Techniques for Safe Rigging

Professional arborists know that using the right rigging technique can mean the difference between a job well done and a job that takes much longer than intended to complete. Here are 4 tried-and-true methods that professional arborists use to get the job done quickly and safely.

Photo Courtesy of Samson Ropes –

Spider Leg Rigging

When rigging down limbs, it is best to keep them in a horizontal position. Spider leg
rigging is a wonderful way to achieve this goal. It is especially useful when rigging low
hanging limbs that are within close distance to buildings or other objects.  Spider leg rigging is often used in conjunction with a speed line, but the spider leg sling needs
to use a smaller diameter of rope than the actual rigging line for safety and efficiency.

Butt Tying

Butt tying is a simple form of rigging and proves that the simplest method, when done
correctly can be the fastest and most productive. Arborists who practice butt tying find
that it is most useful when a loop runner is used in combination with a steel carabiner.
The loop rope is attached approximately 2 feet from the butt end of the branch.
The branch is then lowered down by its tips. For the best results make sure the
rigging block is placed high in the tree. The point of placement should be above the
pre-designated drop zone.

Tip Tying

As with butt tying, this method is most effective when a loop runner is used along
with a steel carabiner. However, unlike butt tying, tip tying requires the rope to be
attached as far out on the branch as possible; hence the name, tip tying. The tip tying
method encourages the limb to swing around laterally to avoid hitting objects below.

Speedline Rigging

When conventional rigging methods are not the best choice, professional arborists opt to
use speedline rigging. This method consists of the following 3 steps:

  • A rigging line is attached either high in the tree that is coming down or a tree behind it.
  • A webbing strap (loop runner) is affixed to the branch that is to be manipulated.
  • The webbing strap is then attached to a pulley found on the speedline.

When speedline rigging is used, it is important that the line is properly tensioned to
reduce droop so the branch and pulley can run smoothly. A haul line should always be
attached to help control the descent of the branch.

The rigging techniques discussed in this article are used by arborists throughout
the United States and are highly effective for removing dead branches and bringing
down trees. It’s important to keep in mind that these techniques must only be used
by arborists that have the proper training and certification.

Arboring is a dangerous occupation. It requires precise attention to detail and
a high regard for safety. Homeowners that hire professional tree trimmers to remove
dead branches from their trees need to make sure the person working at their home has
a solid safety record to ensure that the job goes as smoothly as possible.

Guest Post written by Tyler Lamb of  Excel Tree Care, Cumming, Georgia.
Visit their website at:

Strategies for Spring Pruning


Keep these six basics in mind when pruning this spring.

1. Blossom basics: timing is everything
To maximize flowering on spring-blooming trees, prune just after your tree or shrub has finished flowering. Pruning at this time avoids cutting off the flower buds for next year.

2. Less is more when pruning a newly planted tree
Limit pruning at the time of planting to removal of damaged branches. The tree will develop a stronger, more extensive root system if it has a fuller crown.

3. Flushing is for toilets
Cutting branches flush with the trunk removes the important branch collar, which helps the tree to close the wound. Cut just outside the branch collar at the base of the branch.

4. Put away the paints
There is no need to apply wound dressings. Research has shown that the common wound dressings do not inhibit decay and do not bring about faster wound closure. In fact, many of the commonly used dressings slow wound closure.

5. Topless trees are indecent
Don’t top trees! Topping trees can make them prone to failure down the road. Topping leads to decay and weakly attached branches. Besides, topping makes trees ugly.

6. No tourniquets required
While some trees, such as maples and birches, will “bleed” or lose sap from pruning cuts made early in the spring, this bleeding does not hurt the tree. However, because bleeding is unsightly, you might want to prune these species during the dormant season.

(Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Signs of a Weak Rope


Ropes could be considered an arborist’s most important tools. They are used to support limbs, tools, and people.  That’s why it’s important to inspect ropes regularly to determine if it is still in proper working condition.  During inspection, look for the following characteristics of a weak rope:

  1. Discoloration – This may be an indication of chemical damage.
  2. Variance in diameter – Variance in diameter may indicate core damage.
  3. Hard spots and contamination – These usually signify a rope is excessively worn or weakened by overloading and shock loading.
  4. Gloss, glaze and streaks – These indicate signs of heat or friction damage.
  5. Frays, pulls and broken strands – If more than half of the outer sheath is frayed, then you should retire the rope immediately. Broken strands may indicate the rope was torn by friction, cut by a sharp edge, or the working-load limit was exceeded. Retire the rope immediately if two or more strands are broken.
  6. Heavy abrasion – Usually caused by friction and extreme wear.
  7. Milking – This is the shifting of the sheath leaving a rope end without a core.

