Oak tree pruning, when and why

OK, So I have heard about a hundred different reasons why and when you prune an oak tree. Let me set it straight, it’s actually pretty simple. When you create a wound on a tree, when pruning it, the wound will secrete sap. Bugs love sap! A bug, normally a beetle that does not have the ability to chew, will smell the sap and come to feed. At the same time Oak wilt also will form a mat under the bark, it will actually push the bark open and expose itself and it also has a sweet smell and attracts bugs to feed on it, hoping to spread its spores. This beetle may have been hanging out in a old oak, out in the woods feeding on the mat, the beetle picks up the oak wilt spores on it body (picture a bee with pollen). When it comes to feed on your tree”s wound, it spreads the spore, these spores enter the wound and now you have a problem. Depending on the species of Oak, it can kill very quickly. How do you prevent this, well its nature, so 100% prevention is pretty much impossible, and there will always be the “weird scenario” that gets through and toast’s a tree.

To prevent this, you work on oaks in the winter, it’s not because the sap drops or because the tree is dormant, the first frost is not the answer either. Its not a particular date (trees don”t read calenders to much) The best way to prevent the spread of the spore is to do it when there is very little chance of any bug feeding on the sap in the middle of winter. When the frost is in the ground, most bugs are under the frost line or they were frozen to death. How many times have we had a first frost  and a couple of real cold weeks and then, all of a sudden, we have 2 weeks of 60 degree temps! The bugs will be out and about, feeding on whatever they can find. This is a typical Midwestern fall. People say after November or after first frost, these are wrong. Bugs do not work on a schedule and they do not get laid off. So yep, in the middle of winter, when there is 2 ft of snow on the ground and your nostrils burn every time you breath! That’s the best time to do it!  So far, by sticking to this plan, I have never lost an oak to oak wilt. Not saying that this is the final rule, every situation is conditional.  This in nature after all. This is gives your tree its best chance to avoid the bugs. No bugs, no spread. Oak wilt can get into the tree via the root system, but we will touch on that later. So, when you see someone pruning an oak in the middle of summer, they are wrong, in October, they are wrong, I stick to late December to the middle of March, based on the conditions outside of course. Sometimes it comes early. It is all based on the weather and when temps allow. There are 2 main reasons why it is done improperly  1.They don’t care about your tree, just care about making revenue 2. They do not want to work in the freezing cold. Either do I,  I do it because that’s the right thing to do.

There are a few other Certified Arborist in the area that prune them whenever. They know the reasons why it should be done in the winter, yet they do it and  they know that it is wrong, these are the guys who became certified for the wrong reasons, just to flash a piece of paper in a face. If they practiced true Arboriculture, They would not do this.

Roots, if you have a tree that has been identified as having Oak Wilt, you need  to look and see where the next closest oak is. If you have one that is withing 50yds, you need to inspect it right away. Remember, the majority a root system is in the first 18″ of soil and can be three times the height of the tree in a 360 radius,.  In other words, if you have a 100″ tree, you probably have about 300″ of roots all the way around it. Or 600″ across.   Have a ISA Certified Arborist check it out. To aid in prevention, the only way to do this is to double trench around the tree. Oak wilt can travel thru the roots system of the same species and infect other trees. If you have different species, it is unlikely that they will transfer the wilt, but it has happened. Trenching can stop this by severing the connected roots of adjacent trees. The second trench is kinda for good measure, it will help in slowing down the trees making that underground connection again, killing the roots in between the two trenches. Yes, this is a big mess and very costly, but it works pretty darn good.

If you have a oak that has been damaged in a storm and you have no choice but to remove a few pieces during the warmer months, this is the one and only time I would recommend a sealer. Wound sealers are bad for trees and plants, no matter what the manufacturer says, it messes up the trees natural ability to care for itself. It will screw up the process of closing the wound  and many times will result in a “pocket”. This is especially true of oaks, however, it is the lesser of two evils. The sealer will most likely not kill the tree, but it will prevent the bugs from feeding on the tree and spreading oak wilt. There is a specific product for this called TreeKote. All other products should be avoided. Since we are on the topic, NEVER put cement, foam, tar, gravel or any other foreign material in a wound or cavity, it will hurt your tree and it does not prevent anything.



