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This goes back to what I said in my “Heat Tolerance” and my “Shade Tolerance” blog posts.  This is where the age old conflict between turf and trees comes about.  If you want some decent turf under your trees, you will probably have to trim or prune your trees.  I’m sorry tree huggers.  That’s just the way it is.  That’s a fact, Jack.


Some of you know that I got my horticulture certification in January of this year (2014).  So, here I go with my horticultural hat on. 


Not only does trimming and pruning your trees help your turfgrass, it is healthy for your trees to keep them trimmed and pruned.  Allowing the base of a tree or shrub trunk to remain damp, cool and shaded can bring about cankers, root rot or other problems…problems for the tree AND the surrounding turf.  Letting your trees get too “full” may look wonderful and provide great, cooling shade.  But it can also make the tree act as a sail when high winds occur.  That’s when you start getting big branches breaking off and fall on your home, vehicles or other property.  Leaving dead branches in your trees can affect the health and overall vigor of the tree.  Dead branches could allow disease to spread throughout the tree, and, again, those dead branches can become projectiles or spears in a storm.  Leaving trees in a forest to Mother Nature’s care is fine.  Trees in a landscape need definitive care.


I’ve also said this before in this blog – you can NEVER underestimate the value of air flow.  Air flow is absolutely critical to all plants.  It is critical to trees, shrubs and turf.  It keeps things cool and also helps things dry out.  Pruning a little can also let the sun in to other plants that are below a canopy… the smaller guys a chance for survival.


Some of you may be familiar with the term “dead-wooding” a tree.  In order to maintain the over-all health of your trees, the specialized trimming procedure of dead-wooding is critically necessary.  The term dead-wooding is referred to as the removal of dead, dying or diseased branches within the tree.  Not only providing resistance against issues such as insect infestation, dead-wooding will also create a safe and sanitary environment for all of the trees in the vicinity and provide an aesthetically pleasing tree.  Dead branches should be removed at the trunk, or actually at what is known as the “branch collar”.  The cut should generally be as vertical as possible.


For some of the smaller branches (when the branches are less than, let’s say, two inches in diameter), one can hold on to and support the branch and make one single cut.  For larger branches, one should use the “three point cut”.  The first cut should be 12 to 18 inches from the limb's point of attachment.  The pruning cut should be an undercut made 1∕2 way through the branch.  This pruning cut is very important because it relieves weight from the branch collar and prevents accidental tearing of bark from the tree’s trunk when the limb is removed.  The second pruning cut should be made on the outside of the first cut (i.e., farther from the trunk).  Cut all the way through the limb from the top down, thus removing the weight of the branch.  The final cut should be made next to the tree's trunk outside of the branch collar.  Cut from the top down and cut all the way through the remaining branch stub.  The branch collar should be left intact.  DO NOT cut the branch flush with the tree's trunk.  A proper cut avoids large wounds, and allows the tree's wound to close quickly.


There are also procedures called “thinning”, “crown thinning” or “crown reduction”.  Crown thinning is a process by which the crown (the top, semi-circular area of the tree outlined by the circumference of all the leaves and branches) of the tree is reduced by removing branches – this will always be dictated as a percentage i.e. ‘25% thin to canopy’.  By carrying this out, the “sail area” or canopy of the tree becomes thinner allowing wind and sunlight to pass through, thus solving two problems – more light to the area surrounding the tree and a reduction in branch failure due to strong winds.  Thinning is removing small branches inside the tree and generally avoids leaving large wounds on the tree in question, leaving the tree less susceptible to bacterial diseases.


My big trees are pruned up to the first major “split” or “branch collar”.  That’s at least 30 feet up in most cases.  My shrubs are also pruned up…at least 3 to 6 inches.  Some of my large shrubs or small to medium trees are pruned up a few feet.  Again, allowing for sunlight, airflow and decreasing relative humidity.


