Tree Care Tips for the Tree of Life: Arborvitae (thuja occidentalis)

Arborvitaes are among the most popular trees to plant because of their numerous benefits, including their fast growth, tall heights, and year-round green foliage. In fact, arborvitae is a Latin form of the French phrase “l’abre de vie,” or “tree of life.” Arborvitaes prove this to be true through their versatility in tolerating a wide range of soils and climate conditions.

American-ArborvitaerowArborvitae trees are a great choice if you’re looking to install a windbreak or natural privacy fence. There are numerous varieties to choose from, including American Arborvitae, Emerald Arborvitae and Green Giant Arborvitae. If you’re looking for fast growth then you might lean toward the green giant arborvitae, growing three feet a year and reaching up to 50-60 feet in height at maturity. If you don’t mind the wait and prefer something with a narrower spread, then you’ll appreciate the uniformity of American arborvitae.

Despite being low-maintenance, arborvitaes still need some care. Here are a few tree care tips to foster the best growth for your arborvitae in its early years.

Environmental conditions for fast growth

Depending on the variety of arborvitae you select, you’ll want to be sure to plant trees approximately three feet apart to avoid root crowding and competition of nutrients and water; even trees don’t like to starve.

  • Arborvitaes do best in soil that is well drained but moist, rich and deep
  • pH of 6.0 (slightly acidic) to 8.0 (alkaline)
  • Full sun exposure is ideal, but they will grow in partial shade
  • Geographic regions with high humidity

Tree Pruning

green giant arborvitaeArborvitaes dense foliage provides sufficient privacy and at the same time are attractive additions to landscaping. Many arborvitaes take on a nice pyramid shape without pruning. If you must prune then limit it to once a year and keep the following in mind:

  • Prune in the fall or early winter, if pruned in the summer the tips of the pruned branches may turn brown
  • Never remove more than ¼ of a tree’s crown in a season
  • Ideally, main side branches should be at least 1/3 smaller than the diameter of the trunk

It may not be a sour idea to read Keys to Good Pruning just to be sure you’re not crippling them.

Potential threats

  • In times of drought, tree watering is important, but too much of a good thing can be bad so don’t overdo it (Proper Summer Watering of Trees has some helpful ideas)
  • Young landscape trees will need protection from deer in many areas, consider a Tubex tree shelter to keep wildlife away
  • Pest and Disease Problems: Bagworms are sometimes attracted to this species, but can be removed by hand in winter, or controlled with a biological pesticide
  • In forest or land development situations, large openings can lead to windthrow—trees uprooted or broken by wind— due to its shallow root system

Whichever selection you go with be sure to nurture your tree with proper care.

Check out additional Tree Care Tips & Techniques or share some in the comments below.

Protecting Trees From Lightning

sky lightning tree

Flickr | Doug Wertman

As we transition into summer we pay adieu to colder climates and prepare for vibrant home landscaping projects. While the colder months are behind us, there are still proactive measures we should uphold in maintaining healthy trees. Rainy season is upon us in different parts of the country and there are certain steps we can take in reducing damage to trees caused by lightning strikes. Bartlett Tree Experts reports that more than one million trees are struck by lightning every year.Trees are most vulnerable to lightning because of their tall heights, providing a pathway for positive charges from the ground to lead to the negative ions in thunderclouds and vice versa. Additionally, their tree sap and water serve as good conductors for lightning.

tree lightninig

Flickr | Micky

If a lightning strike doesn’t immediately kill a tree, then it may weaken it to the point that insect and disease do. Lightning strikes affect the biological functions of a tree. Along the path of the strike, sap boils, steam is generated and cells explode in the wood, leading to bark peeling. Not all is lost; if only one side of a tree is struck the chances of survival are good. If the strike passes through the tree trunk and has splintered bark or exploded wood, chances are the tree didn’t survive.