Intro to Arboriculture

All right, here we go. I have no idea where to start! I have been wanting a blog for a while now, to explain and educate the general public on proper Arboriculture, in our area (the QC).  There is no regulation. So many people do not know what Arboriculture is, and for that matter, most do not know what an Arborist is. Here is my attempt to explain it all, in my words and in my opinion, how it should work. This may be a little sporadic at times and maybe not the best written. I thought about hiring a blogger, but then, you would be reading my thoughts through someone else’s view. Unless they have my experience and my history, it will not be accurate.

So let’s start from scratch, the definitions as described by good old Wikipedia!

An arborist, or (less commonly) arboriculturist, is a professional in the practice of arboriculture, which is the cultivation, management, and study of individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other perennial woody plants. Arborists generally focus on the health and safety of individual plants and trees, rather than managing forests (the domains of Forestry and Silviculture) or harvesting wood. An arborist”s scope of work is therefore distinct from that of either a forester or a logger, though the professions share much in common.

The details, (this may be easy if I can cut and paste me thoughts……………….)

Scope of Work

To work near power wires either additional training is required for arborists or they need to be Certified Line Clearance trimmers or Utility Arborists (there may be different terminology for various countries). There is a variety of minimum distances that must be kept from power wires depending on voltage, however the common distance for low voltage lines in urban settings is 10 feet (about 3 meters).[1]

Arborists who climb (as not all do) can use a variety of techniques to ascend into the tree. The least invasive, and most popular technique used is to ascend on rope. When personal safety is an issue, or the tree is being removed, arborists may use “spikes”, (also known as “gaffs” or “spurs”) attached to their chainsaw boots with straps to ascend and work. Spikes wound the tree, leaving small holes where each step has been.

An arborist”s work may involve very large and complex trees, or ecological communities and their abiotic components in the context of the landscape ecosystem. These may require monitoring and treatment to ensure they are healthy, safe, and suitable to property owners or community standards. This work may include some or all of the following: planting; transplanting; pruning; structural support; preventing, or diagnosing and treating phytopathology or parasitism; preventing or interrupting grazing or predation; installing lightning protection; and removing vegetation deemed as hazardous, an invasive species, a disease vector, or a weed.

Arborists may also plan, consult, write reports and give legal testimony. While some aspects of this work are done on the ground or in an office, much of it is done by arborists who climb the trees with ropes, harnesses and other equipment. Lifts and cranes may be used too. The work of all arborists is not the same. Some may just perform consulting; others may perform climbing, pruning and planting: a combination.[

I really love Wikipedia at this point!


Arborist qualifications

Arborists gain qualifications to practice arboriculture in a variety of ways and some arborists are more qualified than others. Experience working safely and effectively in and around trees is essential. Arborists tend to specialize in one or more disciplines of arboriculture, such as diagnosis and treatment, climbing and pruning, cabling and lightning protection, or perhaps consultation and report writing. All these disciplines are related and some arborists are very well experienced in all areas of tree work, but not all arborists have the training or experience to properly practice every discipline.

Many arborists choose to pursue formal certification, which is available in some countries and varies somewhat by location. An arborist who holds certification in one or more disciplines may be expected to participate in rigorous continuing education requirements to ensure continuous improvement of skills and techniques.

In the USA a Certified Arborist (CA) is a professional who has over three years of documented and verified experience and has passed a rigorous written test from the International Society of Arboriculture. Other designations include Municipal Specialist, Utility Specialist and Board Certified Master Arborist (BCMA).


Trees in urban landscape settings are often subject to disturbances, whether human or natural, both above and below ground. They may require care to improve their chances of survival following damage from either biotic or abiotic causes. Arborists can provide appropriate solutions, such as pruning trees for health and good structure, for aesthetic reasons, and to permit people to walk under them (a technique often referred to as “crown raising”), or to keep them away from wires, fences and buildings (a technique referred to as “crown reduction”).[3]Timing and methods of treatment depend on the species of tree and the purpose of the work. To determine the best practices, a thorough knowledge of local species and environments is essential.

