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Frequently Asked Questions

Topic: Tree Care Tips

1. Question: I have four scrub oaks on my front lawn. A few years ago we had a drought here in Colorado and many of the roots of these trees came to the surface. They are now beginning to take over a beautiful lawn. Cutting them back doesn't help as they only grow back through the grass and with so many it's almost impossible to keep up. Is there any method I can use to kill the roots at the surface of the lawn without killing the entire tree? Any help is greatly appreciated.
Answer: As the tree roots grow in diameter, they will become a bigger problem. Tree roots will proliferate and thrive where there is water and nutrients so the environment created for the lawn is ideal for tree roots as well. Competition will only increase. Unfortunately, there is no way to eliminate the tree roots without impacting the health of these oaks. Consider developing mulched beds in areas where these large roots are evident (usually close to the stem of the tree). Irrigating heavily and infrequently can encourage deeper root development of the tree but I suspect that the trees have developed many shallow lateral roots that will remain near the surface. Sorry I can’t offer you better options.
2. Question: I have a question about a 75-80 year old ginkgo tree that is located at my father’s insurance office. About 1 1/2 months ago, electricians were trenching for underground utilities about 4-5 feet from this tree and cut about 4-5 large roots. Some of these were 6-7 inches in diameter. We are concerned that this may kill the tree. So far we haven't noticed any stress on the tree. Is there anything we can do to help the tree? Do you think this will cause the tree to die?
Answer: Cutting roots within 4-5 feet on a mature tree can not only impact the health of the tree but, more importantly, it can compromise the stability of the plant. Research has shown that when trenches occur within three times the diameter of the stem, stability is compromised. So if the stem of the tree is two feet across (at four feet above ground), cuts made within six feet of the base can cause the tree to fail especially in high winds. Ginkgo is very tolerant of stress and health may not be significantly impacted by the root cut. However you should contact a certified arborist to inspect the tree and advise you regarding the failure potential of the root system. In the meantime, mulch the root zone of the tree and irrigate during dry periods to avoid drought stress. For irrigation, it is best to use soaker hoses beneath the mulch and irrigate heavily (several hours) once per week when rainfall is not adequate.
3. Question: We have a tree in our backyard that was planted ten years ago and has a diameter of 8". Our dog has chewed on the tree and left a number of marks in the bark. In one place, he chewed through the bark. Do I need to treat those areas and/or wrap the trunk?
Answer: In general, wound "dressings" such as tree paint, wraps, etc. are no longer recommended. There may be other recommendations I would make based on the extent of the damage. Please contact us to schedule an appointment.
4. Question: I am having two neighboring maple trees, about 40 feet tall, removed to make way for a septic leach field. It is an optional removal. They will not be able to be excised once the delicate piping etc. will be put in. Will I have more standing water on the ground now that the trees and roots are not there to use excess water? The trees are about 20 feet from the house.
Answer: It is difficult to answer your question without actually seeing the site. Trees do absorb a substantial amount of water from the soil, but other factors may play a larger role in your situation (e.g., soil type, water table depth, grade, etc.). Contact us today for an appointment with an arborist to visit your property.
5. Question: I have two 5' emerald cedars which I bought to complete a hedge. I planted them in a temporary spot in the garden and one of the trees looks like it is dying from the inside out. It is turning brown in places. I have put it back into a pot with good drainage and good soil. Is there anything else I can do to help it come back to life?
Answer: It is very difficult to tell what the problem is without looking at the plants, but it is very likely a problem with the roots or soil. Often, when plants come from a nursery that mass produces plants, they damage the root system when preparing them to sell. If you lightly remove some of the soil from the roots, you can check for damage and make sure you have a lot of fine roots that are needed for the health of the tree. A soil test is also recommended to be sure your soils have the right nutrient levels for maximum health of your trees.
6. Question: I have an old redwood tree that is over 100' tall. I was going to put a planter at the base of the tree. My neighbor told me that if I put the planter at the base of this tree I will probably kill it. The planter was going to be three blocks high and I was going to put dirt from the blocks to the trunk of the tree. Is my neighbor right?
Answer: Your neighbor is correct. Adding fill soil to the base of trees can result in decay/disease in the basal portion of the plant that can result in decline, death, or even windthrow. Redwood trees are more tolerant of soil fills and more disease resistant than most species. Nevertheless, we don't advocate soil fills on any woody plant because of potential health and structural impacts.
7. Question: What kind of injection or injections should I use for a live oak that's 200 to 300 years old?
Answer: We recommend fertilizer applications to the soil based on soil analysis results We never recommend stem injections on live oaks unless there is a severe micronutrient deficiency such as iron. Such deficiencies are very rare on this species.
8. Question: I have a large back yard and would like to plant a fast-growing tree that will provide shade and look nice. I have been doing some research and like the look of the Tulip tree, but read that it can leave a mess when the flowers drop and that it sometimes leaves a black sap. Do you have any suggestions?
Answer: I think you would be happy with your selection of the Tulip tree. All trees require some maintenance, but the Tulip tree is not particularly messy. The dropping of flower petals is for only two weeks of the year and not a major concern. The "black sap" is actually sooty mold which results if you have a high aphid population. This could present a bit of a nuisance, but is very treatable.
9. Question: I have a large maple tree in my small backyard with lots of exposed surface roots. We want to install a patio and do some landscaping, which will require some grading and removal of dirt. Is it safe to cut out some of the roots? The tree is beautiful and provides a lot of shade. I don't want to loose the tree or cause it damage.
Answer: Cutting the roots will affect the health and structural stability. The closer you are to the trunk of the tree, the greater chance for damage. Changing the grade also affects the root system. Again, the closer you are to the trunk, the greater the impact. Maple trees are generally surface rooted and will push up on the patio. It might be best to consider installing a deck on a raised platform above the root system.
10. Question: At what time of year should healthy, mature Japanese Maples be pruned?
Answer: Care should be taken when pruning mature trees of all kinds. We recommend a certified and experienced arborist inspect the tree before making recommendations.
11. Question: I planted a paulonia twig about a year ago and it has grown to about 7'. Suddenly, the large leaves started showing holes from some insects eating them, as well as large brown areas on the edges of the leaves.