You can install a tree lightning protection system to minimize your trees being harmed. A lightning protection system is basically a copper cable line that runs along the tree, intercepting a lightning bolt and guiding it to the ground opposed to striking the tree.  It’s important to have it professionally installed to avoid doing more harm to the tree, or worse, collateral damage to the surrounding area.

tree lightning far away

Flickr | Spiros Bolos. A tree struck on one side by lightning

It may not be the most cost-effective route to install a lightning protection system to all your trees, especially if you’re living on acreage or have hundreds of trees on your property. Narrow your options down by selecting trees of historical significance, high value trees, or trees that are within 10 feet of a structure or with limbs overhanging the structure. If a tree within 10 feet of a home is struck, side-flashes (jumps) may pass to more conductive materials such as downspouts and other metal objects. Tall trees are the most susceptible, especially those growing alone in open areas such as on hills, in pastures, or near water, as well as certain species including tulip tree, oak, pine, and maple.

Installing a lightning protection system to trees is an investment, but the cost of installation is likely to be less than the repair or removal of a dead tree once it is struck. Check out our When a Storm Strikes bulletin to read up on other safety measures and steps to post-storm damage.

Peaches, cherries, and plums! Oh my!

Wouldn’t it be fun to pick fruit from your own trees at home? We have selected a variety of choices that are both delicious and add beauty to your landscape. Each selection grows in both a standard and dwarf sizes- suitable for many types of landscapes and gardens. Before planting, consult our fruit tree spacing guide to make sure you reap full benefits of your yummy fruit trees.

Golden-Jubilee-Peach_1-892The Golden jubilee peach tree begins to produce abundant yields of high-quality, tender and juicy fruit between ages 3-4. It survives colder climates better than other peaches and can be expected to grow in zones 5-8. This popular yellow freestone peach ripens around July, several weeks before Elberta peach trees. Scented pink blossoms appear in spring, adding a sweet bonus to your landscape.

Bing-Cherry_1-809America’s favorite cherry tree, bing cherry, produces sweet large fruit by the pound- as much as 50-100 lbs. per year. Excellent for fresh eating and preserves, the fruit ripens in mid-June to mid-summer. Its white spring blossoms also add beauty to your landscape in spring. Ideal for zone 5- 8.

Methley-Plum_1-907A cultivar of Japanese plum, Methley produces heavy, annual crops of sweet and juicy plums perfect for fresh eating or jelly. Sweetly fragrant white flowers bloom in early spring and fruit ripens in late May to mid-July. This tree is self-fertile and grows in zones 5-9.

Add flavor, color, and more beauty to your landscape by creating your home orchard. Be sure to read an earlier blog post for helpful steps before you begin planting! Visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree Nursery to find more variety of fruit trees, perfect for your landscape. Get a discount on all of your trees when you become an Arbor Day Foundation member.

August is Tree Check Month: Is your tree safe from Asian Long-horned Beetle?

Similar to undergoing an annual health physical or performing routine maintenance on your car, it’s important to carry out routine tree checks to maintain healthy trees. Trees are susceptible to pest infestation and disease, and if you neglect looking after them the result can be detrimental to the natural habitat. The latest outbreak is the Asian Long-horned Beetle, with reports from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Ohio. With August being Tree Check Month, we encourage you to check your trees for signs of Asian Long-horned Beetle (ALB).

7109590833_ac895c61e4[1]ALB was first detected in the United States in Brooklyn, New York in 1996. ALB is a large, bullet-shaped beetle with long antennae and elongated feet. Adult beetles emerge throughout the summer and early fall. Female beetles can lay up to 160 eggs in a 10-15 day time-span. When the eggs hatch the larvae tunnel into the tree and pupate. This disrupts the tree’s natural cycle of transpiration which results in the tree drying out and dying.

