“111”? . . . “777”? . . . “TTT”? . . . “LLL”?

What does this mean? Is it ‘111’ deprived of the lower serifs? Is it ‘777’ with abbreviated arms? . . . ‘TTT’ lacking right arms? . . . ‘LLL’ with abbreviated legs? Is it pointing toward something important? Is a hieroglyph from an ancient language . . . or a language that has yet to be invented?! Is it like a miniature crop circle pattern cut into wood by Sasquatch or extraterrestrials?!

The arborist who left it here after cutting down the deceased ponderosa pine that formerly stood where this large stump remains might be amused to read that I contemplated it so intently. Actually, I did not really contemplate it so much. I only wrote about it as if I did because it is amusing to do so. I have no idea what this hieroglyph represents. I know that it is not important.

I have worked with enough respectable arborists to know that some of them prefer to leave their distinctive marks on the stumps of some of the impressively large trees that they cut down. In many of the suburban regions in which I work, most of such stumps get ground out shortly afterward. In the forested rural area here, such stumps remain until they rot and disintegrate.

On rare occasion, I encounter a familiar hieroglyph or the initials of a respected colleague. Now that we are as old as we are, familiar hieroglyphs are increasingly rare. Arboriculture is for the young. I sometime wonder about those who leave unfamiliar hieroglyphs. To me, the continuation of the tradition seems to indicate that they enjoy their work as much as my colleagues did.

That is important in horticultural industries. There are few in society who understand the appeal. We do what we do because it is what we enjoy.

Horticulture – It’s What I do.

Rhody, . . . because everyone loves Rhody, . . . and this is not about horticulture anyway.

This is not a misspelling of a misspelling. There is no misspelling of “Horticulture” in the title this week. “Horridculture” is typical of my rants on Wednesday. It is not the only deviation from the norm here. I included the contraction of “It’s” in the title. I have been trying to relax my otherwise objectionably uptight writing style; but a contraction in the title still makes me cringe.

Horridculture – It Is What I Do Not Do.” would be consistent with my style, but silly, and not so relevant to the subject matter. I am a horticulturist, arborist and garden columnist. I enjoy what I do very much, which is why I made a career of it. It is demanding work though, and does not afford much time for blogging. The quality of my blogging is consequently compromised.

I still work as many as three days weekly at a job that was supposed to be temporary two years ago! It is so excellent that I can not bear to leave, although I must eventually do so. It entails the maintenance of many acres of landscapes and forest at a Christian Conference Center. We have been unable to work for the past month, so will be busier than typical as we resume work.

Mondays and Tuesdays are my days for writing my weekly gardening column. I should probably retire from this work, but enjoy it so much, and would prefer to instead expand it into other publications to fill in the gaps between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I do intend to simplify this writing, even if expanding it; so that I can do it all on Mondays like I used to not so long ago.

For more than the past two years, I have not inspected trees or landscapes for other arborists or landscape professions. There just is not sufficient time! I do miss that work, and composing reports for those who dislike writing. (Arborists and landscape professionals who enjoy their trees and landscapes innately dislike writing.) If I ever resume such work, it will be only rarely.

I intend to eventually return to the farm where I belong, and resume production of horticultural commodities. As much as I enjoy the rest of what I do, growing things is what I do naturally. It is why my ‘temporary’ job was supposed to be ‘temporary’ two years ago. It will involve even more demanding work than what I already can not keep up with, but it is what I need to do.

Therefore, I will have even less time to devote to blogging. I intend to continue to post my brief weekly gardening column in two parts on Mondays and Tuesdays, as well as old articles from the same gardening column in two parts on Thursdays and Fridays. I would also like to continue with Six on Saturday and other brief posts for Saturdays at noon, Sundays and Wednesdays.

I write for my gardening column weekly regardless of the blog. Old articles from the column are already written. Only new posts for Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays need to be written separately; so some or all will be omitted if necessary. What I must discontinue now is my involvement with the many compelling blogs that I have been following for the past many months.

I will not stop following any of the blogs that I presently follow. I will just not be able to read all of the posts, or interact with them like I had been. For me, it will be quite a weird adjustment. I feel obligated to read much of what others post into blogs that I follow. If someone puts effort into positing it, then it must be important. I certainly enjoy how others interact with my blog.

