Trea­sure in your yard

Trees need care and main­te­nance to thrive

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - JEN­NIFER RUDE KLETT

Mag­nif­i­cent trees com­mand our at­ten­tion in fall. Some­times though, trees can be taken for granted, even ne­glected. But ig­nor­ing the for­est or the trees may jeop­ar­dize the most ex­pen­sive, es­tab­lished plants to re­place in your yard. Some trees could even be con­sid­ered ir­re­place­able. They con­trib­ute to a sense of home and his­tory like no other plant. Still, think of the amount of time and re­sources home­own­ers of­ten spend on main­tain­ing lawn grass, com­pared with trees. Or­di­nary lawn grass can be re­placed in a mat­ter of weeks.

Not so with trees. Just ask an ar­borist. “Trees are the old­est liv­ing things on Earth,” said ar­borist Jim Rude, owner and op­er­a­tor of Nat­u­ral Habi­tat Pro­fes­sional Ar­borists in Wales. “Some­times, peo­ple are blown away when I tell them how old their tree is.” Just be­cause trees can live a long time, though, doesn’t mean they don’t need care. That’s es­pe­cially true for ur­ban trees. Bill Re­ichen­bach, In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Ar­bori­cul­ture cer­ti­fied ar­borist and hor­ti­cul­tur­ist with Wach­tel Tree Sci­ence in Mer­ton, be­lieves some prop­erty own­ers can for­get about their trees.

“They have the im­pres­sion that trees will take care of them­selves,” he said. “How­ever, when we live next to trees, we im­pact each other, some­times neg­a­tively. So it is im­por­tant to pe­ri­od­i­cally have your trees in­spected by a cer­ti­fied ar­borist.”

Ar­borists are trained spe­cial­ists in the art and sci­ence of plant­ing and car­ing for trees, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety of Ar­bori­cul­ture. They are a com­bi­na­tion mod­ern-day lum­ber­jack, sur­geon, pathol­o­gist, artist and tac­ti­cian . . . re­quir­ing both brains and brawn with a streak of gutsy fi­nesse.

“Work­ing in the air, with heavy wood, grav­ity and sharp tools is very dan­ger­ous. Qual­ity ar­borists have the unique train­ing, ex­pe­ri­ence, equip­ment and safety skills needed to get the job done safely and ef­fi­ciently,”

Re­ichen­bach said.

Younger trees in par­tic­u­lar can be over­looked, said Andrew Goll­nick, cer­ti­fied ar­borist with Goll­nick and Sons Tree Service in Cedar­burg.

Gen­er­ally, fast-grow­ing trees such as wil­lows, hy­brid elms and maples need more main­te­nance, with ev­er­greens and oaks usu­ally re­quir­ing less at­ten­tion.

Prun­ing, he added, should be done every three to five years.

Proper prun­ing pro­duces a pret­tier, more wind-re­sis­tant tree while help­ing to pre­vent struc­tural prob­lems. Sim­ply rais­ing the crown by re­mov­ing lower branches can help di­rect the tree’s growth and op­ti­mize its shape.

What to plant?

Ask­ing an ar­borist the best trees to plant, or the worst ones to avoid, fol­lows the same logic as seek­ing the ad­vice of an ap­pli­ance re­pair­man be­fore you buy that re­frig­er­a­tor.

Goll­nick, Re­ichen­bach and Rude said their fa­vorite trees in­clude white pine, sugar maple, burr oak, white oak, ginkgo and ser­vice­berry.

Burr oak, named for the burr-like spikes on its acorn tops, is a “longlived, adapt­able, beau­ti­ful tree na­tive to Wis­con­sin” that cre­ates a bold state­ment in the land­scape, Re­ichen­bach said.

Ginkgo is an­other won­der­ful tree, “very ur­ban­tol­er­ant with unique fo­liage and spec­tac­u­lar golden fall color,” he added.

Least-liked tree: Colorado blue spruce. This trou­ble­some tree, de­scribed as un­suit­able for Wis­con­sin, was unan­i­mously loathed by the ex­perts con­sulted for this story. Also dis­liked were sil­ver maple, Aus­trian pine, lit­tle leaf lin­den, Nor­way maple (con­sid­ered in­va­sive) and pur­ple­leaf cher­ries and plums.

“Colorado blue spruce is a ter­ri­ble tree,” Rude said. “They are prone to dis­eases and (are) over­planted. Aus­trian pines start hav­ing dis­ease prob­lems ap­proach­ing ma­tu­rity. They are both garbage.”

Re­ichen­bach agreed, say­ing Colorado blue spruce are overused and of­ten mis­placed in the land­scape.

Rude also cringes at the lit­tle leaf lin­den. “They have a myr­iad of in­sect and dis­ease prob­lems when they start to reach ma­tu­rity,” he said. “By late sum­mer, they are just dec­i­mated by Ja­panese bee­tles.”

Some­times the “it” trees hailed by land­scap­ers don’t de­liver in the long term. Rude said land­scape awards shouldn’t be given out un­til 10 years af­ter plant­ing (an old ar­borist say­ing).