As I mentioned earlier, arborists will say that trees and turf will compete for resources.  I agree…if you do not intervene.  As I’ve also said before, I fertilize both my trees and my turf.  Arborists will say you have to have a bedded mulch area all the way out to the drip line of the tree.  If I did that, I’d have no turf.  My entire property would be one huge mulched bed for all my big trees.  Sorry.  I just can’t do that.  So, I take special care of my large trees, just like I do for my shrub and turf areas.  Although I have turf growing right up to the base or trunk of many of my large trees, I make sure my trees and turf do not compete for resources.


Let me say a few words about tree roots.  In the fifth paragraph of my “Shade Tolerance” blog post, I talk about how far tree roots can extend.  My point was to describe the rather large area under your lawn that can compete with your turf for resources.  Here, I just want to give you some guidance on dealing with exposed large tree roots.  In my yard, and in many yards in northern Virginia, Maryland and DC that have real big trees, there are exposed roots.  These roots can be a real hazard to mowing.  My neighbor hit a tree root once with his mower and it caused several thousand dollars in damage to his mower– more than the value of the mower!  This is another reason to mow high.  When I mow at 4 inches or higher, I can clear all the exposed roots.


Try to avoid cutting or pruning any roots for your large trees.  You are risking structural damage to the tree, also risking an invitation to disease and either stressing the tree or you could kill it altogether.  We know the rules of thumb regarding tree roots: (1)most roots are in the top foot of soil, (2) tree root systems can extend out 2–3 times the dripline, (3) roots can extend out about 1.5 times the height of the tree, and (4) more than 60 percent of the absorbing root system is beyond the dripline.  We now know that trunk diameter is a more accurate means of computing root spread (for unobstructed trees).  However, trunk diameter calculations may not be very accurate for conifers, palms and even some very mature trees.


If you really have to cut some roots, calculating the “Critical Root Radius” (CRR – Also called a PRZ – Protected Root Zone) of a tree is very helpful.  The CRR (radius, not diameter, in feet) is calculated by measuring the diameter (not radius or circumference) of the trunk (in inches, not feet) at four and one-half feet from the ground and multiplying by 1.5.  A tree with a five-inch diameter trunk (at the four and one-half foot level) will have a CRR of 7.5 feet.  So, definitely do not cut roots within that radius of 7.5 feet.  If you must violate theCRR/PRZ, the tree would require extensive treatment and monitoring for at least two years afterward.  I would say cutting any roots at any distance should require additional treatment and monitoring. 


Another rule of thumb is: If you remove or damage more than 25% of the root system of a tree, it will have devastating results.  Never cut roots during the growing season or in the heat of the summer.  Trees are already stressed at that time.  Cut or remove roots in the fall or winter.  And, finally, try to cut them sharply, or straight.  Torn or jagged cuts will not regenerate new roots nearly as well as precise cuts.


Another consideration for determining the area to be mulched around a tree may not be out to the dripline.  It is at least to the CRR/PRZ, if not further.


If the issue with the exposed roots is just mowing or tripping, things like that, then the best thing you can do is cover the exposed roots with soil.  Covering them with no more than 2 inches of loose topsoil would be fine.  You don’t want the soil too deep or to become too compacted.  One of the reasons the roots are coming to the surface is for more oxygen.  You do not want to impair oxygen access by burying the roots too deep.

I think that about covers tree care for now.  Stay tuned for another topic with my horticulture hat on.

Some of you out there may already be aware that I got my horticulture credentials in January of this year (2014).  This is in an effort to perhaps expand my business...and try something new.  Just like turf, I've always been pretty good at working with trees and shrubs.  As I've gone around working on turfgrass for the last few years, folks would always drag me over to some poor azalea or magnolia and say, "Is it okay?  Is it going to live?"  Or, they'd ask me, "What can I do in this area here?"  So, I decided to validate what I already know, and increase my overall knowledge, in the realm of horticulture.


