March 8, 2018

The Poster Child of Downey Trees’ Plant Health Care Program

Earlier in its life, this tree served as the shade tree for mechanics of the same name. Later, its magnificent presence thwarted developments that would have threatened its survival. Today, it is pampered and cared for with just about every arboricultural input available. The Norcross Elm (Ulmus americana) is not only the pride and joy of the City of Norcross and its attending Tree Preservation Board, the tree is also currently listed as the State Champion American Elm by the Georgia Forestry Commission. With its buttressed multiple trunk and its broad, rounded, open crown characteristic of the species, the tree stands 80 feet tall with a spread of 125 feet and a trunk circumference at breast height (DBH) of 233 inches. The tree is truly a specimen and a survivor as well: many of these trees fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease, an imported fungal pathogen that devastated “Elm Streets” throughout the East and Midwest after it was introduced to Cleveland, Ohio in 1931. The disease was transported to a furniture company in a shipment of logs from France.

Preserving this beautiful tree has been a priority of the City and Tree Board of Norcross. It is a nostalgic symbol in keeping with the old-town, early American feel so characteristic of the place. Downey Trees has had the privilege of assisting with the stewardship of the Elm for the past 12-15 years. To that end, we have developed a custom Tree & Plant Health Care Program that is multi-faceted and runs the spectrum of most of the services we provide. From the full spread of the root system to the very top of the canopy, Downey Trees has either recommended, implemented or maintained the systems that provide all aspects of care. Thus, the best possible chances of a long and healthy life are given to this tree. These are the very same services available for the important trees on your property. They include:

  • Injections beneath the soil surface of formulations consisting of mild fertilizers, organic products from organisms such as Sea Kelp and beneficial Mycorrhizal fungi, and humates which modify the soil structure.
  • Soil de-compaction with supersonic compressed air to break up compacted soil caused by foot traffic and other human activity.
  • Mulching of the soil in the critical root area of the tree (but not around the trunk!) following de-compaction to slow the process of re-compaction by human activity. Applying this mulch on top of the tree’s natural leaf litter is even more beneficial.
  • Systemic pesticide injections into the soil in the root area of the tree, and in some cases into the tree itself, to combat specific insect pests that may attack the tree.
  • Pruning to remove dead wood and crossing limbs, and to direct the growth of the tree.
  • Bracing to provide additional support for limbs that grow close to ground level or extend far from the trunk of the tree.
  • Cabling to enhance the support of a limb by attaching it to another with a cable. Often the effect is beneficial to both limbs.
  • Lightning Protection Systems to prevent or mitigate a lightning strike in a similar fashion to such applications on buildings and communications towers.

The need for these inputs is partially mandated by the facts that the tree is so attractive to people, and that a stressful urban environment for trees has grown from a sleepy rural Georgia town. Visitors to the tree marvel at its size and form, seek respite in its shade, utilize it as a community gathering point. Our love for trees often results in loving them to death: our human activity compacts the soil, inhibiting root growth. Playfulness around a tree can also lead to damage of the limbs and trunk, and our mobile society often exposes them to exotic pests and diseases. Dutch Elm disease is a direct result of our mobile society, and many exotic pests and plants have been introduced to the Southeastern United States since. Assisting trees in coping with such pests by keeping them healthy and as stress-free as possible is a foundational purpose of the Tree & Plant Health Care Program of Downey Trees’.

In the summer of 2016, the bourgeoning film industry in Georgia led to the utilization of the Norcross Elm as a movie set—flattering for both the tree and the City of Norcross, but a wellspring of potential damage from soil compaction. A short time after the flurry of activity filming the scene for “Finding Steve McQueen,” our arborists came out with equipment to facilitate de-compaction of the soil in the critical root zone of the tree. Notwithstanding the ravages of Hollywood film crews, this service is provided to the Elm on an annual basis.

Several years ago, it became apparent that two of the lower branches of the tree were in need of bracing, as they extended low to the ground and could possibly become damaged by playful humans. Downey Trees designed and installed the present bracing system. In the late fall of 2017, high winds caused a failure in one of the two braces and crews were dispatched the same day to repair the break in the brace. Examining the current bracing system, we have realized that it could be improved to allow for more natural movement of the limbs, especially in high winds. We are in the process of developing an updated design for them.

Calling this tree a “Poster Child” for Tree & Plant Heath Care is a bit of a stretch: the Norcross Elm is well over a century old! While the effort to provide the various inputs to preserve the tree have a great deal of merit and have resulted in positive responses, it is important to note that many trees much younger than this one are deserving of treatments appropriate to the preservation of their health. Many trees in age from 5 – 45 years are in their stage of prime, vigorous growth and would respond even better to Tree & Plant Health Care than older trees often do. This is not to say that mature trees should not receive these treatments. Older trees do respond, and the Norcross American Elm is proof of that. While it is not always practical to treat every tree on your property, it is important to take a critical look at the trees you care for and ask yourself:

  • Do I have trees that are important to the aesthetics of my property?
  • Is there a tree or trees in my landscape that provides important shade, privacy, or recreational activity?
  • Would I hate to lose that tree?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then you should call Downey Trees. One of our Certified Arborists would be happy to help you assess the important trees you have for a Tree & Plant Health Care Program. Let Downey Trees care for those important trees on your property in the same way we help take care of the Norcross Elm!

March 8, 2018