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Protecting Elm Trees Against Dutch Elm Disease (DED)

Elm trees were once the pride of New York cities and towns, with their over-100 feet heights, wide trunks and overarching spreads. Since the 1950s, however, millions of Elm trees have succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease, a fungal infection that originated in Asia but was first described in Holland in 1921 (hence the name). It began appearing in elms in the United States in the 1930s.

The disease is carried from tree to tree either by bark beetles or directly through the merged roots of two or more adjacent trees. Once a tree if infected it has no chance for survival. As a tree fights the infection, because of internal scarring, it loses the ability to transport nutrients and water through its trunks and slowly dies in a few months.

Although there is not much that can be done once an elm tree is infected, there are preventative measures that can be taken to protect these magnificent trees.

Quick Removal of Diseased Trees and Branches

It is important to remove infected trees as quickly as possible to reduce the breeding sites for the elm bark beetle and contain its spread. If the wood from infected trees is being stored for firewood, the bark must be removed from the pieces and destroyed. Branches with flagging symptoms should be removed with the cut made 5-10 feet behind any visual symptoms. Speak to your Almstead arborist about removing trees and branches that have possibly been infected with DED.

Inoculating Elm trees against DED

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We have found that inoculating Elm trees as the best way of preventing Dutch elm disease. Over the past few years, Almstead has employed this method to successfully treat and prevent infection in hundreds of elm trees in our area.

We select multiple injection points in the root system of a tree and circulate a fungicide mixture simultaneously to all entry points using a pump. The concentration of the mixture is calculated based on the circumference of the trunk as well as the height and spread of the tree.

The tree does the rest. It takes in the control solution to all its branches. Depending on the size of the Elm, this can take over 5 hours. The treatment is 99.5% effective and will last for 2-3 years depending on the size and condition of the tree, at which point it will have to be repeated.

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For more information on Dutch Elm Disease and other pathogens that commonly affect plant life in our region, we recommend visiting

A Swinger of Birches

One of our clients sent us this photo of birches in the snow along with this poem by Robert Frost. We always like being reminded of the natural beauty and sense of wonder that brought us to the profession we love. Perhaps most arborists begin as “Swingers of Birches?”


by Robert Frost 1874–1963

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows—
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Unwanted Pest #2: Asian Longhorned Beetle

We’re almost to the end of our series on the Most Unwanted Garden Pests. This is villain #2: The Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB). 

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The ALB (Anoplophora glabripennis) doesn’t live in our area (Westchester, Bergen and Fairfield counties) – yet. And hopefully, it won’t. Intensive eradication efforts are ongoing in New  York City, Long Island, Massachusetts, Union and Middlesex counties in New Jersey and Ohio, the areas where ALB is currently residing. The USDA is taking an aggressive approach to this mission – any tree infested by ALB is cut down and burned.

Why is the ALB so despised? Because of the deadly outcome of an ALB infestation and the extensiveness of their diet.  In our area, we’ve had several species of trees virtually eradicated by insects or disease over the last century: the American Chestnut by chestnut blight, the American Elm from Dutch elm disease, and – currently – several species of ash trees from the Emerald Ash Borer. But the Asian Longhorned Beetle has the potential to decimate several widely growing tree genera in our area, including maple, birch and sycamore. In addition to the loss of these beautiful trees, the economic impact on our hardwood forests would be immense.

The story of the ALB’s infiltration into the U.S. sounds like a spy movie. Someone notices a suspicious looking insect. They call a government agency. The insect is identified as a stowaway assassin from China. Soon after, the Feds swoop in and destroy the insects along with any possible hiding place. They search the neighborhood looking for more insects and any possible shelters – and in a slash and burn frenzy, cut down any trees that could harbor these terrorists.

Yet this dramatic response seems to be yielding results. The ALB appears to have been eliminated in the Chicago area, and it looks like New York and New Jersey may soon follow. Massachusetts is still battling hard and finding new ALB hideouts.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) actually acts like Homeland Security for invasive pests. They have intercepted ALB in warehouses in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.  And their Canadian counterparts have intercepted the ALB in several provinces there.

Asian Longhorned Beetle Exit Holes Source: Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ,
Asian Longhorned Beetle Exit Holes
Source: Kenneth R. Law, USDA APHIS PPQ,

One thing that works against the ALB is its size and striking markings. The beetles are over an inch long and colored like a Mardi Gras mask. In several cases, an ALB was identified when someone saw it and said, “What IS that thing?”  When a tree is infested with ALB, the exit holes can make it look like it’s been strafed with a machine gun.

