A New Tree Care Philosophy

How I love that old book, it changed my life.

In the 80s there was a buzz in the tree service air, a great change is a’coming, anyone with a feel for what was going on, felt it. Most publications, professional groups, schools and instructors felt it. The tree service industry is long overdue for a major shake up. Here it comes.

This was still the age of serious drop crotch ''pruning” heavy brutal topping and flush cuts. Enough to make a tree lover faint. Dr Shigo loved his trees, like no one else I have every meet. As I travel along the path in the forest he made, and I think I am getting pretty deep, I look up and see his blazes stretching far out of sight ahead of me.

Yes, a man with a mission. And he changed the tree service world, no class in tree care is taught today, anywhere in the world, which doesn’t include some of his key concepts, compartmentalization, the branch/trunk collar interaction zone, or a basic understanding of how important leaf mass is.

The book was hot off the press and I got one as soon as I could find it, then I read it 4 times until his beautiful philosophy became my own. Dr. Shigo was recently retired from a productive and fruitful career with the US forest service. He had spent decades on a pioneering project on how decay operates inside the trunks of trees. Literally the first tree forensic pathologist, he broke new ground repeatedly as his research and hundreds of professional papers drug us all into a new age.

And I had good timing, my start in tree service coincided with the publication of the new tree biology, what luck! Here was something real to hang on to. Dr. Shigo wasn't happy with just publishing, but he also went on tour, a world tour. For nearly 2 years he traveled to universities, colleges and other venues preaching his heart felt, deeply researched message.

These 4 day workshops were called, the new tree biology workshops, each lasted 4 days. Thinking on it now Shigo’s knowledge was much greater than I at first realized, these 24 workshops were international, using native tree material for class room study materials. Shigo must have been familiar with all those different species, wow.

One of these workshops was held at Olds College, in 1990, how lucky could a local boy get. And that is where I got my book signed! He says touch trees, really this was his one command, calling us all to think about what we were doing. But I like to touch the book also, because Shigo touched it too.

If you are looking for a natural, wholistic approach to tree care, please visit my contact page for a consultation.

Why is My Tree Dying?

Would break your tree loving heart, a beautiful nearly 30 year old white flowering Siberian crab apple, with 60% die back in the last month. Why so fast?

The owner, knew something was wrong, but what? And who can help? She had two different tree services out in the last month. Both of them misdiagnosed the problem, the problem was a very serious one is called fire blight, a bacterial disease of certain plants related to apple trees.

There are not a lot of tree diseases in Calgary and this one is entry level, one that every working arborist should know. One of her diagnosis was that the tree has scale, the same oyster shell scale that most of our cotoneaster hedges have. The tree has no scale, it does have tiny white spots on the young bark called lenticils, these function as pores. The other diagnosis was a shrug and the selling to her of a fertilizer application.

Fertilizers contain no food, no energy, really what they do is trick a tree into spending stored energy, exhibited as new shoots. These unnaturally fast growing shoots are doubly susceptible to fire blight. Growing at an accelerated rate the trees immunity, or ability to defend themselves from the bacteria is lower than naturally growing shoots.

A tree that is in trouble, is sick, dying can not be propped up with fertilizer, in this case it was the death knell. The disease now giving an extreme advantage, took it. The decline in less than a month is dramatic.

One of these Arborists either is or works for a service that proudly claims International Society of Arboriculture certification, they missed the boat, took her money, sent the tree to the gallows, and went home after another day at the office.

The internet is a mind boggling tool, be careful, very careful.

If you're wondering why your tree is dying, please contact me for a consultation here.

List of Best Calgary Tree Choices for Calgary Gardens

Calgary is a tough place to be a tree, always has been. There are four native trees here, only four types of trees grew here when our forefathers arrived. Many introduced species have now naturalized, but at core those stalwart four remain.

They Are:

The Trembling aspen

The Balsam Poplar

The White Spruce

The Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir

The trembling aspen is the only native tree brave enough to leave the river valley. The aspens chosen location is the hillsides of our rolling prairie landscape.

The other three native trees, the Balsam Poplar, thrived in the riparian community of the bow river bottom.

The White Spruce and the Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir grew in the sheltered, snow holding steep south sides of the river valley.

Thats it! Four native trees, everything else here is either shrub material or introduced.

Why so tough? And why are there so few? Calgary exists in a uniquely tree unfriendly weather area, exposed on the prairie to the full artic brunt, yet close enough to be strongly influenced by mountain weather.

It is The Chinook, our joyous and strange,

winter miracle.

With its strong drying winds that can go on for days, that so reduces Calgarys natural tree population. The chinook can fool trees into thinking spring has arrived and at the same time drying trees out to the point of death.

It is these unpredictable and changing conditions that kept the native numbers so low.

Calgary sits on the cusp of two hardiness zones, 2, and 3. Those are pretty severe numbers. Hardiness zones are a system that was developed so that gardeners and horticulturalists could know what introduced plants would survive. Basically the arctic pole is a zero and the tip of Florida is a ten.

These zones have no straight lines but squiggle around mountain ranges and cold flat prairie areas.

