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+


Trees Need Clearance From Utilities

30320thumbPalm trunks grow in only one direction; upward, toward sunlight and away from gravity. Each trunk is equipped with only a single terminal bud. If that bud encounters an obstacle, it can not be pruned around it. Palm trunks that get get too close to high voltage cables, or that might sway too close with a breeze, must therefore be removed to maintain minimal clearance from the cables.

Queen palms are notorious for getting planted under high voltage cables because they are so often impulse purchases that get planted without much planning. They are popularly planted along rear fences, exactly where high voltage cables are often located. Mexican fan palms often grow along rear fences as well because that is where birds and rodents are likely to drop the seeds.

Trees with single central leaders, like redwoods, spruces and certain pines, will be disfigured if their main trunks need to be topped for clearance from cables. Removal of such trees is often more practical than this sort of disfigurement. More extensively branched trees like sycamores, ashes, oaks and elms, are more adaptable to clearance pruning if it is not too severely disfiguring.

It is much simpler to not plant trees that get too large under high voltage cables. Elsewhere in the garden, where there is enough lateral (side) clearance, vertical clearance is not such a problem for larger trees. Small trees like redbud, purple leaf plum, photinia and various pittosporums, either do not get tall enough to reach upper cables, or will require only minimal pruning for clearance.

Below high voltage cables, the lower cables are for lower voltage, telephone and television. ‘House-drops’ are the cables that extend from utility poles to houses and other buildings. Although clearance is not so important for these lower risk cables, limbs that lean on them and blow around in wind can be abrasive. Sagging limbs can cause utility cables to sag more than they should.

Unfortunately, those who prune trees for utility clearance are efficient, but rarely arboriculturally correct.


P90309KThere are thousands of them, these weird motionless caterpillar like ‘things’, in big herds under all the cottonwood trees. They make a squishy mess in the rain, and stain concrete. They may not look like much from a distance, and are merely ignored as a minor nuisance that must be swept from pavement, but on closer inspection, they really look unworldly, like something from another planet, or a bad Japanese science fiction movie.
They are just male catkins of the native cottonwoods. At least I believe they are. If there are female flowers mixed in, I would not know it. Nor would I know if they really are from another planet. I know that the cottonwoods will later make quite a mess with their cottony fluff that carries their seed away on the wind, so they must do what it takes to generate seed, which generally involves flowers of both genders. I just never look that closely. Their privacy should be respected in such matters, even if they choose to do it out in the open. Those that dropped this . . . whatever it is . . . were doing . . . whatever they were doing . . . right out in the big lawn of Felton Covered Bridge Park!
Why must cottonwood trees bloom so profusely? They must know what they are doing. Maybe they expect most of their tiny seed to get eaten by small seed eating birds. Perhaps all but a few of their seed stay in the same riparian situations from which they came, or blow far enough away to land in other equally hospitable riparian situations. Otherwise, almost all land in situations that are too dry for them to survive long after spring. It is difficult to know what their potentially nefarious motives are.


60309It does not grow fast, but by the time it gets old, mayten, Maytenus boaria, might be tall enough to reach upstairs eaves, and nearly as broad. The main trunk and limbs are nicely outfitted with uniformly checked grayish bark. Smaller stems are so very limber that it is a wonder that trees are able to gain any height at all. These stems arch gracefully, with their wiry tips hanging vertically.

Almost all modern maytens are of the cultivar ‘Green Showers’, which has slightly larger leaves. Yet, the evergreen leaves are so small that it is not easy to discern much difference from the slightly yellower leaves of older trees. Ironically, older trees seem to be more resilient. Newer trees seem to be more sensitive to rot if watered too frequently, particularly if soil does not drain adequately.

Pruning and grooming is not as simple as it might seem to be from the outside. If the very pendulous stems around the edges get cut like bangs, bunched stems accumulate and lose their softly pendulous texture. They need to be thinned too, so that they can hang more softly. Dead stems should be groomed from within. Main stems are not likely to regenerate if cut back too severely.

Horridculture – Ivy League

P90306English ivy, Hedera helix, is probably the nastiest and most aggressively invasive exotic species that I work with. It climbs high into redwood trees and overwhelms understory plants (that live below the trees). It invades many of the landscapes, and worst of all, it climbs building where it ruins paint and causes rot. It grows faster than we can keep up with it.

English ivy is actually a nice ground cover plant for refined landscapes. I grew it at my home in town. Contrary to popular belief, it does not root into and parasitize the trees that it climbs. Actually, it rarely overwhelms and shades out large trees. It prefers to keep them alive for support, from which it disperses its seed. However, it does promote decay in the trunks that it climbs, particularly where it retains moisture at ground level. Native trees are not accustomed to that.

We try to remove as much English ivy at work as possible, which includes removing it from trees and buildings. So far, with a few exceptions of small bits of ivy that broke off high in the trees that it climbed, I have been able to remove all ivy from the trees and walls that I have worked on.

Others were not so fortunate. When quick and efficient removal of ivy from the bases of as many mature trees as possible is the priority, ivy is more often severed down low, and left to die on the trunks of the infested trees. It looks shabby to say the least, and takes many years to deteriorate and fall away. In the picture above, dead ivy that was severed within the past few years is already being replaced by new ivy, which will also need to be severed.

The same technique happens with ivy on buildings. It gets cut at the foundations, but left on the walls to shrivel and turn brown. The dead ivy in the picture below was reaching upstairs eaves when it was severed, and remains there a few years later.

