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Plants Need Clean Air Too!

Trees Need Clean Air
Every summer, we receive alerts and warnings about poor air quality and how we need to limit our outdoor exposure. This year it seemed that we heard the warnings more than in years past. Some of us heed these warnings while others pay close attention. Ultimately, the meteorologists are warning us about the high amounts of sulfur dioxide, ozone and other pollutants that are present in the air, not that it is just hot. These are toxic materials that can make some people sick at elevated levels. That is why these warnings are directed to the very young, sick and the old. If air quality is poor enough to keep a portion of our population inside, what happens to the trees that cannot move to shelter?

After all, trees are the earth's filters which remove pollutants from the atmosphere and provide us with the oxygen we breathe.All leaves have openings much like pores in our skin. They are responsible for the exchange of gases and will absorb all that is in the air during their daily processes. Some trees are better adapted to these airborne pollutants, but many still suffer as they are exposed to these chemicals. We have been noticing many tree species like River Birch, Cherry, and White Pine suffering from ozone and sulfur dioxide exposure. These trees are not very tolerant to poor air quality. Once the chemicals are inside the leaves, the polluted air kills the conducting tissue, severing the flow of water allowed to enter in the leaves. This causes the leaves to turn yellow and fall from the tree, adding an additional stress factor that could lead to the demise of the tree. While it is impossible to change the weather, actively maintaining the health of your landscape on a regular basis will keep them in peak condition.

Weather Impacts Scale Insect Populations

cottony cushion scale
Coming out of this unusual winter we were expecting to see fluctuations in the insect community. This growing season we noticed large populations (much more than in past years) of a plant-damaging insect called Cottony Cushion. Their soft white cotton-like structures can be easily spotted on the underside of leaves and stems of a wide variety of plants in the landscape. Like other soft scale insects, these feed on the plants phloem sap. This type of feeding can decrease the vitality of the plant resulting in defoliation and even dieback of branches in the canopy.

Oftentimes the insect is present on the plant for years without drawing attention, but their populations can rise to damaging levels and attract attention after something as simple as erratic weather patterns. Extreme cold or frost like this past winter can kill predator insects which would naturally keep the scales population to an undetectable level. When populations do rise, most people first notice the honeydew or sugar on the tops of the leaves as they chase bees away or follow a trail of ants to the plant. Bees and ants are attracted to the undigested sugar and will even offer the scale insect protection from predator insects for this natural delight. The sugar passes through the scale insects and is excreted as a clear liquid and lands on the leaf tops below. The clear liquid or "honeydew" when exposed to air will quickly grow mold which turns the topside of leaves and in extreme cases, stems, black with a dull sooty appearance. This material will stay on the plant for a season or two until it breaks down and weathers away. Like all other scale insects, timing of treatments is critical in gaining control of a population. Most scales are completely protected by their outer cover, so treatments outside of a specific time window yield poor results. This pest has several generations per year and will warrant a plant health care program to maintain a high level of health for your plant material.

Regular Maintenance Can Help Prevent Limb Failure

limb failure
After a closer look at many of the fallen limbs this year, we have noticed that many of the stems had areas of decay that became the point of failure. Trees can sustain injury in many different ways. However, we noticed areas of defect had formed from dead limbs not being removed promptly and this allowed decay organisms to enter into the parent stem and form an area of decay. This occurs because the dead limb interfered with the trees compartmentalizing process while also introducing decay organisms. Trees deal with their wounds in two ways. On the outside of the tree at the branch bark collar they create "healing" tissue which rolls over the exposed wound sealing out insects and fungi. Behind the bark the wood is being compartmentalized from the inside, which is essentially creating a scab much like the process we go through when injured. This is why the faster the tree is able to compartmentalize a wound, the less likely it will encounter an issue of invaders.

Also, the healthier a tree is, the better equipped it will be to expend the necessary energy to deal with these areas for the rest of its life. There is no cure for decay and over time as trees mature, decay will move within the tree eventually hollowing it out. As this occurs it increases the trees vulnerability to wind, rain, snow, ice and even gravity. Every time pressure is applied to these seemingly healthy-looking limbs it tests all of the potential failure points, exposing weakness. The healthier a tree is, the better able it is to compartmentalize its wounds. Older trees or trees that have been weakened in some way are generally not growing as vigorously as younger trees and are more vulnerable to the formation of decay. This is a why it is so important to continue with scheduled maintenance of your trees, in order to minimize the potential for failure as your landscape matures.

Fallen Trees – Why?

uprooted tree
Fallen and uprooted trees in a neighborhood can be an alarming site. How is it that a seemingly healthy tree, with no visible defects, simply falls over in a moderate storm? Most times, it is due to the fact that the tree's root system has been damaged and could no longer hold its own weight. While tree roots bring in nutrients and water from the soil, they are also the anchoring system for the tree - an integral piece of the structural puzzle.

Home additions, decks, patios, walkways, driveways, retaining walls and fence construction are common in the urban landscape and each job requires some form of soil disturbance to get the job done. With the majority of trees' root systems located in the top 8-12 inches of soil, one can see how easily these roots can be damaged after a project. In addition to mechanical injury, one cannot rule out environmental stresses like drought and flooding, which are highly detrimental to a tree's health. Without the proper amount of soil moisture, root systems simply recede, reducing the tree's ability to uptake water and provide a solid anchoring system. Your arborist can assess the structural and biological health of your trees and propose treatments as needed, in order to maintain a healthy landscape. Keep your trees' root systems healthy through proper fertilization and irrigation and plan for routine visits from your arborist.
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