Right now, the best chance we have of defeating the ALB is public awareness. So if you see a large, gaudy beetle, call for backup! This USDA site will give you more information: (It’s worth visiting just to see their CGI beetle!)

Branches Caught in Trees

After a storm where branches fall from trees, it’s easy to feel that everything is squared away once the debris has been cleared from the ground. An arborist will tell you, though, that what’s really important is to look up. The canopies of damaged trees may still be barely holding onto snapped and hanging limbs that will eventually fall. There may also be lateral cracks in branches, stubs left by fallen limbs that open the tree up to decay if they aren’t pruned correctly, and structural problems where important branches have broken off.

Here’s a trick for noticing hangers (snapped branches that get caught up in the canopy of a tree rather than falling to the ground). When you look up at the canopy of a tree, look for areas that are darker than the rest. Places where there is less light filtering through are often areas where a branch has fallen and its leaves are doubling up with the leaves that are naturally in that area of the tree. See if you can spot the hanger below:

Dark, shadowy areas in the canopy are often indicators of a hanging branch that's snapped but still caught up in a tree.
Dark, shadowy areas in the canopy are often indicators of a hanging branch that’s snapped but still caught up in a tree.

Air Spading Again! – White Oaks in Pelham

These 6 White Oaks (Quercus alba)located in Harmon Park in the heart of Pelham range in age from 80 to 120 years old. The primary original root flares of these trees have been buried throughout many years, most likely in attempts to grow grass. In some situations, the soil was almost 2 feet higher than it should be on the trunks.

Removing soil from the root flare of a buried White Oak in Pelham’s Harmon Park.

Originally, Almstead was contracted by the town to prune this grove of White Oaks (a very valuable tree species, especially in maturity). When I discovered the soil compaction and deep burying of the root systems, I recommended that air spading be performed in order to improve the health and extend the lifespans of these specimen trees.

An air spade uses pressurized air to remove soil while not causing harm to the root system of the tree (or an utility lines that may run underground).

Once we began air spading, it was obvious that secondary or adventitious roots were forming, which are not viable as a stable root system for trees this size, as well as girdling roots. In addition to removing the excess soil, these roots were pruned away.

We also performed vertical mulching throughout the critical root zones of the trees (out to the edge of the canopies). We used the air spade again, but this time to dig 3″ diameter holes 10″ deep. The holes were spaced at 3 foot intervals throughout the root zones. This is a great way to reach the entire root system without tearing up a whole lawn!

Adding compost and soil amendments to vertical mulching holes. These 10″ deep holes allow us to feed the extensive root systems of large trees without removing large sections of grass.

After digging the holes, they were filled with organic compost and a combination of organic soil amendments, including humus, molasses, seaweed extract, and others. These amendments all help to invigorate the natural biological processes that keep soils and roots healthy. We also added zeolite, which is an organic product that keeps air passages in the soil open — this is a great additive because air is an essential element of healthy soils (not just water, which seems more obvious).

This was discovered by me and recommended to be performed for preservation of these trees when we were contracted to prune the grove of primarily oaks throughout the park area, town hall, harmon park and memorial park.

– Ken Almstead, Arborist in Westchester and NYC

In the Business for Too Long…

We’re working at this commercial site today, taking down 3 pines. Something seems oddly familiar with the landscape. I think I ran this planting job back in the 80’s with good-ole Laflamme Services. We drop the last pine and before El Chivo starts in with the stump grinder I see a green plastic strip stuck in the wood of the stump. I pulled it out and it’s a tagging-seal, number 453, with the name “Laflamme.” 

I tagged the darned thing in a nursery 25 years ago with an architect and planted it at the site…

Evidence: The Laflamme tree tag
Evidence: The Laflamme tree tag

When you get called to cut down 40′ trees that you planted when they were 6′, it’s got to be telling you something.

-Bob Bociek, CT Branch Manager at Almstead Tree & Shrub Care Company

Improper Planting

We’re called to sites more often than we’d like to assess the condition of trees that were recently planted and may not be in the best of condition.  The cause may not be readily apparent from the ground up, but once you explore a bit below the surface, things usually begin to make sense.  These pictures demonstrate the ill effect nylon ropes and fabric left on the root ball of a newly planted tree can have.

Landscape trees are expensive — justifiably so if we can watch them develop into mature trees, but hardly worth the cost if they fail during the first years.  Whether you’re planting trees on your own or hiring the job out to a contractor, insist that the packing materials around the base of the tree be removed and the tree is installed at a proper depth.  Don’t settle for, “Don’t worry, it will rot off in a year.”

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