If your rope is showing signs of wear and tear, it’s time to purchase another.  After all, the lives of you and your crew depend on it.

(Courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Ascending a Single Line-SRT


When one is better than two

Single line ascent, single rope technique (SRT), and from the grizzled vets “that new trash y’all been messin’ around with” – regardless of what you call it, the use of a single static line to ascend and even work the canopy of a tree is not only here to stay, but working out very well. While the idea of using single lines to access and sometimes work a tree’s canopy isn’t necessarily new to the tree care industry, recent developments in equipment, techniques and methods have made the use of single lines safer, easier and more efficient to a greater number of arboreal practitioners. Although single line can be effectively used to work the canopy of a tree, this column will focus more on its use as an ascent technique.

One of the obvious advantages to single line ascent to frustrated throw bag manipulating arborists is that no isolation of the climbing line is required in a single line system. While there are many other advantages to single line ascent, there are also limitations. As with any tool or technique, understanding both the benefits and shortcomings of single line ascent will ensure that you will not only employ it properly, but also in the safest, most efficient manner.

Input equals output, what a concept

By its very nature, ascending a single line means ascending a static line. The other end of the line is secured in some manner – possibly as part of a ground-based rescue system in which the climber could be lowered back to the ground – allowing the climber to ascend the static single part of the line. This differs from the more conventional system in which two parts of the line are involved and both are moving, or dynamic.

Dynamic systems provide a built-in mechanical advantage, requiring climbers to only lift roughly half their weight, as the weight is split between the two parts of line. However, with this advantage comes the attendant negative fact that the climber must move his hitch over twice as much line.

Essentially, a 200-pound climber is only pulling up roughly 100 pounds, but has to move 2 feet of line, 1 foot from each part of the line, to ascend 1 foot.

In static systems, such as SRT, the climber has to deal with all his body weight, but ascends at twice the speed of a dynamic system, or 1 foot of ascent for each foot of line moved through the hitch, device or combination thereof.

They’re all tie-in points (TIPs)

As mentioned, using single line ascent techniques helps do away with all that tiresome throw bag manipulation to isolate a specific TIP before ascending. If the line is simply over a suitable branch or through an appropriate TIP, whether or not it’s isolated won’t affect the use of a single line ascent technique. In some cases, having the ascent line over a number of branches and TIPs may actually benefit the intended work plan.

Ease of line placement does come with one caveat though: Users must recognize that they have changed, in some manner, the forces experienced at the primary branch or TIP. While further research may be necessary to accurately define how much or how little the forces have changed, it would behoove users to recognize that a single line ascent will put more force on the TIP than a dynamic doubled line system. Research and discussion are ongoing, and a better definition of exactly how much the forces may be different will hopefully soon become available. In the meantime, the safest course is to assume that the single line TIP will see roughly twice the weight of the climber with no magnification by drops, trips and falls. This is more than the conventional doubled line system in which the weight of the climber is split between the two parts of rope.

Although this probable inherent disadvantage is certainly not a reason to avoid single line ascent, it is one to be aware of when deciding which branch or TIP is appropriate. This doubling of forces can be avoided by securing the single line to the branch or TIP itself, instead of passing over it, by sending up a running bowline. This will require isolating the branch with the line and will necessitate removal before descent. Another option, one that is removable from the ground, is the use of a midline knot, such as the alpine butterfly, where one end of the line is passed through the loop formed by the knot and then the knot is advanced up to the branch, cinching it in place, yet this also requires isolation of the TIP. These options also negate the use of ground rescue systems for the climber.


The return of the nonworking end of the single line to the ground allows for the use of a friction-management or belay device. When appropriately anchored, this device allows the branch manager to lower an incapacitated climber from aloft safely and efficiently, providing enough rope is available. A number of devices are available that are appropriate in this application, but whichever device is employed, it should be securely backed up to avoid unintended slippage or loosening during the climber’s ascent. In addition, it should also have built-in safety features or add-on hitches added to prevent an uncontrolled descent during the lowering/rescue process.

