Ask an arborist: Should I cut dead branches off my arbutus tree?

Victoria arborist answers your questions about fire smart hedges, holes in cedar trees and more

Peter from Osprey Tree Service pruning lower ladder fuel branches on cedar trees to prevent a wildfire travelling from the ground to tree canopies.

Peter from Osprey Tree Service pruning lower ladder fuel branches on cedar trees to prevent a wildfire travelling from the ground to tree canopies.

ISA Certified Arborist Chris McVey from Osprey Tree Service in Victoria’s West Shore is back with answers to more of your tree maintenance questions.

There are hundreds of holes all over a cedar tree near my house. What’s causing this and what should I do?

“If the holes appear to be drilled in horizontal and vertical rows and are around five millimetres in diameter, there’s a good chance they were created by a sapsucker,” Chris says. “They can look like insect damage, but typically this damage is not as uniform or abundant.”

Sapsuckers are a species of woodpecker that favour feeding on trees with thinner bark, drilling holes to lap up the sugary sap. The presence of these holes doesn’t necessarily mean the tree is in bad health, but repeated visits year after year can invite opportunistic insects or may girdle the tree, leading poor health or death.

“Wrapping the stems with burlap or another breathable fabric helps deter future damage to trees that have sapsucker damage. Make sure it’s possible to adjust with the tree’s continued growth, and avoid putting in any hardware which can promote future rot.”

Sapsuckers have developed a taste for the sap of this dormant tree spotted near the Royal Roads University Fields.

Sapsuckers have developed a taste for the sap of this dormant tree spotted near the Royal Roads University Fields.

Several large branches on my arbutus tree have died over the past few years. Should I cut them down? What are my options?

Before any cutting is done on an any tree on your property, make sure to consult your local municipal tree protection bylaw. Some areas forbid any cuts to be made without a certified Arborist, and some protect cuts over a certain diameter.

Chris says arbutus has been experiencing a decline on Vancouver Island over the last decade or more. A multitude of factors are contributing to it’s decline, including urbanization, climate change, and a range of different fungal pathogens. In the spring of 2021 a lot of dieback was caused from fungal leaf blight over the winter.

“In general it’s better to let arbutus shed its dead branches on its own. Pruning cuts create a wound on the tree, which may lead to decay or other pathogens directly in that wound. Other species can generally tolerate pruning, but due to the stress arbutus are experiencing we want to avoid pruning.”

If the branches being shed are hanging directly over an important structure or are dangerous, consult an arborist to see what options are available. A certified arborist can make pruning cuts that will be best for the health of the tree if it absolutely is necessary, as well as avoiding damage to the tree or the structures nearby.

I recently learned that cedar hedges are extremely flammable. What are some fire smart hedge options that I could replace it with?

Typically, most deciduous (leafy) plants are fire-resistant, and most coniferous (needle) plants/hedges are fire-prone. Look for leaves that are supple and moist, and species that don’t accumulate dry, dead material.

“Sap should not have a pungent odour and should be fairly watery. Break off a twig and have a sniff. Usually gummy, sticky sap and smelly resin means it will readily burn,” Chris says.

FireSmart BC’s landscaping guide can be a good reference for landscape plants that are fire-resistant. Visit firesmart.bc.ca to find a list of plant and hedge varieties that are a good replacement for any flammable species.

Osprey Tree Service is based on the West Shore of Victoria, BC and serves southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Their qualified team of certified arborists, forestry professionals and wildland firefighters offer residential and commercial tree removal, maintenance and assessments. Learn more at ospreytreeservice.ca. For a free quote, call 250-474-7993 or email info@ospreytreeservice.ca.

Deciduous or coniferous: which hedge is more fire smart? Cedar hedges accumulate dead, dry debris for years, and a single spark can easily set them ablaze. It’s common for fires to travel along hedges, and then ignite any buildings nearby.

Deciduous or coniferous: which hedge is more fire smart? Cedar hedges accumulate dead, dry debris for years, and a single spark can easily set them ablaze. It’s common for fires to travel along hedges, and then ignite any buildings nearby.

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