Removing Your Turf and Sprinklers Due to Drought, Remember the Trees!

As Californians scramble to find a way to reduce water consumption to meet a 25% water reduction mandate, turf removal has become the latest means to accomplish significant water savings. From Santa Barbara to San Diego, with Los Angeles and Orange county in between, turf is being ripped out at a frenzied pace.

Considering the rebates offered by the Metropolitan Water District in Los Angeles and other municipalities, homeowners and businesses are jumping at the opportunity to be reimbursed for turf and spray irrigation removal.  Succulent gardens, Mediterranean, and California natives and other drought tolerant plant materials are being used to replace water guzzling turf.

The decades long love affair with our green turf lawns is coming to an end.  Unless you can afford to pay extremely onerous penalties for excessive water use, the California drought, climate change and dwindling water resources will change the way we design, plant, irrigate and use our landscaped areas.

As turf and spray irrigation is removed, it is easy to forget about trees in the landscape. Trees planted in the landscape rarely receive irrigation dedicated to just the tree.  Typically, the tree is located in an irrigated turf or planter area.  Tree roots grow where there is moisture.  Trees adjacent to an irrigated turf area will certainly root into the turf zone because that is where the water and nutrients are.

A common misconception is trees develop deep tap roots that grow deeply into the soil to locate water.  In fact, almost all tree roots grow within the top three feet of the soil mass, almost 80% of the roots grow within 12-24 inches from the soil surface!  Initially, a tap root growing downward will encounter rocks, hard pan or other physical impediments causing the tap root to split into a fibrous system growing horizontally through the soil profile.

As roots grow outward from the trunk, the tree crown grows in conjunction with the spreading root system.  The outward edge of the tree crown is referred to as the drip line of the tree.  The structural tree roots grow outward toward the drip line, however they don’t stop there! Outside of the drip line, the structural roots become increasingly smaller in diameter and that is where the fine absorbing root hairs are located, often well outside of the tree drip line.  Many tree species grow roots up to twice the tree crown diameter!

Knowing how tree roots grow is vital to understanding how your trees will react to changes in irrigation caused by converting turf or high water use areas.  If the edge of a tree crown or drip line is near an irrigated turf area, it most certainly will have rooted into the turf soil zone.  When the turf is gone and water is turned off, the tree will have lost it’s primary source of water and nutrients and will begin to decline.  If it does not have or develop other water resources to tap into, the tree will eventually die.

If you notice the crown of your trees declining, not leafing out or new buds dying back, these are symptoms that may be caused by the affects of drought or lack of water. Think back and consider what changes have occurred in the past one to two years? Has there been construction or renovation work nearby?  What about changes in the landscape, was the turf removed and sprinklers turned off?  Was there trenching, rototilling or soil preparation in an area nearby existing trees?

You can still remove your water consuming turf and use drip irrigation, just remember to plan for irrigating the trees.  If using a drip system, consider using higher volume emitters, or other distribution systems that will provide an adequate water supply to the tree. Add a drip valve solely dedicated to tree irrigation separate from the other shrubs or ground covers.  Proper planning, installation and maintenance is required to convert water consuming landscapes into sustainable, water efficient landscapes while preserving existing tree health and aesthetics.

With proper planning, trees can be grown and will flourish using drip or low volume irrigation systems but you must provide enough water distribution to encourage the tree to root into the surrounding site soil.  Unlike spray irrigation, drip systems must be maintained and upgraded as trees grow larger root systems.  Additional drippers or emitters are required as the tree crown increases in diameter.  Drip and low volume distribution systems work great but are more labor intensive than spray systems and require a higher degree of maintenance.

So go ahead and get rid of that old ugly bermuda grass lawn, or grit your teeth and say goodbye to your green lush tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass and say hello to water savings without sacrificing visual aesthetics.  You can keep your trees alive and flourishing while still achieve water savings and a unique, beautiful landscape.  Use a landscape and certified arborist tree professional to help you achieve your sustainable, affordable landscape!

 

 

What is an RCA?

When I tell people I’m a consulting arborist they often ask what is that? Everyone is familiar with tree care companies, but not so much what the role of a consulting arborist. The common conception is when there is a tree problem, call up a tree contractor and have them do the work.