Little of both

While this column focuses on single line ascent, a brief foray into the use of dynamic systems piggybacked onto single line static systems is appropriate, as this can also be used in the ascent. In short, these hybrid systems use a floating anchor point as a movable TIP on the single line, which can then be attached to the climber by some form of dynamic system. This type of ascent method provides the user with the advantages of efficiency in ascent of single line, while allowing the switch over to a dynamic system with two moving parts of rope for canopy movement.

Once again, factors such as forces at the tree’s TIP, security of the floating anchor point, and the appropriateness of the device/hitch being used as a floating anchor point must all be considered and evaluated prior to use of such a hybrid system.

Working and ascending

Systems and equipment that can be used for ascending a single line safely range from the simplistic single line footlock on a Prusik to systems involving multiple ascenders, Petzl I’D, PMI chest rollers, ISC rope wrench or RopeTek Hitch Hiker, or a combination thereof. While many of the ascender options are meant for use only in the ascent and are removed once the desired elevation has been reached, devices such as the ISC rope wrench and the RopeTek Hitch Hiker can be left installed on the single line to work the canopy and eventually descend – all on a single static line.

Regardless of which system, or combination of systems/tools, is chosen, new users would be well-advised to have extensive training and practice with the chosen system/device “low and slow” prior to venturing high into the canopy. Eighty feet up in a white oak is not the place to discover you’re not really sure why something is slipping or not releasing.

Every climber should have the understanding and safe use of single line ascent techniques in their mental toolbox, ready to deploy in the appropriate scenario. While no solitary system or technique is perfect for every tree and situation, the increased efficiency, and thereby saved climber energy, of single line ascent make it a system that climbing arborists should at least explore and try. The more techniques in that mental toolbox, the more prepared the crew is to safely and efficiently meet what challenges the boss – or the tree – throws their way.

Michael (House) Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions/Arbor Canada Training and Education, currently located in Lancaster, Kentucky.

(Article courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Homeowner Tree Care Accidents in 2014

The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) conducted an analysis of 37 civilian tree care-related accidents reported by the media in 2014. TCIA is a trade association that advances the tree care industry and discourages homeowners from taking unnecessary risks caring for their trees.

While these numbers are not representative of all – or even most – tree care accidents involving non-professionals, they provide insight into the types of hazards hom eowners are likely to encounter while attempting tree work.


The findings were grim: Twenty-three of the accidents (60 percent) were fatal. “Homeowners may not realize how dangerous tree work can be, and how much they’re risking by taking the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach,” says Peter Gerstenberger, senior advisor for safety, standards and compliance for TCIA. “Lack of training, equipment, or situational awareness undoubtedly contributed to these incidents, which could have been avoided by hiring a professional tree care company.”


The median age of the victim was 62, and the oldest victim was 76. The youngest reported victim was a 3-year-old toddler who tragically walked into the path of a tree his father was felling and was struck and killed. Three of the 37 victims, including the 3-year-old, were uninvolved bystanders. Most homeowners were struck by a tree while attempting to fell it, or were hit by limbs, wires, or chain saws. Others fell or were electrocuted. Chart A provides more details on the accidents.


Occasionally, these incident are high-profile; Greg Norman, the pro golfer, is the lone “struck by chain saw” statistic. He claimed to be lucky to still have his left hand after a chain saw accident. The famed Australian, who won two majors and 20 U.S. PGA Tour titles, was trimming a sea grape tree at his home near Jupiter Island, Florida, when the accident occurred.


Norman was part of another dominant group in these statistics: the victims who were working alone at the time of the accident. In two-thirds of all cases where it could be determined, the victims undertook hazardous tree work with nobody to spot them, nobody to assist them, and nobody to advise them when it might have been prudent to stop and seek out an expert.

Occupational Tree Care Accidents in 2014

The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) reviewed 126 occupational tree care accidents reported by the media, OSHA and industry colleagues in 2014. Of these, 81 were fatal. The median age of the victim for all incidents was 42.

Further analysis revealed trends seen in previous years: Monday is still statistically the most dangerous day of the week for tree care professionals, with Friday ranking second. “It is reasonable to assume that so-called ‘critical error’ behaviors – such as mind-not-on-task or eyes-not-on-task – are more prevalent on these days,” says Peter Gerstenberger, TCIA’s senior advisor for safety, standards and compliance.

