What is That Bush on a Stick Doing on my Lawn?

You bought your brand new house.  Great!  Your hopes and dreams are being realized.  You love your new community.  You’re on a roll!  Good for you!  While I don’t want to rain on your parade, I must warn you:  Trouble lurks, right on your front lawn.

Let’s get into what that trouble may be: When developers build their new communities, putting up houses at speeds that amaze and mystify, they do not often give much thought to what trees they’re going to plant on the front lawns of those new homes.  Only when the homes are built, and everything else is signed off on, do the developers have their contracted landscape companies come in and plop a few trees on the front lawns of each of hundreds of houses, in one fell swoop.  Often, those trees are planted incorrectly, but that is a subject for another article from your humble Certified Arborist.  What I will deal with, today, is the failure of the new trees you see on the front lawns of newly built houses in new real estate developments.

Developers and builders buy trees by the millions.  As their bottom line is what they value, above all, not much thought is put into the quality of the trees they install.  They look for the most trees for the least cash outlay.  They want trees that grow fast and don’t require much work, at least during the time they still can be held accountable for them by new homeowners.  These homeowners have other things on their minds when they first move in.  They don’t pay attention to their lawn trees, usually.  In time, within the first three to five years, those trees grow and grow and——- It’s a bush on a stick, maybe two, maybe more, that now sit on their front lawn.  In the biz, we see these bush on a stick trees, daily.

What are the ramifications, health-wise, for these trees?  First off, let’s make sure we’re on the same page:  A bush on a stick is a tree that looks like a, a, a —-well, a bush on a stick.  The canopy is so thick that you cannot see individual branches, you cannot see any daylight through that canopy, and the effect is simply a large blob of brush on a thin, elongated trunk.  Got the picture?  Simply drive through your nearest, new real estate development to see things more clearly.

When a tree is a bush on a stick, sunlight cannot penetrate through the canopy, nor can air reach the leaves in healthy amounts.  As a result, certain predictable, and harmful, things happen, in the canopy.  Numerous pathogenic processes can initiate:  Fungal spores can diffuse into the canopy, their settling on leaves aided by slowed air flow.  These spores can germinate quickly, because of the raised ambient humidity in the tight canopy.  Different insect pests seek refuge in the tight, dark, humid, inner canopy.  Gall wasps can infest the interior space.  Birds can nest in the dark recesses, and while the birds, themselves, do not actively harm the tree, nesting materials they bring in may contain more pathogens that can attack the tree.  Two of the most important factors for good tree health, sunlight and fresh air, are seen to be greatly limited.  Additionally, with the clumping of the canopy, poor branch form becomes the rule as the tree struggles to grow in a more “normal” way.  Branches cross each other, branches rub each other, included bark forms in branch crotches where two branches diverge, leading to poor attachments and, eventually, branch failure.

When we examine the types of trees, as above, we see the same things over and over, again:  Leaf spot, caused by fungal pathogens, and galls, round wooden balls that harbor the larvae of gall wasps and are caused by female wasps.  We also see the poor branch structure referenced above.  All of these conditions can lead a given tree into a downward mortality spiral and premature death.  So, what can be done?

The most important thing you can do for a bush on a stick is to have the experts at Happy Tree come out, trim and prune the tree to promote sunlight penetration and airflow.  By carefully removing up to 25% of the overgrown canopy, Happy Tree can restore airflow and sunlight to a given tree and remove it from the bush on a stick category.  Trees that can breathe and receive the beneficial rays of the sun are, in fact, happy trees, and at Happy Tree we can make sure your trees are headed in the right direction towards their long-term health and survival. The benefits are long-lasting, and because we prune your trees with care, you will immediately see a difference in their overall appearance:  They’ll not only be healthier, they’ll look healthier, as well.

Please give Happy Tree a call, today, at: 512-212-0010.  We want to turn your bush on a stick into a happy, healthy tree.  Thanks!

Oak Wilt: What’s With Those HOA Warning Signs?

On the way out of the house, this morning, you noticed that your Live Oaks could use a bit of trimming.  Now, you’re on your way home from work.  You’re thinking of calling Happy Tree to do that trimming, since they did such a great job, last time around.  Suddenly, there it is:  A BIG sign posted by your HOA:  “Avoid Oak Wilt! Do not trim your Oaks from mid-February through mid-June!”  What is going on?  Should you forget about having your Oaks trimmed, since it’s the middle of April?

