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Whose Tree Is It Anyway?

When you first moved into your home, you planted a tree just inside your property line. So, it’s your tree, right? Maybe. It depends on how much it has grown and whether any of the trunk is now in your neighbor’s yard.

In most cases, a tree positioned on a property line is considered common property. As such, it’s owned by both property owners. This usually means that the tree cannot be pruned, destroyed or altered without both owners agreeing to the changes. Sometimes this requires them to have a written agreement on the terms of care for the tree.

According to a book, entitled Arboriculture and the Law, published by the International Society of Arboriculture and written by lawyers Victor Merullo and Michael Valentine, the courts apply this joint ownership principal even when a tree begins life on one person’s property and grows on to another. So, if it started out as your tree, you are forced to share the decisions and cost of care with your neighbor. If it started out as your neighbor’s tree, you may be the unwitting co-owner. Of course, you and your neighbor could agree, preferably in writing, that the person who planted the tree will be solely responsible for its care.

Even if you are the sole owner and caregiver of a tree, you have certain responsibilities to your neighbor, and your neighbor has certain rights. In the eyes of the law, you’re responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of that tree. For example, you could be found negligent for failure to prune trees that are blocking visibility from streets, driveways and sidewalks. You’re also responsible for tending to any trees that could cause harm to a neighbor’s home or person.

If the branches and/or roots of your tree grow into your neighbor’s yard, he has the right to remove those portions of the tree extending on to his property. Such intrusions can cause damage to sidewalks, driveways, garages, rooftops, and sewage and drainage pipes.

In Arboriculture and the Law, Merullo and Valentine wrote that courts, in most cases, have decided in favor of a neighbor being able to remove portions of trees that may not be planted on their property but have limbs or roots that reach across property lines. Courts have determined that a landowner owns all the space above and below his property, and if something invades either of those areas, it is his right to remove it. However, he doesn’t have the right to do anything to the tree that would weaken or kill it.

You can’t simply plead ignorance to the condition of trees on your property to escape liability in the case of tree failure. An act of God occurs as a result of “totally natural causes, which could not be prevented against by the actions of any particular individual.” If you could have prevented the damage through regular checks and maintenance of a tree on your property, it is not an act of God and you could be held liable.

One of our 10 Certified Arborists should be your go-to person for tree-related matters. We recommend a hazard assessment to determine if a risk is present. After damage has occurred, our Certified Arborist should be called upon to assess your financial loss, including the cost of removal and repair, for insurance, tax or legal purposes. Our Certified Arborist can also handle repair or replacement.

Finally, we recommend that you document your landscaping investment to help establish its worth. Take photos of your trees and plants so you have before and after examples should you need to establish value.

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Protecting Your Tender Plants This Winter

Do you keep a garden or plant diary as I suggested in a previous blog? Do you know which plants in your landscape are too tender to survive the winter?

If you’ve been keeping a diary, you probably have a list of plants that need extra protection. If you just started keeping one, this will be your baseline year when you will enter in spring those plants that fared well and those that didn’t fare so well.

Different plants have different needs. That’s why you have to track their progress with a diary. Some may appear tender but will survive well under a blanket of snow. However, we may have some very cold weather without a blanket of snow.

Many plants can be protected by adding an extra layer of mulch for the winter. You can apply up to four inches, but be prepared to remove one or two inches in the spring.

Many tender trees, especially young trees that you just planted this year, may need a burlap coat. Just drive poles into the ground around the perimeter of the tree, wrap with burlap and staple it to the poles. Be sure to keep the top open to moisture and sunlight. Usually, evergreens need wrapping since they continue their life functions in winter, albeit at a slower pace. Wrapping may also be needed for both evergreen and deciduous trees planted close to the road to protect them from road salt spray.

Individual or groups of plants can be covered with a breathable, transparent or semi-transparent landscape fabric. The fabric just needs to be held away from the leaves and stems with stakes. You can also buy small hoop houses and garden covers at garden centers and online.

Especially sensitive plants should be dug up, replanted in nursery pots and put in a cold frame. Cold frames can be built out of wood and glass, or you can buy them at garden centers or online. Some are rigid and others are more flexible. Mine is like a tent. It’s plastic on a metal frame. There are zippered panels in front and back to let in air and bigger zippered panels for tending to the plants. It folds up for the summer and in winter is just spread into an “A” frame and staked in the ground with tent pegs.

If you use either a fabric covering or a cold frame, plan to water the plants whenever the temperature gets above freezing for a few days.

Really sensitive plants like succulents should be taken inside for the winter. If you’re shaking your head and wondering where you’ll find the room, you’re not alone. Hardy plants, like yuccas, can be left outside in a sheltered spot, brought indoors or put in a cold frame.

If you have tender plants, you won’t have to wonder what to do with your green thumb all winter. You’ll be following the suggestions above and tending to your tender plants. Good luck.