I certainly do not want anyone to think that I lost interest in their respective blog. Many of them provide ideas for what I should write about within the context of my own weekly gardening column. Insight into horticulture in other climates, regions and even cultures has been fascinating. This is merely something that I must sacrifice in order to continue on with my own writing.

Horridculture – Skipping Ahead

January 17 is as far as I have gotten with the backlog of articles from blogs that I follow. I am now two and a half weeks behind schedule. Articles are old news by the time I see them. I have been trying to catch up for weeks or maybe months, but have instead been getting farther behind. The video above is from the article I posted back then. There has been no rain since then.

The video also looks like what I feel I am doing to that backlog of article while I skip ahead to current articles beginning with February 5. Flushing them like this seems so negligent. I feel so obligated to read the articles of blogs that I follow. That is why I follow them. However, if I do not flush the backlog, articles that are current now will also be old news by the time I get them.

I have been reading some of these blogs so regularly that those who write them sometimes include notes to me within the contexts of their articles. Sometimes they comment on something that they think I would be particularly interested in. Sometimes they ask questions that they think I might know the answers to, or just ask for a bit of advice. Flushing all that is just wrong.

I have no choice. I have no time for it all. I write my brief gardening articles for more small newspapers than I can keep track of. I still work at a part-time and temporary job that involves maintenance of landscapes and small scale arboriculture because I can not bear to leave! I intend to eventually return to work at nursery production, but have been too overworked to do so.

Meanwhile, former clients and clients of former clients continue to contact me in need of services that I can no longer provide. I can find no one to refer them to for comparable services. All of the best arborists and horticulturists are retired, deceased or too busy (compensating for the lack of those of us who are retired or deceased) to accommodate more work. It is saddening.

On top of all that, I am supposed to be canning cedar trees and plugging sycamore cuttings for street trees in Los Angeles a few years from now . . . and maybe working in the garden?!?!

Pollarding Is Extreme Tree Pruning

Pollarded knuckles look like science fiction.

Most arborists insist that pollarding is horticulturally incorrect. However, most of us who pollard trees in our home gardens are not arborists. Pollarding is technically detrimentally disfiguring to trees. However, some trees that are naturally short lived can live much longer if pollarded properly. That is the trick; doing it properly. Pollarding is certainly a distinctive pruning style that is not for everyone, but can be both practical and sustainable in certain situations.

Pollarding is an extreme pruning technique that involves the removal of all or almost all of the stems that grew since the last time the technique was done. The new growth gets cut back cleanly to distended ‘knuckles’ that develop at the ends of the original stems. Traditionally, one or two strategically aimed stubs from the removed new growth are left on each knuckle to form a new knuckle a bit beyond knuckles of the previous year. Locally though, stubs are typically omitted.

New growth must get cut back cleanly so that the wounds can get compartmentalized (healed over) as efficiently as possibly. Stubs interfere with this process. If one or two stubs are left on knuckles to form new knuckles, they should be long enough to get some distance from the original stubs, but short enough to not be too awkward. Knuckles should not get cut off! Such large wounds do not compartmentalize fast enough to avoid rotting.

Pollarding can only be done in winter, both because plants are dormant, and also because the weather is not so dangerous. New growth starts to shade exposed bark before it gets scalded by intensifying sunlight and heat in summer. Once they come out of dormancy, plants would be seriously distressed by such severe pruning. Because new growth is so vigorous after pollarding, it can become sloppy if pollarded less than annually. Some plants that grow slowly or produce stout stems may get pollarded less frequently.

London plane (sycamore) and fruitless mulberry are the most commonly pollarded trees. Silver maple, silk tree and various elms, willows and poplars adapt well to pollarding as well. Locust and purple leaf plum can be pollarded, but will be deprived of bloom. Bottlebrush can bloom later in the same year after getting pollarded, and probably will not need annual pollarding anyway. Pollarded bay trees can be kept small, and will provide better herbal foliage. Certain eucalyptus can be kept juvenile if their juvenile foliage is more appealing than their adult foliage.

Horridculture – Tree Preservation Ordinances

Padding should protect these London plane street trees from minor altercations with machinery that will be used to demolish the associated buildings and construct new buildings.

Much of my work involves inspection of trees to assess health, stability and structural integrity, and subsequent composition of associated arborist’s reports to document such assessments. These reports are necessary for the issuance of permits to remove mature trees within many municipalities. They are only effective for that purpose if they recommend and justify removal.

