January 30, 2020

Tree Selection According to the Tree Experts

I believe an introduction may be in order. My name is Charles Batey. I am the owner of Valley and Ridge Tree Care. Before I got into tree work, I studied environmental science in college, and worked as a field botanist for the National Park Service. After coming home to Tennessee, I got started cutting trees and found that pruning was by far my preferred approach. That’s why to this day as a salesman, I try to provide a pruning-based solution to my client’s tree problem whenever possible. And let me tell you, I’ve got some pretty creative, and effective, solutions in lieu of removal.

The Road to ISA Certified Arborist

Tree Service owner, works as botanist for NPS, North Cascades, documenting trees, tree expert in training
Our tree expert in training, here we see Charles in 2016, working in North Cascades National Park, documenting trees and plant communities.

Now that we have that brief introduction out of the way (if you want to know more of my story, check out the about us section of the website), I want to invite you to share in a new journey I am undertaking. I am currently studying for my ISA Certified Arborist exam. If you don’t already know, this is the gold standard of education and training in the tree care industry. I had the good fortune of training under ISA Certified Arborists before I started my own company, and Valley and Ridge Tree Care has always conformed to the ISA standards, but it’s high time to make it official.

As I undertake various study topics, I’ll take the time to share my personal experience with these topics, new things I’ve learned, as well as the occasional challenging question/food for thought.

Choosing the Wrong Spot When Planting Trees

An example of utility tree service work. The trees are cut off on one side to allow unimpeded power line access
An example of utility tree service pruning. In this case, the 10 foot clearance included an entire side of the trees. They're seemingly still healthy but obviously lopsided.

The first topic on our agenda is tree selection. If you get this one right the first time, you can save a bundle of trouble down the line. For example, I’m sure you’ve seen those bizarre shaped trees sitting under power lines. Utility pruning has a very specific agenda, keep the lights on, and no individual tree is allowed to impede that. A typical prescription for neighborhood transmission lines is 10 feet clearance. But if the tree was planted directly under the line, that 10 feet is going to have to come out of the main stem. Imagine the inverse of a mohawk and you’ll get the picture as to why this is pretty much always a bad haircut.

Another example of utility tree service work. This time the tree cutting went right through the middle.
More utility tree service pruning. This time we see they went straight down the middle, giving the tree the "inverse mohawk" haircut.

Here’s another one you may have seen. The Leyland Cypress is a popular tree for creating living fence-rows and other forms of property boundary or privacy barriers. It’s a fast-growing evergreen that has beautiful dark green foliage and long, gracefully bowing branches. But of course, there’s a catch, one that people often don’t fully appreciate until it’s too late. They’re one of the thirstiest trees you’ll find in the Southeastern US. In order to grow so big so fast, these trees must be sited in very good soil, or be watered regularly, especially during the hot, dry months of late summer. And if this isn’t done, the trees can die from drought stress almost before you notice. This isn’t to say these trees aren’t appropriate as a privacy screen, but just don’t expect them to be as maintenance free as a good, tall fence.

So, Where Would a Tree Service Plant My Trees?

You may notice in the examples above, that the problem in both situations was less about the tree and more about the site. Matching the tree to the site where it is growing is perhaps the most compelling reason to involve a professional tree company when planting or managing trees. It’s for exactly this reason that many municipalities now have urban forestry divisions and even long-term strategic plans for the development and maintenance of tree canopy within their city.

As a property owner, you may not have the same scope of responsibility, but the same principles hold true. With any residential or urban tree, a few questions need to be asked

What benefit do you get from your tree landscaping? Relaxing in the shade is a good one Tennesseans often enjoy.
Relaxing in the shade of mature tree landscaping is a classic pastime for Tennesseans.
  • What purpose does/will this tree serve?
    • Shade, privacy, wildlife habit, increased property value, fruit production, enjoyment of its beauty, etc.
  • How large does this tree grow?
  • Are there things in my yard/neighborhood that don’t play nicely with trees?
    • My roof, power lines, other trees, a city sidewalk, etc.
  • What is the soil like?
    • Compacted, clay, swampy, acidic, irrigated, etc.
  • How do I plan to use this space over the coming years?

Let’s run with that last question for our conclusion.

Plan Your Tree Landscaping for Long-term Payoff

When selecting any tree, perhaps the most important thing to consider is that it should be treated as an investment. Even short-lived tree species live longer than the average pet, and many species live far longer than humans. If you’re planting a new tree, the more attention you give the planning process up front, the fewer issues you can expect to have down the line.

Even if you aren’t planting any new trees, but just trying to figure out how to manage your existing trees, the lessons learned from the examples above can be very important. Periodic tree trimming or support cabling of species growing close to your house can eliminate damage to gutters and siding and severely reduce the chance of branch failure damaging your roof (check out the YouTube video below). Crown thinning pruning in the canopy of an established tree can increase light penetration to the ground and keep your lawn healthy.

Follow these simple instructions and you’ll be well on your way to tree expert.

  • Invest in your trees.
  • When planting a tree be purposeful and select the right tree for the site.
  • Maintain existing trees so they play nicely within their current siting.
  • Plan to enjoy your trees for the long-term.

If you have any questions, hop on over to our contact page and we'll happily set you up with a free consult to discuss your tree care needs.

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