Oak wilt is caused by the fungal pathogen Ceratocystis fagacearum.  This fungus invades oaks, mainly Red Oaks and Live Oaks, via root grafting from previously infected trees, and by having fungal spores deposited in open wounds and cuts by a vector agent, the Nitidulid Beetle.  In the case of spore deposition by the beetle, once the spores germinate in the sap and conductive tissue of the tree, the fungus circulates throughout the tree.  When the growing fungal pathogen is established in the conductive tissue, the leaves of the tree can no longer transport sugars throughout the tree, and water transport is also inhibited.  This results in very rapid death, in Red Oaks, and a downward mortality spiral, in Live Oaks.  White Oaks can also get oak wilt, although there is some evidence that they have more resistance to it than the aforementioned Red and Live Oaks.

Signs of oak wilt infection are fairly clear in Live Oaks:  Veinal necrosis, a pattern seen in leaves where the veins are orange, spreading out in a diffuse orange to the surrounding green leaf tissue, is a fairly reliable confirmation of infection.  Live Oaks can survive an infection for a period of years, with more and more leaves showing the veinal necrosis symptom until the time that most leaves have fallen and are no longer replaced by the tree.  Death follows. Foliar symptoms of oak wilt on Red Oaks are less distinct. In early spring, young leaves simply wilt, turning pale green and brown, usually remaining attached for a period of time. Mature leaves develop dark green, water-soaked symptoms, or turn pale green or bronze, starting at the leaf margins and progressing inward. This can begin on one branch and quickly engulf the entire tree. Red Oaks generally die within 4-6 weeks.

Red Oaks develop fungal mats during the infective process.  These mats are composed of groups of spore-bearing bodies that grow under the bark, raising it, slightly, in areas, normally on the trunk.  The mats put off a distinctive odor, similar to Juicy Fruit gum, as I perceive it.  The nitidulid beetles can smell this odor from a good distance away, depending on prevailing wind conditions.  They land on the tree, eat the fungal mats, and pick up spores in the process.

Now, we’re getting back to the first paragraph of this article:  When you cut an oak limb, and fail to paint the cut within the first fifteen minutes, you are sending an olfactory “come and get it” to every nitidulid beetle in the area.  The beetles are attracted to the sap that exudes from fresh cuts in oak trees.  If the beetles have previously eaten from a fungal mat, as above, and they land on the fresh cut, to feed on the sap, the spores on their bodies, from the fungal mat, can become mired in the sap, and germinate there, to infect the tree with the new cut.

So, why the warning sign, from your HOA, with the time period for no trimming?  Nitidulid beetles are known to be active from the middle of February to the middle of June.  By convention, before that, it’s too cold, after that, it’s too hot.  Thing is, with the weird weather patterns we now have in Central Texas, nothing is certain, anymore, when it comes to nitidulid beetle life cycles.  They may be around before February and/or after June.  Nobody can be sure.

When your HOA warns you about not trimming oaks, what is the reality of the situation?  If you cut a tree, sap will exude from the cut.  If the cut is not painted, as above, there is a chance that nitidulid beetles will be attracted to the cut.  There is a chance that the beetles landing on the cut, to feed, will have oak wilt spores on their bodies, from previously feeding on infected Red Oaks.  There is a chance that some spores will germinate on the cut and infect your tree.

OK, so, what’s your best course of action?  Should the HOA sign dissuade you from trimming your trees during the time frame they post? The simple answer: YOU should NOT trim your trees, during that time.  The good news is that Happy Tree can trim your trees, year-round.  We paint all cuts, in all oaks, and in that way we protect your trees from nitidulid beetles feeding on the sap exuding from the cuts we make.  Since we climb up to many cuts we make at great heights, heights that you will not have access to, and we have pole painting rigs to assist us in painting cuts we can’t get right up to, Happy Tree makes sure that your trees maintain their optimal health, year-round.

It should be noted that root grafting is a major cause of oak wilt spread in neighboring trees.  If a tree in your area has been identified as having oak wilt, and you have oaks that are within 100’-150’ of that tree, it is a good idea to have your healthy oaks injected with the chemical propiconazole that will help protect them from the disease.  At Happy Tree, we have a Texas Licensed Pesticide Applicator who can do this job.

Should you have any questions about oak wilt, please contact us at Happy Tree.  Our Certified Arborist, Miles J. Lefler, is also a Certified Oak Wilt Specialist, ISA.  He will be happy to answer your questions.

At Happy Tree, we want to make sure that your trees stay happy and healthy.  Give us a call at: 512-212-0010.  Thanks!


By Miles J. Lefler

Certified Arborist at Happy Tree Services

Ball Moss: Don’t Let It Get A Hold Of Your Tree!

