August 2015 - The Importance of Correct Root Care
I have talked about it before and perhaps it’s one of my biggest bug bears with arboricultural care, particularly in Bermuda and more so particularly in development sites. It cannot be more highly stressed the importance of caring for and maintaining the parts of the tree that you don’t even see, ie the root system. Just because you can’t see it and it's underground doesn’t mean it’s any less important than the rest of the tree! This point was demonstrated to me recently with a real life, perfect example.
We received a panicked telephone call to the office one morning from a member of the public who was in a bit of a state about the sudden yellowing and loss of leaves in her fairly mature Poinciana tree. On visiting the site I drove up a nice, fairly new concrete drive and parked at the top turning circle that had the Poinciana in question attractively set in a 18” high raised bed.
Indeed the tree had lost much of its foliage and the remainder was very yellow; it looked like the end of the season had come early….in July. However, immediately adjacent to the tree in question were two other Poinciana trees in fine, lush green form, so thoughts that the recent drought conditions had taken its toll were somewhat answered; if that was the case the other trees on the property would be equally suffering. The woody growth at the tips was still green and flexible, so die back hadn’t started.
Further investigation showed that the raised planter that had been installed during the construction had raised the soil level over the original root plate, root flare an up the trunk by approximately 12”. Additionally the excavation for the planter wall and drive were well within the drip line of the crown and will have invariably damage much of the root zone.
No tree can withstand this level of root disturbance without experiencing some level of deterioration and showing some signs of poor health. When I mentioned this to the landowner she said “…but the drive was done at least seven or eight years ago and this is the first time it’s done this; surely it’s not anything to do with that.”
I explained that it will often take some time for the true effects of root damage to fully manifest itself, unless the root damage is very extreme. So it is entirely likely that the tree has been struggling to recover from the root damage and the restriction of air to the root plate and trunk by raising the soil levels around the tree. This will have been exacerbated by the drought conditions at the height of the trees annual growth period.
It is often a long, slow demise and the original cause may long be forgotten; it is always best to try and avoid such work. This is often the largest problem, because people can’t see immediate effects, they believe that trees are unaffected by such disturbance to the root systems. If it is unavoidable there are some remedial solutions that can be taken which can include crown reduction and thinning; root pruning and fungicidal and hormone treatment; soil de-compaction and remediation; drenches; compost tea treatments; etc. You should seek advice from a qualified arborist (like us) prior to carrying out work to ensure that as much remedial care as possible is taken to reduce the detrimental effects to the tree
June 2015 - Tree Care Industry Magazine
Have a look at an article written about Brown and Company in this months issue of the Tree Care Industry Magazine.
June 2015 - Correct Tree and Shrub Pruning
One of the benefits Brown and Company enjoys from our membership with the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) in the U.S. and the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) is the network of professional arborists and horticulturalists around the world that we can communicate with and share experiences with.
A common issue we all seem to face is the promotion of sound, correct pruning practices, in both shrub and tree species. Much research has been done into correct pruning methods that benefit both the public and the long term health of the tree. Nowadays we take a structural approach to pruning which has one primary objective: to develop and maintain structurally stable trees. Structural pruning on trees that become large when mature will: promote longevity by reducing tree failure; reduce future maintenance costs; reduce the possibility of risk to property and public and sustain environmental benefits to the community.
There are a few basic management techniques we talk about: crown cleaning (removal of dead wood, storm damage, etc.); crown lifting (for increased clearance or to allow additional light); crown thinning (to allow better wind flow, light and air throughout the canopy) and crown reduction (to reduce the overall size of the canopy). There are also the basic principles in the actual cutting such as target pruning in order to maintain the branch collar around the pruned limb which will promote callusing (compartmentalizing) of the wound; directional pruning to encourage the trees growth in a specific way; pruning limbs to maintain a ratio of no more than 25% between the limb being cut and the limb being maintained; avoiding intermodal cuts and topping cuts to leading stems; no longer “sealing” wound with paint, etc.