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You Can Breathe Easier If You Have An Attractive Landscape

Previous blogs have dealt with the economic benefits of a well landscaped yard, but now the U.S. Forest Service has confirmed the health benefits as well.

The Forest Service recently released its first national study on the broad-scale impacts of pollution removal by trees. Researchers found that trees are saving more than 850 human lives a year and preventing 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory  symptoms. They value the human health effects of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion every year.

While the research centered on trees, all green plants reduce pollution to some extent, especially those with pubescent or fuzzy leaves. Trees just take on a greater percentage of the burden due to their size and the fact that woody stems sequester more carbon than smaller herbaceous plant stems. When designing a landscape, however, it’s important to balance aesthetics with health benefits and all other considerations. Plant aesthetics are what give us the enjoyment and serenity from our gardens. This requires a balance of woody and herbaceous plants. Otherwise, you would have a forest instead of a landscape.

Speaking of forests, it seems reasonable that pollution removal would be higher in rural areas than in urban areas. The researchers agreed with this point, but noted that the effects on human health are substantially greater in urban areas than in rural areas. They also noted that pollution removal equates to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, yet the impacts of that improvement are substantial.

Health effects related to air pollution include impacts on pulmonary, cardiac, vascular and neurological systems. In the United States, approximately 130,000 particulate-related deaths and 4,700 ozone-related deaths in 2005 were attributed to air pollution.

Study researcher David Nowak concluded, “In terms of impacts on human health, trees in urban areas are substantially more important than rural trees due to their proximity to people. We found that, in general, the greater the tree cover, the greater the pollution removal, and the greater the removal and population density, the greater the value of human health benefits.”

Applying these statistics to our own properties, surrounding ourselves with plants can reduce the pollution within our personal environments substantially. As you rake leaves and prepare your landscape for winter, survey your plant material from tree canopy all the way down to the ground cover to determine if it’s doing the job for you and your family. If it isn’t, use the winter wisely to meet with one of our designers to see what can be done to put your landscape to work removing pollutants and creating a healthy landscape for you.

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Buying Firewood This Winter

WoodCordIf you have a wood burning fireplace or heat with a wood burning stove, how’s your firewood supply? If it’s low and you’re shopping for a firewood supplier, these tips are for you.

The first tip is to buy locally. Regular readers know that I firmly believe that buying locally is best, especially for plants. But, when it comes to firewood, I’m even more adamant. And, I’m backed up by the law on this one.

In New York State, it’s against the law to transport untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source or import it into the state. Also, firewood sellers are required to provide you with source documentation for the firewood they sell. This is to minimize the migration of deadly, invasive insects like the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle.

Even with the law in place, I’ve seen truck and trailer loads of ash wood going down the street. However, I urge you to obey the law, especially if you have ash trees in your yard.

Treated wood is defined as having been heated to 160ºF for 75 minutes. It can then be labeled as “New York Approved Treated Firewood/Pest-Free” by the producer. Even if you cut and transport your own firewood, you cannot legally transport it more than 50 miles or bring it into the state without a “Self Issued Certificate of Origin,” which can be downloaded at http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/lands_forests_pdf/selfisscert.pdf.

A second tip is to be sure you know how much wood you’re buying. While we usually see ads for face cords, that’s not a legal measure. Your receipt or bill of sale needs to list the fraction of a cord you bought. A cord, which is 8 feet wide by 4 feet high by 4 feet deep, is a legal measure. A face cord that is 12 inches deep is a quarter cord, and that’s the way it needs to be sold.

A third tip is to be sure the wood is seasoned and, preferably, hardwood. Green wood doesn’t burn well due to its high water content. Green wood is tan in color, while seasoned wood is more of a gray color. Hard wood is preferred because soft woods have more resins and impurities like creosote that can adhere to your chimney walls and start a fire.

That old rule of thumb that says if a deal looks too good to be true it probably is applies to firewood. Unlike many such deals, however, buying undocumented firewood can result in legal problems as well as an insect invasion of your valuable, standing trees.

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Getting Your Trees Ready For Winter May Take More Than Just Raking Leaves

We all know that leaf raking is an annual fall ritual. Some might consider leaf raking all that’s necessary to prepare trees for winter. That’s probably not the case, however.

When was the last time your trees had a hazard inspection? If it’s been a few years, this might be the year to have it done. Call to schedule an inspection before winter snow flies, ice forms and heavy rains pelt your trees.

Autumn is the best time to have this service done. Trees bare their bones, so our arborists can see their skeletal structure. This helps them identify weak, dead, dying, touching or scraping limbs, and remove them before a storm breaks them and causes additional damage. Branches hanging over roofs or power lines should also be removed.