ALB is a serious threat to trees because once a tree is infested the only way of eliminating ALB is by destroying and removing the tree. Damage from infestations in New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts has resulted in the removal of tens of thousands of trees; not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars it has cost State and Federal governments in forestry management. This pest likes deciduous hardwood trees such as maple, birch, elm, poplar and several others. Once the beetle finds a healthy tree to nestle in it leaves its mark through dime-sized exit holes, shallow bark scars, and frass—sawdust-like material on the ground or tree branches.

A heavily infested maple tree with many exit holes.

Asian Long-horned Beetles eat through tree wood, leaving behind round exit holes.

There aren’t any effective treatments of preventing ALB, other than containment. It’s important to identify when a tree is infested because ALB spreads easily. While treatment applications or insecticides with the active ingredient imidacloprid may help protect non-infested trees and reduce ALB populations, it is not guaranteed to prevent trees from infestation. Even treated trees can fall victim to ALB.

You can help prevent the spread of ALB by burning firewood where you buy it—ALB can survive hidden in firewood— diversifying the type of trees you plant— especially if you’re in a quarantined area— conducting an annual tree check, allowing officials to survey your area, and reporting signs of tree damage or spotting beetles resembling ALB.

You might find our Help Stop Insect and Disease Invasions bulletin to be especially helpful during your August tree check. Check out this map to learn if your area is at risk of the ALB infestation.

Proper summer watering of trees

Summer has an intriguing way of luring in longer days, sunnier skies, and vibrant landscapes. For many, summer is a calming retreat after enduring what felt like an endless winter. Naturally, with heat waves we feel inclined to water our trees regularly, but it’s easy to get carried away and over-water. While we have suffered through drought conditions here in the Heartland, other areas have had to deal with heavy rainfall, even flooding. The following are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when watering your trees.

With differing climates and varying landscapes, it’s hard to quantify how much water trees need because irrigation will vary from one species to the next. Young trees and those transplanted will call for more water because they’re burning lots of energy establishing their roots in the soil.

Hose_deepwater[1]For young trees we encourage a deep-watering by running the hose over the root zone for about 30 seconds. The idea is to reach the full root depth and keep the soil damp, not soggy. Mature trees are best left to nature; unless you’re suffering from severe drought conditions, let your rainfall do the watering. Be cautious not to overwater, as it can drown the tree roots. If a puddle remains after watering then take it as a sign of too much watering. Other signs to look for include yellow leaves, usually starting on the lower branches, wilting, brittle green leaves, or fungus growing on soil surface. If your soil is wet and you notice any of these changes, you may be overwatering your trees.

Ooze-TubeGallons_1-885[1]A soil probe is helpful in learning how dry or saturated your soil is and can set the tone for watering frequency.You can also test soil moisture by hand. If a planting site is properly hydrated you should be able to compress the soil into a ball that will crumble when gently rolled between the palms of your hands. No need to dig deep, one to two and a half inches below ground level is sufficient in testing the moisture content.

Ooze tubes—an automated drip irrigation system— are another great method for controlling water time and ensuring your trees are receiving adequate water.

Mulching is a great practice to implement in tree care, especially if you’re dealing with drought conditions. Mulch retains water, helping to keep roots moist. DSC00575_000[1]Another tip to avoid drying out soil during times of drought is to stay away from commercial potting soils and fertilizers. Salts and other additives in fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro can cause root burn, adding additional stress to trees. Proper tree pruning improves limb stability and structure, and removes dead branches, which decreases tree tension and allows water to move where needed most in the tree.  Also, avoid digging holes in the ground as an effort to water deeply; it will only dry out the roots even more.

With your help, the season of sun can work in favor of your trees. You can read up on other great ways to save water in our How to Landscape to Save Water Tree City USA bulletin. What other tips do you practice in keeping trees appropriately watered during the summer season?

Your questions about fall planting answered!

 Is it better to plant in spring or fall?

