Water Oaks have long been one of the most dominant tree species in Athens which is attributable to its prolific acorn production, rapid growth rate, and adaptability to poor growing conditions. Aggressive planting programs in the first two decades of the 20th century also helped Water Oaks establish a firm place in the Athens Urban landscape.
Water Oak is located in Wilcox Triangle in Five Points in Athens. Wilcox Triangle is a small park area that New Urban Forestry adopted — we help care for the trees in this green space.
Another view of the Wilcox Triangle Water Oak. While it is not a Champion Tree, it is one of the larger Water Oaks in the county.
Waste wood: Wood Arts Show
When we talk about urban forestry, we often focus on the best-practices management of our existing community trees. In addition, we are aware that our urban forests bring many environmental and economic benefits to cities, including: reduced air-conditioning expense, sunlight absorption and ultraviolet light reduction, air cooling, rainwater absorption and improved stormwater management, and improved biodiversity.
In short: urban forests improve the microclimate and air quality of our towns and cities.
Economic benefits associated with properly managed trees include increased land, property, and rental value. Well-maintained trees also encourage increased residential, commercial and public investments. There are also many social and medical benefits to consider.
What we often, however, forget to talk about when discussing the urban forest is the value of the wood from trees that are removed during sound urban forest management. What do we do with this “waste” wood? Much of it does become mulch and compost. But what other options exist? Is there something we can do with this wood that adds to, or retains, the value and beauty of the tree after it is removed? Something that may continue to benefit the community as well?
Timber and the timber industry have long been recognized as vitally important to the Southeast. Historically, our pine trees provided naval stores and products like turpentine and the wood for tall ship masts. Live oak wood provided curved timbers for framing the massive hulls of large ships. And the Southeast continues to be an important source of wood, lumber and wood pulp. But we are less recognized for what wood can be when transformed with the eye of an artist and the hand of a skilled craftsperson.
Urban wood, because of unique characteristics as a result of growth habits, accessibility to city artisans and furniture makers, and the relationship of the artist to an individual tree or place, is helping to revive wood art in the Southeast. Urban wood is both “reclaimed” (re-purposed from old buildings and structures) and “upcycled” (created from newly cut urban trees).
Wood works: An Art Exhibition, is a show that will display the work of more than 35 wood artists and craftspersons, including furniture makers, fine artists and wood turners. The show will run between Jan. 20 and Feb. 17 at the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF).
Though these artists and craftspersons will not utilize only urban wood, it does have a significant place as a medium, and even as a theme, in the work of some of the artists. Some of the furniture makers, for instance, strongly emphasize the materials. Don Bundrick, for example, builds furniture directly from branches, twigs and bark. Other craftspersons feature natural edge slabs or reclaimed lumber. Still others mix wood and metal, such as the “industrial” furniture of Jeff Walker.
Urban wood, as a result of a renewed interest in wood art and furniture in the Southeast — as as demonstrated in the show — will continue to gain importance and recognition. And as it does so, it will, like the trees in our urban forest, add value back to the community.
As the cooler fall weather moves in and changes our landscapes from summer green to shades of yellow, gold, and orange; you may begin to see one persistent pest that refuses to give up the green. In fact, it refuses to give up at all. Under the cloak of your trees’ leaves, mistletoe has found itself a home. Whether it be on the humble Hackberry or your prized Texas Red Oak, it has been growing—pulling its moisture from the host.
One of nature’s most harmful “bird gifts”, mistletoe seeds, move from one landscape to another looking for that perfect arboreal environment. The two and three year old wood on Cedar Elms and Hackberry trees are prime real estate, but a few other local species will do in a pinch. Once the location is right, the seed germinates and a strange, opportunistic root-like structure finds an opening in the bark and taps in to the tree’s vascular system. Mistletoe becomes a tree squatter, ready to take the neighborhood.
Urban Soils and Tree Root Issues
A couple of years ago, during a notably large storm, a prodigious water oak fell on my neighbors’ house. This beautiful old tree could not support the weight of the branches because the root system had been compromised from years of cars rolling, parking and compacting the soil surrounding the base. Fortunately, in this case, the family was not in the house and only the house and tree were compromised, but it offers valuable insight into the damage that human activity can cause the trees in our community.
The dirt around us is constantly changing. Wind and heat and gravity and water all affect our soils. These are important positive components in creating an environment for many ecosystems. In an urban environment, one additional component is changing the soil around us: people.
People have a huge impact on the urban soils. Enormous cavities are dug for underground parking decks, the Georgia red clay is hauled away and piled to be used somewhere else, it is added to other tracts for other projects. The soil is leveled and graded and compacted. It is walked on and parked on, played baseball on and picknicked upon. Human activity is one of the main contributing factor in the changing urban soils.
This changing soilscape directly impacts the growing trees around us. Without careful consideration to how we impact the soils, human activity can have serious negative effects on our canopy.