Yet, there are many tree problems that require expertise beyond a tree care company. When a tree has a change in condition or conflicts with infrastructure, such as tree roots lifting up a sidewalk, a consulting arborist is required to assess the situation and make recommendations.

Consulting arborists have one or more certifications.  The primary designation is a certified arborist.  This designation is administered through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA).  The second and more difficult designation to obtain is that of Registered Consulting Arborist (RCA), administered through the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Consulting arborists with the RCA designation are the preeminent authorities on tree related matters.

To receive the RCA designation, an individual must already be a certified arborist.  Once they meet the experience and education requirements, an applicant must enroll in the Consulting Academy.  This rigorous training focuses on technical and report writing. Applicants who receive their RCA designation are trained to produce the highest quality written reports and work product, a terrific benefit for attorneys, insurers and professional consultants.

To learn more about registered consulting arborists, please click on the link below.

What is an RCA

Landscape and Tree Contractors, Minimize Lawsuits, Understand Your Duty of Care!

If you are a landscape or tree care contractor, you should be aware of the potential liability you face by an unhappy client. This awareness begins when you understand your “duty of care” as a landscape or tree care professional.

What is “duty of care”? It is a very important legal concept that simply stated means a person or organization has the legal obligation to avoid acts or omissions that could harm others. The duty of care extends to your actions or lack of action that would cause harm to your client or their property, perhaps even extending to adjacent properties and utilities.

Licensed contractors should understand their client hired them for their expertise and professionalism. The client is reliant upon the contractor to provide a product and service that conforms to industry standards. It is incumbent upon the contractor to satisfy all contractual obligations and satisfy the industry standard of care, or face a possible lawsuit.

If you are a landscape, maintenance or tree contractor interested in learning how to minimize you legal exposure and reduce your liability, please read the full article at:

Reduce Liability by Understanding Your Duty of Care

A Better Way to Protect Trees and Pedestrians

Safe Path permeable product replaces cast iron tree grate

Safe Path permeable product replaces cast iron tree grate

Through a business acquaintance, I had the good fortune to meet with Mr. Christian Rodriguez, a company representative from Blue Drop, Inc.  We met at a downtown San Diego street intersection where Blue Drop, Inc. had a contract with the City of San Diego to replace old cast iron tree grates with their new product called Safe Path.

Tree planters within pedestrian sidewalks are typically small confined spaces surrounded by concrete with lots of pedestrian traffic.  Tree grates were installed around the planter pit primarily to protect people from tripping over tree roots.  The grate also allowed watering to occur beneath the grate and afforded the tree a degree of root protection from pedestrian traffic.

When first installed surrounding a young tree, there is plenty of room for the tree trunk and root collar to grow and expand.  Tree grate openings typically are up to 12″ in diameter.

Tree trunk lifts grate creating potential trip and fall hazard

Tree trunk lifts grate creating potential trip and fall hazard

A young tree with a two inch diameter trunk will add one inch of trunk diameter per year. The tree will outgrow the tree grate opening within a decade.  Just as the tree reaches maturity and is starting to provide the maximum intended benefits,  the trunk begins to lift the tree grate.  Either the tree or tree grate must be replaced.

When I met Mr. Rodriguez, he showed me a downtown site where Blue Drop had installed their new Safe Path product.  The product is a poured in place permeable rubberized material that levels the planter surface with the adjacent sidewalk.  Water quickly infiltrates the permeable product which allows for both water and gas exchange.  The tree trunk, root collar and any surface roots are safely protected by the product.  As the trunk and roots enlarge, the products cracks, allowing for easy product removal and mending.

Pedestrians safely travel over Safe Path tree system

Pedestrians safely travel over Safe Path tree system. Photo by Blue Drop

Because Safe Path is poured in place, it appears to be an ideal product to retrofit existing planter systems and especially for irregular shaped planter areas.  The product provides a smooth, yet permeable surface, creating a safe environment for pedestrians while protecting tree roots and enhancing street scene aesthetics

I have no financial of special interest in Blue Drop Inc or any of their products.  As a certified arborist who has provided expert witness testimony in trip and fall cases involving trees, I was interested in discovering new technologies that improve public safety around trees.

