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Topping Trees

Topping is the removal of main tree branches to stubs in either a straight across hedge type fashion or a complete de-limbing of the tree leaving only the main trunk of the tree. Topping or heading is generally intended to reduce the size of the tree. Some of the reasons trees are topped include the theory that the trees will grow better, growth of foliage into utility lines, interference with solar collectors or blocking a scenic view.

You can always tell after a tree has been topped. The tree looks like an ugly stub, a hat rack some would say, and just a remnant of a once lovely tree.

The over pruning is then followed by a rapid growth of tree limb sprouts, if the tree re-sprouts at all. This will eventually lead to a tree that is bushier and just as tall as when it was topped. However, unlike the original tree prior to topping, the new growth of the topped tree is dangerous because the new branches are not attached as strongly to the tree as were the original limbs and branches. You will end up with a tree more susceptible to disease and insect problems. It is important to understand that every tree variety has within its genes, growth instructions, a fixed plan for tree height and crown spread. All trees will attempt to grow to their mature form pattern. When trees are topped, they will attempt to regain their natural form pattern of height and crown spread.

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

When you can’t wait to get started in the spring garden, a good task to undertake is pruning. Most trees and shrubs benefit from annual pruning. It keep them in shape, gets rid of dead and diseased wood and encourages new growth. But not all trees and shrubs should be pruned early, especially some of the flowering ones.

Early spring bloomers set their flower buds the fall before. Pruning them early in the spring would mean losing some blossoms and is one of the most common answers to “Why don’t my plants bloom?. Most of the time this is not what you want. However there are exceptions. It’s often easier to prune when you can see the shape of the plant, before the branches are masked by leaves. Trees and shrubs that are in need of a good shaping could sacrifice a few blooms to be invigorated by a spring pruning.

There are no hard and fast rules, but here is a of list of commonly grown spring flowering trees and shrubs and the best time to prune them.

wind & trees

Wind in trees does more than rustle leaves. The gentle breezes, prevailing winds, and cyclonic occurrences that arise from daily and seasonal changes in solar heating all affect the growth, form, and very survival of trees. Arborists need to be aware of the impact of wind on trees because it affects the quality of nursery stock and subsequent growth of trees planted in the landscape. Wind is an important factor that should be considered when selecting the right tree for a planting site.

Plant

If you did most of your planting and pruning in fall, December is an easy month in the garden. Puttering at its best.

But be cautious when tiptoeing through wet soil after a rain. You don’t want to compact the soil and squeeze out oxygen.

Also keep your eyes peeled for frost. Move tender tropicals and succulents under a patio or eaves for protection. When temperatures are dropping and skies are clear, you may want to throw a sheet over pricey tropical plants that can’t be moved.

If it hasn’t rained, pay attention to drought, especially in the dry areas under house eaves and large trees. Cold is one condition a plant must endure, but cold combined with drought can prove too much for some plants.

Sharpen your shovels and pruners, tune up power tools, feed the birds and keep their water source topped-up and fresh.

Gather greens and bring them indoors. Conifers, herbs, variegated shrubs and ornamental grasses combined make pretty holiday arrangements.

 

PLANT

•Bare-root fruit trees, ornamental trees, roses

•Camellias and azaleas

•Cool-season annuals and winter vegetables

•Spring-blooming bulbs

•California native plants

•Annuals

Many flowering plants and most vegetables are annual plants, living only a year at most, but usually just one season. Annuals to plant in our mild winter weather are ageratum, alyssum, calendulas, lobelia, nasturtiums, pansies, poppies, verbena and wildflowers.

In the vegetable garden, plant lettuce, mustard, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley, peas, onions, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and strawberries.

Get ready for the Winds..

One of the most important times during the year to trim back your trees is the fall season, and outlined below are just a few reasons why this maintenance is critical:

  • Keeping your trees pruned can help to prevent disease and improve the overall appearance of the tree. It can also help to encourage healthy growth of the tree.
  • Trimming back limbs and dead branches can help increase the amount of natural light that the tree gets, therefore increasing the tree’s livelihood.

Tree Damage and Defects

Tree Damage and Defects – What to Look For

Hazardous defects are visible signs that the tree is failing. We recognize seven main types of tree defects: dead wood, cracks, weak branch unions, decay, cankers, root problems, and poor tree architecture. A tree with defects is not hazardous, however, unless some portion of it is within striking distance of a target.

red dotDead wood

Dead wood is “not negotiable”– dead trees and large dead branches must be removed immediately! Dead trees and branches are unpredictable and Figure 1 - Dead branches can break and fall at any time.can break and fall at any time (Fig. 1). Dead wood is often dry and brittle and cannot bend in the wind like a living tree or branch. Dead branches and tree tops that are already broken off (“hangers” or “widow makers”) are especially dangerous!

Take immediate action if…

  • A broken branch or top is lodged in a tree.
  • A tree is dead.
  • A branch is dead and of sufficient size to cause injury (this will vary with height and size of branch).