Horticulture is the branch of agriculture that deals with the art, science, technology, and business of plant cultivation.  It can include a wide range of food bearing plants and non-food bearing plants.  It is the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, sprouts, mushrooms, algae, flowers, seaweeds and non-food crops such as grass and ornamental trees and plants.  It also includes plant conservation, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design, construction, and maintenance, and arboriculture.  (I'm also studying for my certified arborist exam.  I'll save that surprise for later - if I pass!)


For now, out of all the stuff I mentioned above, I'm going to just stick to trees, shrubs and woody ornamentals.  So far, I've completed several projects that I've pretty much done on my own.  If customers are not in a real hurry for their project to be completed, I'm your guy.  And, it is not unusual for me to work WITH the customer on their landscape.  That certainly cuts cost.



My Dad had a great knack for plants

and shrubs.  Although I've always worked in the landscape since childhood, I don't have evidence of "official" projects over the years.  But I do have some pictures of a recent project behind my home.  I guess you could call it a "case study".  I did this a year ago when I was going through my course of study and taking my exams.  As you can see in the first picture, I had turfgrass growing right up to the brick walls of my house.  That's a wonderful thing.  But, after living there a couple years and really enjoying the backyard, something was missing.


So, what did I do first?  I certainly did not just pull up in my truck with a bunch of plants in the back ready for planting.  With my limited experience as a staff officer (Because most of my time was spent in command - HOOAH!), I started to devise a plan.  That plan began with measurements.  Troops, you have to "define" the area you are working in...what part of the battlespace do you want to influence?  If you are going to "center" things within the design, or plant locations are relative to other things; that's important.  You need to measure.


Then I did a soil sample of the area.  Yep; just like you do with turfgrass.  You need to know the current status of your soil.  So, later, you can determine what "amendments" or changes you need to make to the soil.  Then you go into plant selection.  What works well in that particlular location; taking into account the soil (or what you can do to the soil), drainage, sunlight - all sorts of factors.


Logic dictates that you identify plants NATIVE to the region.  I live in the coastal plain of Virginia, but not too far from the Piedmont region.  That can tell you alot about the soil as well as climatology.  (Do you know the annual rainfall in your area?  Mine is 43 inches a year.)  Having native plants most likely suits the design especially if you are trying to compliment a particlular architecture.  And, native plants reduces your aperture for plant consideration - like I knew palm trees were out of the question.


Once I knew what I wanted, I then started thinking about placement.  In fact, the best way to do that is with a drawing, a visual representation of the measurements.  Not an artisitic rendition (You wouldn't want to see my results of that anyway.), but more of a technical drawing, a "top view" of the area and where the plants should go.  I try to do a scale drawing using graph paper.  Where do the plants fit?  How does it flow?  How do they fit?  And a real important piece of information - what will be the size of the plants at maturity?  Here's some pictures immediately after completion.


Not bad.  Simple yet elegant, right?  Notice how I "squared off" the beds.  Curves are always better.  I can go back a curve it out some more later.  This was an experiement after all.


I used three Steed's Hollies around the air conditioner, which will eventually conceal that equipment.  I used ten American Boxwood, eleven Delaware Valley White Azaleas and an assortment of hostas (also known as plantain lilies, particularly in Britain, and occasionally known by the Japanese name giboshi).




Here are some pictures I took yesterday (July 2014).


I also put down some paving stones for access to the hose.  And I spent a few bucks and got a fancy hose hangar.  I also used my favorite mulch, shredded cedar.  Shredded cypress is also good.

I have installed some lighting and some drainage solutions for the downspouts - the downspout splash guards were still making mulch float away. 



Here's my AAR (After Action Review):

This was a good project (real good PT - physical training - hauling all that stuff) and ended up looking okay.  My only possible error is perhaps miscalculating how well the azaleas and hostas would bloom and how quickly they'd grow. 


Crowding, root competition and poor airflow are bad things.  I may have to go back in and expoand the bed, move the plants further apart and/or further out into the yard.