Both seasons can be effective times to plant your trees and shrubs. A great benefit of planting treeplanting in the fall is that tree roots remain active throughout the winter, taking advantage of moisture from rain or snow. Trees planted during this season get a nice head start on establishing themselves in the spring through vigorous root elongation and a flush of twig growth. Keep in mind that some plants, such as blueberries, blackberries and grapes, have the best chance of growing up strong and healthy when planted in the spring.

What are some tips for planting in the fall?  

  • If you cannot plant immediately due to adverse weather conditions, you may store your trees for up to 5 days. If storing your trees for longer than 5 days please follow the instructions for Heeling in Your Trees.
  • Avoid planting your trees in pots, if possible.
  • When you plant in the fall, be sure to mulch with wood chips, straw or other material to reduce alternate freezing and thawing that can result in “frost heaving.”
  • Avoid using fertilizer, potting soil or root starter, as they may be detrimental to the health of your new trees.

I’m ordering natural root trees…are they watering image croppedok to plant this late in the season?

Planting trees in late fall is well worth some cold hands! To be sure that your trees arrive in a strong and healthy condition, nurseries will usually ship “natural root” or “bare root” stock only when it is dormant in the fall season. Trees will only go dormant after a few hard frosts, so it’s necessary to wait until then to be able to ship them safely.

But it’s cold! Are the trees able to survive the weather?

As long as a spade can be inserted into the ground, it is okay to plant the trees. In other words, you may plant your trees until the ground is completely frozen solid—so until you can safely ice skate or ice fish on your local lakes or ponds, planting your dormant trees is just fine.

What can I do to prepare for my trees’ arrival?

  • Pre-dig your holes now, so when your trees do arrive you are prepared to immediately get them in the ground.
  • Store the dirt you removed from the hole in a garage or tool shed where it will not get as cold. Left outside, it may harden and prove more difficult to work with once the time comes to plant.
  • mulchPre-purchase mulch, as some stores may not have as large of a mulch supply in their inventories as the season progresses—you want to make sure you’ve got plenty of mulch on hand for your newly planted trees once they arrive!

Happy planting!

(Note: If you live in Hardiness Zone 6, you may still order trees from the Arbor Day Tree Nursery until November 19. If you live in Zone 7, 8, or 9 you may order until November 26 and still receive your order this shipping season. Hardiness Zones 0-5 are currently being shipped.)

 

Urban Forestry Plan is Key to Weathering the Storm

Let’s face it: no one likes to think about natural disasters, with their potential for devastation of our homes, neighborhoods, communities, and livelihoods. We’ve shared on this blog before about some of the communities hit hardest in recent years by natural disasters, and told the inspiring stories of citizens returning hope and healing to the places they call home.

Even still, there’s simply no way around it. Natural disasters are a fact of life.

When a natural disaster strikes a community, trees are invariably involved and many

Photo credit: Urban Forest Strike Team.

Photo credit: Urban Forest Strike Team.

times on the losing end of the event. Using the framework of the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program, sound urban forestry management has proven essential to loss prevention and recovery of our treasured trees.

The scientific consensus is that climate change is occurring and that, in many cases, it is making natural disasters worse. Any planning to mitigate disasters should also include planning to reduce human-caused acceleration or magnification of climate change.

According to a survey by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nearly three-quarters of U.S. cities are now seeing environmental shifts that can be linked to climate change. More than 1,000 city leaders have signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement to strive to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol targets in their communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A healthy canopy of trees plays an important role in this effort. Trees need to be considered a vital part of every city’s infrastructure – right alongside the bridges, roads, sewers, electrical, and telecommunication grids – and appreciated for the natural workhorses that they are. For proof, one need not look further than the great role trees play in taming stormwater runoff during and immediately following natural disasters.

Sound urban forestry management through the framework of the Tree City USA program has been proven to be essential time and again. In fact, green infrastructure is the only part of a city’s infrastructure that actually increases in value and service over time.

