Summer is drawing to an end and the hot, rain less days of August are upon us. Between the heat and the dryness, the vigor of urban trees here in north central Alabama is being tested. Just the other day in Arab, Alabama I was called to assess a thirty year old Ginkgo tree. When I arrived it was glaringly obvious the tree was stressed and possibly in the clutches of a mortality spiral. (A mortality spiral is an industry term that encompasses all of the causes and effects of a tree that has crossed from a healthy and vigorous state to one that is stressed and on the road to death.) This particular Ginkgo was painted in yellow leaves with a hint of green in the tips from the top to bottom. The upper region was spindly and devoid of a nice green leafy crown that a healthy tree of this age should display. At the bottom of the tree just a few inches from the ground there were obvious wounding scars from what most certainly was contact by haphazard weed eaters and mowers. Add all of this to the fact that the tree was undersized and in essence "puny" and it became doubtful that we might not be removing this tree.
I began by asking the customer about any past information she could recall about the tree. She said there had never been any excavation or construction around or within the drip line of the tree. (Being that the it was located in a secluded part of her large yard this made it easier to discount the idea that any digging in the past might be adding to the present stressed state of the tree.)
I then asked her if she or her lawn care provider ever fertilized the tree or any of her yard for that matter and she replied "no". This is important because her tree is in an urban environment that is not conducive to a long tree life. In fact urban environments are often hostile to tree health. Often times when homes are built the top soil (the most nutrient rich part of soil) is stripped away. Whatever soil is left is more often compacted and less permeable than not which further adds to the nutrient deficiency problem. After a tree is planted and begins to grow it uses whatever nutrients are left in the low quality soil. Typically a tree would receive nutrients from the break down of organic matter such as grass clippings and yearly leaf drop but as is common in an urban yard all of these debris are removed for aesthetic appearance. Since no nutrients were being replaced in the soil it was no wonder the tree looked like it was starving to death.
After i had explained the importance of keeping a nutrient rich soil I asked her if she had ever had anyone trim the tree. At first glance it looked untouched but she told me a local tree cutter had topped it out at some point. Upon hearing this I took a more detailed look at the sickly specimen and understood why the top was so spindly now. Unfortunately, for the Ginkgo and also for the woman's pocket book, she had not only thrown her money away but also allowed the "tree cutter" to perform a very destructive practice on her undersized ornamental.
As we talked about negative results and the inflicted wounds from improper tree cutting techniques I asked her about the scars on the bark at the base. She confirmed my initial suspicion that these were caused by the lawn care providers lack of care for the tree. The easiest fix for this wasn't telling the lawn service to be more careful but actually to add a nice mulch ring so they didn't have to even worry about hitting the trunk again. This simple fix did more more than just keeping the hazardous lawn equipment away from the trunk, it helped in several other ways that you can read about in my other blog post about by clicking Here.
Finally I had a pretty good picture of why the tree was in the state it was. I first recommended a soil and foilar test to be absolutely positive of the nutrient content in the soil. Secondly, she agreed to beginning a fertilizer regiment and also adding a healthy mulch ring around the tree. Even though the top of the tree had almost no taper and leaned a bit, the low level of the health of the tree did not warrant any action on it yet. Believe it or not that is all the poor Ginkgo is going to have done to it right now. We are going to wait until the next growing season and do another inspection. Hopefully this is the beginning of an upward healthy spiral and the reversal of a mortality spiral. Time will tell.
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