A more influential factor, however, is association membership: A disproportionate number of these incidents were experienced by arborists working for companies who are not members of TCIA. (Chart A)

“Tree care companies with no professional affiliation, such as TCIA, may not have the resources or motives to incorporate safety training on the jobsite,” explains Gerstenberger. “Furthermore, TCIA has found ignorance or lack of training to be a factor in many of these incidents.”

This assertion is supported by Chart B, which shows how preventable many of these fatal incidents were and catalogues them by exposure types.

For example, in eight of the reported 12 electrocution incidents, plus the electric shock/burn incident, the victims were using aluminum ladders and/or conductive tools at the time of the incident. In eight of the 25 falls, the victims were clearly not secured. In the palm trimming deaths, the climbers were secured to the trunk below the frond skirts, a technique that has been widely publicized for years as being fraught with risk.

“It seems clear to us that the practitioners most in need of improved knowledge and training are also the least inclined to seek out training opportunities,” says Gerstenberger. “As such, it is our responsibility as an association and industry to facilitate safety training opportunities for tree care professionals who need it the most.”

Arborist Safety Training Institute

 The Arborist Safety Training Institute (ASTI), launched by the Tree Care Industry Association Foundation (TCIAF), seeks to fulfill this responsibility by providing quality, local and affordable safety training to working arborists.


ASTI will provide grants for safety training to minimize consequent deaths and injuries, and promote overall workforce safety that is critical for the tree care industry. Learn more about ASTI at or contact Sarah Winslow at (603)-314-5380 or

Hazards Of Felling Storm-Damaged Trees-Part I

Perhaps the most difficult and dangerous trees to cut are ones that have been damaged by storms.

These trees should be tackled only by the most skilled and experienced tree cutters, for they are, in a word, unpredictable. This is primarily due to the tremendous compression and tension forces exerted on the parts of the tree under pressure. It is critical that release cuts be made correctly in order to avoid injury. The methods for making these cuts, and the principles behind them, are the same as those for bucking logs. There are countless scenarios of storm damage to trees, but the ones my crew and I most frequently encounter are of two general types: trees that have been uprooted (partially or completely), or trees that have broken off but remain attached to the trunk.

Felling partially uprooted and/or tipped trees requires an understanding of the various stresses exerted on the trunk as well as the possible reactions of these stresses to an arborist’s cutting technique.

Uprooted trees (or windfalls)

Strong winds often uproot trees, leaving them in one of three conditions:

  1. hung-up in another tree (or perhaps lying on a structure, such as a house)
  2. partially uprooted and severely
  3. uprooted and lying on the ground.

Hung up trees can be safely felled using various bucking methods, and the latter two conditions can be addressed using the following methods. 

Safety is important; never stand on or straddle the trunk of an uprooted tree while cutting to sever the root mass from the rest of the tree.

Partially uprooted and severely tipped trees

At first, felling partially uprooted and tipped trees appears simple until you consider, or experience, the dangers involving the tremendous pressure being exerted on the trunk, and what happens when the remaining root mass slams back down after the trunk is cut. To minimize some of the risk, do not attempt to make the following felling cuts above your shoulder height.

  • Cut an open-face notch on the compression side of the tree (the bottom side of the trunk) to a depth of about one-quarter of the trunk diameter.
  • Make the back cut on the tension, or top, side of the trunk. Be prepared for a potentially explosive response as the tree falls down and the root mass tips backward as pressure is released when the trunk is cut.
  • When cutting larger-diameter trees, consider using the bore cut method that’s used for trees with a heavy forward lean, or securing the trunk with a chain or strap to prevent the trunk from barber chairing.
To avoid being injured by the sudden upright shift of the root mass, remove sections of the trunk incrementally; this will allow the root mass to counterbalance the tree gradually.

Jeff Jepson is an ISA Certified Arborist with more than 25 years of experience in felling trees. He is the owner of Beaver Tree Service in Longville, Minnesota and author of “The Tree Climber’s Companion” (1997).

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from “To Fell a Tree: A Complete Guide to Successful Tree Felling and Woodcutting Methods” (2009), printed with the permission of Jeff Jepson. For more information regarding methods and techniques for cutting large-diameter trees, rope installation methods, and more as they relate to working on hung up trees, Jepson’s book provides many examples.