But just knowing and understanding the above is not enough: you have to know how and when to apply these principals. So often we are called by a customer to “come and trim a tree”. Often little thought has been given to what the desired outcome is; sometimes to let more light in, or just make it smaller. Careful consideration should be given to exactly what is desired; once this is done consideration must be given to the specific species being considered and the nature and habit of the species growth. Some species (particularly those with a main, central leader like a Norfolk Island Pine) do not lend themselves to reduction. Similarly others are more suited to a combination of techniques depending on the desired outcome. And often “less is more” can be applied: by carrying out a simple combination of the above you can “let in more light” or “make the tree smaller” without harming the long term health of the tree.
Similarly little thought is ever given to what goes on under the ground: out of sight out of mind. So much of the evidence we see in tree ill health and decline can be directly attributed to poor management of the root systems and the ground around them. Soil compaction, backfilling over the root system and around the trunk and poor nutrition management will all negatively impact the health and safety of a tree. And so often these issues start at the planting stage.
By not carrying out correct pruning and management techniques, poor growth habits and structure is promoted in the specimen. This poor, often weak growth is far more susceptible to damage in severe or adverse weather and can result in the complete failure of a specimen. At the very least it takes far longer to correct or repair, thus increasing management costs in the long term. With the onset of the 2015 hurricane season we strongly advise that homeowners make secure checks on their tree stock to avoid the above happening.
For advice, a consultation or quotation on any of your tree or shrub pruning needs, please do not hesitate to contact us for an appointment.
June 2015 - Chinch Bug
The common, old fashioned Bermuda “crab” grass or St. Augustine grass variety is highly susceptible to chinch bug attack. Typically “Floretam,” an improved cultivar of St. Augustine grass, has been used as a stronger grass, resistant to chinch bug. However this no longer appears to be resistant to chinch bugs, which means that currently there are no commercially available chinch bug-resistant varieties of this grass. We are noticing a large increase in the instances of moderate to severe damage to lawns throughout the island as a result of Chinch bug infestation. This damage is particularly noticeable through the late winter and spring months and unfortunately, once it has got to that stage, it’s too late to manage. At that stage we have to re-plant the damaged areas and treat them at the appropriate time to prevent re-infestation.
The following are excerpts from a Texas A&M article which will help explain the depth of the problem.
The southern chinch bug, Blissus insularis Barber, is the most prevalent insect pests of St. Augustine grass in Bermuda. It can be a problem anywhere St. Augustine grass is grown.
Although it is a serious pest only on St. Augustine grass lawns, the southern chinch bug occasionally may feed on Zoysia grass or Bermuda grass. The common chinch bug, Blissus leucopterus leucopterus (Say), is a closely-related species that also occasionally damages turf grass and may be responsible for infrequent reports of chinch bugs in Bermuda grass, fescue and Zoysia grass lawns.
Expanding, irregular patches of dead or stunted grass surrounded by a halo of yellowing, dying grass often provide the first clue of chinch bugs. These islands of dying grass tend to increase in size and merge as insect numbers increase. Damage can develop rapidly, especially in sunny locations during hot, dry weather (Figure 1).
Chinch bug damage can be confused with certain lawn diseases or other physiological disorders. For example, brown patch is a common disease affecting the leaf blades of St. Augustine grass. Brown patch symptoms, however, usually occur in a circular or semi-circular pattern, as opposed to the irregular-shaped areas of dead and dying grass that result from chinch bug feeding. Chinch bug damage also can be difficult to distinguish from that caused by drought. Detecting significant numbers of the insects themselves is the best proof of chinch bug damage.
Biology and habits
Adult chinch bugs in Bermuda are inactive during the winter. Reproduction begins with warmer weather in the spring. Under optimal conditions, each female can deposit up to 300 eggs, which hatch in approximately 2 weeks. The nymphal (immature) stage lasts less than 30 days during warmer weather, while the entire life cycle lasts 7 to 8 weeks. This rapid development allows time for three to five chinch bug generations each year. However, as the season progresses, generations tend to overlap, so all stages are found at the same time.
