Cabling Support Systems for Tree Limbs

Cabling is the use of hardware to support trees or branches that are defective or weak but that the tree owner does not wish to remove. Sometimes weak limbs are retained because removing them would be very stressful on the tree. Cables are also sometimes used to keep healthy limbs from settling lower over time with gravity.

Proper cable installation

Defects could include a cavity or decay, a weak connection between two branches or inadequate branch strength.  It is critical for a property owner to realize that such defects make the risk of limb or tree failure higher, even when cabled, and that complete removal of the weak part is safer than cabling, especially if the consequences of failure are severe.

There are many cabling techniques out there, but only a few meet industry standards, which are fairly detailed.  A few things you can look for to determine if a cable was properly installed include Continue reading

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Pruning and Oak Wilt

Well, it’s that time of year again, when most arborists are inundated with the question “Is it safe to prune my oaks now?”  or, “Why are there signs in my neighborhood saying I shouldn’t prune my oaks now?”  These signs are particularly prevalent in northwest Austin.

live oak leaf symptomatic of oak wilt

For more details about oak wilt,  see my dedicated oak wilt page, or go to my previous post on it.  But since it is that time of year, I thought I’d revisit the issue here.

Regarding those signs, you’ll notice most of them say “Do NOT Prune Oaks…”, etc.  Well, the guidelines they were derived from never said “do not prune…”.  They recommended avoiding oak pruning in the spring.  The latest version of those guidelines (on my oak wilt page) indicate what oak pruning can (and actually should) be done year-round. Continue reading

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Tree Pruning

While tree pruning is probably the most commonly performed tree care service, if done incorrectly it can have severe negative long term impact on tree health and safety.  For a detailed explanation of what correct pruning is and isn’t, see my “Pruning Tips” page.

One quick way to determine if you are dealing with a professional is by the language they use.  Dr. Alex Shigo, the father of modern arboriculture, used to emphatically make this point all the time.  And when it comes to removing branches from trees, professionals refer to this as “pruning”.  “Trimming” is for hair; “sculpting” is for rock.  May seem like a minor point, but this “test” is actually pretty accurate, at least in Austin.   Sculpting in particular is a term used by some yahoos that like to strip all the foliage out of the interior of tree- BAD idea! Again, see my pruning tips page.  Ask to see the work of anyone you’re thinking of hiring.  If the canopy of every tree they prune looks like an umbrella, don’t hire them!!!

Knowing the term “branch collar” can be another indicator of how knowledgeable a tree care provider is or isn’t.  Of course beware of posers who just throw around esoteric terms without having a clue what they mean.  Someone who really knows what a branch collar is can explain it to you in a way that makes sense.  Again, see my “Pruning tips” page.  ONLY hire tree care companies that make ONLY branch collar cuts.

The pictures below show the proper removal of the typical branch at its collar.  However, it is critical to understand that the shape and angle of the branch affect the final cut.   Not all branch collar cuts look exactly like the one below right.  The point is that most cuts that are either flush against the trunk or which leave a “stub” are incorrect.  The flush ones can be quite injurious.


proper branch removal Fig. 1


Proper branch removal Fig. 2

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Ball Moss and Mistletoe Removal

Ball moss and mistletoe are two common tree pests in Central Texas,

ball moss

ball moss

frequently removed when tree pruning.  Here is some info on what these plants are, how they are harmful and how they can be treated.

Ball moss is not really a moss, but an epiphyte or air plant, meaning it’s roots are exposed to the air.  It is in the bromeliad family, and so is related to pineapples, believe it or not.  While the majority of experts believe it is not harmful, because it is believed to receive its nutrition entirely through air and rain, some arborists including me believe that in large quantities ball moss definitely has a negative impact on trees.  This is due to its shading out buds and young leaves.  There is definitely a major impact when we have ice storms, as the greatly increased surface area causes much more breakage on limbs coated with ball moss. Continue reading

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Tree Fertilizing

Red oak showing iron deficiency common in alkaline soils

Tree fertilization can be performed in numerous ways and goes by a number of names.  Sometimes called “deep root feeding”, this term is incorrect for a couple of reasons, and is a good clue that someone calling it that has a poor understanding of tree care. Continue reading

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Tree Decay and Hazardous Trees

may 06 storm (39)

Remaining stub from fallen limb showing internal decay

As mentioned on my Pruning Tips page, tree safety is one of the two most important aspects of tree care.  And a critical component of tree safety is knowing how to assess potentially hazardous trees or limbs.  Being able to detect decay is a major part of that.