(Article courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Hazards Of Felling Storm-Damaged Trees-Part II

Uprooted trees lying on the ground (or supported by another object)

There are two potentially dangerous circumstances that can occur when the trunk is cut free from the remaining root mass. First, the remaining root mass could fall forward and on top of the saw operator. The other potentially dangerous result is that the root mass and remaining trunk could whip upright and back into the ground after the bucking cut is made. For this reason, never stand on or straddle the trunk of an uprooted tree while making these cuts. Trying to determine which of these two situations is likely to occur is a difficult assessment and only becomes easier after years of experience in working on these types of trees.

Fortunately, there are options for dealing with these types of trees.

  • Option 1: To avoid the threat of the remaining root mass falling toward you, cut the trunk at a distance that is beyond the reach of the highest part of the root mass. Remove any branches that are in the way or that could potentially strike you after the tree is cut free from the stump. After being cut, the root mass will fall forward only until it is stopped by the remaining trunk section striking the ground.
  • Option 2: This is a good method when you anticipate the root mass and remaining trunk will right itself after the bucking cuts are made. Start your cuts at the top of the tree, working toward the butt, cutting the trunk into short sections. This incremental removal of trunk sections allows the root mass to counterbalance the tree gradually, standing upright slowly and safely. At this point, fell the remaining upright trunk section using normal felling methods.
  • Making the cuts: If the tree appears to be under significant upward pressure from both ends, then make an open-face notch on the compression side of the tree followed by an undercut directly opposite the notch.

If it appears that the root mass is creating a significant back pull (indicating the root mass wants to fall back in the hole), the cuts should be reversed (notch the bottom, back cut from the top). In many instances it won’t be necessary to make a notch or top cut; an undercut only will suffice.

Another common type of storm damage includes trees that have broken off but still remain attached to the trunk. The upper portion may be hung up in another tree or resting on the ground. These situations are extremely hazardous as they are difficult to assess. These trees will often respond unpredictably, even when a felling plan has been carefully considered and executed. The greatest risk of felling these trees is if the broken portion detaches unexpectedly. Other hazards arise from the broken portion of the tree exerting pressure against the tree trunk, which can cause the tree to barber chair or fall in the wrong direction when the felling cuts are made.

Assess the tree and site carefully before making any cuts. Try to visualize how the broken top will respond to the release cuts you intend to make. As these cuts are made, be prepared for the broken portion to detach at any time, and be ready to retreat along one of several preplanned and cleared escape routes. Finally, avoid working under the hung up or hanging portion of the tree.

Broken trees with top on the ground

  • Carefully inspect and test the broken part of the tree to get a sense of how well attached it is to the trunk.
  • Remove the limbs supporting the broken portion of the tree using limbing and bucking methods. Cut back as high as can safely be reached (below shoulder height). Cut slowly and watch how the tree responds as pressure is released from the wood. Keep cutting until the broken portion is free of ground support. Be ready to move if the trunk begins to shift or roll.
  • Make an open-face notch on the same side of the tree that the broken top is lying on, or where the lean of the tree is the heaviest.
  • Execute the back cut while standing on the good side of the tree. If necessary, use felling wedges to help support the tree and prevent a pinched saw bar while cutting and to force the tree into the lay. When using a pull line, secure the rope to the main trunk (not the broken portion) as close to the break as possible.

Broken trees with hung up top

If the broken portion is located high on the trunk and out of reach, I would recommend using the following method. Caution: Felling these trees puts the tree cutter at great risk since it usually requires working under the hung up top and involves outwitting and outrunning two separate falling tree sections: the trunk and the top of the tree.

Set a pull line around the hung up section of the tree close to where it broke off.

Felling broken trees with a hung up top is one of the most difficult and dangerous circumstances. This example uses a winch and pulley system.

Attach to the pull line a means of pulling the hung top free. A come-along or MA [mechanical advantage] pulley system is satisfactory in most instances with smaller trees, but I prefer using a portable winch instead (one that accommodates rope usage), because of the extra pulling force it offers. Securely anchor the pulling tool of choice in the direction you intend the trunk to fall (the lay).

Cut an open-face notch in the direction of the lay.

Make the back cut, leaving an extra thick hinge so the tree will not fall before you can retreat from the work area. Retreat at a 90-degree angle from the trunk in either direction to a distance beyond the felling radius of the tree.

Only when the tree cutter is at a safe distance away from the tree should pulling efforts begin.