What annoys me so much about this technique is that it does not take much extra effort or time to tug quite most of the lower ivy from trees and walls. For most situations, all ivy can be dislodged, although tiny aerial roots remain. It is much easier to dislodge while fresh than after it is dried and crispy.P90306+

Redwoods Are Family Oriented

P90223KCoastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, are remarkable stable trees. They rarely fall, which is how they get to be thousands of years old. They prefer to live in groups, where they mesh their roots together, and shelter each other from wind. Those that live outside of a group stay shorter than forest trees, and typically develop multiple trunks that function as a group.

However, they are also remarkably weak in regard to their structural integrity. Limbs are easily broken away from their vertical trunks by wind. Snow, which is rare within their natural range, causes significantly more damage than wind, which is probably why their natural range does not extend into snowy climates. Trees with co-dominant leaders (double trunks that divide from single trunks above grade) have potential to split at the union of the double trunks. Such unions are typically at such acute angles, that the trunks press against each other rather than fuse together through impenetrable compressed bark.

Leaning redwoods such as these that were shown earlier this morning, are potentially hazardous, not because they are likely to fall over, but because they might be likely to break. The trunks are designed to support weight vertically. The asymmetrical distribution of weight supported by these two trunks exerts inordinate lateral tension on the trunks. To make matters worse, the trunk to the left is divided into two co-dominant leaders, although the union does not appear to be at a typically acute angle. (The lower trunk is now behaving more as a big limb than as a secondary trunk.)

I would guess that these two trees are genetically identical trunks from the same root system. Such seemingly pliable trunk structure is uncommon, and it is very unlikely that two such similar trees would just coincidentally appear within such minimal proximity to each other. Redwoods often develop multiple trunks from the same root system, particularly as they regenerate after harvest.

The good news is that these two trunks have survived like this long enough to develop ‘reaction’ wood, which is just like it sounds; a bit of extra wood to compensate for compression on the inside of the bend. Also, they are sheltered from wind by the other redwood in the forest around them.


P90217Saint Joseph did not have it so good. He is still the most famous carpenter, and somehow got the most excellent city in the World named after him, but he did not work in a shop like this one. The most well outfitted carpentry shops back then lacked modern power tools, and the selection of woods that are now so easily imported from all over the World now.

The best lumber in this shop at the Conference Center (where I work in the landscapes part time) is actually not the exotic sort. Three very important timber crops, (coastal) redwood, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, happen to be native. A few of the larger of these trees that need to be removed get milled into lumber that gets used here.

Much of the lumber shown in this illustration is recycled from old buildings that were built from local lumber at a time when it was not so practical to import lumber to such a remote location. The rack on the back wall, at the center of the picture, contains old doors that are ready to be recycled. Flooring and moulding were made from native oaks, which are not the easiest to mill, but happened to be the most available. Nowadays, most of the lumber used here is procured from the lumber yard across the road, but it is neither of comparable quality, nor very interesting.

What is most interesting about the carpentry shop is not seen in the illustration above. There are a few on the Maintenance Crew who are proficient with structural carpentry, and one who is a finish carpenter. The finish carpenter is as proficient with carpentry as arborists are with trees that produce lumber. He is very familiar with all the various woods, and what they are useful for. It is his expertise that will ensure that the old recycled wood, as well as newly milled wood, will be utilized accordingly.

More of my bragging about the Maintenance Crew can be found at: .


60217Avocado trees, Persea americana, grown from seed need to be about five years old to produce fruit that can be considerably different from the fruit from which the seed was taken, although such fruit is almost always quite good. Some trees need to be twice as old to produce. Grafted trees from nurseries are specific varieties that can start to produce their specific fruit immediately.

Fruit production is notoriously variable. Some healthy trees may be unproductive for a few years, and then suddenly produce more fruit than the limbs can support. Trees that are very reliable and productive may sometimes be unproductive or significantly less productive for a season. It is nearly impossible to determine which environmental factors inhibited bloom and fruit development.

Mature trees can be more than forty feet tall, with awkward branch structure. The lush dark green leaves are about four to eight inches long. The tiny yellowish green flowers barely get noticed until they deteriorate and fall to the ground like corn meal. The dark green and pear shaped fruit is quite heavy. It develops on the tree, but then ripens after it falls or gets picked and brought inside.

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+

Greenhouse Envy

P90209KIf there were lawns and fences in this neighborhood, the grass would likely seem to be greener on the other side of the fence. In this situation, the greenhouse probably seemed to be more comfortable than being left out in the storm. This tall Douglas fir tree dropped in to find out. It did not go well. What remains can be seen in the middle of the picture above, just to the right of the fallen fir, and in the close up of the picture below.P90209K+
Miraculously, the two coastal redwood trees that caught and guided the fir to a direct hit on the greenhouse also prevented it from destroying the associated house. Well, at least the redwood on the left did. There would have been less damage if the fir had fallen farther to the right. Regardless, a deck was crushed, an eave was destroyed, but the rear wall of the home was barely nudged. Not even the windows there were broken!
Falling debris punched a few holes in the roof, but without structural damage. The patio of the big building to the right was littered with debris that was easily removed. After limbs are removed from the damaged house, much of the carcass of the fallen fir will remain on the forest floor. It decays efficiently here.
Incidentally, this fir was about to be removed. It had been identified as too risky for the neighborhood. Although they are not visible in the pictures, there are a few other homes in the neighborhood. The cabin that I stayed in for more than a week is just beyond where the top of the fir landed. The stovepipe that is visible in the background of the second of my ‘Six on Saturday – Cabin Fever’ pictures from January 5 is the same stove pipe that is visible on the roof of the home that was nearly destroyed by the fallen fir.
(The stove pipe circled by the yellow oval just above the center of the picture above is the same stove pipe circled by the yellow oval just right of the middle of the upper margin of the picture below.)P90209K+++