Managing chinch bugs/Cultural control
Managing this pest begins with proper lawn care. By keeping thatch to a minimum, for example, you reduce chinch bug numbers and make other control methods more effective. Thatch is the layer of dead plant material found between the green tops of the grass plant and the soil below. It provides a protective home for chinch bugs and chemically binds with many insecticides, making such controls less effective.
Lawn aeration in combination with application of a top dressing also can help reduce thick layers of thatch. Aeration involves punching holes in the turf to increase air and water penetration. Top dressing involves applying a thin layer of sand, soil or compost to the surface of the lawn
Applying excessive fertilizer also enhances thatch formation and makes the grass more attractive as a food source for chinch bugs. No more than 3 to 4 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet should be applied each year to St. Augustine grass in sunny locations. Grass in shady sites needs no more than 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each year. Organic, or slow-release, fertilizers reduce the risk of over-fertilization because they release nitrogen more slowly.
Chinch bugs are attacked by many predatory and parasitic insects. Examples include spiders, wasps and ants. Repeated insecticide applications can reduce populations of these predators and actually increase chinch bug numbers. To preserve beneficial insects, apply insecticides only when necessary.
Good cultural practices include water and fertility management, and thatch control. They dramatically reduce the need for insecticides to control chinch bugs. However, when dead and dying zones of turf grass have chinch bugs, some corrective action is needed.
Look for off-color areas, especially in direct sun, and along sidewalks and driveways. When there are numerous chinch bugs, they will cause grass to yellow. You can often find them by parting the grass at the edge of affected areas and by examining the soil and base of the turf.
Insecticides can prevent further injury when chinch bugs are abundant enough to cause visible damage. A limited variety of liquid and granular insecticides is available for chinch bug control in Bermuda; the most common being Gamma-Cyhalothrin (marketed as Triazicide). Granular insecticides can be applied with a standard fertilizer spreader and irrigated lightly (1⁄8- to 1⁄4-inch of water) to activate the insecticide. Spot treatments help prevent environmental contamination. They also minimize the impact of pesticides on beneficial insects. Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information or for a quotation for the renovation or management of your lawns.
Note: the Glyphosate debate:
The ongoing debate over the potentially harmful effects to health and environment through the use of horticultural chemicals recently came to the fore again in Bermuda. This time the discussion revolves around the herbicide Glyphosate (typically marketed as Roundup) A recent report by scientists from The World Health Organization has highlighted a potential link to caner from the use of the herbicide. As a result the Bermuda Government has implemented a temporary ban on the import and sale of the product, subject to further review.
Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide applied in a spray mist to the foliage, which is absorbed throughout the plant to the roots and destroying the cell structure of the plant. Theoretically the science says that, applied correctly, any residue in the plant dissipates through the plant decomposition.
Glyphosate is a herbicide we do use as a valuable tool to manage weed growth in plant beds, paved areas etc., particularly during the height of the growing season. So we will have to alter our practices accordingly. There are other, biological controls available that we already use (weed flamers, salt sprays and good old fashioned hand weeding) which will now which will now become the predominant means of weed control, albeit a little less convenient and more time consuming.
The most frustrating part of this whole debate for me, is that throughout there has been no mention of making sure the people purchasing and using the chemicals are qualified and competent to do so. Much science has gone into the development of these products over the years and the manufacturers provide strict guidelines for the storage, transport, mixing and application of their product. Similarly most jurisdictions have strict guidelines for the same under environmental and Health and Safety legislation. Yet nothing is done here to enforce any compliance with these guidelines and laws.