Jeff Jepson is an ISA Certified Arborist with more than 25 years of experience in felling trees. He is the owner of Beaver Tree Service in Longville, Minnesota and author of “The Tree Climber’s Companion” (1997).

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from “To Fell a Tree: A Complete Guide to Successful Tree Felling and Woodcutting Methods” (2009), printed with the permission of Jeff Jepson. For more information regarding methods and techniques for cutting large-diameter trees, rope installation methods, and more as they relate to working on hung up trees, Jepson’s book provides many examples.

(Article courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Tree Health

The Key With Fall Fertilization

Apply late in season for fall root growth and storage in plant tissues for use in spring
By John Fech


Fertilization programs are utilized to maintain the vigorous and healthy growth of trees and to increase their resistance to damage from insects and diseases. When applied judiciously they can be a valuable part of a plant health care program.

The foundational tenet of tree fertilization is that it should be an as necessary procedure, not a standard, one-size-fits-all program.

Fall versus spring

When needed, there are two general time frames to fertilize trees: early to mid-spring and late fall when plants are dormant. In spring, applied nutrients are converted to essential plant compounds – sugars, carbohydrates and amino acids – that bolster stem, trunk and root growth. In late fall, some nutrients are used in root growth, with the remainder stored in other plant tissues ready to be used when the roots resume absorption and expansion in the spring.

Early fall applications aren’t recommended because the resulting encouragement of growth that often occurs may not have adequate time to harden off before the onset of winter. If not winter-ready, the stems have a greater potential to suffer winter injury because of their soft and supple nature. Depending on where you live, root function can continue into December.

The amount of fertilizer applied in fall versus spring should also be considered. A good rule of thumb for fall applications is to apply about a third of the amount normally used for spring applications – enough to encourage root and future shoot growth, but not more than will be absorbed. Judicious applications don’t facilitate ground or surface water pollution. Slow-release nutrient formulations decrease the odds of leaching and runoff, but always use caution when fertilizing trees.

Undersized or pale leaves are good indicators of the need for fertilization.

Determining need

When determining whether to fertilize and how much, lean on factors such as soil testing, appearance, growth rate and the surrounding plant material in the landscape.

Soil testing – The critical indicators provided by a soil test report are nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, pH, secondary nutrients and the micronutrients. Cation exchange capacity, salt index, sodium absorption ratio and organic matter content should also be considered when determining need.

Before submitting a sample for soil testing, ask the testing lab how to best obtain a representative sample for the appropriate testing procedure and follow their instructions carefully. Once the report is back, consider the tree and its specific needs. For example, if the tree in question is a red maple or pin oak in northern Illinois, the soil test report is likely to indicate a high pH and a suggestion to lower it to make the iron in the soil more available. As such, it’s important to match up the specific needs of the tree species with the test results.

When to Fertilize

  • Do apply in the late fall.
  • Do consider the amount of fertilizer applied in fall versus spring. A good rule of thumb for fall applications is to apply about a third of the amount normally used for spring applications – enough to encourage root and future shoot growth.
  • Do consider nitrogen, which is generally the nutrient required in the greatest quantity for fall fertilization.
  • Do fertilize if a tree’s foliage is pale green, a tree has undersized leaves, a thin canopy is present, or stems have dieback.
  • Do fertilize if a tree is growing in a mulch bed or in a parking lot. These landscape spaces don’t offer the benefit of nutrients applied to turf.
  • Do fertilize if a tree that grows at a rate typical for its species for several years is followed by a decline in growth rate over successive years.

When Not to Fertilize

  • Don’t apply in the early fall when fertilizer can encourage growth. Depending on where you live, root function can continue into December.
  • Don’t apply if trees have root damage from construction or trenching.
  • Don’t fertilize if a tree is in the middle of a lawn that receives nutrient applications, as small amounts of the applied materials will move downward in the soil profile and be absorbed by the tree roots.
  • Don’t fertilize trees under stress.

Species aside, nitrogen is generally the nutrient required in the greatest quantity. However, because it is a mobile nutrient, test reports tend to be transitory and reliable only for a short time. As a result, it’s common for soil tests to indicate a need for low to moderate amounts of nitrogen and that an adequate amount of phosphorous and potassium, which are more stable and required in lesser quantities, already exist. Again, good communication with the soil-testing lab is essential.