One negative impact is the creation of a surface crust. This is caused by removal of the natural vegetation combined with compaction caused by foot traffic or wheels, and fine particles filtering in and filling in gaps beneath the surface. This hard crust doesn’t allow water to seep into the ground and be absorbed by the tree roots.
Water drainage and insufficient aeration can have a negative impact on the absorption capabilities of the trees. If the soil is too fine, such as with clay soils, it can become water-logged which can be equally bad for the root system.
When a new home is built, the ground must first be leveled. During this process, the topsoil is removed and often fill material is brought in from somewhere else. This can create layers in the soil that are different from the natural makeup of the land. This can be damaging to existing trees and can cause problems when planting replacements. The change in soil composition, including the ph and chemical makeup as well as density of the soil can prevent trees from receiving the nutrients they need to thrive.
There are several ways to remediate these effects on our trees. The first is to be aware of abused areas of your own landscape. Pay attention to where you park, where your children play, or areas that see more foot traffic. Try to park in areas that are far away from trees or only on existing parking pads. Divert traffic away from natural areas or create trails that have proper erosion control.
If you notice that the roots have been damaged in your landscape, there are plant healthcare guidelines that can prolong the life of your trees and repair damaged soilscapes. Contact a certified arborist to help with your tree concerns and you can hopefully prevent your trees from falling during the summer storms.
Native Plant Community Design — Taking Examples from Nature in the Southeast for Sustainable Design
Traveling from Athens, GA to Cullowhee, NC for the Cullowhee Native Plant Conference at Western Carolina University I was able to stop and visit many diverse natural communities on the short drive. My arrival in Cullowhee began with a botanist-led excursion into the serpentine barrens of Buck Creek in the Nantahala National Forest. Finding communities of pitch pine, deer berry, big bluestem grass, and many herbaceous plants that one would just as soon find in a prairie ecosystem in the Midwest than the side of a mountain in western North Carolina, we began to point out and recognize the pattern of plants in this rarely occurring ecosystem. The designer in me was eager to organize the information into an orderly landscape planting design for my clients.
Luckily, shortly after this amazing field trip I met Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, authors of Planting in a Post-Wild World. Their talk and book helped me further my
understanding of designing native plant communities. As a native plant designer, one does not want to get caught in the rut of simply replacing individual plants with a native counterpart. For example, a single ligustrum hedge could be replaced with a wax myrtle hedge, and that could certainly benefit a small area and a few local birds.
However, imagine what one could do when the native plants of an area are seen as a system and a forced design of non-native flora—including exotic, invasive plants— could be replaced with a fully native-plant community that benefits the soil, air, and all wildlife, not just a few species of birds. The ecological benefits of designing and installing native plant communities are clear, but in a post-wild world, designing with native plant communities will benefit humanity in ways that are not fully understood or realized. A meadow on a parking structure roof will add ecological function through filtering storm water and mitigating the heat island effect, but will also connect urban dwellers with natural beauty. In order to bring ecological functions to the urban core and create sustainable, resilient metro-areas, we must design cities that are intimately connected to and function with the natural world, not seen as a separate entity.
Here in Athens, GA, my design work is mainly centered in an area called the Piedmont. This diverse natural community contains twelve common sub-communities including Oak-Pine-Hickory forests, prairies and savannahs, granite outcrops, and floodplains. The Piedmont has many native plant species that overlap community boundaries. This overlap—commonly called edges, where an upland Oak-Pine-Hickory forest transitions to prairies and savannahs—is where the action occurs. This edge is where the greatest diversity of plants and animals is found. I find these edges in my clients’ landscapes in the forms of planting beds transitioning to lawn or tree islands transitioning to parking lots. These are the areas where we can begin to see how different our conventional plantings are from the plant communities that would occur naturally.
Taking our inspiration from nature, a design of a native plant community would be packed with plants that naturally occur together as opposed to the conventional tree-shrub-pine straw-turf formula that is so often seen in modern landscape design. A design based on a natural community would have an innate resilience. For example, a design of a parking lot planting could be inspired by a serpentine barren—a natural community with shallow soil and harsh living environments—or a rain garden design could be inspired by a floodplain—an area that is flooded and drained with rain events.
In conclusion, as one travels through the South and beyond, I encourage us to always seek out and experience the different natural and plant communities occurring within these areas. I find inspiration from these local natural communities as I work to design resilient, functional, and sustainable landscapes. Together, we can work to bring the natural resiliency of these areas to the designed landscapes of our urban cores and begin to build sustainable, ecological cities.
