Tree Care Topics

Willow Oak Root Rot

In recent years we have seen the mushrooms at the base of many willow oaks along the streets and in our yards.  I have been observing these fungi, which are technically called “Inonotus dryadeus”.  When you see these cinnamon colored mushrooms in the late summer and early fall they are an indication that there is decay going on below ground.  Removing the mushroom does nothing to get rid of the fungus.  That could be equated to removing an apple from a tree.

I have been observing a willow oak in my neighbor’s yard for the past four years that had large conks or mushrooms growing from the base.  The house is vacant.  In the windstorm a few weeks ago, we heard a loud crash and saw an eight-inch limb in the street.  The next morning, we saw this tree uprooted and lodged in one of the street trees.  It had to be lowered by crane.  This was not the only tree that has fallen recently in Charlotte  because of the root rot.

What you should know

Older willow oak trees that are close to sidewalks, streets or basically anything that will create a wound are susceptible to this willow oak root rot.  I have seen trees that have had mushrooms at the base for seven to ten years and are still very much alive.  Do they have massive root rot?   In general, if the rot has been in the tree for years and has moved around the base of the tree so that 30 percent or more of the base is covered with mushrooms, it is time to do something.

In my own yard at the end of the driveway, I have a willow oak that in 2002 had a small mushroom appear that was about two inches in diameter.  In a month or so it was about 10 inches across.  I expected to see more mushrooms in 2003 and nothing appeared.  That really surprised me, but in hindsight, all the rain in 2003 seemed to expose an excessive number of mushroom infested trees.   In my case I will watch this tree carefully next season and will fertilize it to keep it in good health.  If mushroom activity spreads around the trunk, then I will remove the tree. For your safety and the safety of your neighbors, please be aware of these warning signs and monitor the growth of mushrooms carefully.

Ice Storm Repair

Myers Park and Dilworth both suffered severe damage to their trees during the ice storm of December 5th 2002.  That was partly because we have many old trees in our neighborhoods and generally have many more trees than most of the newer subdivisions.

Unfortunately, our trees also have suffered from some of the Storm Chasers who swarmed into town shortly after the December the fifth.  Even a year later some of them are still cruising the neighbors.  If you are considering hiring someone to prune your trees, below are some of the questions you should ask, and some information on what are considered the standards of the tree care industry.

  • Check to see if the company has a Consulting Arborist or Certified Arborist in its ranks.  These criteria usually mean that there is some level of training and knowledge.  Such companies will also have the proper insurance coverage in case something goes awry.
  • See if the company is a member of a trade organization.  The National Arborist Association, The International Society of Arboriculture, or the American Society of Consulting Arborist are three of the most well known in the industry.
  • A proper cut on a limb usually requires the tree climber to cut back to a lateral branch that is 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the parent stem.  Doing so allows the branch to divert its stored energy back to the smaller limb which will reestablish terminal growth.  If the limb is cut back to a lateral branch that is too small, the limb rarely heals properly.
  •  Is the tree contractor going to get to the extremities of the tree to prune broken limbs and remove deadwood, or is he just going to work in the center of the tree and strip out the interior foliage?
  • How will the tree look after pruning, and will any long-term damage be done to the tree?
  • Is the tree contractor going to use spikes to climb your trees?  Spikes have several names and are used in removing trees, but not in pruning valuable shade trees.  Spikes are also referred to as hooks, climbers, tree climbers, depending on the part of the country.
  • Will the contractor clean up all the debris he creates or does he intend to leave the debris on the curb for someone else to pick up and dump.? There is considerable cost to cleaning up a tree job which usually includes a dump fee.  Most tree companies will use a brush chipper which consolidates the branches into wood chips.

The past ice storms created havoc, and it was helpful to have other companies come to Charlotte to assist.  It would have been difficult for the local companies to take care of all the damage and calls.  Even though we are now in 2004, there is still a chance for storm damage.  Realize that our trees have really suffered from four years of drought and the ice storm of December 5th 2002.  When spring comes, look over your trees carefully.  If you see a lot of broken limbs, vertical splits in the branches, or mushroom growth at the base, get professional help.   Hopefully, we will get through this winter without a major storm

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