Appearance – The color of foliage, condition of the branch tips, size of leaves, thickness of crown, and comparison with other specimens of the same species are good indicators of the need for added nutrients. If foliage is pale green, the tree has undersized leaves, a thin canopy is present, or stems have dieback, fertilization may be beneficial.

Trees with root damage from construction or trenching should not be fertilized.

Surrounding plant material – If the tree is in the middle of a lawn that receives periodic nutrient applications, the need for tree fertilization is reduced, as small amounts of the applied materials will move downward in the soil profile and be absorbed by the tree roots. If grass clippings are returned to the lawn during mowing operation, then small amounts of the nutrients present in the grass blades are recycled to the soil, where both grass and tree roots can grab them.

The situation is different for a tree growing in a mulch bed or in a parking lot. Neither of these landscape spaces offer the benefit of applied nutrients to turf; however, depending on the amount of leaf debris that’s recycled back to the tree roots, the need will change. In mulch beds, the decomposition of debris that falls on the mulch layer is helpful in maintaining the fertility level of the soil, thereby decreasing the need for added nutrients. Parking lots, on the other hand, offer little potential for turf fertilizer or tree debris to encourage healthy tree growth. Fertilization may be helpful in landscapes that offer minimal inputs. In addition, fertilizer injections may be best in these scenarios, as they are generally not conducive to water lance or surface applications.

A thin crown can indicate a need for fertilizer if other factors are not limiting.

Regardless of the application method, the rate should be based on the area occupied by the roots. Unless severely restricted because of planter boxes or tree pits, roots typically spread well beyond the branches on established trees and shrubs. Therefore, the target area for fertilization should be two to three times beyond the diameter of the branch spread.

Growth rate over time – A tree that grows at a rate typical for its species for several years followed by a decline in growth rate over successive years should be considered a candidate for fertilization. If a slowed growth rate is observed in conjunction with an indicated need in a soil test report for a tree in an area that is well aerated but not routinely fertilized (such as an ornamental bed), then a low to moderate application of nitrogen and other elements may be useful in improving the tree’s health.

On the other hand, if a tree has been receiving nutrients from lawn applications, has received adequate rainfall, and there are no visible pests, then added nutrients are generally not recommended. Also, if a tree has produced growth that is healthy and typical of its species over time, the need for fertilization is not justified.

Trees located in good growing conditions but producing a poor growth rate over time may benefit from fertilization.

Other caveats

Fertilizing trees under stress isn’t generally recommended. It’s better if the tree’s resources are used to defend it against insects and diseases and for root regrowth, rather than using up stored sugars to produce new leaves. Other trees and shrubs that should not be fertilized include newly planted specimens and those with root damage from recent trenching or construction. The root systems need time to re-establish before fertilizers are applied.

For mid-spring and late fall applications, there’s a fine line when it comes to fertilizing specimens under stress. Yes, applied nutrients can increase resistance to stressors; however, if the stressors are causing the tree to decline, it’s best to avoid fertilization until the tree recovers.

Also, a specimen may not need fertilizer if an application has been made and the tree still looks thin or produces inadequate growth. In other words, if your fertilizer application doesn’t produce the results you were looking for, investigate to determine the factors that are affecting the tree’s health.

Expanded mulch areas provide enhanced growing areas for tree roots.

Alternative treatments

There are some other treatments that can produce a similar effect on tree health as fertilization.

Aeration – This opens up compacted soils, increasing the movement of oxygen into the pore spaces and facilitating greater water infiltration. Many specimens struggle because the roots cannot expand laterally to support the needs of the tree.

Expanded mulch area – Mulch, placed in a manner that simulates Mother Nature, could be the ticket to improved tree health. Expanded mulch areas offer the additional benefits of moisture retention and weed suppression.

Compost application – Depending on the landscape situation, thin applications of compost will provide a dose of slow-release nutrients. The key is thin, not more than 1/3 inch deep. Compost applications are best following lawn aeration in landscapes where a tree is in the midst of a sward of turfgrass.

John C. Fech, an ISA certified arborist and certified tree risk assessor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a contributing writer to Tree Services.

(Article courtesy of Tree Services Magazine:

Summer Safety: How to Beat the Heat

Summer Safety: How to beat the heat and keep your crew safe when the mercury rises

By Tony Tresselt

Summer is often the busiest season for production tree workers. Dormant season’s end, summer storms and active insect and pathogen populations all add to the pace of tree care operations. Many tree care companies depend on the summer months to sustain them through the rest of the year. For most it is a make-it-or-break-it time. Therefore, a successful summer season is important.

