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,

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.


Arborists Are Modern Tree Surgeons

90724thumbThe terminology has certainly changed over the years. Not many of us remember what tree surgeons were, or that there were actually a few different kinds of tree surgeons, who performed very distinct tasks. Tree surgeons are now known as ‘arborists’. Much of what they used to do is done by other types of horticultural professionals. The work that arborists still perform is ‘arboriculture’.

Back when orchards were still common in the Santa Clara Valley, Orange County, and many of the areas of California that are now urban, those who pruned deciduous fruit trees while dormant in winter were known as tree surgeons. Of course, they did other work that the trees needed through the rest of the year, and harvested fruit as well. They might be known as orchardists nowadays.

Tree surgeons also assembled new orchards, as well as individual trees in home gardens. It used to be standard procedure to install the understock of fruit trees in the first winter, and let it grow through the following year. A tree surgeon would return while it was dormant the following winter, to graft desired scions onto it. This is now done by nurserymen in nurseries that sell finished trees.

The tree surgeons who we now know as arborists are, of course, still important. The tree surgery that we now know as arboriculture is the sort or work that other horticultural professionals are not qualified or able to perform. It involves the biggest of trees that are out of reach from the ground, or even from ladders. There are still a few different kinds of arborists, but most must climb trees.

Arboriculture is the horticulture of trees. Arborists are therefore horticulturists of trees. Those who are certified with the International Society of Arboriculture, or ISA, have passed an examination of their arboricultural expertise, and maintain their credential by continued involvement with the educational seminars, classes and workshops of the ISA. Arborist can assess the health, stability and structural integrity of trees, and prescribe and supervise necessary corrective arboricultural procedures.

Horridculture – Tree Removal Permits

P90703There are mixed emotions about tree removal permits that so many municipalities need to issue in order for a ‘heritage’ tree to be cut down legally. Most of us want to believe that in America, we have certain rights to do what we want to on the properties that we own. Obviously, that makes the most sense. However, if it were that simple, many more prominent trees that are collective assets to the larger communities would be removed.
As an arborist who writes the reports needed to procure these permits, I see it both ways. There are many trees that are worth preserving for the Community, and there are probably many more that must be removed for the safety of those who live around them.
I sometimes hear of common homeowners who get fined for removing a tree without a permit, just because they were not aware that it was protected by an ordnance. Most have lived in their homes longer than such ordinances existed. Most planted the tree that they were fined for removing.
Conversely, I also hear about developers who just remove whatever trees get in the way of their developments, and then just pay the necessary fines. It is nothing to them because they make so much money from the development.
The picture above is a site that one of my former employers worked on just before I left my job because it was too morally challenging. You can see that there are no significant trees. The tree crew removed all of them.
I was not aware of it of course. The Home Owners Association did not want to pay for my inspections and reports, or for the permits to remove all the big sycamores in the front gardens there. Nor did they want to replace the removed trees with something more proportionate, as the local municipality would have required. They were not worried about getting caught, since everyone there wanted the trees gone.
Now realistically, I would have had no problem writing reports recommending the removal of all the trees, because they were ridiculously disproportionate to their particular application. You can see how tiny the front gardens are. It was just easier and less expensive to cut the trees down illegally, and then not be required to replace them with trees that would have later died ‘accidentally’ anyway. (The tree crew excelled at that too.)
In the end, it is disgraceful that the trees that were required as a contingency when the site was developed years earlier are now completely gone, and will not be replaced, . . . and that no one seems to care.

Spontaneous Limb Failure Is Real

90605thumbIt sounds like science fiction, but it is not. Every spring and during particular summer weather, limbs can fall from trees without warning, and seemingly for no reason at all. It happens when least expected, while the weather is warm and perhaps humid, but notably without wind. The lack of wind is what makes it so unexpected. It is a phenomenon known simply as spontaneous limb failure.

Those who witness it might think that the arborists they call to clean up the mess will not believe their descriptions of what happened. Yet, arborists are familiar with it. Quite a few species of trees are notorious for it, especially in urban landscapes where they get watered regularly. Most of such trees are either chaparral trees that do not expect much water, or riparian trees that do expect it.