I was involved for many years with the National Training Board in establishing a certificate of competence programme for operators in various disciplines in the horticultural industry. These City and Guilds/NPTC training and certification programmes now sit collecting dust at the Bermuda College, unused. And no one in the industry on Island has access to this certification that would go a long way to mitigating the health and environmental issues surrounding the use of horticultural chemicals.
I’m pleased to note that at Brown and Company, through our own volition, we have four City and Guilds/NPTC certified pesticide applications operators on staff. Despite the lack of any meaningful oversight on Island we as a company remain committed to maintaining industry leading best practice, health and safety and quality of workmanship for the benefit of our staff and customers.
June 2015 - Hurricane Response
In October 2014 we had the dubious pleasure of direct hits from two category one hurricanes (Faye and Gonzalo) within one week. Needless to say the damage, while not as catastrophic as it could have been, was huge and the event sent Brown and Company into scatter action. Most of our regularly managed properties sustained considerable damage to tree and plant stock, BECLO required huge amounts of support in their restoration efforts and the ‘phone rang off the hook for months with new enquiries for remedial tree work, landscape restoration etc.. Despite being so busy for so long, our crews performed admirably; everyone really pitched in, putting long hours and maintaining a positive attitude and sense of humor.
Over the six months of the winter we carried out remedial and renovation pruning throughout all of or our properties and amended and prepared the soil for spring replanting. The tree unit similarly carried out remedial and formative pruning and cleaning out storm damage to many mature tree specimens throughout the island and in total we righted and re-planted close to 150 mature trees and palms throughout the island.
As we entered the early summer months we had caught up with all these restoration tasks and had the garden back on the road to their former glory. We hope not to have to experience that level of damage for some time, but the storms provided a valuable warning and lesson in the importance of maintaining healthy landscape specimens and correct formative, structural pruning in not just the trees, but all shrubs. Strong, healthy specimens are much more able to withstand damage and recover from the effects of adverse weather.
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.”
That quite accurately sums up a typical day in Brown and Company. Typical of most small businesses, we just never know what we will be faced with when we arrive at work. Despite regular planning meetings and endless scheduling we are often at the mercy of “circumstances beyond our control”. These can range from staff illness, equipment failure, weather vagaries or the vagaries of mother nature’s effects on our landscape. Martin Gibbs, Justin, Joe and I are constantly being challenged to react to and overcome these “exciting things”. Still I don’t think we’d have it any other way.
Recently I have seen the results of a number of job satisfaction and happiness survey’s form Europe and the U.S. that would appear to confirm that many in our industry feel the same. People in the landscape, horticulture and arboriculture sector routinely score much higher than many other professional job categories in career and job satisfaction.
Early 2011 -Present: BELCO Contract
In early 2011 after a year of negotiation Brown and Company was awarded the exclusive vegetation management contract for BELCO
The whole premiss for our proposal was that we could offer BELCO a higher standard of arboriculture, health and safety and public service than they had so far been able to achieve and in doing so provide them with far better value for money over the long term.
Over the past thirty years there has been much research into the treatment and pruning of trees adjacent to power lines by many prominent arborists and plant pathologists. Pruning techniques have been developed as a result of this research and over the years these techniques and practices have been fine tuned and improved upon. Now many utility companies are seeing the long term benefit to power supply and costs by managing tree stock and clearance to power lines in a planned rotation. Minimum safety clearances are maintained by carrying out clearance works to agreed specifications in a three to five year rotation.
The basis of the above research was that accepted standards of pruning and tree care could be adapted to address the requirements of maintaining safety clearances from power lines, while still maintaining healthy tree specimens. Pruning could be carried out recognizing the growth habit and structure of the species being pruned which would encourage growth away from the power lines, thus using the trees own growth as a tool to manage future pruning needs. At the same time pruning cuts could be made to reduce the regeneration of adventitious growth back into power lines, to reduce wounds to trees and subsequent ill plant health and to basically improve longer term plant health.
September 2011 - December 2013
Please see our Training and Certification section on news about our two trainees and their accomplishments during this time.