Just as any tree job has specific concerns, so too does the summer tree season. Never is safety and efficiency more important than when workloads increase and the difference between a good year and a bad one may boil down to the activities of a few short months.

Photos courtesy of Tony Tresselt .

Safe work practices are always necessary and cost-effective. However, each season brings its own challenges. Tree workers can do many things to stay safe and productive this summer; we’ll look at three. By avoiding heat injuries, watching out for summertime pests, and ensuring proper equipment maintenance, this summer can be safe and successful.

How about this heat?

For many parts of the country, summer months mean increased temperatures and/or humidity. Heat injury, from mild dehydration to outright heat stroke, is a constant worry. Review the additional hazards of working in high heat and humidity during site safety briefings. Be sure the job plan includes breaks and that plenty of cool, clean water is available.

Focus a longer safety meeting on recognizing heat injuries in yourself and other crew members. Look at abatement strategies and proper treatment. If caught early, heat injuries can often be lessened or entirely avoided. Should a crew member become incapacitated by the heat, be sure he receives proper medical care promptly.

Heat injuries are serious and must be acted on accordingly. Just because there is no blood and gore does not mean a crew member may not need quick, thorough medical care. Just as with so many things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Learn to identify poisonous plants and inspect carefully for all manner of pests before working.


Warmer weather also means that many other forms of life are more active. Bees, wasps and other stinging insects can be hidden in thick tree canopies or trunk cavities. In early summer, wildlife may be breeding or already have young broods. Beware of animals that may be more aggressive because of these cycles. Animals and birds are also more likely to be in nests and dens and may not appreciate your daytime visit to their lofty perches.

Be thorough in your risk assessments and inspect for evidence of wildlife before starting work. If crew members have any allergies, be sure the entire crew is aware and knows what to do should an incident occur. Make ready any necessary medications or other forms of treatment, and be trained and ready to use them when needed.

Not all pests are four-legged. Be aware of and able to identify poisonous plants. Even a mild allergic reaction to plants can cause discomfort and add to fatigue and frustration at the end of a long day. Be sure crew members can identify the major reaction-causing plants in your area, and develop a plan to avoid the risk or minimize the exposure.

Equipment woes

Production tree care is dusty, dirty work any time of year. Add high temperatures and longer hours and summer work takes its toll on workers and equipment alike. Be sure all motorized equipment is serviced and running well. The frustration of malfunctioning equipment and long, hot days can be hazardous, if not fatal.

Make sure the crew has plenty of cool, clean water to drink on hot days.

Sharpen saws and brush chippers regularly. Dull tools are no fun and can be dangerous. Be sure to clean radiators and cooling fins often. A clogged radiator might not make a difference when the temps are below freezing, but it can ruin efficiency on a warm day, not to mention the time lost and repair cost of a cracked block or other damage.

Saw and equipment maintenance is even more important in the busy season.

Mechanics will tell you they get more service calls on days with extreme temperatures. Make sure tires are at the correct pressure and in good shape. Tighten lug nuts and check brakes regularly. Top off fluids as necessary. Machinery without proper fluid levels has to work harder to do the same job. Low fluid levels usually mean higher working temps, and greater and quicker wear. What you may squeak by with on a mild day will catch up with you as time and temperature increase.

Be sure to store fuel and oils in shaded or cooler areas, as direct sunlight can cause unvented cans and/or storage bins to become pressurized and/or explosive. Saws and other gas equipment are slower to cool, so extra care when refueling is wise. Clean up spills promptly and use good judgment when filling hot equipment on hot days.

The summer season can be a great time to get a lot of work completed. However, increased workloads and temperatures, active hazardous pests and plants, as well as more demanding equipment usage can all add to the stress of a busy season. Make sure that safety briefings reflect these added concerns. Prepare workers and equipment alike with the tools and knowledge necessary to deal with the summer heat. Plan your work and work your plan. This becomes especially important as the summer months settle upon us.

 Tony Tresselt is a climber, trainer, writer and student of arboriculture associated with North American Training Solutions, Arboriculture Canada Training and Education and Arborist Enterprises.
(Article courtesy of Tree Services Magazine: