cut the tops off a tree [by pruning it severely and leaving bare branch stubs]. This can harm it, produce an unsightly deformed-looking tree, and cause many more problems a few years later when new growth comes in. [The only exception to this rule is the Bradford pear, which is prone to splitting due to its very brittle nature and weak branch attachments at the trunk.]

3. Donít allow anyone to climb a live tree with leg spikes. This is a poor work practice which shows lack of training. The holes left in a tree's trunk by spikes subject the tree you are trying to save to disease and insect pests.

Tree Death Due to Drought Stress

A treeís natural defenses are greatly weakened when there is a decrease in its water supply. This summer has been unusually dry, and some mature trees are suffering beyond their capacity to recover. Here are some signs which tell you whether a tree is in trouble.

1. Leaf density thinning out. Trees lose leaves as water supply to the canopy decreases. In severe cases, none of the leaves will grow the next year. This means you have a dead tree.

2. Leaves turning brown during the growing season. This is a bad sign and means one of two things: water is not getting to the leaves due to a lack of moisture; or borers have attacked the trunk region, clogging up the vascular system that transports water to the treetops.

3. Dead branches. Trees naturally shed lower branches that are not getting sunlight. Dead branches located near the top indicate a tree in decline.

4. Borer attack. Borers generally attack the trunk of a tree near the ground and leave fine sawdust particles as evidence that theyíre present. A borer attack requires immediate attention if the tree is to be saved.

Call a certified arborist for advice if you see any of these conditions. The faster you take action, the more chance you have of helping your trees survive.

There are some things you can do to help your tree during periods of drought. The most important is to apply a thick bed of mulch under your trees. Mulch retains moisture and provides nutrients. You can apply as much as three inches deep, but keep the mulch at least twelve inches from the trunk to discourage conditions for fungus growth. Use a soaker hose in extreme cases of dry soil; keep it at low pressure and let it drip (never spray in streams). Water all night, making sure you abide by watering restrictions. Dig down with a trowel to monitor water penetration. Your trees need at least four inches of moist soil. Your water bill will be higher, of course, but youíll have trees more likely to live through a prolonged dry spell.


Moss on Tree Trunks

With the reappearance of heavy rain storms in our area, some of the mosses that occur naturally on tree trunks are turning green. Some people confuse moss and lichen growth with harmful decay indicators like conks and mushrooms. Call a certified arborist to look at your trees if you donít know the difference. Ask questions! Youíll learn a lot from a professional. Donít forget to take notes.

If youíre worried about trunk or root decay, ask about having your tree drilled with a Resistograph, a non-invasive way to accurately locate and quantify a treeís loss of strength. This will give you peace of mind and/or tell you whether further action is needed.

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