Figure 1. Dead branches can break and fall at any time. (photo right)

Fig 2 - A serious crack like this one indicates that the tree is already failing!

red dotCracks

A crack is a deep split through the bark, extending into the wood of the tree. Cracks are extremely dangerous because they indicate that the tree is already failing (Fig. 2).

Take action if…

  • A crack extends deeply into, or completely through the stem.
  • Two or more cracks occur in the same general area of the stem.
  • A crack is in contact with another defect.
  • A branch of sufficient size to cause injury is cracked.

Figure 2. A serious crack like this one indicates that the tree is already failing! (photo right) red dotWeak Branch Unions

Weak branch unions are places where branches are not strongly attached to the tree. A weak union occurs when two or more similarly-sized, usually upright branches grow so closely together that bark grows between the branches, inside the union. This ingrown bark does not have the structural strength of wood, and the union is much weaker than one that does not have included bark (Fig. 3). The included bark mayalso act as a wedge and force the branch union to split apart. Trees with a tendency to form upright branches, such as elm and maple, often produce weak branch unions.Weak branch unions also form after a tree or branch is tipped or topped (page 15), i.e., when the main stem or a large branch is cut at a right angle to the direction of growth leaving a large branch stub. The stub inevitably decays, providing very poor support for new branches (“epicormic” branches) that usually develop along the cut branch.

Take action if…

  • A weak branch union occurs on the main stem.
  • A weak branch union is cracked.
  • A weak branch union is associated with a crack, cavity, or other defect.
Figure 3
Figure 3. This weak branch union has failed, creating a highly hazardous situation.

red dotDecay

Figure 4

Decaying trees can be prone to failure, but the presence of decay, by itself, does not indicate that the tree is hazardous. Advanced decay, i.e., wood that is soft, punky, or crumbly, or a cavity where the wood is missing can create a serious hazard (cover photo). Evidence of fungal activity including mushrooms, conks, and brackets growing on root flares, stems, or branches are indicators of advanced decay.

A tree usually decays from the inside out, eventually forming a cavity, but sound wood is also added to the outside of the tree as it grows. Trees with sound outer wood shells may be relatively safe, but this depends upon the ratio of sound to decayed wood, and other defects that might be present. Evaluating the safety of a decaying tree is usually best left to trained arborists (Fig. 4).

Take action if…

  • Advanced decay is associated with cracks, weak branch unions, or other defects.
  • A branch of sufficient size to cause injury is decayed.
  • The thickness of sound wood is less than 1″ for every 6″ of diameter at any point on the stem.

Figure 4. This seriously decayed tree should have been evaluated and removed before it failed. (photo right)

red dotCankers

A canker is a localized area on the stem or branch of a tree, where the bark is sunken or missing. Cankers are caused by wounding or disease. The presence of a canker increases the chance of the stem breaking near the canker (Fig. 5). A tree with a canker that encompasses more than half of the tree’s circumference may be hazardous even if exposed wood appears sound.

    Take action if…

  • A canker or multiple cankers affect more than half of the tree’s circumference.
  • A canker is physically connected to a crack, weak branch union, a cavity, or other defect.
Figure 5
Figure 5. The large canker on this tree has seriously weakened the stem.

red dotRoot Problems

Figure 6Trees with root problems may blow over in wind storms. They may even fall without warning in summer when burdened with the weight of the tree’s leaves. There are many kinds of root problems to consider, e.g., severing or paving-over roots (Fig. 6); raising or lowering the soil grade near the tree; parking or driving vehicles over the roots; or extensive root decay.

Soil mounding (Fig. 7), twig dieback, dead wood in the crown, and off-color or smaller than normal leaves are symptoms often associated with root problems. Because most defective roots are underground and out of sight, aboveground symptoms may serve as the best warning.

Take action if…

  • A tree is leaning with recent root exposure, soil movement, or soil mounding near the base of the tree.
  • More than half of the roots under the tree’s crown have been cut or crushed. These trees are dangerous because they do not have adequate structural support from the root system.
  • Advanced decay is present in the root flares or “buttress” roots.

Figure 6. Severing roots decreases support and increases the chance of failure or death of the tree. (photo right)

Figure 7
Figure 7. The mound (arrow) at the base of this tree indicates that the tree has recently begun to lean, and may soon fail.

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Brush Clearence Guide

Landscape

• Remove all flammable vegetation and other combustible growth within 100 feet of any structure.

• Special Attention should be given to the use and maintenance of ornamental plants known or thought to be high hazard combustible plants when used in close proximity to structures. Some of these known plants are, but not limited to Acacia, Cedar, Cypress, Eucalyptus, Juniper, Pine, and Pampas Grass. Planting of ornamentals should be properly maintained and should not be planted in mass plantings and groups.

• The Ventura County Fire Department is strongly recommending you increase your brush clearance from 100’ to 200’ if any of the following apply to your property:

• Space tree canopies and shrubs a minimum of 15’ from other shrubs or trees. All trees and shrubs need to be trimmed up off the ground 5 feet or 1/3 the height of the tree which ever is less. Maintain all plants by regularly removing all dead fall and litter.

Roof Maintenance

Remove dead branches overhanging your roof.

• Clean all dead leaves from your roof and rain gutters.