I sprayed the with Specticide Immunox, but am not sure that helped. Most of the leaves have fallen off. The only ones remaining are limp and look as though they too will fall shortly. None of the leaves on or off the tree are crisp like autumn leaves.

What could be the problem and what can I do about it?
Answer: The leaves are falling due to drought and early fall color. I would not worry about condition of leaves or insects at this time. I would ensure that watering is adequate.
12. Question: A tenant attached a bird feeder to our Norway maple with two to five nails. Should I remove them immediately? How should I treat the nail holes? Or is it better to leave it alone? The tree is in otherwise good health and is at least 30 years old. I was planning on having some pruning done this fall.
Answer: Nails are generally not the best type of fastener for attaching a bird feeder to the Norway Maple tree. We have numerous types of arborist grade hardware that can be used in trees to secure bird feeders, bird houses, and other objects. We should examine the Norway Maple together for its pruning requirements. We can also make a better determination with the proper hardware to use for the bird feeder. During the interim, no particular harm will come to the tree from the nails.
13. Question: There is a twin trunk which has been pruned properly over the years but recently has started to lean towards the house. I took out a dead twin two years ago, some 60 plus feet tall. How do I gauge it's health? The roots were severely damaged years ago.
Answer: If the angle of the lean of the tree appears to be changing, the tree could be in the process of failing structurally. This is not uncommon following root damage. Decay organisms can invade damaged roots that can structurally weaken the tree causing it to fall. There are several methods to determine if the angle of lean is changing. You should contact a consulting arborist who is qualified to evaluate the tree and determine if removal is warranted or if other treatments could reduce the risk of failure to acceptable levels.
14. Question: Can you please advise a safe distance to plant a willow tree from electric transformers and sewage lines?
Answer: As one of the most conductive trees on the planet, willows should have no part of the tree ever touching live power. The willow also is high on water content. For these reasons, planting should be at least 35 feet (11 meters) from the estimated drip-line.
15. Question: I have a large oak tree in my back yard. The previous homeowners had a wooden octagonal bench built around the base of the tree and filled in with soil that is about two feet high. Several years have passed, the oak has grown, and the bench has become dilapidated and must be removed or replaced. If we remove it, along with the soil around it which has surrounded the tree for many years, will there be irreparable damage to the tree/bark? Should we remove the bench, but leave the soil in place? I would like to get an expert opinion on this.
Answer: If the tree was originally there and then the soil was added around the tree, the it is highly recommended to remove all the soil back to the original soil level of the tree. The root collar or flare should be visible when you are finished removing all the soil. Excess soil piled around the trunk of the tree can and will lead to decay and rot at the tree trunk.
16. Question: How do I take care of an hibiscus tree?
Answer: Most need to be in warm areas and brought inside during the cold weather. Outside, they need to be protected and get full sun. Late spring is the best time to prune them. Deadwood needs to be cleaned out immediately because they are prone to cankers and if they get too big, the roots are not able to hold the plant up. Rose of Sharon are in this family and can produce prolific amounts of seeds.
17. Question: We have an elm tree that is leaning, with a sizable mound behind it where the roots must be pushing up. Is there any way to straighten it back up?
Answer: It all depends on the size of the tree. If it is a mature specimen, then attempts to straighten the tree will likely fail. If it is a younger tree, and the site is favorable for installing suitable anchors, then there may be a chance. However, steps should also be taken to ensure that the tree eventually stands on its own. This means getting the soil nutrition and irrigation regime right. It may also mean reconditioning the soil to provide a more favorable medium for aggressive root growth than mere fertilization.
18. Question: When and how should I prune my Hydrangea tree?
Answer: Pruning a hydrangea is dependent on what you would like the plant to look like. Many people cut their hydrangeas down to 6 or 8 inch stems in the winter. This heavy pruning helps to maintain a smaller size and assure a vigorous re-growth in the spring.

