trees damaged by storm

Further Tips for Winter Tree Care

Last year Casey provided us with tips for protecting trees through winter. He’s updated his suggestions for 2012. Even though it’s been mild so far, you never know when snow might show up!

Winter can be a harsh season, especially for newly planted trees. Here are some small steps to help ensure your trees’ survival.

  • Snow and ice can weigh down branches, increasing the likelihood of them breaking. Gently knock off snow or ice from tree branches, especially evergreens.
  • Avoid using rock salt and prevent salt from getting in the tree pit. Rock salt (sodium chloride), or de-icing mixes that contain rock salt, prohibits a tree’s finer roots from absorbing water, nutrients, and oxygen.
  • I would recommend using a product called Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) instead of normal salt deicers. CMA is a combination of dolomitic lime (limestone), magnesium and acetic acid the same acid that is found in vinegar and is less harmful to plants. Additional suggestions can be found on the Plant One Million website: here.
  • Remove any Treegator bags (or similar products) for the duration of winter. This helps prevent ice buildup around the trunk and keeps over-wintering rodents away.
  • Do not leave holiday lights tied around trees year-round as it can end up girdling the tree.
  • Remove dead or broken branches. Although I don’t recommend heavy pruning on newly planted trees, there is no harm in removing branches that are already dead.
  • Refresh your mulch in the early spring.

If the weather has you stir-crazy, try identifying your trees. It can be tough to do this time of year, but the challenge is what makes it fun. For help, check out this cool reference!

Casey’s Tree of the Month: Crabapple

I love October. The changing leaves, Sunday football, pumpkin carving, Halloween, the Phillies winning the World Series…next year—there is so much to see and do. Of all the autumn activities, my favorite is apple picking. That’s why I’m devoting the October Tree of the Month post to the entire Malus genus. There are literally hundreds of edible apples to choose from, but, being an urban arborist, my main interest lies in the ornamental crabapple varieties.

You may be tempted to scoff at my selection, but hear me out. Crabapples offer beautiful flowers in spring and wonderful, persistent fruit in late fall; lending it year-round interest in any landscape. Some newer varieties are also disease- and pest-resistant.

Crabapples are also used heavily in the production of traditional domestic apples. Domestic apple buds are often grafted onto the more cold-hardy root stock of certain crabapple varieties, allowing apple orchards to thrive farther north. Crabapples are also used as pollinizers (not to be confused with pollinators) in apple orchards.

True, the fruit of crabapple trees is seldom eaten raw because of the sour taste, but it can make a delicious jam or a tangy cider. In my opinion, this awesome tree also makes the best cooking wood; it burns slow and hot and has a great sweet/smoky smell.

If you attend…I mean, when you attend Meadowbrook Farm’s Fall Open House on October 15, you can purchase one of my favorite crabapple varieties, ‘Red Jewel’. If you see me in the sales-yard, say hi. We can talk about trees, brainstorm Halloween costumes, or count the days until Phillies spring training. Until then!

Find That Tree!

My most recent Tree of the Month posting was about the Kentucky coffeetree, and I received a comment from someone who thought she spotted a few in West Philly. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to use our newest amazing tool, the PhillyTreeMap.

Previously described in this post, the PhillyTreeMap is an amazing, easy-to-use web application that will assist communities with the inventory and maintenance of urban forests. But, as it turns out, not one Kentucky coffeetree is listed on the PhillyTreeMap!

The gauntlet has been laid down. Whoever is the first to find a Kentucky coffeetree and correctly enter it into the PhillyTreeMap will be immortalized on the PHS blog and will also receive a free Tree Tenders shirt. Are you up for the challenge? Send an email to if you are the super sleuth who tracks down the coffeetree.

A Homeowner’s Guide to Choosing the Right Tree (part three)

Welcome back! Now that you’ve selected the proper species, picked a great looking tree, and transported it home, it’s time for the real fun to begin: planting! Follow these easy steps to plant your containerized tree:

1) Handle your tree by the container; never carry or move a tree by the trunk or branches.

2) Remove all tags and twine.

3) Prune any dead or broken branches. Removing healthy branches, especially during the first year, adds to the stress of a newly planted tree, so restrict your pruning to dead and broken branches only.

4) Remove the tree from its container. Hold the edge of the pot and gently pull the tree upward from the base of the trunk. If the tree doesn’t lift out easily, lay it down and press on the sides of the container to loosen the root ball. If roots have grown through the bottom of the pot, you may have to cut off the container.

5) Use a pruning saw (or serrated kitchen knife) to shave 1-2″ from the sides and bottom of the root ball to remove any encircling roots. This encourages healthy root development.

6) Locate the root flare. This is where the trunk begins to widen and change into the root structure. You may need to gently scrape away soil in order to find the flare. The aim is to position the root flare slightly above ground level.

These steps can be seen in the video below, starring PHS’s own Mindy Maslin.

Remember, you can become a tree expert by taking the PHS Tree Tenders training course. Furthermore, any trees you plant should be counted as part of Plant One Million. Finally, if you have any questions or comments, please post then in the comments section and I will reply promptly. Good luck!

A Homeowner’s Guide to Choosing the Right Tree (part two)

Now that you’ve read part one of this series and discovered what species of tree you’d like to plant, it’s now time to find a garden center or nursery and select the healthiest tree possible.

There are plenty of options when sourcing your tree. Local garden centers, nurseries, big box stores, and even mail-order and online stores can provide quality trees. It is important to not just look for the cheapest option; you may save money up front, but will end up paying more in maintenance (and, possibly, buying a new tree).

Check out PHS’s very own Meadowbrook Farm for a great selection of trees suitable for your yard. The wonderful staff can assist you in choosing the right species for your property. They also have a large selection of Gold Medal Plants. A quality tree is more likely to establish quickly in the landscape, survive storms, and resist stressful conditions.  Consider the following when making your purchase.

Tree Stock Type:

Trees are generally available in one of three stocks: balled-and-burlapped (B&B), containerized, and bare root. Each stock has its pros and cons, but if you purchase a tree from a garden center, you are most likely dealing with containerized trees.

Proper Form:

If you wish to purchase a large shade tree, look for one with a single straight stem running from the roots to the tip of the tree. This is called a central leader. Trees that carry this form are less likely to break during a storm. If you are set upon getting a multi-stem tree—like a river birch, serviceberry, or redbud—it is OK for the tree to have a few stems coming from a central point at the base of the tree.

Make sure the trunk of the tree is free of wounds or scarring. Look for minimal dead branches. Also, simply look at the overall appearance of the tree; it will be fairly easy to tell if it is healthy.

Root System:

Containerized trees tend to be root-bound in the container. Nurseries continually look for ways to reduce this, but I’ve yet to see it perfected. In part three (on Friday), I will explain how to remedy this situation when you plant the tree. Make your life easier by planting a smaller stock of tree. Look for something in a pot size of #5, #7, or #15.

Pest Prevention:

Make sure your tree is free of any pest or diseases. Avoid trees with cankers or conks on the branches. Look for blotches or holes in the leaves as it could be a sign of disease or pest infestation.

Transport home:

Now that you’ve found an amazing tree, it’s time to get it home. The most important part of transporting your tree is to protect its leaves from the wind. You would be amazed by how a short drive will dry out the leaves. Bring a tarp if you plan on having the tree hang out a window or rest in the bed of a pick-up.

If you want to get into more detail about tree selection, I invite you to read this article from Dr. Edward Gilman of the University of Florida.