The sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) I often hear negative comments about. “To many seedlings.” “They drop gumballs everywhere and I step on the damn things.” I like the tree. The smell of crushed sweetgum leaves takes me back decades. Of course, don’t use it as a lawn tree unless you purchase a non-fruiting cultivar, but in the woods or in large natural areas the sweetgum is a fine tree. Good fall coloration, good lumber, and it burns well.
This customer called me and said he wanted the tree down because he didn’t like it. That’s almost always enough reason for me, unless you have a beauty of a tree. Arriving at his home you could see the tree was in poor shape with a ton of new growth mid-trunk. Once the tree was down I could see that the top was dead as well. Likely when the house was built this tree was saved. Being only 10 feet from the foundation, roots were cut and heavy equipment compacted the soil. Large branches could no longer be hydrated, died, and the tree produced new branches everywhere. This was a tree with no future.
That hardest part of this job was using a pole saw to cut out a large number of these small branches so I could get my rope high into the tree. It had a 5-10 degree lean towards the backyard and I needed it to fall towards the road. My initial rope location about 15 feet up wasn’t enough leverage, so I moved it up another 10 feet before getting started. I used a rope puller attached to a noticeably large pine tree on the edge of the property and with a proper face cut and wedges, this tree came down just right.
The customer ordered log bucking to use the wood for burning. This generally costs 20-30% of what it costs to take the tree down, whereas disposal is 75-150% of the cost. If you’ve got a tree that burns well and like to use your fireplace or firepit, get it bucked, save money, and have wood to burn.
I encountered a large, very dead oak tree when a man I ran into on another job called me out to his home. He said when I met him that someone walking the neighborhood looking for tree work had passed on it. I visited in person after he sent a picture that showed a favorable crotch for a rope.
The tree was about 60 feet tall, 20-22 inches in diameter, full of dead wood up top, and rotten bark all the way to the roots. Even the root flare was rotting. There was some firmer wood inside. It had a favorable lean into a clearing backed by strong trees that could hold a rope. I told the man that if he wanted a precision job, bring in a cherry picker to bring it down piece-by-piece; I didn’t think anyone would climb this tree.
After my visit I sent a quote. I described what I would do: put a rope on the tree about 30 feet up and use a rope puller. I wanted the entire tree to come over like it was blown down. I gave three prices: lowest if it came down on one pull, middle if it required multiple pulls, and highest if I had to cut it down. I also asked him to be present with his own chain saw in case things went wrong. And a dead, rotten tree can go very wrong. I could be hit by falling branches, a collapsing shell, a trunk broken mid-point, or even the entire tree falling over.
I didn’t hear back from the man.
That is until a month later, when he asked me to come out and do the work that Wednesday. It had rained recently and I thought the conditions favorable for pulling the tree over. I was shocked when I arrived and found a new shed built in the exact spot where I had planned on felling the tree!
I went over options with the man. There was a good spot about 90 degrees from the lean. He assured me multiple times that, because the shed was free and although he didn’t want the shed hit by the tree, it was okay if the tree did hit it. He wanted that dead, rotten tree down. He also said the same thing about any ornamental trees, shrubs, or other plants. All damage in that area was waived.
I set up the area. Coned off a restricted area, got my rope in place, and got all my equipment out. In the video, you can see I didn’t use a running bowline to set the rope on the crotch. Instead, I ran the rope down to the base of the tree and attached it with a timber hitch. I wanted to get my rope back for another plan if things didn’t go well. I also used a zepplin bend on two ropes to get the length I needed.
Story short. The tree would not go over with the puller alone. I had to cut. I gave a hand signal to the man so he could tell me if he saw the tree moving and I made my notch while looking up as often as possible. On the back cut I noticed one side cut much easier than the other. I ignored this clue at the time because I wanted to clear the tree as soon as possible.
Back on the rope puller, the tree came over. It landed perfectly, not hitting the shed at all. In fact, the only thing it hit was another tree the man will remove later.
But it didn’t go as planned and I don’t like that. Two things showed why the tree fell it as it did. First, I wanted the tree to land 90 degree from the lean. Second, I noticed one side cutting more easily than the other. The result was the tree landed at 45 degrees from the intended lay. Jeff Jepson in “To Fell A Tree” states that trees felled perpendicular to the lean often result “…in a tree landing 45 degrees away from the intended lay.” One reason is “hinge wood [that] could not support the tree (weak, decayed)…” You can see that almost 50% of the hinge has either rotted away or is decayed, punky wood. This was the side that cut more easily.