Click the link to read the full article reviewing the product. A Better Way to Protect Trees and Pedestrians

 

Can a Tree Capture Particulate Matter from the Air?

For years, certified arborists and urban foresters have learned the many benefits of trees. Energy savings are one of the foremost known benefits of trees as they shade building during the summer reducing the need for air conditioning and deciduous tress allow sunlight to reach structures during winter months, solar radiation decreasing the need for winter heating.

Another known benefit for trees are their ability to reduce storm water runoff and erosion, particularly during the winter months. Tree root systems bind soil particles and slow storm runoff from roofs and other impervious surfaces, trees act as bio filters, slowing storm and irrigation water runoff and allowing the water time to slowly percolate into the soil profile rather than run off into the street or storm drain system.  By forcing water to pass through the soil profile, rather than runoff into storm drain systems, the soil mass filters impurities before the water enters into streams, ponds and aquifers.

Birch Tree planting works as filter

A Birch street tree planting used for testing as a green filter to remove particulate matter from the air we breath

Continue reading “Can a Tree Capture Particulate Matter from the Air?” »

PTCA Field Day a Great Success

Wow, just when I thought the PTCA (Professional Tree Care Association) annual seminar was the bomb, the following field day was just as great. While the seminar was an indoor event focusing on a variety of topics presented by outstanding industry professionals and educators, the field day was spent outdoor at beautiful Balboa park in San Diego.

The day consisted of a number of workshops organized into several different tracks that allowed participants to choose from a palette of presentations that provided something for everybody. Tree climbers and field workers loved the tree climbing workshop and training by Mr. Martin Morales. His workshop included climbing and positioning for safe work in trees, also taught about knots, ropes and equipment inspection, while providing new tips and tricks. I am way to old for climbing, but enjoyed watching guys in the trees, had an opportunity to meet Martin during an incredible lunch (carne asada). We were looking at a rigging holding a tree logIMG_0042, he immediately pointed out flaws and worn equipment, I would never have noticed. Fortunately we have educated tree climbers who understand the importance of proper equipment, training and safety.  Another track included Tree Risk Assessment best management practices (BMP’s) workshop taught by Mr. Ron Matranga and Dr. R. Bruce Allison. Since I consult and provide tree risk assessment as part of my practice, it was a great opportunity to learn about  best management practices involved with the new TRAQ (tree risk assessment qualified) versus the previous TRACE (tree risk assessment certification exam) methodology. Dr. Allison demonstrated new sonic tomography techniques for non-destructive testing of the interior of tree trunks, new cutting edge technology that is already an advancement from just two years ago. Using probes and determining the time for sound waves to travel through tree trunks and how the sound wave moves at different velocities around interior trunk decay will assist arborists to use in advanced tree risk assessment. As Dr. Allison noted, hopefully in the next few years, the cost will come down and we will have a pocket sized device and an app to use to help us understand what is happening with interior tree decay.

Sound wave technology, the next big thing?

Sound wave technology, the next big thing?

How serious is the problem

How serious is the problem

We all know about new invasive insects and diseases affecting our trees, new invasive species are being detected at a rate on one every 60 days, Dr. John Kabashiima provided the sobering statistic it is now one every 45 days! The gold spotted oak borer has decimated tens of thousands of Coast Live Oak and Black Oaks throughout California.

Six orange color dots help identify this pest, although the adult is rarely seen

Six orange color dots help identify this pest, although the adult is rarely seen

This pest has been spread throughout the state, particularly San Diego county by people using the dead wood for fire wood, transporting it in their vehicles where they unwitting spread the insect throughout the county. Don’t move infected wood!

Stop using infected wood for fire wood and don't transport the wood, you are spreading the disease

Stop using infected wood for fire wood and don’t transport the wood, you are spreading the disease

Take a look at some of these nasty borers and other insects, yikes!Nasty Borers

For pest control advisors and applicators, there was a pesticide application for trees demonstration and a safety workshop and tree identification workshop and quiz available to test your knowledge. Field guys loved the chainsaw sharpening and troubleshooting workshop presented by Mr. Paul Lasiter and Mr. Joe Garcia. Another great aspect for everyone was presentation of many workshops in Spanish and English, a very inclusive aspect that helped all of us enjoy the day.