During an inspection, our Certified Arborist will check the forks, or crotches, between limbs and branches. If they are “U” shaped, they should be strong enough to withstand anything Mother Nature can throw at them. If they are “V” shaped, they may be weak because the two branches are vying for the same space. As they grow, this space race gets more intense. The stronger limb is going to win and the weaker will break sooner or later, unless cables and braces are installed to take some of the weight off the weaker of these “co-dominant stems.”

We will check the trunk for cracks and rot, with special emphasis on the base and root area. We’ll also check for girdling root and other root problems. A girdling root, also called crossing or choking root by some arborists, occurs when a root grows side ways rather than downward. As it grows, it crosses other roots and, as they try to occupy the same space, the girdling root chokes off the absorption and transportation functions of the roots it crosses. If left unchecked, the tree will decline and, eventually, die. Removal of a girdling root is a simple surgical procedure. A leaning tree can also be a symptom of root problems.

A complete tree inspection before winter will give you the peace of mind that you have done everything possible to prevent personal injury or property damage during any wind or ice storm this winter.

While most of this blog describes what a Certified Arborist will do when conducting a hazard tree inspection, there’s one thing you can do. Take photos of all your trees and other landscape plants. A nice landscape can add up to 20 percent to the value of your home. If you suffer the loss of one or more trees, you may be able to claim a casualty loss on your income taxes.

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Time To Think About Snow Removal & Your Landscape

How do you remove snow from your driveway and sidewalks? Shovel? Plow? Blow? Under pavement heating? Every method has an effect on your landscape. None could be considered great for your plant material, but some take a greater toll than others.

Shoveling, of course, is the most strenuous. Blowing is time consuming, Under pavement heating is expensive. Plowing is costly, too, in more ways than one, which I’ll explain.

Shoveling is fine for young, fit people, but can be a health risk as we age. There’s no choice, however, for removing snow from steps, porches and other small areas. You should also shovel snow from around the base of trees to deter small rodents from burrowing under the snow and feasting on the your trees. I’ve seen mice actually girdle trees, compromising the tree’s vascular system and killing it.

Plowing is the only practical snow removal method for our business, but I prefer blowing my driveway. Driveway plowing can cut off edges of the grass if the operator doesn’t aim correctly, and it can be difficult to aim a plow and truck and keep it on course, especially if your driveway bends or curves.

Even if they aim properly and don’t cut sod from the edges of the driveway, they may cut it during another common move. Plow operators have to pile snow somewhere, so they often push it into the front yard. The snow pile is usually peppered with small pieces of sod from the edge of the driveway. Worse yet, if you have a tree in the front yard, the plow operator may pile snow up against the trunk, which is my greatest fear. It has all the downsides of a mulch volcano plus it’s usually piled only on one side of the trunk exerting pressure on that side of the tree, which can cause lean or even failure.

Blowing allows you to cut nicely defined edges, and you’ll know immediately if you are off the pavement. The pattern in which a blower throws snow is better for your landscape. It tends to scatter rather than pile. Rows formed by blown snow are not as high as piles and are much lighter and less dense.

I’ve tried to give you the pros and cons of each removal method. Now, you’ll have to weigh these pros and cons for yourself and decide which method best meets your needs. I’d like to hear your opinion. You can just send a comment below.

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What Will Winter Bring To Your Landscape?

Everything I’ve read or heard indicates that we’ll have a mild winter, thanks to El Nino. My humble prediction is that we won’t experience as much dieback as we did last winter. If we have a lot of freeze and thaw cycles, however, we may see more fungal lawn diseases.

What should you do to prepare your landscape plants? Take maximum precautions and you should be pleased in spring. If it is a difficult winter, you’ll be satisfied that you did all you could to protect your plants. If it’s a mild winter, you’ll be pleased that your valuable plants fared well.

Problems could arise, even if the winter is mild. If we have an extended warm spell, like we had several years ago, leaf or flower buds could break prematurely. While this isn’t dangerous, the plants will have wasted valuable, stored food to push a flush of leaves or flowers that won’t last. If we have frequent freezing and thawing, thin bark trees could suffer frost cracks. Most of these, also, do not present a health risk for the tree. In time, they’ll callus over.

Constantly wet grass is a good breeding ground for fungal diseases that attack turfgrass in winter. Winter lawn diseases include dollar spot, brown patch, gray snow mold and fairy rings. Besides the extreme temperatures, an extended warm spell followed by a cold snap with rain, snow or ice, can also promote diseases. Like trees and shrubs that break buds during a long warm spell, turfgrass could break dormancy, chlorophyll could return and photosynthesis begin for that short time. That would be like a four star restaurant for those little fungi.

There is nothing you can do to prevent the problems listed above. However, each is quite minor as landscape problems go. More important than fretting the small stuff is to be sure you’ve protected your trees from wind, ice and snow with a tree hazard inspection by a Certified Arborist. I covered this in another blog. If you’ve done everything you can, just enjoy the (hopefully) mild winter, unless you’re a winter sports enthusiast.

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