There can be a vast difference between the techniques and practices of professional arborists and those of inadequately trained tree workers who simply “trim trees”. Some commonly offered “services” are considered unacceptable by modern arboricultural standards and may seriously damage, disfigure, weaken, or even kill trees. One such example is tree topping, lopping, or “hat-racking”, where entire tops of trees or main stems are removed, generally by cross-cutting the main stem(s) or leaders, leaving large unsightly stubs. Trees that manage to survive such treatment are left prone to a spectrum of detrimental effects, including vigorous but weakly attached regrowth, pest susceptibility, pathogen intrusion, and internal decay.[citation needed]

Pruning should only be done with a specific purpose in mind. Every cut is a wound, and every leaf lost is removal of some photosynthetic potential. Proper pruning can be helpful in many ways, but should always be done with the minimum amount of live tissue removed.[citation needed]

In recent years, research has proven that wound dressings such as paint, tar or other coverings are unnecessary and may harm trees. The coverings may encourage growth of decay-causing fungi. Proper pruning, by cutting through branches at the right location, can do more to limit decay than wound dressing.[citation needed]

Chemicals can be applied to trees for insect or disease control through spraying, soil application, stem injections or spraying. Compacted or disturbed soils can be improved in various ways.[citation needed]

Arborists can also assess trees to determine the health, structure, safety or feasibility within a landscape and in proximity to humans. Modern arboriculture has progressed in technology and sophistication from practices of the past. Many current practices are based on knowledge gained through recent research, including that of the late Alex Shigo, considered one “fathers” of modern arboriculture.[4]


Legal issues for arborists

Depending on the jurisdiction, there may be a number of legal issues surrounding the practices of arborists, including boundary issues, public safety issues, “heritage” trees of community value; and “neighbor” issues such as ownership, obstruction of views, impacts of roots crossing boundaries, nuisance problems, disease or insect quarantines, and safety of nearby trees.

Arborists are frequently consulted to establish the factual basis of disputes involving trees, or by private property owners seeking to avoid legal liability through the duty of care.[5]Arborists may be asked to assess the value of a tree[6] in the process of an insurance claim for trees damaged or destroyed,[7] or to recover damages resulting from tree theft or vandalism.[8] In cities with tree preservation orders an arborist”s evaluation of tree hazard may be required before a property owner may remove a tree, or to assure the protection of trees in development plans and during construction operations. Homeowners who have entered into contracts with a homeowner”s association (see also Restrictive covenants) may need an arborist”s professional opinion of a hazardous condition prior to removing a tree, or may be obligated to assure the protection of the views of neighboring properties prior to planting a tree or in the course of pruning.[9] Arborists may be consulted in forensic investigations where the evidence of a crime can be determined within the growth rings of a tree, for example. Arborists may be engaged by one member of a dispute in order to identify factual information about trees useful to that member of the dispute, or they can be engaged as an expert witness providing unbiased scientific knowledge in a court case. Homeowners associations seeking to write restrictive covenants, or legislative bodies seeking to write laws involving trees, may seek the counsel of arborists in order to avoid future difficulties.[10]

There ya go. Now that I have stolen from wiki, let me tell you how it is here in the QC. For the most part, everything you just read above……….does not happen here. Although, there are several, Certified Arborist in the area, most choose to practice proper Arboriculture only when it suits them. Many have never been in a tree or have very little experience. The I.S.A. is a great organization; they try really hard to advance the industry, changing the image of tree workers from your uncle bubba to a tree guru. The certification process, although not easy, does not take into account provable experience. In other words, any of you, could purchase the study guide, study real hard, pass the test and become a Certified Arborist like me, never have operated a chainsaw or ever climbed a tree! I feel that there should be considerable practical applications to the test.  Arborist should be able to do all aspects of tree work, if given the title. With that said, my peers who have the cert, who cannot climb a tree, do soil test, diagnose any ailment, etc are not really Arborist. They are business owners with a piece of paper that helps them win bids. Most of them have no intent on furthering the industry, improving working conditions and educating the General Public.

I myself am responsible for about 5 different tree services in the area, they all worked for me at one time or another and I let them go for various reasons. They then thought they had enough education to go out on their own. Unfortunately, the trees suffer as a result.

I am not claiming to be the best, god knows I am not. But I do believe I am the best in the area, by far. What makes me better, my mentors! I talk to them every day, some of them are considered the best in the world, they are the authors of the books I read and the inventors of the tools I use. They graciously bestow their knowledge on me. When I get stumped (pun intended) All I need to do is take a pic and send it to JPS, Jeff or a Dave and whatever the question, they normally know it off the top off their head! These men are Master Jedi.