Guess its a good thing I'm not a surgeon.











The following was a good challenge.  But, the difference was working with an existing landscape.  This is a townhouse in Lorton, Virginia.  I like townhouses.  I can execute missions on a townhouse all by myself and in a timely manner.  Here's the "before" pics.

Basically, the customer had an evergreen tree that was out of control.  The tree was rubbing against the house.  It was making it difficult to get in and out of the front door.

And, worst of all, the tree was starting to annoy the neighbor, to the left, whose garage door was immediatley adjacent to the tree.  The tree was scratching their car coming in and out of the garage.  Not cool.

Here are the "after" pics.  Trimmed all the way up and all the way around.



Removed the first two feet of branches.



Took special care to make sure there was no encroachment on the neighbor's garage door area.




While I was there, I also trimmed the hedge and cleaned up some of the mulch.

Mission accomplished.

In July of 2014, I completed a rather

interesting job.  It was another end unit townhouse.  In this case, I did all the work and the mission included the front of the home and down the side.  This is in the Kingstowne area of Alexandria, Virginia.  Here are the "before" pics.


Terrible soil.  The soil had all sorts of debris in it.  Probably from construction.  I removed what I could.  And, I used some organic matter to be mixed in with the existing soil.  Again, another challenge dealing with, and integratiing a design into, an existing landscape.  I ripped out all that lavender to the right of the small spruce.  It was not doing well and it had gotten out of control.  The lavender was starting to interfere with people walking on the walkway.









The side had a huge hedge that was out of control and a pine tree nobody could walk under.  I'm telling you, you gotta master your plants.  Do not let them master you.



Here's some "after" pics.  Some new crape myrtles and black mulch.  That's what the customer wanted.  I'm not a big fan of mulch that has been dyed.  But, any mulch is better than none.

More mulch on the other side of the front walk.  Bedded out the entire landscape.  Did some aggresive pruning of the hedge, taking up off the ground and away from the siding (some of  the growth had started growing under and into the siding - pulled that out).  Installed some day lilies.


Took off the lowest branches of the pine tree about 7 feet up so even I could walk under it (I'm 6 foot 6.).


I even incorporated a drainage solution since there were lots of problems with downspout run off. 


I had to leave right after I was done and I haven't been back to take any final pictures.  Maybe those pics later.

I'm finally getting around to posting some pictures of customers' yards AFTER Tuomey Turfgrass has provided the appropriate leadership and guidance.

These are some pics from Bill's townhouse.  He has an end unit.  Bill is a retired naval aviator.  So, he's very detail oriented.  His house is in Lorton, Virginia.  His lawn gets a great deal of sun.  But, he keeps it very well.  I did analysis for him two years ago and his lawn has gotten better each year.

Here's Gerry's yard.  Gerry is down in Stafford, Virginia.  You can see the "before" pics of Gerry's yard in my blog post "Lawns we are working on..."  Gerry knows what he's doing.  But, he sort of uses me as an "independent consultant". 

Gerry already has a good idea what's going on with his lawn.  He just validates it by having me come around.  The earlier pictures in the blog post I just mentioned were taken when I did his lawn a little over two years ago.  These are some current pictures.  Things are really looking great, Gerry.

This is Curtis' landscape.  I did his lawn last year.  I took this video about a year later, in the early summer of 2014.  Curtis is in Woodbridge, Virginia.  I think Curtis' area is looking outstanding.


Below are some pics of Jay's yard.  If you look in my blog post, "Lawns We Are Working On....." (, you will see some pics of Jay's yard from my first visit.  Jay has done some outstanding work.  He is also very kind.  In his email to me, he said, "Thanks.  It is your magic formula that did the trick."  It is not magic.  It is good, solid soil management.  That's what I do.  And, I train my customers to do the same.  Like many of my customers, for a couple months, in the late spring into the early summer, Jay has to mow his lawn twice a week.  He complains about it.  Isn't that like complaining because your ice cream is too cold?

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