The quality of a tree is only as good as it’s environment.
As long as a tree has access to sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and nutrients it will survive (Figures 1, 2 & 3). “This famous tree seems to sprout from solid rock. It is preserved between the east and west lanes of Interstate-80 between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming. The lone pine tree has been fascinating travelers since the first railroad passed through in 1867.”
The limber pine tree in these photos is over 150 years old according to photographs and records taken from before Wyoming Territory was granted statehood in 1890. While the tree has survived, it is unlikely anyone would consider a tree with this limited aesthetic character a highlight in their landscape.
All things considered, if this tree was growing in an irrigated yard with a sandy loam soil and plenty of organic matter it would be significantly larger and probably a lot fuller. People would probably look at it as a specimen tree. But, the question is which one of the trees is healthier.
Ecologists would say that the limber pine in the rock is healthy, because it is growing within the “constraints” of its environment. Landscapers would say the tree in the irrigated landscape is healthier because it is living up to its full aesthetic potential. So, tree health can best be summed up as “Is your tree living up to the potential you want to see in your landscape?”
Creating the environment
During the design phase of landscapes, as arborists, we can look at all the plans and provide a real-world perspective on how “a tree” will respond to the conditions the designers are creating. At this stage, changes in the designs, or in the tree species being discussed, can be made to help trees “thrive” and not just survive. We know trees, we don’t pretend to know design, but we are an asset in the design process.
In addition to providing perspective on the trees, we also provide specifications for tree selection and planting site preparation that are above those traditionally utilized by designers. The sciences of arboriculture and urban forestry are in the forefront of discovering new procedures and technologies that will help trees thrive in urban landscapes. Eventually these “systems” trickle down to designers and installers, but you can be assured that every professional arborist is up on the latest research in tree health.
Another place where arborists can assist is at the time of planting. Good designs and specifications are only good if they are followed by the installer. As arborists, the worst thing we can tell a client is that their tree is dying due to something that wasn’t done correctly at planting. Something as simple as planting trees too deep or not removing the twine from around the root ball of a balled and burlapped tree can kill trees that have been in the ground for several years. Having an arborist on site at time of installation to make sure everything is done properly is cheap insurance for the long-term investment in a healthy landscape.
Modifying the environment
In many cases, arborists are not called in until there are obvious problems of tree decline in the landscape. The decline is invariably linked to some restriction in the environment. It can be a biological restriction such as stem girdling roots, which should be excised at planting. Or, it can be something more profound such as having trees planted in their burlapped balls surrounded by herbicidal barriers in class five limestone covered by marble tile (Figure 4). In both cases the environment can be modified to better support the aesthetic function of the trees (Figure 5).
The arborists at Ostvig Tree Care area available to help in consulting roles as you plan new additions or renovations to your landscapes. Because we do remove trees, it may seem like a poor business model. But, we much prefer to see newly planted trees thrive and meet our client’s expectations rather than being called on site years later to diagnose why they aren’t.
Dr. John Lloyd, Ph.D. contributes to the Ostvig Tree Care website blog. He is also available through Ostvig Tree Care to answer questions on tree care and plant health issues. Feel free to send any questions you may have about this blog or any other tree issues to firstname.lastname@example.org.