Tree Stewards Used Leap Day to Free Trees from Ivy

Red and white oaks, black gum, hickory and tulip trees can grow straighter because 40 volunteers removed invasive English ivy from the base of their trunks on Leap Day.

Led by Tree Steward intern Romana Campos, members of Arlington’s Trinity Presbyterian Church were joined by Tree Stewards, Arlington Regional Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to free 126 mature trees from their heavy ivy burdens on a cold Saturday morning. Some volunteers mulched an additional 60 trees on the church’s campus on North 16th Street.

The work helps to fulfill Trinity’s mission as an “Earth Care Congregation,” according to Campos, who is a church elder, and Diane Allard, who heads the grounds ministry. Work had been scheduled in two shifts, from 9 a.m. until noon and from 1 to 3 p.m., but with such a robust volunteer turnout, most work was completed by 11 a.m., when workers enjoyed brunch in a church social hall.

Campos said she learned the importance of rescuing the mature trees from English ivy from Tree Stewards Nora Palmatier and Don Walsh, who consulted with her about obtaining a tree from Arlington’s Tree Canopy Fund, which is administered by EcoAction Arlington. Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria have been promoting care of mature trees for a decade, most recently with their “Mature Trees Are Valuable Trees” campaign. One of the most ubiquitous threats to trees is English ivy, which has been targeted in the Tree Stewards “Choking Hazard” campaign.

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a non-native ground cover still sold by garden stores despite its tendency to smother the ground, shading out more valuable native plants. Immature on the ground, ivy seeks to climb, and trees are nearby targets, especially in woodlands like the four acres that surround Trinity Presbyterian Church. Once up the tree trunk, the ivy matures, flowers in August, and bears fruit in late fall. Birds eat the berries and spread ivy far and wide.

On tree trunks, ivy can kill trees by holding too much moisture next to the trunk, where pathogens can take hold, and by climbing into the canopy, blocking light that trees need to conduct photosynthesis that feeds the roots. In addition, ivy in tree canopy often adds so much weight that otherwise sturdy branches bend downward, weakening the tree’s structure.

Killing ivy is relatively easy. Ivy is carefully cut at the base of the trunk and very gently removed from a foot or two of the trunk without disturbing the bark to create an ivy-free window. Ivy is easily uprooted by hand pulling at the tree’s base to form a “life ring” a few feet wide around the trunk. Ivy remaining on the trunk will turn brown, die and fall off. The on-ground life ring must be maintained every few years to prevent the vine from heading skyward again.

To learn more about non-native invasive plants in Northern Virginia, here are resources from Arlington and Fairfax counties:

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Tree Stewards in the News: TLC for Trees at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington

Tree Stewards Romana Campos and Diane Allard led an ivy cleanup at an Arlington church this past month.

The activity is currently featured in an article in the Arlington Connection!

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Oh Deer! What the overpopulation of deer means for our natural areas

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Deer are not just eating your hostas. They are munching many important native plants and killing young trees by rubbing the “velvet” off their antlers. So far, some local governments have avoided the “Bambi” issue, but as the population of white tail deer explodes, gardeners, naturalists and tree lovers seek solutions to deer destruction.

On Sunday, March 8, at 6:30 pm at Arlington Central Library, learn how deer are devastating some of our most prized natural areas from two noted local naturalists.

For more on overpopulation of deer, you might like:

For how one nearby county is coping, read this:

Here are some interesting observations of deer behavior, even if you’re not a hunter:

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Getting a Grip on Pruning Tools

How heavy is a 2-inch tree branch? Heavy enough to rip the protective bark from the tree trunk if it’s cut wrong, exposing the tree to harmful fungi, bacteria and insects that could eventually kill it.

Russell Bailey of Alexandria practices using a pruning saw.

Russell Bailey of Alexandria practices using a pruning saw.

About three dozen of the 42 people who are training to become Tree Stewards volunteers learned how to prevent that with what’s called the 3-cut method. First, they cut about halfway into the underside of the offending branch about a foot from the bark branch collar, where the branch attaches to the trunk. Then they cut the top of the branch clear through a few inches farther out, removing most of the weight of the branch and stopping the bark from tearing at the spot where they made the first cut. Finally, they sawed just outside the bark branch collar, where the tree is primed to grow protective wood over the pruning wound. They learned that no sealing material should be put on the fresh cut since the tree itself will cover the injury to prevent pathogens from entering.

Trainees learn to use pruning tools. Photos by Jo Allen

Trainees learn to use pruning tools. Photos by Tree Steward Jo Allen

Trainees, accompanied by several Tree Stewards with pruning experience, practiced wielding pruning saws and bypass pruners to perform functional pruning on trees near Oakridge Elementary School in Arlington on Saturday, Jan. 11, as part of an Introduction to Pruning class taught by Hugh Robinson, who leads volunteer pruners in Arlington. His experienced group has pruned trees at all of Arlington’s public libraries, many of its 185 parks, and several of its public schools.

Training continues Sunday, when the group will learn structural pruning and practice it on young trees at Abingdon Elementary School in Arlington. A final pruning session will be held on Saturday, Feb. 8, in Douglas Park. Check out the course syllabus here.

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TSAA Syllabus 2020, Updated Jan. 15, 2020

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Here’s How to Help Your Sickly Oak Trees

The following guidance was developed by Arlington, Alexandria, and Falls Church urban foresters with participation by Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria and Arlington Regional Master Naturalists.

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30 More Trees Planted at Polk Elementary School

Fifty-four volunteers spent Indigenous Peoples Day planting 30 more native trees at Alexandria’s James K. Polk Elementary School, completing the second of three efforts to add 100 new trees to the school grounds.