A few things to understand right off the top about this subject;  tree decay is caused by numerous species of fungi, and often the loss of wood strength they cause is not visible externally.  That means that no intelligent arborist is going to guarantee the safety of any tree or limb with 100% certainty. Continue reading

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Arborist of the Year – 2012

Guy LeBlanc is honored to have been named the 2012 Texas Arborist of the Year by the International Society of Arboriculture Texas chapter and the Texas A&M Forest Service.  It is awarded in part for his 35 years in the tree care business, and his volunteer efforts to increase the public’s awareness of proper tree care.

Guy LeBlanc (2nd from left) receives the 2012 Texas Arborist of the Year award.

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Tree Insect Problems 2012

The last two years have turned out to be some of the toughest of the last half-century on our central Texas trees.  Last year’s drought outright killed an unusually high number.  Ironically, many that have survived, especially pecans, are now breaking apart due to drought-weakened wood supporting (or more accurately, not supporting) excessively heavy branch tips and nut crops due to recent rains.  For every tree service I have spoken to, 2012 has been the year of dead tree and broken branch removal.

But now what’s really making the phone ring are calls about “tree sap” making every thing sticky.  These calls are mostly about pecan trees, but people with crepe myrtles and oaks are calling too.  But it is not tree sap that is making a sticky mess of everything.  It is a variety of insects. Continue reading

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Choosing an Arborist

Unless you were specifically looking for me, you probably came across this site while searching for tree trimming, pruning, arborist, or some other tag words, and along the way have seen or may see sites for dozens of so-called arborists.  My oh my, how ever does one choose?

There are lots of variables that can help you find a competent person to provide tree care for you, but I’ll start with the word “arborist”.  It may surprise you to know that unlike “doctor” or “lawyer”, there isn’t any sanctified definition of this title, or the use of it- anyone with a chainsaw and a ladder can call his or herself one.  So that can be a clue right there- anyone stating or implying that they are “licensed” by the state (of Texas) to perform tree care is, as politicians love to say, being disingenuous.

Yet there is such a thing as a Certified Arborist.  The certifying organization is the International Society of Arboriculture.  They have had a national certification program in place since around 1991.  In Texas, the first I.S.A. Certified Arborist exam was given in 1992.   I was among the small number who took and passed that test, and I have maintained my certification ever since.  Renewal requires acquiring only 30 CEU’s over a three year period;  I have totalled over 700.  In fact, I am hired by ISA and the Texas Forest Service and other agencies to teach  many of these CEU classes.

It is important to remember that passing the Certified Arborist exam does not make one the be-all-end-all of tree knowledge.  It is a test of the most basic knowledge one needs for tree care, and the prerequisites for being able to take the exam could include having planted flowers for a living (not that anything is wrong with that).  So there are some very smart people with pretty much no tree care experience who have passed the exam, and a lot of not-so-smart ones with lots of experience doing tree care really poorly.  So don’t let this be your only qualifier.

It is also important to know that most tree services in Austin do not have Certified Arborists actually performing the work they sell.  Often a company has a Certified Arborist as its owner,  salesperson or foreman, and the people actually doing the work were digging ditches the month before (not that anything is wrong with that).  You’re better off hiring a company in which Certified Arborists actually do the work, like mine.   And don’t be confused by the Certified Tree Worker designation (which I also have).  This certification  focuses more on basic climbing skills, not arboricultural knowledge.  While it is admirable for a company to certify its employees, it is by no means an assurance that the consumer will receive quality work.

It’s important to make sure that persons working on your property have an adequate amount of quality experience to back up their certification.  I recommend a minimum of 20 years for the owner or manager of your account and 7 years for those actually doing the work.  Yes, there are many with less experience that are quite competent, but the chances of getting an incompetent one (or worse) are higher with less experience.  However, there are also unfortunately many with more experience who are incompetent or even outright dishonest.

Insurance is another factor to consider.  All competent tree services in Austin carry appropriate insurance.  This means general liability insurance, personal injury insurance for owners and workers compensation for employees.  It may surprise you to know that none of these are required by law in the state of Texas.  Just to be clear, remember that having these insurances is not a guarantee of quality work.