For a tree-form hydrangea I recommend pruning to reduce the height and width to a size that you're comfortable with, allowing for approx 6-12 inches of re-growth next season. Most species hydrangeas should be pruned in the winter. However, if you have a big-leaf hydrangea, you may end up pruning off many of the flower buds at this time of year.
19. Question: I am looking for information on transplanting fir trees as it relates to zone 5 (North-Central Mass.) I recently transplanted 25 fir trees, all six to seven ft. tall. The project started early September and ended mid-October. The temperature was in the 60's when I started but now is in the 50's and drops down to the 20's at night. What can I do to protect these trees, to keep them from freezing and to keep them alive through the winter? Should they be mulched and with what? Should they be fertilized? I built a well around each tree to hold a small reservoir of water and I watered them twice a week. The trees all look very well. They are not wilting, have not yellowed or lost needles. The soil I removed from the holes was not very good, consisting of loam, silt, clay and some shale. I removed all of the debris and treated the soil with tree and shrub pottingmix, peatmoss and organic compost from cow manure. I planted them in holes measuring 36"x36"x12". The balls measured approx. 30'x30"x8'. Any advice you can give me will be very much appreciated. Thank you for your consideration in this regard.
Answer: Certain tree species are considered a “fall (autumn) planting risk”meaning that trees of this species have a higher risk of failure and poor growth when planted in the fall. Fir is one of the species listed as a fall planting risk and it is recommended that planting only be done in the spring. There is much speculation as to why some species don’t transplant successfully in the fall months but, the fact is that we do not fully understand the reasons for this.

Ensuring the plants have adequate soil moisture before the soil freezes is important. Mulches applied to the soil will also help conserve moisture and promote root development and establishment. Fertilization now will not influence establishment but should be considered in spring. Finally, any protection that can be given from wind would be helpful in preventing desiccation.
20. Question: We have a row of hemlocks, and around the base of one of them lately there's a ring of sawdust. I've seen an ant or two in it, and our pile of firewood is close by, making me suspect an ant or termite eaten load that we had there last summer. But the ring is very neatly around the (so far) healthy hemlock. If this is ants or termites, can it be treated?
Answer: Treat the base and entry area with boric acid. Roach aid can be found at any hardware store. Repeat after rain and this should take care of the ants.
21. Question: I have a nine-year old leland cypress. It is planted about four feet from a lake and gets good sun. A few months ago, portions of the tree branches began to turn a rust color and die. It appears to be spreading throughout the tree. I took a sample and pictures to the St. John’s Agricultural Center and was told that leland cypress trees begin to die at about eight years old. Upon some internet research, I did not find any info that confirmed that. I did find that there were two cankers that can affect the tree. I also noted that there is no known cure or control for them. An arborist told me that it should be sprayed with horticultural oil. I don’t know if I should have the tree removed or if there is some way to save it. Can you help me?
Answer: Branch dieback on leland cypress is commonly caused by canker disease and this is the likely causal agent for the problem on your trees. Trees that are stressed by drought or excess soil moisture are more susceptible to this disease. We also find that trees that have been planted too deep and have soil over the top of the root flare are more prone to disease.

Pruning out diseased branches and identifying and correcting any stress inducing factors will help prevent further decline. Many homeowners choose to replace leland cypress with more durable species. I recommend that you consult a local arboretum/botanical garden for suitable replacement species.

