Treasuring Trees: When to Call a Pro for the Health of Your Trees

Photo by Tree Health Management

Trees add value to the home in a number of different ways. They not only offer a variety of colors and textures throughout the seasons, but they also help to soften lines on built structures. A house without trees can look barren, but add trees and the structure has shadow, dimension, and interest.

Beyond aesthetics, trees can improve a homes comfort. For instance, a good shade tree can significantly cut cooling costs while evergreens can block winter winds. Furthermore, trees can reduce water consumption of lawns by reducing evaporation. It is also very natural for humans to develop emotional connections to trees. Often, we attach memories to them, such as climbing a maple or picnicking under a majestic oak.

Finally, there are the benefits trees provide to the ecosystem by producing oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, reducing run-off and water pollutants, and providing a habitat for wildlife. Thus, it should come as no surprise that homes with trees typically have a higher resale valueup to 15 percent depending on quantity, species, and maturity. And, as an asset, it makes sense to protect them and care for their long-term health.

Photograph provided by Tree Health Management

Briana Frank is a Consulting Arborist and Certified Tree Risk Assessor. Her background is in forest ecology, and she has worked in national resource management on a large scale. Think forests, not just trees. However, when she became involved in urban forestry (which focuses on the general and specific tree populations in cities), she became fascinated by how much people can care about individual trees. With this interest and longtime passion for trees and our environment, Briana started her own business, Tree Health Management, to assist businesses, institutions, and homeowners with understanding their tree resources and how to live with them as long as possible.

Brianas work with homeowners often involves tree risk assessment: helping a homeowner determine weaknesses in a tree before they become a problem. Obviously, this is a particular concern if a tree is close to a structure, like a house or garage.

The standard approach for assessing and rating such risks begins with a visual inspection, but can also include a more detailed analysis to determine wood density and specific defects. Using this information, Briana works with the homeowner to determine what risk is acceptable and generates a mitigation plan to improve safety and avoid potential hazards to property and people. Preventative tree care can save thousands in damage costs, and may also avoid the cost of removal altogether if trimming and pruning are options.

Photograph provided by Tree Health Management

Other concerns for tree health are disease and pest infestation. The emerald ash borer, an invasive species of beetle native to Asia, is currently causing tremendous damage to the tree population. There is a treatment regimen that can be implemented to the right tree candidate. Sadly, the emerald ash borer is predicted to kill all untreated ash trees in the United States and Canada over the next 20 years.

Another common problem is oak wilt, a fungal disease that can cause leaf wilt, discoloration, defoliation, and often mortality to oak trees. Management of this problem focuses on avoiding tree wounds in the growing season, treatment, and removing dead trees. A professional management plan is the best way to mitigate oak wilt pressure for those who have multiple oak trees. Dutch elm disease and magnolia scale are also on Brianas radar. Dieback in the crown of a tree (especially during mid-season) and sap-feeding insects are problem indicators that a homeowner can look for in any species of tree.

One of the biggest mistakes a homeowner can make when managing their own trees is with improper pruning. Timing and technique are both critical. Brianas company offers these services, but will also consult with DIYers to provide them with the expertise they need to make their project a success. Other impacts a homeowner may have on their trees well-being include sudden soil changes and applied treatments. For instance, some plantings under a tree canopy can create a nutrient sink and negatively impact a trees system. Herbicide and other nontargeted treatments may also cause unintended consequences if not applied correctly.

Photograph provided by Tree Health Management

The homeowner must also consider how building and remodeling affects the trees on their property. Its recommended to consult with a tree professional before beginning a construction project. Ideally, this would happen during the planning phase so that design adjustments can be made to minimize the impact on tree health and safety. Sometimes the project will require close management by an arborist during excavation to avoid significant root fracture or other root damage which could leave trees susceptible to pathogenic fungi.

Lastly, its a good idea to talk with a pro when making long-term plans for your property. A consultant can help to inventory your existing trees, as well as make suggestions on what to plant and where for optimal effect. A consultant can also advise about diversifying the trees on your property for both disease resistance and variety of character.

In general, most healthy trees are hearty and resilient, with lifetimes which can span several human generations. Living beside them provides a multitude of benefits for our home life and our community as a whole. But, as with anything that lives and breathes, attention to their health and care is important for their longevity. Getting professional advice can not only save you money by protecting your property value, but also increase the enjoyment of your home for years to come.

Andrew Wanek, AIA, is a licensed architect and principal of Ginkgo House Architecture.