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Carpenter Costin Blog

Marc Bolcome

Excessive Drought Damages Evergreen Trees

There is a defoliation problem with evergreen trees which started last year. Fertilization and added soil inoculants can help, but the effects of multiple years of environmental stress (drought) are taking its toll. The problem is region-wide and is serious. Please see the following report from my alma mater, UMass, that goes into great detail concerning this matter.

Based on my own experience, the UMass research, and several discussions with fellow arborist - I summarize the problem as follows:

1. Several years of drought have greatly affected trees with low energy reserves by weakening their defense systems to the point of exposing them to secondary pathogens that never cause the demise of healthy, well hydrated trees. Unfortunately, Darwin's theory of 'survival of the fittest' is at play here and you may expect the loss of some trees as they are just too weak to survive. There is no magic potion that would have prevented the death of these trees (rain would have helped) and to blindly blast them with poisonous fungicides would be irresponsible. [More information from the UMass Extension Plant Diagnostics Lab]

2. Excessive layering of mulch is also a contributing factor to the weakening of these trees. Please see the attached report from Rutgers University that explains in detail the problems associated with mulching. My biggest concern is the stripping away of needles (spring and fall clean up) that the trees produce to counterbalance the effects of drought. Trees know when they are stressed and the defoliation is the tree's way of increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil to sustain specific microbial vitality. 'Air spading' in the fall/early winter of to can help reverse the effects of excessive mulching. [More information from the Rutgers NJAES]

3. SALT - There was a time when sand/salt mix was an acceptable winter roadway application. About 10 years ago, this changed and now we are collectively addicted to salt in the greater route 128 belt. This has a negative impact on trees and in my opinion is a leading cause to the decline of trees that line our roadways. Please see the attached fact sheet from UMass regarding the negative effects of salt. Aside from the obvious problem with salt wicking moisture from living cells, my biggest concern is the binding up of the soil on a molecular level, otherwise known as 'cation exchange'. This will result in neutralizing the soil to extent that the trees are not able to absorb nutrients. [More information from UMass]

Hopefully this information based on science will bring greater awareness to the challenges that trees are now facing. If you are experiencing defoliation in your evergreens, or any other symptoms that indicate your trees are damaged, please take advantage of a free consultation with a Certified Arborist.

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The Dangers of Volcano Mulch

Why Too Much Mulch Can Damage Your Trees

We've all seen it. You drive by a freshly mulched property, notice that distinct smell of fresh mulch, and take a closer look at the newly mulched flower and tree beds. To an untrained eye, you might see an appealing bed with a tree and a few other smaller plants. The trained eye, however, cannot look past the glaring danger that is commonly referred to as "volcano mulch."volcano-mulch-tree

The term "volcano mulch" is used to describe excessive mulch along the root flare and base of a tree, which ends up looking very much like a volcano.

Mulch against tree bark holds in excess moisture. This moisture suffocates and rots the inside layers of tissue cells (xylem/phloem) that transfer food up and down the plant. The following are commonly found issues with "volcano mulch":

  • Trees weakened and stressed by moisture/rot issues are susceptible to insects, fungi and bacteria.
  • Increased growth of unwanted suckers which will weaken structural development.
  • Water is prevented from penetrating to the tree’s roots and weak secondary roots will cause strangulation.

How to Mitigate Risks of Volcano Mulch

If your trees have been "volcano mulched" on a regular basis there could be substantially damage caused. A air-spadingsolution that we recommend for improving the health and reviving "volcano mulched" trees is air spading. This safe, effective, and economical solution is the best way to remove excess amounts of mulch without causing harm to the tree. Air spading will reduce soil compaction and help expose the root flare as nature intended. Your tree will no longer be stressed and look like a "volcano."

Request a free consultation if your trees have been "volcano mulched" and a Certified Arborist will be able to assess the damage and develop a plan for bringing the tree back to health.

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Why Heavy Winter Snowfall Can Lead to a Bad Tick Season

Expect a bad tick season as this winter's thick layer of snow served as insulation for the over-wintering tick population.

Before we completely put this past winter behind us, let's not forget about a problem that lurks on the horizon as a result of the tremendous amount of snow we received. The tick population is expected to explode this year due to the protection they received from the blanket of insulating snow. Usually a significant portion of the over-wintering ticks die from freezing conditions, but the snow was in their favor this past season.

[Click here to Learn How to Treat Your Property for Deer Ticks] 

An interesting fact is that ticks are not actually insects, since they have two distinct body parts and 8 legs. In fact, they have more in common with arthropods like spiders and mites. Their evolution comes from crustaceans, but try not to think of that when eating lobster. In New England we are primarily concerned with the Suborder Ixodida, otherwise known as hard ticks. There are several species of hard ticks and they are the vectors of many diseases, most notably Lyme disease. Nearly 300,000 new cases are documented in the US each year and the rate continues to rise year after year. The numbers have reached epidemic proportions and billions are spent each year trying to treat the symptoms of this debilitating disease.

Unfortunately, there is a newly identified disease called Powassan that is also transmitted by ticks with devastating consequences. Although most people who are infected do not show signs of the disease, others do suffer encephalitis and even death. It goes without saying that those with low immunity systems are most at risk and should avoid wooded areas or tall grassy fields.

On average, a female tick will lay approximately 2,000 eggs in May. These pest are most vulnerable for treatment during the summer months and a product using Permethrin is best used for controls. The best means of applying the controls is spraying with a high pressure commercial hydraulic spray unit, specifically directed towards areas of tick habitation.

If you'd like to protect your loved ones from ticks, consider consulting with an Arborist or Plant Health Care Specialist to see what you can do to mitigate the threat of ticks on your property.

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