The tree was felled safely. The only way to get better odds on property damage would have been to use a bucket truck and that would have been 3 to 4 times more expensive. I laid out the facts for the man and he decided. That is how I treat my customers.
Here are several videos a customer took in April of a tree downing and disposal job in Apex. This is the second of two bradford pears, Pyrus calleryana. It was 38 feet tall with a 12 inch diameter. A bull rope was attached approximately in line with the eventual lay and tied off on the base of a similar size pine near the edge of the property. The first tree was heavily off-center in a favorable direction due to branch breakage in previous years, but this tree was balanced and closer to the house. Wedges may have been enough, but a rope made the job far safer. Plus it’s always a pleasure to put a rope to work.
Bradford pear, particularly, is like glass as it’s quite strong until it isn’t. I’ve yet to meet a customer who regretted removing a bradford pear and sooner is always better than later with trees you don’t want. If you’ve got a tree you’d like out, take a few pictures and send them to me.
Late in April a customer in Wake Forest (north of Raleigh) asked me to look at his tree. There was bark damage on the trunk and the leaves were growing in strangely.
The tree was a Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). From the images he sent I noticed the leaves looked curled and despite the intense golden glow from the sunset (he really captured a great color), the color of the leaves was off. It had been cool and wet this spring, with the exception of a brief heat wave that started just days before he took the pictures. My best guess was anthracnose.
To confirm, I was expecting to see damaged leaves as shown by Iowa State and re-growth of newer leaves that would be unaffected as the temperatures had risen enough to supress anthracnose.
I visited his property on May 5th and found these symptoms: affected leaves had large blotches of dead tissue, there were a great many missing leaves (probably killed in the bud stage), and new green leaves were coming in. Although temperatures did reach 29F on two days in early April I don’t expect that temperature would affect a tree with a range that reaches Maine. The Sycamore had anthracnose.
The trunk damage was a bark wound about 1/8 of the tree’s circumference along the base. I don’t know if it was caused by anthracnose or if anthracnose exacerbated damage caused by a mower or trimmer. Notice that the lawn grows right up to the trunk. Grass does compete with trees for nutrients and, furthermore, grass next to a trunk means power tools next to a trunk (and root flare).
The customer asked what I recommended. My recommendations were:
The tree looks to be in fairly good condition. The trunk wound probably won’t close, but many trees live on with larger hollows and wounds.
What can you do?
1. Create a mulch ring around the tree out to the drip line of the tree. This would be 20 to 30 feet in diameter. At a minimum, I would create a mulch ring 10 feet in diameter to protect the tree trunk. Ideally, scrape away the grass and dirt for a 5 foot diameter around the trunk b/c it’s high. Visible root flare is good. Just don’t damage the roots or trunk when doing so. Beyond that, kill the grass. Cover with 2-3 inches of arborist wood chips or triple shredded bark. Don’t use pine bark, straw, or artificial mulch.
2. You could get tree injections to treat the fungus. These will need to repeated every few years.
3. When leaves come down, rake them up and dispose of them.
4. If you did want the tree removed, my quote would be $179 to cut down and $200 to dispose ($379 total).
With no injections, you would see about the same leaf damage early spring of each year, but as long as you get plenty of re-growth each spring the tree should make it okay. When you start to get less or get dead branches, then the tree is declining.
The customer replied, asking about fertilizer spikes. I replied:
Fertilize spikes won’t treat the tree disease. There are very few situations where I would recommend directly fertilizing a tree. In those cases I would do a soil and foliage test first. Doing the mulch is by far the best treatment for the tree, the wider you are willing to go the better with the drip line as the limit. 2-3″ of mulch will keep the soil from drying out as quickly, will capture more water, will eliminate competition with the grass currently there, and will break down over time to provide nutrients the tree needs, some of which you will lose by raking up the leaves.
Fertilizer spikes are a carry-over from crop plants, which are the result of human intervention to get big fruits and vegetables which require more nutrients to produce. If you want to spend money on the tree beyond the mulch, the fungicide injections would be the best bet.