Whether for preventative measures or recovery efforts, here are four key ideas your community needs for the best possible outcomes:

  • Communities with an established budget for tree care are in a better position than those that must compete for grants or appropriations. If your community is a recognized TreeCity USA, your community allocates the standard minimum of $2 per capita in a community forestry program.
  • Be prepared with an emergency management plan – and even better if it specifically includes a storm contingency plan. Unfortunately, it’s likely not a matter of IF you’ll need it, but rather WHEN you will.
  • Take time to “get it right” after a disaster. As in most things, it’s far better to move slowly with deliberate, well thought-out decisions and wise judgment than to rush into hasty action. This is particularly important when considering where reconstruction efforts will take place across a community and where trees should be replaced.
  • Lean on the expertise of your local tree board and their extensive list of contacts. These people will be an invaluable resource when it comes time to actually do the work of replanting trees.

For more information on best practices and ways your community can recover from natural disasters, see Tree City USA Bulletin #68.

Donate Now: Plant trees where they’re needed most.

 

Treating Trees: Good Advice from a Girl Scout

Here at the Arbor Day Foundation, we have members, advocates, and supporters from all walks of life, representing all corners of the globe, and encompassing all ages.

In part, that’s because the good work of planting and caring for trees spans all boundaries – physical, geographical, socio-economic, and many others.

And we love hearing from these advocates. They’re caring, passionate people who lead interesting lives and who have wonderful stories to tell.

This week, our Member Services team received an email from a young lady in Newark, New Jersey, named Victoria Ribeiro.

Girl ScoutsVictoria is a high school-aged girl scout who is working on earning a Gold Award, the highest award given by the Girl Scouts of America. All Gold Award projects must begin with identifying an issue about which the scout is passionate and end with educating and inspiring others on the topic.

Clearly, Victoria is passionate about trees, and we can honestly say we were inspired by her work. Her Gold Award project, an educational PowerPoint presentation entitled Treating Trees, “…seeks to educate the residents of the city of Newark so that they will be able to identify hazardous trees.”

A scene from a Newark, New Jersey, neighborhood following Hurricane Sandy. Ribeiro's presentation seeks to inform people of what to do with hazardous trees in their neighborhoods.

A scene from a Newark, New Jersey, neighborhood following Hurricane Sandy. Ribeiro’s presentation seeks to inform people of what to do with hazardous trees in their neighborhoods.

Victoria’s email continued: “I must make my project have a global/national impact. I looked at your website and saw that [the Arbor Day Foundation] didn’t really have any program that the residents of a city could help identify trees and make his/her community a better place to live. I am emailing you in the hopes that you may possibly create a program similar to mine to make other neighborhoods a safer and better place to live.”

Victoria, we commend you on your excellent presentation and how you’re helping to educate your fellow citizens on trees and tree care. We’re proud to share your work with others who can learn from it for greener, healthier neighborhoods — in Newark and beyond.

Thank you for sharing your passion for trees, and we wish you much succes on your way to earning the Gold Award.

Download your own copy of Victoria’s Treating Trees presentation.

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What to do about Wildfires: Prevention vs. Combat

As the 2013 fire season continues, the costs of fighting wildfires have continued to increase. In 2012, fires consumed 40 percent of the Forest Service’s annual budget, compared to only 13 percent in 1991. Many factors have created these rising costs through the years, including worsened drought conditions, continued climate change, and an increased number of homes built near forested areas. These escalating expenses are proving to be so costly, that they are leaving less money for wildfire prevention.

 

Forest Fires

Drought conditions, climate change, and homes in traditionally forested areas have all contributed to the rising costs of fighting wildfires.

