Archive for the ‘Trees’ Category

Green Uses of Sickly Trees

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Recycling Cut Trees

A reader recently wrote:


I enjoy reading Richard’s articles in The Pelham Weekly.  They are one of my favorite things about the paper and I’ve saved quite a few of the articles over the years.

 I have a question about what I can do ‘green-wise’ with the remnants of a very large oak tree.  We tried to save it but it couldn’t be saved so it will be taken down this week.  I’ve thought about perhaps keeping some slices for a bench and/or a table and some pieces for firewood.  I suppose the tree removal company will chip a lot of it up.  Do you have any other suggestions?

 Thanks for reading this, and I look forward to reading more of your articles in The Pelham Weekly.


Katy Mayer


Dear Katy and Readers,

I took down an oak that had died in my back yard a few years ago and kept  about ten feet of trunk  intact, still rooted to the ground thinking I was going to do something green and creative with the trunk. I thought maybe I would shape it into a giant fist (to show my irreverence, or maybe release my inner panther). Then I thought maybe I would carve a totem to honor the first settlers in the land. Finally, I settled on a giant chair, or maybe it was a throne, the seat of the “Baron of Benedict place”. I got out my collection of chainsaws. I lasted about an hour and had barely made a dent in the old hardened wood. 

In the end, I cut the stump into smaller pieces and I’m finally using them as steps in a play area I built for my daughter (out of properly milled wood). Moral of the story is, leave chainsaw carving to folks who really know it. Attached are pictures of odd an beautiful things that can be made with tree trunks and stumps. Perhaps the tree company can help you craft them! If not, wood form old trees does generally get composted, and/or turned into firewood by these companies. Waste disposal is just too high in our area to do otherwise which is a good thing. Please make sure you plant a new tree for the one your taking down. Our tree canopy in Pelham is precious and the source of a good deal of our higher property values, as well as the basis of a stronger, more layered ecosystem, and help keep save energy by keeping our homes cooler in the summer.


Fall Pruning and Trimming

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

Fall Pruning

I was “garden coaching” with a couple that are client/friends the other day. The area they wanted help with was fall pruning of trees and shrubs. This was a lovely experience with a terrific couple able to express differences and commonality while having fun together, a real lesson for those of us with overly sensitive egos! He likes to prune heavily while she is more cautious, which may be a Y chromosome issue as I tend to be heavy handed myself. Fortunately, pruning, shearing, and trimming require both qualities.

Distinguishing between what needs what is the first step. Generally, little leaf shrubs like  privet, taxus, and perhaps even forsythia  and burning bush can take a good shearing with a hedge clipper of some sort. Hemlocks would be the exception to that rule (there always seems to be one) requiring careful hand pruning. Larger leaf, slower growing plants like rhododendron, lilac, and hydrangea for example really prefer hand pruning as do almost all ornamental trees.


When shearing in the fall, a good rule of thumb is to remove no more than a quarter of the plant. Maybe a third if the plant has not been cut at all in some time. Remember that cutting a plant stimulates growth, which is OK in the Fall but you don’t want to over-stimulate, as the season is winding down and all plants are storing energy for their winter hibernation. If you want to really go at it, and completely reshape the fast growers, winter or very early spring shearing is advised, preferably before they leaf out much. The early you perform a hard cut, the more new foliage you will get to fill in the inevitable bald spots that will result from a hard cut.


When fall pruning, you are dealing with slower growers and want to be conservative. Feel free to remove deadwood of course, also “suckers” or “water sprouts”. These are little shoots coming out of the main branches inside the tree or shrub. Usually not much light reaches them and they almost use as much energy as they generate sapping the plant of energy it could be expending elsewhere. On trees, look for crossing branches. Crossing branches are branches that are touching and rub against each other when the wind blows, rubbing the bark off of the branch and making it more vulnerable to insects and disease. Remove the smaller branch whenever possible unless you feel the smaller branch is ornamentally more appropriate to the shape of the tree.

Tree Care

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Deep Root Feeding

I was talking to folks at the Junior League’s “There’s No Place Like Pelham” evening event Friday night and was asked about deep root feeding for large, hardwood trees. By the way, this event was a lot of fun and hats off to the Junior league for all their hard work! For those of you who are unaware, deep root feeding is a process where nutrients are pumped directly into the root zone of large trees by means of a metal spike inserted in the ground. This can be done with a larger spike and mechanical pump, and there are also smaller, manual versions of this system available.

The question was is deep root feeding really necessary, particularly at the high rates that some tree companies charge for this service? To answer the question one needs to consider where these trees occur in nature. Generally large trees grow in forests which are enclosed eco-systems of their own. The soil is rich with live organisms and fungi that explicitly nurture these trees. The tree’s roots connect and touch. A forest is literally a community, and through their roots, they communicate with each other chemically, share moisture, and condition the soil to meet their particular needs, as well as support other plants that are beneficial to the community.

Trees in habituated areas lack the support of the forest. This can mean that they are not getting their nutrient and water needs met, particularly if they are surrounded by lawns which have very different needs than shrubs, perennials, and trees. Because many of our lawns are chemically cared for, often the soil around trees in our communities is dead and inert. Trees in these conditions will need supplemental nutrition of some kind, and if they have not been fed in some time, deep root fertilization may be just the thing.

However, in the long run, homeowners can feed their trees themselves and without deep root feeding. Two products I highly recommend are from Plant Health Care. These are PHC 27-9-9 and PHC 11-22-22. Like most fertilizers the numbers refer to Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium levels in the fertilizer. These two products are part of the new line of chemical/biological hybrid or bridge products that are on the market. They contain chemical fertilizers in low enough doses to support the biological agents that they deliver as well. The 27-9-9 product is high in nitrogen and for spring use, the 11-22-22 is much lower and for fall use. The key element in these products is mycorrhizael fungii. Mycorrhizae are beneficial fungi that help trees digest nutrients. By applying these products to your  trees regularly, you can optimize the health of your trees and reduce or eliminate the need for deep root feeding. Many trees in suburban areas are struggling for nutrients so consider ways to feed these valuable assets today!