Horticultural oil will not help the situation unless there is an insect infestation present that is causing plant stress. Leyland cypress can be infested with spidermites and scale insects that can be suppressed with properly timed treatments of horticultural oil.
22. Question: I have a pine tree within a few feet of my house. It is now taller than my house. I like the shade it provides, but want to know if the roots are harming the foundation of my house and if I should cut the tree down.
Answer: Large trees seldom cause issues with properly-built building foundations. When roots do "damage" foundations, it usually results from cracks forming in the foundation due to settling and roots then "exploring" the cracks. Roots don't initiate the cracks.

The bigger issue with tall trees immediately adjacent to structures is one of lightning damage. Most lightning damage to homes occurs when tall trees are struck and the electrical charge arcs or "sideflashes" to something more conductive on the house, such as metal gutters. This is relatively common on trees that are taller than the structure and within ten feet of the foundation. So if the tree is very tall and is a species prone to lightning damage, consider speaking with an arborist regarding a lightning protection system for the tree.
23. Question: I have a Tulip poplar tree in my front yard that is approximately 6 to 7 inches in diameter. Every year it drops dead limbs and has a few that I prune out. Is the tree dying out? Do I need to water it? Also, should I use fertilizer on it?
Answer: It is not uncommon for Tulip Poplar trees to shed leaves and small branches (1 to 3 inches in diameter on mature trees) in the summer. Tulip Poplar trees will grow quickly with ample water and fertilizer. Fertilizing your tree is a great idea, especially if you want your young tree to grow quickly. Tulip Poplar is a fast growing species, so limit the nitrogen fertilization if you don't want it to grow too fast. Tulip Poplar has a few pests so if you would like some additional information, please contact us.
24. Question: A neighbor insists we remove the branches of our white oak that overhang his property. (Roughly 20% of the crown.) Our neighborhood has lost oaks to oak wilt disease in recent years. How (& when) should we proceed so as to best protect the tree? Is there any way to inoculate the tree before we do the surgery?
Answer: Pruning of all oak trees should be performed during the dormant season (October through March). There are preventative treatments for oak wilt. It is a systemic trunk injection that will give up to 24 months of control. Contact your local office to schedule an appointment.
25. Question: I have two trees that have mistletoe, one in my front yard and one in my back yard. Are these problematic to the rest of the trees in my yard?
Answer: Mistletoe is a parasite to trees, meaning it steals water and nutrients from its host. Mistletoe can cause crown decline, dieback, and even death. The damage is generally related to the degree of infestation and it is best removed via pruning when possible and if not detrimental to the remaining plant.
26. Question: I recently bought a 8' spring serviceberry. While bringing it home, the leading branch broke 6" from the top. Is the tree considered 'topped' now that the leader has broken? The leader only broke about half way. Should I cut it off completely?
Answer: For now I would leave it alone and see if anything sprouts from the remaining portion of the leader. In the spring, if sprouting occurs, cut the broken end back to viable growth. These sprouts could become the new central leader.
27. Question: I have a mature oak tree that had a double trunk. Yesterday I had one of the trunks removed by a professional tree remover. The cut left an 18" diameter stump that has not been treated with fungicide or tar. I want to keep the remaining trunk as healthy as possible. Should I do anything to the stump to protect it from fungus or disease?
Answer: Typically we do not recommend any post prune treatment to cut surfaces. It is however crucial to make this final cut at the proper place and angle. Having not seen the resulting work, it is difficult to say that the final cut was made at a proper angle to the remaining stem. I would consider this a substantial cut to have made and caution must always be used when removing a leader of this size. I would certainly refer back to the professional you hired to ensure the health and longevity of the tree has been protected.
28. Question: Bamboo! How can I get rid of it?
Answer: Bamboo is extremely invasive and aggressive. It can be controlled by cutting and regularly applying herbicide. Root barriers help limit the spread. Grinding out the root material and treating with a strong herbicide is also effective. Bartlett can inspect your property and present a management plan.
29. Question: I planted some peach trees this spring. They came in pots with a pretty good root ball. They have new growth and small fruit, but I am noticing many yellow leaves. Is this normal or do I have a problem? Also, what is the best fertilizer for fruit trees?
Answer: This could be an issue of "transplant shock" where a tree is losing some leaves due to the stress of being purchased, transported, and installed. Take note to see if the leaves that are yellowing and dropping are older, interior leaves. It could also be symptoms of a disease: Look for any lesions or dots on the leaves, which could be indicative of a fungal disease. Peaches (and stone fruits in general) are very susceptible to fungal diseases. They often require treatments during the growing season to ensure good health and fruit set. A balanced fertilizer that is slow release and contains small quantities of major nutrients and micro nutrients would be beneficial if applied in the fall.
30. Question: I purchased two redbud trees late last summer and planted and watered them regularly. As of today, they only have little shoots coming out of the bottom two feet or so. I am wondering if they will have any new growth up on top where we should have leaves by this time. There are no buds or any sign of life there.
Answer: It is very unlikely that the redbuds will resprout in the upper crown. The decline could be due to winter injury/low temperature injury. Newly planted trees are more prone to low temperature injury. Redbud is also sensitive to stem cankers, a disease that the girdle and kill trees. The sprouts from the lower trunk may be trained into a desirable tree but you may consider replanting with a hardier species such as crabapple or hawthorne.
31. Question: I have an Oxblood Japanese Maple tree that loves it's location. I planted it about four years ago as a three-foot tree and it is now well over 15 feet tall! How much can I trim it without 'hurting' it? It is rather close to the house and I need it trimmed to see out the window it is now hiding.
Answer: If you look at the outer portion of the canopy, you will see that these are normally dense and little sunlight penetrates them. I always advise people to thin the outer canopy and allow sunlight inside so that you retain the interior and lower branches. Thinning and reduction can be done at the same time if you take your time and are selective. Your cuts shouldn't be any bigger than 3/8". Don't remove any interior tissue unless its dead.
32. Question: Do you have a solution to eliminate fruit growth on a specific tree? I would just like leaves with no blossoms or fruit. The birds and animals are making a disaster of my car, sidewalk, windows, and street.
Answer: In short, the answer is no. Florel was thought to be the cure for fruit, but it has failed. The best means is to prune more often to reduce fruit buds from developing.
33. Question: Can I cut the top of a small two-foot fir tree to make it fill out?
Answer: Removing the terminal/top of a conifer is seldom advisable, especially if you intend to grow the plant to mature size. Removing the terminal will cause multiple stems to develop that are more prone to breakage later in life. If the plant is spindly, it may not be getting enough sun. Firs prefer to grow in very sunny location, so if it is in the shade, consider transplanting it to a sunnier spot.
34. Question: I have an larger ornamental pear tree that has lost leaves at the end of branches. This is present over the entire tree. Is there any thing I can do? Should we prune the "dead" ends of branches, etc.?
Answer: Most likely, the pear is a deciduous tree that will lose its leaves each winter. If the tips of the branches exhibited browning/defoliation during the growth season, it would be of more concern for a potential pathogen.
35. Question: I want to plant some trees that would be around three feet from the sidewalk. Our garden is quite small, so we would like a tree no larger than 10 to 15 feet. Also, I have concerns about the roots tearing up the sidewalk. Do you have any tips on some good tree choices? I have been researching some deep-rooted trees, but all are too large for our space.
Answer: Prior to planting, it is useful to do a soil analysis to determine the soil type, soil nutrient content, and soil pH to best match the tree to the site.