If you live in the Greater Austin Area, then it’s a safe bet that you have seen ball moss, at one time or another.  Have you ever wondered exactly what you’re looking at, and whether or not it can harm the trees you see it in?  Let’s try to “get to the root” of what you’ve observed.

About Ball Moss

First off, Ball Moss, Tillandsia recurvata, while certainly appearing to be a ball-like growth, of sorts, in the trees, is actually not a moss.  In fact, Ball Moss is in the Bromeliaceae Family, a Family that includes the familiar Pineapple.  It is an epiphyte, which means it does not grow in the soil but, rather, it anchors itself on a structure to gain support.  Its roots, called “pseudo roots,” are used to anchor itself to its host.  (The beautiful orchid, so prized by flower lovers, also has epiphyte members in its family.)  The pseudo roots are not used to gather moisture and nutrients.  Ball moss gets its moisture from the air, nutrients from windblown dust, and fixes its nitrogen using available bacteria in the tree.  It uses photosynthesis to produce its own energy.

Ball moss reproduces by true seed production. Most seedlings germinate on tiny branches or on the vertical bark of tree hosts. As with many other epiphyte seeds, most researchers believe ball moss seeds are dispersed by the wind. Some believe birds serve as a major seed dispersal agent. The seeds are armed with fine, straight hairs that aid in attachment to potential host species.

Is Ball Moss a Parasite?

So, is ball moss harmful to trees?  Strictly speaking, since ball moss is not a true parasite (an invader that draws nutrients from a host species), it is not harmful to its tree hosts.  However, let’s not be too quick to dismiss ball moss as being OK for your tree’s health and continued survival.

Ball moss prefers high humidity, low light, low airflow conditions.  These exact conditions are present in trees that are never pruned (trimmed).  Over time, if ball moss thrives, it can come to dominate a tree’s above-ground surface.  What happens, then, is that the tree’s branches receive less light to stimulate new growth.  With reduced growth, reduced leaves, the tree loses more and more of its photosynthetic capabilities, leading to less energy production for growth and immune response.  The tree then becomes locked into a downward mortality spiral which, ultimately, leads to declining health and death.  It should be noted, here, that some researchers also believe that ball moss can compete for trace nutrients and moisture in the canopy, as well as shading the tree’s growth areas.

Happy Tree Service of Austin Can Help

With all of the above in mind, should you see ball moss in your trees, we encourage you to contact us at Happy Tree Service of Austin.  Our skilled crew is ready, willing and able to help rid your tree of ball moss, by mechanical means:  We trim and prune the tree to remove the deadwood that provides ideal growing areas for ball moss.  We also climb into the high canopy and pick the ball moss off.  While doing this, we trim your tree to encourage lower humidity, more airflow and more light penetration.  That discourages future ball moss growth.

We can guarantee that a majority of your ball moss will be gone by the time we’re done with your job.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about ball moss. Please give us a call whenever you have concerns about the continued good health of your trees!

Proper Tree Trimming

Proper tree trimming and maintenance includes regular pruning or removal of branches to improve the life of the whole tree. Tree trimming is often initiated to remove dead or diseased parts of the tree before the affect the rest of the tree or other trees. Trimming a tree also benefits surrounding vegetation by providing increased air flow and sunlight. Done correctly, tree trimming creates stronger trees that do not have branches threatening structures, power lines, or other parts of your property.

Tree trimming is best performed in late winter or early spring. However, if your tree has dead, broken, or diseased limbs, it is advised to prune immediately to prevent further damage. Ideally, other pruning occurs before the tree opens its buds, but if you happen to prune after that time, be sure to allow the tree to develop their leaves.

Tree Trimming Services – Big or Small Needs

The first step in trimming a tree is identifying which tree. After you know this, you can begin to move anything that may be in harms way. Most jobs require only hand pruners, loppers, and a pruning saw. Hand pruners can cut smaller pieces, while loppers are designed for wood a bit larger. Both hand pruners and loppers come in two types: bypass and anvil. Bypass act like scissors and are recommended for their clean cuts. Saws are used for even larger branches.

Tree Trimming Services in Austin

Our Austin tree trimming services are designed to help the tree(s).But if you try to take up the work yourself, some damage may occur to the tree itself or the surround property. There are many problems that you could run into like- cutting into the branch collar of the tree. (Do you know what the branch collar is?) The branch collar contains the chemicals necessary for healing other trimmed parts and cutting into the branch collar will retard the sealing of other areas. Also, it is not recommended to coat any areas you cut with a dressing. Exercising some restraint to trim your trees and letting a professional tree trimming service help you, will in the end- help promote healthier trees and safer environment.