I learned a great deal of new information I never would have even considered without this great field day presentation. Have you ever considered how heavy a downed tree trunk is?  Well, there was a workshop on how to calculate the wood weight of felled trees, presented by Mr. Harvey Pedersen. Crane operators have to have a reasonable idea of how much a log or portion of a tree trunk weighs in order to safely lift it. Mr. Pederson presented wood weight calculations of various types of trees and an amazingly accurate method for estimating the weight of a log, which was then lifted by the crane which provided the true weight to compare against our estimated weights. How cool is that!

How much do those logs weight?

How much do those logs weight?

Just want to thank all of those involved in the PTCA Seminar and Field Day for a truly memorable event, a special thanks to our friend Dave Shaw

Dave kept us all entertained, what a great guy!

Dave kept us all entertained, what a great guy!

 

who once again served as the master of ceremony and kept us all entertained. Keep up the great work, looking forward to next years seminar and field day.

Learn more about the PTCA at http://www.ptcasandiego.org

Oak Tree Failure Kills Counselor at Camp Tawonga

Camp Tawonga Tree Failure

My son Jake called yesterday very upset, telling me about an oak tree falling and killing a counselor at Camp Tawonga near Yosemite, CA.  My son graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies and Economics from UC Santa Cruz last June and worked the summer at Camp Tawonga.  He loved working there and returned for some part time work last fall.

What was chilling was his description of the exact location where the tree fell, he said he often sat nearby the spot and even sat under the tree!  He knew the counselor, Annais Rittenberg from UC Santa Cruz, where he also took the environmental field course his senior year.  Needless to say, he is shocked by what happened.

As a certified arborist, I provide tree risk assessments, a process of tree investigation and analysis that rates a tree defects and determines the hazard potential of a tree part or whole tree failure.  I have worked with plaintiff and defendant attorneys concerning tree failures and accidents, yet this accident struck very close to home.  I keep thinking about how that easily could have been my son under that oak tree when it failed.

Who knows if this failure could have been predicted?  My son mentioned how the area where the tree was located was irrigated daily throughout the summer, he said the tree trunk split and fell.  Was there root rot, cavities, or decay in the trunk?  Was the crown showing signs of stress?  Would a risk assessment have determined the tree was structurally unstable?  Maybe yes or no, I certainly don’t want to speculate, as I do not know the facts.

Tree failures resulting in human fatalities are very low, yet it only takes one failure to change lives forever.  My heart and sympathies to the family for the terrible loss.

This should serve as a reminder to camps, recreational facilities, golf courses, R.V. parks and manufactured housing communities to inventory and inspect your tree assets on your property, common spaces and even notify homeowners of endangered trees on their private lots or property.  Facility owners who take proactive measures to inspect, inventory, assess and maintain their tree assets increase the chance of detecting and minimizing tree related accidents before they happen.

 

An Expert for Which, Defendant or Plaintiff Cases? Impartiality Is the Key

When I first decided to become a landscape, horticulture, arboriculture, site construction and development forensic expert witness, a business associate asked me which side I worked for, the defendant or plaintiff. Since I was new to the industry, I was somewhat taken aback at his remark. In my mind, I did not have a pre-determined preference on representing one side or the other.

With some time and experience under my belt, including working for both defendant and plaintiff cases, my conclusion is still the same, I do not have a preference because I use impartiality and standard of care to determine which client to represent. Yes, defendant cases typically are backed by insurance companies paying the bill, so from that perspective, the defendant side has deeper pockets, but that does not influence my decision to represent a defendant or plaintiff. While a plaintiff might be financially constricted, I have had no problems with getting paid for professional expert witness services.

I offer forensic expert witness consulting services for defendant or plaintiff clients and screen potential clients for satisfaction or failure to provide the proper standard of care. Here is the full article:

Defendant or Plaintiff Expert?

When I began offering landscape, horticulture, arboriculture and site development forensic expert witness consulting services throughout California, a business associate asked which “side” I worked for, the defendant or plaintiff. He did not want to refer the incorrect potential client to me. My answer to him then remains the same now, it does not matter whether a defendant or plaintiff client, I provide impartial expert opinions based on discovery, due diligence and the technical knowledge and experience I bring to the case.