In some cases, installation of root barriers can direct tree roots deeply to reduce the chances of damaging the sidewalk. With a small ornamental tree, it is unlikely that you would experience sidewalk damage.

Flowering dogwood, kousa dogwood, Japanese snowbell (Styrax), star magnolia, sweetbay magnolia, cornelian-cherry dogwood, some varieties of crape myrtle, and winterberry holly are a few species that could work. Looking at dwarf conifers and large shrubs creates more alternatives.

The space the tree will occupy will help inform the decision.
36. Question: A workman accidentally got a small amount of black primer on the top of our mature green maple bush. Will this paint adversely affect the bush? Can I trim the paint covered area off? Should I wait until winter for the leaves to drop off?
Answer: It would be very unlikely that this would damage the plant. I would leave it as is for now and not remove the leaves unless they are very unsightly, as they will still be used for photosynthesis. Just remember to keep up your regular maintenance and watering.
37. Question: Is it damaging to trees to prune while temperatures are below freezing?
Answer: There is no harm in pruning when under freezing conditions.
38. Question: I have several tall arborvitae (15-20 ft) used as a "natural barrier" between our house and a neighbor's. Winter snowfall has bent several sections of them considerably. Can they be cabled together to realign them? There is very little room to cable to the ground. If I do nothing, will they "straighten" naturally?
Answer: Cabling is usually tough since there is nothing to cable them to. In some cases, we recommend reducing the tops properly and the plant will tend to pop back into place. Every situation is different, so I would recommend you contact your local Bartlett office to make an appointment.

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