English ivy, [Hedera helix], is an exotic invasive species that is popular for it’s ability to grow in dry shade. Unfortunately, the English ivy has become so successful that it is replacing native species, including trees! Mature English ivy has the ability to climb and cover the tree canopy, adding thousands of pounds of biomass weight totrees, girdling tree trunks, and shading sub‐canopy and canopy trees. This can cause trees to fail and fall on nearby structures and utilities. Although still recommended by landscape professionals because of English ivy’s resistance to disease, ability to grow where lawns fail, and its overall aggressiveness, English ivy carries many problems and issues with it. English ivy does not benefit native wildlife, but does benefit vermin, giving them places to hide.
We at New Urban Forestry Landscaping are committed to the removal and eradication of English ivy in our landscapes and replacing them with native plant species that benefit the wildlife and ecology of the site.
Ivy girdling is a technique that we employ to begin the process of saving the mature trees that English ivy is so adept at killing. We cut the ivy from the ground to around 3‐4 feet up the tree, being careful when removing the ivy from the trunk as to not cause damage. As the top portion of the ivy is severed from the nutrient providing root system, it dies and begins to fall off the tree, liberating the tree and ultimately saving its life.
Smothering English ivy is another technique that we at New Urban Forestry Landscaping use to control the ivy that runs rampant on the ground. We remove and cut as much of the ivy as we can, then we layer cardboard over the ivy debris that may sprout back, finally we cover the cardboard with a thick layer of mulch. Be aware that mulch is great for trees and shrubs, but you can have too much of a good thing! The maximum amount of mulch layer around trees and shrubs is 4 inches. Anymore than 4 inches and you run the risk of suffocating the plant roots and killing the plants that you worked so hard to save.
Although English ivy eradication may seem daunting at first, we like to prioritize the eradication efforts. The #1 priority is to save all trees in the landscape; #2 is to remove and smother ivy that tries to climb on structures and fences, and finally the last priority is to eradicate ivy from the ground by removal and smothering with mulch.
So the next time you are struggling with what to plant underneath your mature trees, before planting an exotic, invasive species, contact us at New Urban Forestry Landscaping and we will help you decide on plants that are beneficial to the ecosystem and will not harm your established landscape.
How do we love our trees? Aside from just giving them a big hug from time to time? There are things you can do to show your tree love that will sustain its life, beyond just regular pruning and maintenance.
We all know that trees need water. But how much water and when? I can’t tell you that. But an arborist looking at your trees can. Are they drought tolerant species? Was it planted in the last 2 years? What is the soil like surrounding the tree? Getting the right amount of water (and seriously, not too much) is one of the first ways to make sure your trees know you care.
Speaking of soil…
What does an arborist know about soil? Don’t forget that tree roots extend far below the surface. Trees start from the ground up. To hug the entire tree, you have to get your hands dirty.
One of the biggest dangers to our trees is soil compaction. Do you park your car under the tree? Do your kids play under a particular tree every day? This compaction can damage the roots of the tree. Your tree may look fine now, but compacted soil can eventually lead to insect infestation or stress which can lead to vulnerability months or years down the road. Improving the soil surrounding trees can rejuvenate ailing trees and prolong the life of your investment.
One soil-improvement method that might be recommended by an arborist is radial trenching. This is the fancy way of saying: digging holes (in a radius) and filling them with nutrient-dense soil. This calculated process is designed to aerate and supply nutrients and prolong the life of the tree.
Do you spray pesticides on your tomato patch? Did you fertilize your turfgrass? Your whole landscape can affect the trees in and around it. They all share the common soil. This is one reason why an arborist should help when planning what to plant and where. We can help plan when treatments are appropriate and will not be harmful to your trees and shrubs, and also how pruning and treatment of trees can affect the other plants as well.
Planning your landscape with the longevity of trees and plants in mind with the help of an arborist can prevent problems that might occur years down the road and show your trees that you love them for many years.
New Urban Forestry is excited to offer a customer referral program. We recognize that our success is based on your support. We would like to give back to those who have shared their positive experiences with their friends and neighbors about our services over the years. As a benefit to you, your friends, your neighbors, and the broader Athens community, we would like to offer a gift to show our gratitude.
We are aware that often you receive little in return when a tree is removed. We believe in the future of trees in Athens. We hope as a business to not only maintain the existing tree canopy in our community, but also prepare for the future tree canopy. For every tree that we remove, we hope that an additional tree is being planted to replace it. We’d like to help in this process by giving our customers a tree to plant.
How it works
If an existing New Urban Forestry successfully refers a new customer, New Urban Forestry will give the existing customer a thank you gift. Please let us know if someone has referred you.
What is a Successful Referral?
A successful referral is when a new customer mentions an existing customer by name and both customers have had work completed by New Urban Forestry.
What is the gift?
New Urban Forestry will donate to the referring customer one 3 gallon tree that is drought and disease resistant and appropriate for our region. If you do not have room for a tree, or do not need a tree, we will give you a t-shirt designed specifically for our customers. For each t-shirt we give away or sell we will donate $5.00 to the Athens Clarke County Community Tree Council to assist with area-wide tree plantings.
Thank you for your business and your support!