Volunteers from Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria worked alongside teachers from the school, whose colleague Steve Neeley headed up the effort by educators. Other volunteers included a large contingent from Northern Virginia Volkswagen operations and several people from the Alexandria community who had been recruited by Tree Steward Bonnie Petry.

Petry and Tree Stewards Lynn Gas and Jane Seward sparked the tree-planting plan more than a year ago, engaging Neeley from the school and Alexandria natural resources officials Bob Williams and Rod Simmons plus city arborist John Marlin. The first 33 trees were planted by volunteers in April and are thriving despite the recent drought because they were watered during the growing season. Without additional rain, watering will need to continue for all the new trees until the ground freezes and resume next spring.

Former mayor Allison Silberberg greeted the volunteers to thank them for helping Alexandria move toward her goal of increasing the city’s tree canopy. She and Tree Steward Jo Allen took pictures, and here are some of their views of the day.

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Four Mile Run Park Gets 50 New Trees

Alexandria’s 60-acre Four Mile Run Park has 50 new trees planted Friday, Oct. 4, by Intus Windows staff and clients—plus the Lithuanian ambassador to the United States—with inspiration and mentoring by Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria.

Intus, which makes energy-efficient windows and doors, launched a “One Window One Tree” campaign In 2018 to take action to combat climate change. The company, which has a local office in the Merrifield area of Fairfax County, has a factory in Lithuania, and its two U.S. CEOs are Lithuanian. So it was only natural that Ambassador Rolandas Kriščiūnas would turn out not just for opening remarks but also to plant trees.

Alexandria officials on hand were Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, City Council members Del Pepper and Mo Seifeldein, and former mayor Allison Silberberg, who spurred city tree planting when in office and has supported Tree Stewards and Intus at previous plantings.

Intus brought more than 50 employees and 10 clients to the park and installed the 50 trees within 90 minutes. Tree Steward Bonnie Petry organized the planting and logistics with help from city natural resources staff members Bob Williams and Rod Simmons, arborist John Marlin and auger-runner Dion Bates. Because of the extended drought, some of the planting holes were opened with a massive auger. The Intus crew used pick-mattocks and shovels to dig the remaining holes in the parched soil.

Petry has long championed adding more trees in the heavily used park, where she and other Tree Stewards have planted trees at least three times in recent years. She worked to have the city buy the trees and approve the planting. Petry and nine other veteran Tree Steward volunteers supervised the planters, and seven of the current class of 30 Tree Steward trainees helped with logistics early in the day.

Here are some views of the day from photographer Travis Morgan.

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Volunteer Training Begins

Nora Palmatier, standing, describes training to become a volunteer Tree Steward of Arlington and Alexandria to a roomful of new and returning interns. Photo by Tree Steward Jo Allen
Nora Palmatier, standing, describes training to become a volunteer Tree Steward of Arlington and Alexandria to a roomful of new and returning interns.

They were early arriving, eager to learn how to become trained volunteers with Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria. Five interns who began classes last winter joined 25 new students to fill the training room at Fairlington Community Center on Tuesday, Sept. 24. Through this fall, part of winter and into next spring, they will learn what trees need to be the life-giving oxygen generators that will help mitigate some of the effects of climate change.

Lesson One was an overview of tree anatomy delivered by Lara Johnson of the Virginia Department of Forestry. Among the surprises: The heartwood of a tree is dead and dark with toxins. The coloration is what makes a walnut table darker than maple. Only the bark and cambium are alive, so watch those weed whackers, and don’t carve your initials on a tree. Damage to the bark can allow diseases and destructive insects to enter, sicken the tree and possibly kill it.

Cambium contains two highways that feed the tree. Xylem moves water and soil nutrients skyward to the top of the tree, where leaves use those and sunlight to produce sugars during photosynthesis. Phloem transports the sugars low underground to the tree’s roots, which are far more extensive than might be imagined, extending two or three times the width of the tree canopy, or drip line. (See Rooting Around.)

Tree anatomy is significantly more complicated, and Johnson said trainees will learn about that in future classes.

Next up: Dan Schwartz of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District describes urban soils and their impact on trees. Slide deck presentations can be found under the Training Materials tab.

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Planting at the Casey Trees Farm

Six Tree Stewards of Arlington and Alexandria transplanted dozens of trees Saturday at the 75-acre Casey Trees Farm near Berryville, Virginia. The farm grows trees primarily for use in helping the District of Columbia achieve 40 percent tree canopy by 2032.

New field
Root bags in the ground and young saplings await planting in the fifth large field at the Casey Trees Farm. Photos by Tree Steward Pattee Ryan
Tree Stewards Catherine Harris and Bonnie Petry, foreground, transplant a witch hazel sapling with supervision from a farm staff member.
Tree Stewards Catherine Harris and Bonnie Petry, foreground, transplant a witch hazel sapling with supervision from a farm staffer.

The Tree Stewards were among 28 volunteers helping to plant a huge new field with many species of trees. Crews at the non-profit’s farm had used augers to dig large, shallow holes and line them with root bags. Volunteers and staff removed loose soil from the root bags and placed young saplings into the holes after scuffing up the roots and making sure the root flare was at the right height. Then they added soil, tamping it down to eliminate air pockets, and moving on to the next root bag.

Among the species planted were witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), pawpaw (Asimia triloba), several varieties of oaks, maples, and evergreens. Tree Steward volunteers were Andrew Benjamin, Steve Campbell, Catherine Harris, Bonnie Petry, Pattee Ryan and Jo Allen.

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