If there is nothing wrong with the health, stability or structural integrity of subject trees, removal might be justified for other reasons. For example, the removal of superfluous trees might be justified if it would promote healthier development of remaining trees. Trees that disperse roots that are beginning to damage adjacent infrastructure might likewise need to be removed.

It seems like it is too much to be concerned with for something that property owners should not need permission to remove from their own property. For what people pay for property here, they should be able to do whatever they want to with it. However, mature trees are considered to be assets to their respective Communities, and components of the collective urban forests.

These majorly and justifiably controversial concerns are actually not the the only difficulties associated with municipal tree preservation ordinances.

While a young coast live oak in the extreme corner of my garden was not quite big enough to require a permit for removal, I asked the next door neighbor if he would like it to be removed before the roots damaged his driveway. I explained that if we waited any longer, the tree would be protected, and that a permit to remove such an exemplary tree would not likely be issued.

Tree preservation ordinances are often the motivating factor for the removal of trees before they get big enough to be protected! I was fortunate that my neighbor wanted my oak to stay.

Six on Saturday: Tree Removal


The forest is constantly producing trees faster than we can cut them down. Even if we were not too busy with our many other tasks, we are not equipped to safely remove all of the large trees that become hazardous as they mature. Therefore, a crew who is so equipped is sometimes hired, and was here just this last week to remove several locusts, a few bays and a live oak.

1. The 80s are over. Someone painted this water pipe like this so that a crew cutting trees down nearby would not drop anything on it. The crew would have just put an orange cone over it.P91109

2. I was much younger and healthier back in the summer of 1988, when I did an internship with some of the most excellent arborists in the Santa Clara Valley, but I never climbed like this.P91109+

3. These trees are not much more than eighty feet tall, but needed to be parted out over those roofs. They are less than forty years old, from the 1980s or so. The arborist is in the middle.P91109++

4. Locust is unpopular firewood. These locust trees were therefore cut into logs less than seven feet (or 84 inches) long to fit into a pickup for removal, but were then instead chipped on site.P91109+++

5. This structurally deficient oak will eventually need to be removed. For now, it is groomed and lightened for winter storms. It was a nice day at the time, with temperatures in the low 80s.P91109++++

6. Mature bay trees develop distended lignotubers. The trunk of this bay tree was significantly narrower just two feet above this stump. The tree was not much more than eighty years old.P91109+++++

This is the link for Six on Saturday, for anyone else who would like to participate:


Arborists Maintain The Big Trees

91106thumbThe trees know what time of year it is. Even evergreen trees have shed some of their older foliage through late summer. Deciduous trees generally start later, but will be more blatant about their process as they defoliate completely through autumn to winter. Some get strikingly colorful first, as if to brag about it. Foliage is not so important during shorter days and dimmed sunlight anyway.

By the time storms start to arrive later in autumn, trees intend to be ready. There will be less foliage to be blown by wind, or to absorb the weight of the rain. Remaining deciduous foliage is likely to be dislodged by wind and rain before supporting limbs succumb. Trees will be mostly dormant, so will not mind so much if a few minor limbs do happen to get broken. They know their routine.

For many types of trees, this is a the best season for major pruning. While dormant, they are much less likely to be offended by it. In fact, they sort of expect to wake up in spring with a few limbs missing. They do not distinguish what was pruned away from what might have been broken by the weather. Besides, it is better to prune questionable limbs civilly, before they get broken brutally.

Trees that are beyond reach will need the attention of professional arborists.

Arboriculture is merely the horticulture of trees. An arborist is therefore a horticulturist who specializes in trees. They assess the health, stability and structural integrity of trees, and prescribe any necessary arboricultural procedures. They or their associated crews are qualified to perform the work that the trees need. The most proficient of arborists are those who are certified with the ISA.

The ISA is the International Society of Arboriculture. ISA Certified Arborists have passed an examination of their arboricultural expertise, and maintain their credentials by continued involvement with ISA educational seminars, classes and workshops. Information about the International Society of Arboriculture and local certified arborists can be found at their website, www.isa-arbor.com.

Arborists’ View

P91026KArborists see trees very differently from how most of us see them. They know their trees very intimately, and by botanical name. Arborists know how big particular trees get, both tall and wide, and if they are likely to develop structural deficiency or aggressive roots. They can tell us which are deciduous, which are evergreen, and which are messy with foliage, bloom or fruit.