Of course, impartial cuts both ways, and if discovery information leads me to an impartial opinion not in the best interest of my client, my professional integrity requires I inform the client why my opinion does NOT support their position. Fortunately, that difficult situation has not occurred; one of the reasons is careful screening of incoming requests by attorneys and paralegals.

It is challenging to maintain a neutral position during a telephone discussion with a potential client. Naturally, we all want to build our practice, so when a potential business contact occurs over the phone, careful listening, screening and asking pertinent questions is extremely important to ascertain whether the information provided by this potential client is a position I will arrive at independently on an impartial basis. Regardless of the information and position propounded by the attorney, maintaining my neutrality during a telephone conversation is essential to protect my integrity as an impartial expert who arrives at his opinion based on fact and discovery, not being bought or convinced by a client’s position.

Whether a defendant or plaintiff contact, the common thread is determination of satisfaction or failure to meet industry or professional standard of care. Ascertaining this information during initial discussions is an essential tool I use in screening potential clients. If a defendant call, the information provided during questioning should establish a reasonable degree of certainty the client satisfied the professional or industry standard of care, conversely a plaintiff contact will hopefully provide information detailing why the defendant failed to satisfy the standard of care and should be found negligent.

For this reason, I provide expert witness services for both defendant and plaintiff cases because determination of standard of care from a technical perspective must be an objective, impartial process. Perhaps I’m fortunate; the attorney’s I have worked with had a thorough, detailed understanding of their client’s position that simplified the screening process. They provided sufficient information and facts that instilled confidence I would be able to render an impartial expert opinion in their favor if discovery supported their information, which has consistently turned out to be case.

In addition to being retained as an expert for both plaintiff and defendant landscape construction defect cases, the same is true for horticulture and arboriculture cases involving plant and tree maintenance issues. Cases include plaintiff claims of incorrect plant selection, deficient landscape design, improper maintenance practices, tree risk and failure, any number of horticulture and arboriculture issues that have caused property damage, personal injury and even vehicular fatalities. The common thread in plant related cases is determination of standard of care which may include several parties such as the landscape architect and design, standard of care on the part of the construction and maintenance contractors, sometimes public agency interaction and their professional standard of care is examined, and often times all of the above are included as part of the expert opinion.

Due to the technical nature of the job, a landscape expert must be extremely adept in the many facets of construction, arboriculture, horticulture and other related fields. The expert must have the necessary skills and experience to efficiently distill all kinds of construction information to make an impartial standard of care determination. Of equal importance to data gathering, the expert must be able to communicate technical expertise in the simplest manner possible, while still producing convincing results.

As a landscape, horticulture, arboriculture, site development and construction expert, I occupy a relatively small but very important niche in the legal industry. Landscape, horticulture, arboriculture and site construction projects exist all around us, whether at a residential, commercial, industrial, recreational, private or public setting, accidents occur daily. Latent construction defects go undetected for years before manifesting into a serious situation. Trees drop limbs and fall over, damaging property and causing serious injury. Unlicensed or unknowledgeable contractors abound, many using illegal, outdated contracts, or worse, no written contract, both inexperienced or overly aggressive general contractors and subcontractors create project conflicts and many poorly informed property owners and managers suffer the consequences.

So much of my consulting work involves forensic determination of the cause of an accident or failure. In landscape construction, forensic analysis is extremely challenging due to the living and changing nature of the plant material, soils, segregating and determining design flaws versus construction contracting issues versus maintenance contracting practices, all are intertwined into a potentially difficult knot to unravel. Adding to the complexity of certain cases is the situation involving general and sub-contractor conflicts and determination of who did or did not satisfy standard of care. I discuss this situation in a previous article calledStandard of Care in the Landscape Industry

Therefore, using a technically experienced and professionally educated consultant with a thorough background in all landscape, horticulture and arboriculture disciplines can make all the difference, regardless if a defendant or plaintiff case.

Rappoport Development Consulting Services LLC is a full-service landscape, horticulture, arboriculture, and land development consulting firm, offering landscape expert witness services for attorneys and insurers. Jeremy Rappoport is a professional horticulturist, ISA certified arborist and tree risk assessor and a C-27 landscape contractor.