But any company that does carry insurance will be happy to show you proof.  Just remember, you should verify that the policy is in force.  We had a case in Austin some years ago where the city hired a tree company that actually provided a completely bogus insurance certificate to the city, which the city never verified until after the work was done.  Despite this and the fact that the work did not meet industry standards, the company was still paid.  Your tax dollars at work…

Be especially wary of memberships.   My personal experience is that the more prominently a company advertises memberships,  in the Better Business Bureau for example, the less likely they are to be a quality operation.  The BBB has absolutely no enforcement power, and has little incentive to punish businesses who pay a fee to be members.  Likewise, memberships in tree associations like I.S.A. or T.C.I.A., without accompanying certifications or accreditation, mean nothing more than that someone paid an annual fee to use the group’s logo.  I have seen several tree companies in Austin over the years advertise membership in organizations that don’t even exist!

Finally, check the arborist’s work.  You can become familiar with what proper tree care is by reading about pruning on my website, and ask for and verify references.  Obviously, a company isn’t going to tell you about people who have been dissatisfied with their work, and internet referral sites are laden with misinformation (both pro and con), but if you take the time to become familiar with what a properly pruned tree should look like (it’s not rocket science), you can look at a few dozen trees and tell whether they have been pruned well or not.

Or just make it easy on yourself.  Hire Guy LeBlanc!


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Tree care for drought stressed trees

Last year’s record heat and drought compounded the severe impact that the 2009 drought had on trees in Austin, Texas.  In 2009 we saw record levels of dead and declining trees due to drought.  The heavy rains that occurred that fall and into 2010 were not enough to save many of the trees that initially survived.

severe dieback caused by drought

The same thing is happening now.  The heavy rains of this winter were not enough to save many of the trees that survived through 2011’s drought.  Now that the late-blooming species are in leaf, what is dead is apparent, and the phones at tree care services around town are really ringing.

My business is about tree care, not about being a “tree mortician”.   I have focused my 30-plus year career on maintaining trees and advising property owners on what they can do to preserve their trees.  This means pruning, cabling, fertilizing, and other tree care techniques.  I can certainly perform difficult removals, but they are not a satisfying thing for a highly experienced Certified Arborist.

So, what can one do for a drought stressed tree?  Well, the short answer is, unfortunately not much.  If there is substantial dieback, nothing is going to bring those dead limbs back to life.  Now that almost every live tree in Austin is in leaf, if it doesn’t have leaves, it’s very likely dead.  Once you know for certain that a large limb is dead, it should be removed quickly.  This is  for safety purposes.  Some species shed their dead branches much more quickly than others.  Pecan for instance can shed large dead limbs within a year, whereas live oak will often hang on to them for many years.  Dead limbs really aren’t a health issue for trees in the short term (less than a year).

Some tree services recommend fertilization for trees affected by drought.  Although fertilizing has its place, I do not automatically recommend this.  In fact, fertilizing can be harmful to a tree in a severely stressed condition.   Fertilization should only be used when there is a known nutrient deficiency.  This is something I always assess before considering the addition of nutrients.

The best approach to trees stressed by drought is to maintain proper irrigation levels and improve soil quality.  Soil improvement is largely done through the addition of organic materials to existing soils, but more aggressive mechanical means (such as an air spade) are sometimes employed for extremely poor soils.  As with fertilizing, there are right ways and wrong ways to improve soils.

Proper irrigation can be achieved for trees even under most stages of city water restrictions.  I generally recommend a thorough soaking about once a week during the hottest months.  How much time and water that will take will depend on your specific irrigation system, water pressure and soil type.  A heavy soak once a week is far preferable to multiple short waterings per week.  If you have a thick turf like St. Augustine grass, you may not even get much water through it and to the tree roots if you are doing short waterings, so in this situation your tree could still suffer drought stress even if you were watering every other day.  I can discuss the specifics of how to best achieve these things on your property during a consultation.

Another big problem that trees stressed by drought often experience is borer insect infestation.  Although some aggressive species of borers can attack (and kill) healthy trees, most are opportunistic, and are more likely to attack stressed trees, and some species are more susceptible than others.  While chemical treatment of these insects is possible and sometimes necessary, often the infestation is only noticed after the insect has already damaged the tree and is no longer present.  Correcting the stress factor is usually the best approach.

If you have trees that are in need of tree care, you will get the best results from a tree service in which the treatment is personally provided by an owner/operator who is an I.S.A. Certified Arborist with at least 15 years of local experience such as mine.  I have owned and operated Arbor Vitae Tree Care for 29 years.

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