Spontaneous limb failure occurs as warmth accelerates vascular activity, but humidity inhibits evapotranspiration, which is evaporation from the foliage. Accelerated vascular activity increases the weight of the foliage. Inhibition of evapotranspiration limits the ability of the foliage to eliminate some of the excess weight. Limbs break if unable to support the increasing weight of the foliage.

Spontaneous limb failure is not as easy to predict as the more familiar sort of limb failure that is caused by wind. Limbs that get blown down typically exhibit some sort of structural deficiency or disfigurement prior to failure. Some limbs that succumb to spontaneous limb failure do so as well, but most do not. They just happen to be the healthiest and most densely foliated parts of a tree.

Native coast live oak and valley oak are the two most familiar of the chaparral trees that are notorious for spontaneous limb failure. Native cottonwood, willow, box elder and sycamore are riparian trees that are perhaps even more susceptible to spontaneous limb failure. Sweetgum, carob, stone pine and various eucalypti are some of the exotic trees that might drop limbs spontaneously.

In summer, spontaneous limb failure is less likely as growth slows and limbs strengthen.

The Davey Tree

P90317This is no common Douglas fir. It is the ‘Davey Tree’, named after the tree service that so diligently prunes it for clearance from the utility cables above. Yes, I can see as easily as you can how disfigured it is. The plan is to cut it down before it falls apart. At least that is the excuse for cutting it down. It is relatively short an stout, so is likely quite able to support its own weight, regardless of this disfigurement. We really just want it gone because it is so unsightly.
Most who see the Davey Tree are quick to blame the disfigurement on those who prune it for clearance. They do not consider that without such pruning, the utility cables would eventually be ruined and unable to deliver the electricity that so many of us use. Those who prune the trees do what they must to keep the electricity and other utility cables operational. Unfortunately, such work sometimes ruins trees.
As an arborist who sometimes works with other arborists who must perform clearance pruning, I am more likely to blame other landscape professionals. Some landscape designers design landscapes with trees that get too tall or broad within utility easements. Heck, many designers do not even designate where such easements are on the drafts of their landscape plans. Some so-called ‘gardeners’ plant such trees in utility easements with no plan at all. For what they all charge for their services, landscape professionals should know better than to put inappropriate trees into situations where they will eventually need to be mutilated or removed. Not many think that far ahead, or even care.
Anyway, the inappropriate location and disfigurement of the Davey Tree really can not be blamed on anyone. It is a wild tree that grew there from seed.P90317+

Horridculture – Cruel and Unusual Punishment

P90213This landscape is nothing fancy. It is out in front of a fast food establishment on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz. It is low maintenance, and starkly simple. It would be nice if the so-called ‘gardeners’ would cut back the African iris and English lavender a bit better, but they may have left them like this so that they are less likely to get trampled. The colored chips get replenished regularly, and the trash gets harvested quite efficiently. As I said, it is nothing fancy. The only remarkable feature had been this exemplary crape myrtle in the middle.
Only a few weeks ago, it was a perfect small specimen. Even though it is still quite dinky, the main stems were all at good angles, well spaced and aimed in the right directions. None of the stems were crossing over others, damaged or otherwise misshapen.
I can not explain what happened here since then. Are the so-called ‘gardeners’ trying to make more work for themselves by causing problems that will likely need their attention in the future? Do they just hate their work as much as this abuse implies? Is it possible that someone really believes that ‘this’ is somehow beneficial to the victim?
Each of the two fence stakes is sufficient to support a small tree, if such a tree needs it. If a tree, or in this case, a multi-trunked tree, does not need support, it should not be supported. Otherwise, it becomes reliant on the support. Besides that, these are fence stakes that are designed to be somewhat permanent. Now that they are there, they will probably be there forever. So-called ‘gardeners’ who do this sort of thing are not the sort to remove stakes.
The nylon straps are not flexible to accommodate the expansion of the stems they are tied around. If not removed, they will constrict, or ‘girdle’, the growing stems. What exactly are the straps doing anyway? The two closest to the bottom are tied to one stake, and pass the other to reach the respective stems that they are tied to, rather than tied between each of the two stems and the stake that it is closest to.
Someone certainly put a lot of effort into a whole lot of uselessness that will interfere with the healthy development of this formerly exemplary crape myrtle. Yet, with all this effort, no one bothered to prune it, or even so much as deadhead it. Yes, those are deteriorated floral stems from last summer.P90213+