In November 2013 Brown and Company Ltd. was awarded Accredited Company Status by the Tree Care Industry Association in the USA. In doing so we become the first international company to be accredited by the TCIA and join the ranks of one of only approximately 375 companies throughout North America to achieve this status.
The Tree Care Industry Association (formally the National Arborist Association) has been established for over 75 years and is the professional trade body in the USA lobbying for and promoting professional arboriculture and tree care to the general public, training and education for those within the trade and the necessity of proper safety and health procedures and practices within what is inherently one of the more dangerous professions.
The TCIA accreditation follows an approximately eight month process during which there was a rigorous review of the management and operation of Brown and Company Ltd. Not only were our standards and quality of workmanship studied to ensure we operated to industry leading standards, but the TCIA also reviewed our entire management systems and company policies from safety and health, through accounting, fair business practices, human resource management and fair employment practices, staff training and development, insurance, customer satisfaction, etc. This all culminated in a three day site visit by an independent external verifier during which all of the above were observed and confirmed first hand.
The addition of this accreditation for Brown and Company Ltd. provides our customers with the guarantee that by choosing Brown and Company Ltd. for their landscape and tree care needs, they are selecting a company that provides industry leading service, quality of work and business ethics. As a company we all take great pride in the award of this accreditation and share a commitment to continuing to provide the required standards for our customers. The accreditation period lasts for three years after which the TCIA will complete a thorough re-accreditation process to ensure that we continue to meet their required standards.
Martin and Sarah have just come back from a two week trip to the UK. We visited the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh which were magnificent. The student gardens were inspiring - young horticultural students got a chance to showcase their horticultural skills and abilities in demonstration gardens following loose criteria assigned by the course managers produced some wonderful, individual displays which would be an inspiration to our young horticultural trainees. The grounds and tree stock were maintained to an impeccable standard by a relatively small number of horticulturalists and arborists. Quite frankly it put our Botanical Gardens to shame.
Then to London to visit the Chelsea Physic Garden. It is London's oldest botanic garden founded in 1673 as a place for apothecaries of London to study 'useful plants'. The four acre site beside the River Thames was chosen by the apothecaries so that their barge could be easily accessed for their plant collecting expeditions. The free draining soil and southerly aspect would have been an added attraction. Even today the special microclimate enables many tender species to be cultivated, including the largest olive tree growing outside in Britain. The gardens cultivated the first Cedar of LebanonCedrus Libani.
Today, many medicinal and other useful plants are grown and displayed in Systematic Order Beds set out to demonstrate the botanical relationship of plants and their medicinal purposes.
There is much more and it is a joy to wander around - highly recommended.
For the third year in a row we are having the same worrying weather pattern repeated: lower than average winter temperatures and prolonged winter gales followed almost immediately by drought. We are 10" below normal rainfall for this time of year and more worryingly, 25 odd inches down over the last 12 month period.
This prolonged weather pattern is putting serious stress on the island's plant stock. I fear if the pattern continues it will put many plant species, that to date have survived here at risk of dying back as our climate changes. Already many palm species are showing signs of serious long term stress. We are at the very edge of what many palms need weatherwise: they are in effect dormant for five or six months during the colder winter months and then not to have adequate water during the prime growing season will undestandably take it's toll.
The upside of this weather however is some rather prolific flowering of many of our plant species. The Agapanthus this year have given their best display for years, likewise the Oleanders are burgeoning. One treat of this time of year is the Flame Tree (Brachychiton spp.); a wonderful example can be seen on the Crestwood property on middle road in Paget. At this time of year it's a mass of red flower prior to budding out into leaf, and this year it seems even more impressive. We should look forward to glorious displays from the Poinciana's, Golden Rain trees etc. shortly.
Unfortunately, again this prolific flowering is an indication of the plant in shock. The plants natural instinct will be to proliferate or reproduce in order to survive the stress or shock it is undergoing.