Some arborists are happy to divulge a bit of history of some trees, whether exotic or native. They might tell us where the exotic trees came from, and why they were imported. Some trees were brought for timber. Some were brought for fuel. Some were imported just because they were pretty. Some naturalized, and now impose on the natural ecosystem. Natives try to adapt.

Since they know the innate characteristics of trees, arborists know what their cultural preferences are. They know that some are understory trees that prefer the company of other bigger trees. Many others are those bigger trees, that want to dominate their respective landscapes. Some want plenty of water. Many of the natives do not want much more than annual rainfall.

An arborist might provide you with way more information than you ever thought you wanted about your seemingly innocuous trees.

Besides all that, arborists are a weird breed that really enjoy their work. Arborists like me simply enjoy diagnosing problems with trees, and prescribing corrective arboricultural procedures. Those who climb trees to execute such procedures are much more involved! Their work is as demanding as extreme sports, and they take it very seriously. They must. It is their profession.

This view of a big box elder, Acer negundo, from above, which I got from the edge of a bridge, might be that of just another day at the office for other arborists.

Horridculture – PPE

P91002Personal Protective Equipment. That is what PPE is for. Acronyms can be so vague. PPE could be for Purple People Eater for all we know. That movie just happened to be released to cinema at the end of 1988, just a few months after my summer internship with an exemplary crew of arborists who instructed be about the importance of PPE. I am glad to have missed the movie.

In 1988, the machinery used by arborists as well as lumberjacks was more dangerous, and PPE was more primitive. Hearing protection was only beginning to be standardized. Many of us were not even using it back then, even though the chippers were terrifyingly loud. For some of us, cheap sunglasses sufficed as eye protection. Chaps had been available, but were quite rare.

From the beginnings of their respective careers, younger arborists and lumberjacks learn to use safer machinery and standardized PPE that was still being developed in 1988. Nonetheless, their work is potentially very dangerous. They still work with machines that are designed cut cut down big trees and shred the resulting debris! PPE is just as important now as it ever was.

A notable lack of some of most basic of PPE at a local Lumberjack Contest was difficult to ignore. Even PPE that was unnecessary would have been appropriate for demonstration purposes.

In this picture, a few items of PPE are in order. Chaps were appropriate for bucking, and more than I had access to back in 1988. Boots, which can not be seen in this picture, were adequate. Stylish sunglasses that are also obscured, were likely rated as sufficient for eye protection. There is no need to tuck the shirt in for bucking logs that are stripped of branches that might snag.

What is lacking? Gloves, even for those who do not wear them at work, would have been proper attire for this contest. A hard hat, which is for protection from falling debris, could potentially deflect a kickbacked saw. Hearing protection might have been unnecessary with the fancy and remarkably efficient muffler on this saw; but I actually do not know, (and I saw no earplugs).


P90901It has been almost a month since one of three small but sculptural and very prominent coast live oaks at work was destabilized by . . . well, children. They were climbing on it, as most good children should do. There were a few of them; and the tree is old and deteriorating. All three of the trees actually grew from the same rotten stump of a tree that was cut down decades ago.

I wrote about it at ‘Six on Saturday – Do Not Sit On Tree‘. The title will make more sense if you read about it.

To salvage the tree, I pruned off as much of the foliar canopy as possible. This eliminated some of the weight that the trunk needs to support, as well as decreased some of the resistance to wind, which exerts leverage against the compromised root system when wind blows. Sawhorses were placed under the trunk, and one of the others, to prevent them from sagging any lower.

Props that were fabricated to be more permanent then the sawhorses were installed last week. They do not actually support or even touch the trunks, but are there to prevent the trunks from sagging any lower. If the trunks start to lean on the props, I will prune a bit more weight off. If that doesn’t work, the props can be moved a bit farther out, where the trunk are higher.

Hopefully, the old root system of the destabilized tree was not so severely damaged that it can not recover. If it does recover, and the trunk is not supported by the new prop, the tree will need to eventually regain stability. It will be a tediously slow process. Because the trees are already so mature and disfigured, the props will likely never be removed, regardless of recovery.

The first picture above show the destabilized tree outfitted with a new prop. The second picture below shows the other tree that was outfitted with a new prop just because it is so likely to become destabilized.