Arborvitae (Thuja) may be Essex County’s most popular privacy tree. Arborvitae is Latin for ‘Tree of Life’ which was the name it was given for saving early sailors from scurvy. Apparently, the fragrant trees can be brewed into tea. These evergreens are native to North America and Asia and have been bred into many varieties for use as hedgerows and living fences. At maturity in the wild, they can get 50 feet tall, but most hybrids sold at the nursery for homeowners only grow to 20 or 30 feet tall.
Arborvitae likes full sun and is tolerant of most soil types and has few pest issues. The biggest problems they develop are browning and yellowing of needles and winter damage from snow and ice. Heavy snow weighs down flexible branches and the result is flopping and cracked stems that need to be tied and pruned come spring. As they get older, they become ragged-looking for these reasons. I have seen these trees butchered many times, from removing all lower branches to shearing too aggressively, which results in dead patches. Unlike some other trees and shrubs, if you remove too much of the foliage from an Arborvitae, it will be permanent and the branches in that area will die. It will not fill in with green growth or grow back from the older trunk wood or branches.
If you have an Arborvitae hedge, it’s wise to keep it lightly sheared and repaired annually to keep it healthy and tidy looking.
Norway Maples (Acer platanoides) are native to Europe but now constitute a major part of the urban forest in Eastern Massachusetts. They are fast growing and can reach 100 feet or more in height. They have earned a bad reputation and are now listed as invasive and are prohibited for sale. They were planted in the landscape in the 1950s but no one knew what a problem they would become.
Norway Maples are undesirable because they:
Of course, they are large trees and do provide benefits such as shade, wildlife habitat and air filtering and therefore preservation should be considered when possible. Because these maples develop more issues as they become older and larger, they need more intensive management than other species do. The best approach is to have your tree inspected by a qualified arborist and then develop a pruning plan and installation of cabling and bracing specific to your tree’s needs.
Roots conflicting with infrastructure around the home is a common concern; from driveways, patios and pathways to foundations, septic tanks and underground pipes.
A tree in the wild sends its roots far out to seek adequate space for anchorage, nutrition, water and air to supply itself. In the urban and suburban landscape, there aren’t as many welcome places for roots to grow. A prime example of this is on city streets where the soil underneath is very compacted and space is too limited for tree roots to go anywhere, so they push up the sidewalk. Roots will always seek out the easiest source of air, space and water, whether that is through a crack in a pipe, a home foundation or at the surface through the pavement.
So, what can be done short of complete tree removal?
First of all, we want to be certain that there is an actual root issue before condemning the tree. That can be done by air or manual excavation or by going high tech with ground penetrating radar. Also, have any of your infrastructure elements looked at by the appropriate hardscaping/construction inspectors for suspected flaws and root invasion. If roots are indeed found to be invading, here are some management options for consideration:
Tree friendly solutions can be worked out if you plan far enough ahead and if not, creative solutions can be implemented depending on each situation, your budget and dedication to the landscape.
1. Anticipate the mature size of a tree when planting it, eventhough it may not be your problem in the long run. Don’t plant trees too close to each other, structures or utilities.
2. Overpruning is common but hard for trees to recover from. Never have your trees topped or overpruned (more than 25% per season)
3. If you have a tree with 2 trunks (co-dominant) or more (multi-stemmed) cabling and bracing can help to strengthen them.
4. Special forms, such as weeping, upright, spirals, etc. require more yearly care and attention than standard forms
5. Fertilizer should be used sparingly and only when needed to avoid your trees getting hooked
6. Keep an eye out for dead branches (with no leaves) because this can indicate a health problem or a hazard if they were to break
7. Cavities/Holes in trees are considered problematic mainly if they are very deep and collect water
8. Don’t postpone dead tree removal because with each passing year the tree becomes more dangerous as it looses it’s strength
9. If you see mushrooms on your tree or around its base these indicate wood or root decay and should be checked out
10. If you have many tree(s) around your property, get a management plan to prioritize which to prune, remove, cable and/or monitor and when