Category Archives: Unsafe Trees

The Right Way to Prune Trees

Pruning small trees is not difficult, but it does require care and knowledge. There are many reasons to prune trees, including: to trim away dead or dying branches, to provide healthier air circulation among the branches, to keep them clear of obstacles or buildings and to highlight their natural beauty. 

correct pruning cut

Although most trees can be pruned at any time when it’s necessary, late winter is the time I recommend, before the tree needs to use its energy for growing. Also, for deciduous trees, you get a better look at the tree structure without leaves. Before you pick up the pruning saw, take a good look at the structure of the branches. If you see branches rubbing together or crossing, one should be pruned away. Are there dead branches that need to be removed? Are there signs of disease?

The timing of pruning sometimes depends on the purpose of your tree. For example, if you intend to harvest fruit from your apple or pear tree, pruning after the fruit is harvested is recommended. If the fruit tree is ornamental, pruning in winter or after flowering is fine.

The first rule of pruning trees is safety. If you need to climb a ladder, make sure that it is firmly situated. For small trees, a pruning saw and loppers should meet your needs. Don’t use a chainsaw, unless you have safety training. The same goes for climbing. Any reputable tree care company (such as Almstead), requires many hours of training and certification before we let our crews perform this kind of work.

 When pruning tree limbs close to the trunk (as opposed to outer branches that are pruned back to a fork or a lateral bud), it’s important to understand the role of the branch collar. The branch collar is the junction where the branch meets the trunk; it is a swollen ring around the bottom of the branch that looks more like the tree trunk than the branch. Never prune the branch flush with the trunk: you should leave the branch collar intact. Ideally the pruning cut is made just beyond the branch collar. If you’re in doubt, leaving extra branch is better than damaging the collar. 

The reason for this careful treatment of the branch collar is to help the trees heal themselves. Trees have the ability to compartmentalize damage. The branch collar will seal off the wound made by pruning; if the cut was made correctly, in a couple of years, the wound will be healed. It used to be common to paint something over these wounds to seal them; now we realize that the tree will do the job better if left alone. 

Why You Should Prune Your Trees in Winter

When spring comes, we think of all the things we should do in the garden, such as pruning. But winter can be a better time to prune for several reasons.

Pruning in winter is like having an x-ray. In winter, deciduous trees have cast off their coverings, giving us a much better view of their structure. We get a clear picture of the entire tree, allowing us to identify weak branch connections, cracks in limbs, unsafely crossing limbs and dead wood. Winter is the ideal time to uncover and address the structural flaws that can eventually lead to branch or tree failures.

The structure of this tree is revealed by winter.
The structure of this tree is revealed in winter.

Winter storms are dangerous pruners. High winds and wet snow put tremendous strain on branches. Broken branches should be professionally pruned so that the cut can be in the right place to promote the natural healing process that trees employ. We recommend that you identify and remove dead or cracked branches before winter does its own pruning, which can be dangerous for property, people, and the tree.

Your yard won’t mind. Pruning and removing trees is easier when the ground is frozen. A tree care professional can typically move heavy equipment closer to the trees they are working on without harming lawns or herbacious perennials and annuals. Removing dead trees is often simpler when surrounding trees are bare. Plus, your family will experience less inconvenience when they’re usually indoors anyway.

Make spring more beautiful. Many of the flowering trees and shrubs we love, like apples, cherries, and magnolias, have already formed their buds for spring flowers by the end of fall of the previous year. By selectively pruning in winter, we can improve the saturation of flowers and fruit they have in the growing season. Winter is a busy pruning season for orchards! Proper pruning techniques are important, whether on a shrub or tree. If you do your own shrub pruning, make sure you pick the right season for each shrub and use the proper techniques. For example, pruning early flowering shrubs now (like azaleas) will lead to fewer blossoms.

Before you prune your own trees, make sure you understand proper pruning techniques. Correct pruning, whether to remove dead wood or to improve a tree’s structure, is much more than just picking a spot and sawing away: the placement and execution of a proper cut actually helps the tree with its healing process.

When trees require pruning of high branches or a power saw is needed, it’s time to call a professional. A professional tree care company, like Almstead, has the right tools, equipment and safety training to do the job.

Beating Heat Stress

We are at the peak of summer, and the weather can have a toll on your trees, shrubs and lawn. Extended periods of heat and humidity, along with bright sunshine, warm nights and inadequate rain can lead to summer stress on your landscape.

Arranging a soaker hose to cover the critical root zone of a tree is a great method for the slow, saturated watering that’s best for trees.

Horticulturally speaking, the first place many people notice the effects of heat stress is on lawns, which have the good sense to go dormant and wait it out. We definitely recommend a combination of over-seeding and core aeration this fall to help rejuvenate your grass as the summer comes to an end. However, lawns are actually faring better than many trees, although the symptoms may not be as obvious.

Plants are constantly losing water through tiny holes in their leaves through a process called transpiration, and when it’s hot, the rate of that water loss increases. Add to that a lack of adequate rainfall, and the result is often stressed plant material. The problem facing trees is that they’re really big, and they do not have the luxury of going dormant in hot summer months, like lawns. Instead, trees have a lot of active leaves, so they lose a lot of water, and their roots are searching to replace that water in some pretty dry ground.

Trees suffering from heat stress face problems with producing new growth, healing wounds, and fighting against diseases and insects. If they’re stressed enough, they eventually run out of energy to support their existing growth and begin to decline (sometimes irreversibly). Newly planted (within the last 2 years) and mature trees are the most at risk for serious decline, and we’ve seen both this summer. Some trees that are most prone to heat stress and drought include Birches, American Dogwoods, and Japanese Maples.


Signs of heat stress in trees tend to develop toward the top of the canopy first, so property owners don’t often notice it right away. They include smaller leaf size, leaf scorch (browning and/or yellowing), wilting, and sometimes loss of foliage (a particularly bad sign). 


So, What’s the Solution?

The best way to fight heat stress in trees is through a combination of proper irrigation, mulching, and organic soil amendments.


Proper irrigation means focusing water on saturating the root zone of a tree. Sprinklers may be good for lawns, but they aren’t going to get the job done for trees. A properly placed soaker hose is a better solution. Treegators are ideal especially for young trees, which run a high risk of suffering heat stress. With a traditional garden hose, it’s also possible to set the flow to a trickle and move the mouth of the hose around to four or five different areas of the root zone over the course of the day.

Treegators are bags with tiny holes that slowly release water into the root zone of a tree.

A good line of defense against hot weather conditions is to apply a layer of mulch around trees and plants. Light colored mulches are better at reflecting sunlight and keeping the soil cooler in summer. Mulch also reduces evaporation of water from the soil and reduces the need to water constantly. However, to be effective, mulch needs to be applied correctly.


We recommend a depth of 2-3 inches of mulch for trees and shrubs. It should also cover a diameter of 3-4 feet around trees (to the tree’s drip line ideally) and not pile up against the stem or trunk flare. If you have any questions about mulching, please speak to your Almstead arborist.

Soil Care:

In terms of soil care, organic amendments increase a tree’s drought tolerance without spurring new growth that it can’t afford to support (which is the result of synthetic fertilization of heat stressed plants). Also, by using a soil needle injection method for applying soil amendments (as opposed to a soil drench), we can break up compacted ground and introduce better flow of nutrients, air, and water into the root zone. In addition to Almstead’s organic soil care services our arborists are always glad to advise you on irrigation practices, and we also provide watering services for plants out of reach of irrigation.

To formulate a heat stress survival plan for your trees (and shrubs, and lawn), please schedule a complimentary consultation with your Almstead arborist.

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

Preserving Old Trees During Construction – Part 1

Almstead was brought in to consult on preserving Sugar Maple trees — that are approximately 75 years old — during the construction of a new home in Riverside, CT. These beautiful old trees will definitely add to the value and aesthetic of the property once the construction is complete. In the meantime, it’s our job to make sure that they stay healthy and safe. In general, Maple trees have a high level of adaptability to environmental change.

We found major soil disturbance within the drip line of the tree caused by the blasting of ledge rock and the excavation for construction and the installation of utilities.

Over the course of the next year, Almstead will monitor the site and ensure that the trees are healthy, and looking their best, after the construction is over. In addition to consultation, our services will include root and crown pruning, fertilizations, soil amendments and air spading.

We will post photos and updates on this project here in the coming months.


(Top ) Blasting of ledge rock was done in preparation for construction. You can see the fault line and exposed roots that have resulted from the rock blasting. 

(Bottom) Before and after root pruning — Almstead will be pruning the roots as well as the crown. We will also be treating the tree with cambistat growth regulators and custom fertilizations during and after construction to help preserve these trees throughout the process.

Protecting Trees from Lightening Strikes

Whenever we see a tree damaged by lightening, it makes us wonder about the potential for danger on our own property. Fortunately, lightning protection is fairly easy to install, and dramatically reduces the risk to the tree and your property.

There are 25 million lightning strikes in the U.S. each year. There’s no way to determine how many strike trees, but it is estimated in the tens of thousands. Anyone who hikes in our area only needs to look carefully at the tall trees to see signs of lightning damage.

As we all know, lightning is attracted to tall objects — a category that certainly includes trees. Some species of trees are more vulnerable to lightning strikes than others (oak, elm, maple, poplar, ash, spruce, pine and tulip tree are species more likely to be hit than, for example, beech or birch), but none are immune.

Lightning can damage or kill an otherwise healthy tree. It can also jump from a nearby tree to enter your home through wires or pipes – the same way as if your house had been hit directly. The National Fire Protection Association says in its Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems:

Trees with trunks within 10 ft. of a structure or with branches that extend to a height above the structure should be equipped with a lightning protection system because of the danger of a side-flash, fire or superheating of the moisture in the tree, which could result in the splintering of the tree. It might be desirable to equip other trees with a lightning protection system because of a particular tree’s value to the owner.
Source: NFPA 780

Protecting special trees and trees close to your home will keep your property safer and increase your peace of mind. We install lightning rods that are inconspicuous, safe for the tree and able to accommodate tree growth for many years. If a tree is hit by lightning, the lightning cables are designed to channel the current away from the tree (and any buildings) and into the ground where it can safely dissipate.

— Ken Almstead, CEO

 lightning-striking-tree1 lightning-striking-tree2 lightning-striking-tree3

Salted Evergreens

Fallen trees have been removed, power has been restored, and people are back in their homes. For those of us in Westchester County, the effects of Hurricane Sandy have passed. Or not.

pine salt damage

Since mid-November, I have been seeing an unusual level of salt damage to evergreens. While winter road salt always has a bad effect on many evergreens, the damage I’ve noticed recently is far more extensive. One of the effects of Hurricane Sandy was to carry salt spray from the ocean and drop it throughout our area. The northeast winds gave many of our shrubs a thorough drenching of salt water. Throughout the towns bordering Long Island Sound, we have been seeing extensive salt damage, particularly on the northeastern and eastern facing sides of evergreens. Many white pines that were near the ocean are entirely brown and desiccated on their eastern sides. This is true of plants several miles inland as well.

How can you tell if your evergreens have experienced salt damage? Take a look. If the plant or tree was green last fall and now has browning needles and dry tips, salt is a likely culprit. When salt coats the foliage of a plant, it draws moisture out, causing a burned effect.  Warming temperatures after the storm can also have this effect. If damage is extensive, the plant will die. If the buds are brittle or broken and easily snap with light pressure, the entire branch is probably dead. Once needles are brown, they never return to green again. However, I caution people to wait until spring before making any decision on removing the plant. This type of damage is new to us, so we don’t have a clear idea of how the plants will rebound.


Is there any way to restore a damaged evergreen? Maybe.  If green needles are mixed in with the brown, cross your fingers  and hope that the plant will rebound on its own. If the plant is heavily desiccated, including the buds, we can go back into the canopy and feather prune to where we find green cambium. This is labor intensive, but it can force the dormant lateral buds to grow out. Not all evergreens can be forced this way; there’s little we can do to assist plants such as hemlocks or others that won’t respond well to severe pruning.

I usually recommend several applications of anti-desiccant spray to broad-leaf evergreens during the winter; it can also help needled evergreens retain moisture.  I find it makes a big difference in our area, not just for salt burn but for winter burn in general. The freeze-thaw cycle that we go through in the New York Metro region is extremely tough on evergreens. (Does 5° one week and 45° the next week sound familiar?) A plant health care professional (such as Almstead) can take care of this; they will have the equipment to reach tall shrubs. If you apply the anti-desiccant yourself, make sure it’s on a day when the temperature is above freezing. Also, be aware that certain anti-desiccants should not be used on some evergreens such as cypress, arborvitae, cedar or juniper. Read the label and know the species of plant you are treating: conifer leaves can be broad-leaf, needle, scale-leaf or awl-like, and can’t all be treated the same way.

Salt in the ground is a different problem. Since Hurricane Sandy gave us a one-time application, any salt in the soil should dilute with the spring rains and snow melt. You may want to delay fertilizing this spring if you use a generic, synthetic fertilizer. This type of fertilizer contains salt; hold off until we’ve had some thorough soaking. Organic humates will bind the salt in the soil; there are actually products designed for this type of soil, geared to areas that experience seasonal flooding.

A sudden salt drench from a hurricane is unanticipated. If, however, you live near the water (or near a heavily salted road), choosing salt-tolerant plants is wise. Some plants, such as black pine, blue spruce and Chinese juniper will tolerate a lot of salt. I always recommend choosing plants that are comfortable in your location rather than trying to maintain a plant outside its natural environment.

– Ken Almstead, arborist and CEO

Tree Removal Panic

No one wants a tree falling on their house. As we all know, Hurricane Sandy brought down thousands of trees throughout our region, causing extensive damage to property. Many people are now looking at the trees surrounding their homes and wondering which will be the next to go. At a recent meeting of Almstead arborists we found ourselves discussing a new phenomenon: Tree Removal Panic.

Source: Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service,
Source: Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service,

Over the last few months, we’ve had many calls to remove healthy trees. Sometimes the tree’s owner is concerned about the potential damage of the tree falling, other times neighbors feel threatened by a tree and are lobbying for removal. How do you decide how risky a tree is?

The first thing to remember when you look at your trees is: these trees already survived Sandy. Hurricane winds provided a stress test for trees which many failed; the ones that survived have proven their resilience. Nevertheless, it’s best not to take the health of a tree for granted, especially a large tree that could do damage if it fails. An arborist can evaluate the condition of your trees by inspecting them for signs of disease or decay; we call this a “Tree Risk Assessment.”   Trees don’t need to be completely disease-free in order to be stable; it’s important to evaluate the amount of damage inside the tree as well as the location of any weakness. In some situations, we actually “look inside” the tree by using an instrument called a Resistograph. By boring tiny holes into the trunk, we get a map of the amount of decay inside. We are able to evaluate the level of risk associated with the tree based on this knowledge.

Armed with the knowledge gained from an arborist, the decision to keep or remove a tree is ultimately yours. It’s a question of how much risk you are willing to take. No arborist will guarantee a tree against failure, any more than a doctor will guarantee that your health will remain perfect. We each have to determine the level of risk we’re comfortable with, and weigh the pros and cons. Trees serve many purposes: they offer shade and keep our homes cool in summer; they provide habitats for songbirds and animals; they screen us from neighbors or eyesores; and they are immensely beautiful. They also protect us in many ways. Though a tree may fall on your roof in a hurricane, it may also shelter your home from your neighbor’s falling tree – or his airborne lawn chair. It is up to each of us to decide the cost/benefit balance for keeping a tree.

It’s also important to remember that falling branches are more common that falling trees. Judicious pruning can substantially reduce the likelihood of branch failure. Finally, be aware that many communities have local ordinances that prohibit removing healthy trees from private property. If your tree is at risk of failure, an arborist can help document the reason for removal and get the permit from your local government.

I sometimes ask my clients, “Can you experience the experience?”  In other words, if a tree were to fall on your house, would it be unendurable or worth the risk? How large is the tree? What would it fall on? A huge tree poised over your child’s bedroom is a different situation than one that might land on your garage.

As in other areas of our lives, we each have a comfort zone with regard to risk. For most of us, the small risk associated with being surrounded by healthy trees is outweighed by the joy they bring us.

Seeing Inside a Tree

As an arborist, my preference is caring for trees rather than removing them.  However, sometimes there is no choice, particularly when a broken or diseased tree is in danger of harming people or property. Unfortunately, most of these trees do become removals.

Many trees live long lives with imperfect health. They experience damage from insects or disease, but manage to compartmentalize it and continue to grow and even thrive. Often we are able to help these trees with improved nutrition, better soil, and insect or disease control; their lifespans can improve by decades due to some extra care.

Recently, one of our clients asked us to evaluate an old walnut tree. The 150-200 year old tree is on a beautiful estate in Larchmont, accompanied by some of the original larches that gave the town its name. The property has a long history of homeowners who care deeply about the trees, and the current owner obviously continues this tradition.

It was clear that the tree had some substantial decay, but the homeowner was hoping that the damage wasn’t extensive enough to warrant removal yet. So the question was: how do we determine whether this magnificent tree had reached the point where it was too dangerous to remain? This was the time to employ one of the tools of our trade, a sophisticated piece of equipment called a Resistograph.

The Resistograph allows us to chart the density of a tree, millimeter by millimeter. A tiny drill bit goes into the wood of a tree and transmits a graph indicating the resistance the drill bit encounters. This gives us a map of the tree core. We use this data along with other information to calculate the level of risk associated with the tree’s potential failure.

chema in a tree

Trees are amazing structures that can continue to stay alive and grow with much of their heartwood rotted away. Because trees have their water and nutrition transport system close to the bark, the inner part of the tree serves little purpose – except to provide the core strength that keeps several tons of branches and leaves upright. Unfortunately, we had to tell this client that the walnut tree had lost so much of its core that it was no longer safe.

As you can see from the picture, the Resistograph told the truth: this tree was essentially EMPTY.  The 4’ diameter hole could easily accommodate our crew member. If you suspect one of your trees may be hollow or simply want to perform Risk Assessments for trees which you may be concerned about, Almstead arborists have the training and tools needed to gather that information so homeowners can  make a properly educated decision.

–  Jeff Delaune, Arborist

Hurricane Sandy Is Still Causing Damage

The last two weeks have been among the toughest of the 20 years I’ve been an arborist. The combination of the hurricane, the snowstorm and the broad and long-lasting power outages is unlike anything I’ve encountered before. All of us at Almstead have had too many opportunities to witness the violence of nature, as we’ve removed hundreds of trees that have damaged houses, cars and other property.


Looking up at these trees, you can see that one is leaning dangerously.
Looking up at these trees, you can see that one is leaning dangerously.

Although Sandy has passed, the damage is ongoing. We’re still receiving calls from people who have trees or branches falling, or threatening to fall, from the damage caused by the storm. This is a good time to take a walk around your property, looking up. Many trees have cracked branches that need attention: some need to be removed before they fail, while others with minor stress cracks can be saved by cabling. It’s also important to check that any previously installed cables are still in place.

Follow-up pruning may be needed for branches that snapped or were improperly pruned by an emergency service. When pruned correctly, trees usually create a natural barrier against decay; improper pruning leaves a wound that is much more likely to lead to further problems. You should also look for any trees that have shifted root plates or other signs of movement.

As we work to clean up the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, we’ve noticed that many of the fallen trees and branches had defects that probably would have been identified by a qualified arborist. So don’t panic and start removing all the trees from your property; while it’s true that no tree is guaranteed against the violence of a hurricane, healthy, well-pruned trees have amazing resilience. The trees on your property have shown they can survive a hurricane! With a little attention, they will probably continue to provide beauty and shade for another generation or more.

Arborists are trained to identify tree problems before they occur, which is just one reason to have a certified arborist inspect your trees. This is a good time to contact an arborist to inspect your trees for any potential problems.

–Ken Almstead, CEO and arborist

Post Storm Cleanup

Anyone who has trees – and a few who don’t – is now faced with post-Sandy cleanup. While you’re surveying the trees and branches that have fallen on your property, don’t forget to look up. As you clean up your yard and get back to pre-storm life, it is important to carefully scrutinize the surrounding trees.

These crossing branches can indicate a  shift in one of trees.
These crossing branches can indicate a shift in one of trees.

Many branches that snap off in the wind don’t make it to the ground right away. They can be hung up on the lower branches of a tree or powerlines. These branches could drop to the ground because of a gentle breeze, a frisky squirrel, or just the passage of time. If branches are hanging on an electric line, stay clear and call your electric utility. If they are in a tree, stay clear and call Almstead.

Look at your trees carefully. Has there been any shifting? If you are familiar with your trees, you may notice a change in their outline against the sky. Take a good look at the roots for any sign of upheaval. If a tree’s balance has shifted, it could fall without the aid of a hurricane. Sometimes stress cracks will appear that make the tree vulnerable to failure. Also, any tree that has been cabled or braced should be checked to see that everything is still intact. An annual inspection by an arborist is always a good idea, but it is even more important after a major storm.

This cracked soil indicates a shift in the roots.
This cracked soil indicates a shift in the roots.

It is often necessary to follow up storm damage with additional pruning. Branches that have been snapped or ripped off – or incorrectly pruned by an emergency service – are much more likely to decay. Following up with proper pruning cuts is better for the health of the tree.

When cleaning up after the storm, we don’t recommend that you use a chainsaw unless you are trained and are wearing protective clothing: our tree crews wear glasses, gloves and chaps. Chainsaws are dangerous even in experienced hands; there is always a danger of the log or the saw springing back. Our advice is to call us to cut up any large branches or fallen trees.

High Flying in Manhattan: Removing a Backyard Tree by Crane

A property management company for whom we’ve done a number of difficult jobs, inherited a large dead tree when they took over a new location. They called us to remove the problem.

A neighbor later told me that the tree had been dead for 4 or 5 years. Because of the tree’s condition and location (in back of a row of brownstones in the Upper West Side), traditional forms of removal were not an option. So, we hired and worked with a 40 ton crane. The crane was parked on the street in front of the building; from there it could reach over the top of the buildings into the back yard and hold, and then lift, sections of the tree over the buildings.

cranecutting down

A neighbor later told me that the tree had been dead for 4 or 5 years. Because of the tree’s condition and location (in back of a row of brownstones in the Upper West Side), traditional forms of removal were not an option. So, we hired and worked with a 40 ton crane. The crane was parked on the street in front of the building; from there it could reach over the top of the buildings into the back yard and hold, and then lift, sections of the tree over the buildings.


There was a problem with trying to remove this tree using traditional methods. Usually, we would use the main part of the tree as an anchor to support and lower pieces as they were cut. The cut pieces are dropped from their location until they are caught by the rigging we install. But at the moment they are caught, there is stress put on the trunk of the tree. If the stress is too great, the trunk will break and the whole tree — climber included — will come crashing down. We couldn’t take that chance with this tree. The climber was able to tie sections of the tree to the crane, make the cut, and have the crane bear the weight away. This way there was no shock to the trunk.


We do crane removals frequently, but this is the only one I have seen or heard of in the city where we had to reach over the top of a posh brownstone!

— Chris Busak, Arborist

Hate to Say We Told You So …

In our last blog post (Prune in June) one of our arborists discussed the incredible amount of growth we’ve seen this year on many trees. His warning about the importance of lightening the load on some of these trees was right on target — as this unfortunate beech tree found out.

This Beech tree lost half of its canopy when a major branch split from the weight of unusual spring growth.
This Beech tree lost half of its canopy when a major branch
split from the weight of unusual spring growth.

According to the owners, the tree had been declining somewhat over time. This spring, for the first time in years, its foliage was lush and magnificent. Then – CRACK. The owners were lucky that it missed their house.

In all honesty, pruning alone wouldn’t have prevented this damage — the tree  needed to be cabled and braced because of the size and weight of the “branch”  (really a second trunk, which is never a good idea for a big tree). For a typical tree however, pruning some of the branches could remove enough weight to prevent this kind of damage.

What is the future of this tree? Not good. While it might survive the loss of the branch (with a little help from Almstead), aesthetically it’s lost half of its canopy. I wouldn’t be surprised if, within a few years, the owners opt for removal.

– Jeff Delaune, Almstead arborist, New Rochelle

A Tree Crew’s Island Adventure

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The New Canaan tree warden left me a message, “Got guys that can swim with chain saws on their backs?”

There’s a park in town with an island and a large oak fell during Irene, and he wanted it cut up and left on the ground so it wasn’t so visible.

“I know it’s an odd request, don’t know what to do.”

I told him not to worry, there’s not a lot we can’t handle.

mead 6 mead 4

I put the Kayak on the roof the next Saturday and paddled out with the saws with a throw bag line attached. Leo pulled the boat back and got across, Alex did the same, we took care of the job and back over we went.

I had to itemize the invoice for FEMA reimbursement. We listed the Kayak as a “no charge” item and off it went.

“You guys make my life easy.”

All in a day’s work… You should have seen the look on the faces of the dog-walkers when we started loading the saws into the boat!

– “Capt.” Bob Bociek, Almstead Arborist & Branch Manager in Fairfield County, CT

Storm and Flood Damage – Uprooted Trees

Hurricane Irene brought a lot of flooding our way, and for trees that posed the danger of saturated soil. When there is so much water that it isn’t able to drain into the water table, the soil fills with more water than it would naturally retain. This loosens soil particles and makes the ground more malleable.

The majority of a tree’s root system is typically anchored to the first 6-12 inches of the soil. It’s also the part of the ground that bears the brunt of over-saturation in flood situations. When the soil loosens around the roots, it can lead to the uprooting of a tree. This is a problem we saw a lot of in the aftermath of Irene.

Photo from the International Society of Arboriculture.
Photo from the International Society of Arboriculture.
Uprooted trees obviously have the potential to cause a lot of damage  when they fall. In addition to property, they often take down power  lines and block paths like roadways. It's especially important to stay  away from damaged power lines and wait for professionals  to handle these situations.
Uprooted trees obviously have the potential to cause a lot of damage when they fall. In addition to property, they often take down power lines and block paths like roadways. It’s especially important to stay away from damaged power lines and wait for professionals to handle these situations.
This uprooted tree was sitting in saturated soil and  is a typical  example of the type of damage we saw from Hurricane Irene.
This uprooted tree was sitting in saturated soil and is a typical example of the type of damage we saw from Hurricane Irene.

London Plane and Sycamore Anthracnose

With the cool, wet weather we’ve been having this Spring, tree diseases have been showing up more than usual this year. Pathogens like Anthracnose fungus thrive in this type of weather and tend to peter out when it gets warmer and drier, so their window to cause damage is a lot longer than usual.


For instance, Anthracnose might usually harm only a small portion of this London Plane tree, but this year it is almost entirely leafless, with small, stunted growth where there are leaves. You can also see witch’s brooming, where the tree is pushing out new twigs around spots that were killed by the fungus.


Trees can come back from these diseases, although they may need extra care and/or fungicide treatments. Everything should really be in full leaf by now, so if it looks like your tree is getting a slow start, it may be because of a disease like this.

– Ken Almstead, Arborist in Westchester and Riverdale

Helping City Tree Roots Breathe Easy

We performed root crown excavations on three mature ginkgo trees exhibiting signs of poor health in midtown last week alongside NYC Municipal Forester Erin Maehr. The trees had been buried 2’ deep in soil for approximately 30 years. The excess soil was removed using an air spade (which loosens and removes soil using a stream of pressurized air).

Ginkgos in planters were buried in 2 extra feet of soil

On one tree, a grove of girdling and adventitious roots was found growing out of the trunk, including a 3.5” thick root growing approximately 11” above the trees natural root crown (where the trunk should be emerging from the soil if the tree hadn’t been buried).

Almstead Plant Health Care Technician Leo and NYC Forester Erin at work pruning the adventitous root system.

Almstead staff member Leo perform root surgery by excavating and pruning roots using shears, loppers and hammer & chisel. We are very optimistic that with follow-up Plant Health Care services, such as deep root feeding with organic bio-stimulants, that these trees will recover and thrive as they once did.

After air spading, the trunk meets the soil at the proper place. Many roots grew above the natural root system, causing problems for the tree.
A large 3.5″ thick root growing approx. 11″ above the tree’s natural root syste.
Before we started to work, these trees were buried!
Before we started to work, these trees were buried!

– Chris Busak, Arborist in NYC & Westchester

Bare Root Transplanting

Here’s a bit of a story in pictures for you. We moved this tree from one spot to another using the bare root method. Transplanting trees this way is great because the tree is much lighter to carry without all of that soil attached (which means we can actually take more of the root system with us than we normally could), and the root system begins to establish in its new environment right away.

Before the job begins…
Air Spading in action… moving soil away from the root system of the tree.


That hose connects an air compressor to the Air Spade tool.
Pruning the roots back so that we can remove the tree from the ground.
Protecting the roots with burlap.


En route…
The final destination, nest still intact. 🙂 

Lion’s Tailing

En route to an early appointment, I couldn’t help but notice this “pruning” job along the way and imagined the request that led up to it:

“We’d like to get more light to the house and raise the tree up so the branches won’t cause any damage if they break off in a storm.”

There’s no doubt that they got what they asked for, of sorts… Unfortunately, in fulfilling the homeowner’s request, the tree has been become more liable to fail than before the job was started.


The practice of removing all but the most extreme limbs is known in the trade as “lion-tailing” and it may cause irreparable damage and drastically alter the trees ability to withstand moderate to heavy winds. The dampening effect the lower limbs once provided is gone and all the weight is now at the very end of the branches. As even moderated wind gusts occur, the top of the tree will sway excessively leveraging the end of the limb against the branch collar, the point of connection below and if it’s at all weakened the limb comes off crashing to whatever waits below. 

There are ways to effectively reduce the canopy of a tree to help protect it against high-winds and ways to prune to allow more sunlight into an area; this unfortunately does not fit that bill.

If you build it, will it fall?

Many of this tree’s roots were severed during installation of the driveway, creating an unsafe situation.

We saw many ways trees can fail, in whole or part during the storms encountered this year. Some were unavoidable in the above average winds, many we may have had a hand in creating. Our quest for more and more paved surfaces has had a less than desirable effect on the urban forest and in many cases has created safety issues that may not be easily detected. 


Case in point: this tree began the downward spiral when the decision was made to put in a driveway and retaining wall. The original root system was compromised by a cut-and-fill and the support system on the driveway side ultimately became inadequate to support the massive canopy above. When the winds gusted to seventy miles per hour in a direction against the damaged root system below, down it came. Fortunately little more than a play-set and some landscape fixtures suffered any serious damage. 


If you see a similar situation in or around your property, it’s best to get a professional opinion before the next storm rears its head.