Sadly, these trees can ini­tially thrive, but prob­lems arise once the pa­tient home­owner has in­vested years into wait­ing for them to grow. He cited the au­tumn blaze maple as an ex­am­ple.

“We are find­ing out they are get­ting busted up in storms. This was the ‘it’ tree 20 years ago. Now, I’m not so sure I want to rec­om­mend those trees,” he said.

Some or­na­men­tal pears that were all the rage in the ’90s are also be­com­ing eas­ily dam­aged, es­pe­cially by snow, now that they have ma­tured. “Un­less we have an ice storm, trees shouldn’t be suf­fer­ing dam­age in the win­ter be­cause they are de­fo­li­ated,” Rude ex­plained.

Tree threats

Ac­cord­ing to Re­ichen­bach, the big­gest three threats to ur­ban trees are oak wilt, the emerald ash borer and in­va­sive plants such as com­mon buck­thorn.

Lethal oak wilt is wide­spread in the south­ern two-thirds of Wis­con­sin, ac­cord­ing to the state Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources, yet it re­ceives scant at­ten­tion out­side the ar­borist world. Oak wilt will strike red oaks (iden­ti­fied by pointier leaf tips) more of­ten than whites and can es­tab­lish dur­ing con­struc­tion dam­age or prun­ing done in warmer months.

Storm-dam­aged oaks should be ad­dressed im­me­di­ately. Oak wilt can kill a ma­ture tree in a mat­ter of months and then spread like a cancer through the roots to other oaks.

The more-pub­li­cized emerald ash borer has heav­ily hit south­east­ern Wis­con­sin, Door County and the Drift­less Area along the Mis­sis­sippi River, ac­cord­ing to the DNR. Nearly the en­tire south­ern half of the state and some north­ern ar­eas re­main un­der quar­an­tine.

Re­ichen­bach said ash trees can be suc­cess­fully treated by ar­borists through in­jec­tions; best re­sults oc­cur when trees are treated prior to in­fes­ta­tion.

By con­trast, Rude is skep­ti­cal of the chem­i­cal treat­ments as he reg­u­larly sees ash trees dy­ing that have been treated. He never uses chem­i­cals when car­ing for trees, thus de­clines any work on ash trees.

“The dire pre­dic­tions are com­ing to fruition,” he said, of the borer. He can­didly tells home­own­ers not to plant ash trees, not to treat them and not to bother pay­ing him their money to prune them.

Goll­nick has seen some suc­cess treat­ing ash trees but added treat­ment is not guar­an­teed. “So un­less it’s your fa­vorite tree, you are most likely bet­ter off re­mov­ing and re­plac­ing it,” he ad­vised.

As for buck­thorn, it’s “ex­tremely in­va­sive in both ur­ban and ru­ral land- scape en­vi­ron­ments and of­ten out-com­petes both na­tive and land­scape plants,” Re­ichen­bach said.

Mam­malian en­coun­ters

Be­cause climb­ing trees can be just an­other day at the of­fice for ar­borists, it’s only nat­u­ral that they would have some lively wildlife sto­ries . . . call them close en­coun­ters of the mam­malian kind.

For ex­am­ple, Goll­nick re­cently had to care­fully re­lo­cate a rac­coon fam­ily with ba­bies “the size of my hand” cud­dled up in a hol­low beech tree. That must have re­quired some se­ri­ous diplomacy.

Re­ichen­bach had a star­tling ex­pe­ri­ence ear­lier this year while pound­ing a mal­let dur­ing a sound­ing tech­nique to de­ter­mine de­cay near a cav­ity in an old sil­ver maple.

“To our sur­prise, out popped a fly­ing squir­rel, which star­tled the be­je­sus out of us, as it did the squir­rel, I am sure. Fly­ing squir­rels are thought to be rare, but in fact they are not. Be­ing noc­tur­nal, they are just rarely seen,” he said.

“Just goes to show how much life can be in a tree.”

Rude also en­coun­tered his share of mam­mals in over 30 years as an ar­borist.

Once climb­ing a huge ash tree, he was sud­denly show­ered with liq­uid. Turns out he had star­tled a mother rac­coon liv­ing in a cav­ity a few feet over his head so badly, she “peed all over me,” he tells it.

While ar­borists care for our most ma­jes­tic plants, it seems a sense of hu­mor should also be added to the long list of job re­quire­ments.


Of­fer­ing spec­tac­u­lar fall color, the sugar maple is Wis­con­sin’s of­fi­cial state tree and the source for maple syrup.


Ar­borist Jim Rude iden­ti­fies po­ten­tial struc­tural trou­ble in a limb to prune from a maple tree.


Au­tumn is an ideal time to plant a sapling or take a close look at the ex­ist­ing trees on your prop­erty.


Ar­borist Andrew Goll­nick urges peo­ple to plant more qual­ity trees such as white pine and white oak.


The white pine is an ex­cel­lent conifer choice for all-sea­son in­ter­est in your yard.

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