Due to these heightened factors, for fiscal 2014, the federal administration has proposed drastic spending cuts to hazardous fuels reduction, or clearing smaller trees and underbrush through controlled cutting and burns. The idea behind hazardous fuels reduction is that by removing this underbrush, fires will have less fuel to spread rapidly and can then be controlled faster. Donald Smurthwaite, spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center states, “In a recent study by the Bureau of Land Management, when wildfires burned into fuels treatment areas, they were slowed or stopped about 90 percent of the time. With the decline in fuels funding, we’re worried that saving money today will mean larger and more destructive fires tomorrow.” Limited funding has decreased fire prevention for several years. In 2009, 4.5 million acres were treated to prevent wildfires, and under the proposed budgetary cuts, fewer than 2 million acres would be treated in 2014.While the proposed budget for fiscal 2014 would increase overall funding for wildfires, it would largely cut the hazardous fuels budgets for several agencies. In all, 41 percent of these budgets would fall, reducing the current funds of $502 million to $297 million.  This will be the third consecutive year the administration’s proposed budget includes spending cuts to forest treatment to prevent wildfires. Many of these cuts will greatly affect our tree partners — the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service.

As an organization of people that cares deeply about our nation’s forests and trees, the Arbor Day Foundation continues to challenge ourselves to better understand how to collaborate with our partners on the ground as they overcome these budgetary hurdles.  There simply isn’t funding available as there has been in decades past, and that is where our valued members, supporters, corporate donors and partners can help us to heighten our efforts to do more with less. They can help us to see new ways to partner with these groups, to create even more relevant programs, and to provide trees to those areas most in need. As we address each new challenge, we search for ways to better engage our loyal members and tree advocates to keep them involved in the good work our partners accomplish each year with our support.

With the help and generosity of our vast network of tree advocates, we will continue to foster our enduring 25-year partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. With their help, the Arbor Day Foundation will continue to bring new ideas surrounding education, conservation, and tree planting in wildfire-stricken areas.

Two ways you can take action now:
The Backyard Woods Program: Managing Forests Can Save Forests
Donate now to replant trees where they’re needed most

Data cited in this post sourced from NBC News.
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Abbie Eisenhart is a Community Tree Recovery Manager for the Arbor Day Foundation.

Project Blue River Rescue: Improving Kansas City’s Waterways

Every year for the past 20 years, hundreds of volunteers and city workers in metropolitan Kansas City come together in an effort known as Project Blue River Rescue. Their goal: to clean up piles of trash and illegal dumping out of the Blue River which flows through their city.

Blue River Rescue 2013

Kansas City-area boy scouts take to the Blue River to haul out debris as part of the Project Blue River Rescue 2013. Photo: PBRR Facebook.

Partnering with the Kansas City Public Works, the Missouri Department of Conservation and several local businesses and organizations, Project Blue River Rescue has grown to be Missouri’s largest, one-day conservation cleanup.

“Each year, volunteers have cleaned up thousands of pounds of trash, tires, appliances and even cars,” says Wendy Sangster, Urban Forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Blue River Rescue 2013

Volunteers remove several bags of trash and nuisance honeysuckle from the banks of the Blue River in metro Kansas City, as part of the Project Blue River Rescue 2013. Photo: PBRR Facebook.

More recently, Project Blue River Rescue has also focused on habitat restoration along the river. In April 2013, a group of 20 volunteers organized by the Heartland Tree Alliance, a branch of Bridging the Gap, planted 500 tree seedlings along the Blue River near a baseball complex in southern Kansas City. The seedlings included native species — burr oak, sycamore, pecan and shellbark hickory — all which would have normally grown along the Blue River. Volunteers also worked to remove invasive honeysuckle plants along the waterway to ensure the growth of these new seedlings.

Sangster firmly believes in the longevity of this project and the positive impact it has on the local community. By getting community members involved in the planting, she feels it instills a connection to nature and provides a foundation for advancing environmental stewardship in the greater Kansas City area.

“If a volunteer can do the physical, hard work of planting a tree,” Sangster says, “they are more likely to become ambassadors and tree stewards in their own communities.”
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Mary Sweeney is a program manager at the Arbor Day Foundation.