Anyone who comes out and gives a detailed diagnosis from the hip, in most cases is completely wrong. Several times this year I have been called out on tree issues that the home owner felt something was terribly wrong with their tree. I recently had a client call me in after having other Certified Arborists come out to look at her prized oak. I will describe them like this: Arborist 1, He is the local branch manager of one the oldest and biggest tree company’s on the planet. Arborist 2 is a book Arborist who has never been in a tree. Arborist 3, used to work for me and I let him go due to unsafe practices. All 3 of the Arborist diagnosed this tree differently with one thing in common. They all said it had to go. One even told her that it was going to fall soon and they needed to do it immediately. All three were very wrong. I asked the homeowner to entertain me, checking all their diagnosis and compare it to mine. I told her that the tree was fine and that her soil was compacted. Short story, I was right and now the tree is flourishing. My point is, these are business owners, trying to make revenue, and not Arborist trying to do their job, this is where I differ. I am an Arborist first, business owner second. I feel that I cannot grow my business with bad work.

This is what is wrong with the industry here in the QC. With no regulation on who gets a license, everybody who has a saw, thinks that they are a tree guy.  Working on the tree with tools and equipment is just a small part of Arboriculture. They are many more areas that are thrown to the wayside. When no one is making you do it right, why bother! This is why we have tree topping running wild, guys using their spikes on trees that they are pruning (trimming)  on oak trees in the middle of summer, arguing with homeowners about the species of tree they have. Recently I signed a winter pruning contract with a lady who had 2 other tree services bid it. One, a Certified Arborist, the other, an up and comer. Both gave the homeowner the wrong I.D. A very simple mistake, which could have had large consequences. If you cannot tell an oak tree from a maple, we have issues. Maybe they should do a little studying. The up and comer, I had no beef with, a former line clearer for the power company, he has an excuse, as we all know they don”t focus on proper tree work, just clearing the line. But the Arborist! COME ON MAN! GET IT TOGETHER!  This is the perfect example of a book arborist.

There is a code of ethics. Anyone who has become a Certified Arborist has read and signed them. Unfortunately, since there is no one to check, they do not adhere to it. We do, all day, every day. Many will still top a tree. If the tree is a bit scary and they just have to prune one branch, on go the spikes, leaving nice little holes up and on the tree. I was told, by one of my mentors, that they do this on purpose “maybe it will die, and then they will have us remove it” THAT IS RIDICULOUS!  But I believe him, as I have seen firsthand, the work of my peers, and it is horrible, most of the time. Every now and then, I will see a tree that has been pruned correctly. I almost want to jump out of my truck and go shake their hand for a job well done!

When you open up the phone book and see all the tree services, you would think that it must be a really good business to be in, and it is. The problem is that most of them are not Arborists, but hackers. Most of the tree services in the area are owned by ex-cons who are on the police watch list, yes that is what I said. Do a background check on any contractor, especially a tree service. I do and  I challenge you to do the same. You will be in awe of some of the records I seen. These are not people that you would want around your house and kids, believe me.

When you look in the phone book, you see all kinds of cool ads, which claim to be Arborist, trained professionals, etc. What they don’t realize is that the consumer can check, real easy like! Just go to the ISA website and punch in your zip code. It will tell the tale. They have big claims of the best, but have topping in their list of services!  Guess they must be the best toppers!  You will see jack of all trades, they do tree work, build decks, poor concrete, run butcher shops, build patios, mow grass, install fencing and they are the best at all of them, just ask, they will tell you! What I see are a bunch of idiots doing anything they can to support a drug habit. Jack of all trades, master of none.  This I why I choose to drop out of the phone books, they have no integrity and will tell you that they do not care what anyone puts in their ad, whether it’s a lie or not. They even let them steal others Trademarked verbiage.

I had a couple guys trying to portray themselves as me, to get jobs; it worked for a while, until I became aware. They now know my wrath. One even stole my slogan of Difficult Terrain Specialist. This was comical! Always wanted to ask him when he went to MVOC, Rigging courses, Vehicle Recovery, etc! I have formal training from the Marines in all of this. The phone book does not care if his claim is true, so in it, it goes. False advertising and theft of intellectual property runs amuck. All claiming this or that, with no paperwork to back it up.  So! In a nutshell, what I am saying is………….. Don”t trust, Verify. I can prove all my credentials, went to formal schools to get them. There are real Arborist here in the QC, ones with ethics and morals. Just a couple tho, we are not hard to find and when you do, your trees will thank you!