A north american hardiness zone map looks like a sort of paint by number outline, there is a lot of variation as you move around, but the system works.

Most of Vancouver Island is either zone 6 or 7. IF you bring native plants from there to Calgary, they will be dead before Christmas. If you want a tree to have a fair chance of survival you need to stay with plants that have a zone 3 rating, any higher, a cold winter or weird weather combination will come and that tree will probably die.

Planting trees is not easy, it looks easy and all of us have killed a few young trees, to prove that it is not easy. Without a short lesson in tree anatomy, most of us get it wrong. I have written extensively about the art and science of planting on my blog in my website.

Here are seven posts dealing with everything from initial selection through to planting and staking as required:

  1. Planting 1: Species selection
  2. Planting 2: Site selection
  3. Planting 3: Buying your tree
  4. Planting 4: Root crown identification
  5. Planting 5, Digging the hole, planting the tree
  6. Planting 6: Staking
  7. Planting 7: Watering

Below is a list, two lists really, of Calgary's proven tree species, one for evergreens and one for broadleaf trees, those that lose their leaves in autumn.

About Calgary Evergreen Trees

Evergreen, what a great name, trees that are forever green. Evergreens are conifers, they retain their leaves, needles thru periods of years. Cone bearing plants. their flowers, such as they are are on separate parts of the tree. the male flowers, produce pollen, the female flowers at First are beautiful miniature cones, many times a purple color. And later are the mature cones with the seeds tucked down inside , tightly between the scales of the mature cone.

Evergreens are ancient plants as old as 300 million years. They are simple in design, very tough and prefer more northern, cooler climates. The great taiga a biome circling the planet below the north polar region is mostly evergreens.

In Calgary we are blessed with a good count of evergreens that thrive here. One Ironic note is the fact of the lodge pole pine, native as close as Bragg Creek, it is the pine that fails more often than any of the introduced species.

In the forest they always grow together in great communities, and the needles, dead trees and all other parts of natural forest floor duff, seem to keep them strong. A single planting in a Calgary lawn is the opposite of that.

List of Best Calgary Evergreen Trees:

Mugo pine,

Scots pine,

Bristlecone pine,

Swiss stone pine,

Eastern white pine,

Ponderosa pine,

Austrian pine.

White spruce,

Colorado blue spruce,

Norway spruce,

Colorado silver Fir,

Balsam Fir,

Sub-Alpine Fir,

Douglas Fir,


Siberian Larch.

This list is not exhaustive, I could list many, many more. I have focused on the best, the hardiest trees, the trees with the least problems. There are many smaller and dwarf cultivars that are available and these small evergreens can add amazing interest to a garden, but that my friends is another post.

Calgary Pine Trees

Mugo pine, a Swiss import, very hardy, there are several different types. Some grow fast, some slow. If you want a slow growing compact form and you buy a fast grower you will not be happy. Needles in groups of 2. From 2 feet to 50 foot trees.

Scots pine, a prairie standard very hardy, and drought tolerant. Beautiful exfoliating orange bark. Needles in groups of 2. Can grow to a 50 foot tree.

Bristlecone pine, an import from the dry American S.W. slow growing, thick needle growth. Needles in groups of 5, a 25 footer is a big one.

Swiss stone pine another Swiss import, beautiful tight smaller narrow tree. 25 feet of height is a big one. Needles in groups of 5. Bright pewter bark.

Eastern white pine, amazingly this eastern forest giant does quite well here. Logged extensively in the east, these were the great masts of the royal navy. Smooth grey bark, needles in groups of 5. Graceful.

Ponderosa pine, a giant from the B.C. interior, fully hardy here. I have never seen one taller than 30 feet. In maturity large orange corky plates of bark, lovely. Long needles in groups of 3.

Austrian pine, another European, maybe the best pine for Calgary. A full wide crown, beautiful silver/pewter cork bark. A large one would get to 40 feet.

Needles in groups of 2.

Calgary Spruce Trees

The next major group of evergreens is the spruce. Tall pyramidal, tough and long lived. Spruce trees can live in the right conditions for hundreds of years. Spruce logged in hidden creek in southern Alberta were 500 years old. The oldest planted, still extant spruce are in our oldest neighborhoods. Mt Royal is a good start if you are hunting for giants. The oldest are at least 100 years old and some are close to 100 feet high.

These are not only words of awe and praise, they are also a warning. All non dwarf spruce attain great size , even in 50 years. Many a house with a row planted along the south side, soon became a house fully in the shade. To lose all your winter sun to an enthusiastic over planting is not a good idea.

That said a single spruce well placed can be a joy to see year round.

White spruce, the native tree, all spruce have single needles, they are never in groups, like the pines. As said above these get big, if you have a good open location, then go ahead, they are tough, drought tolerant to some degree, if watered occasionally

relatively pest free. They do have their problems and a weak tree infested with yellow headed saw fly is in trouble.

Colorado blue spruce, an import, this tree thrives and is naturalized here. Available in a spectrum of colors from a flat green, into the blues and even silvery blue. Inch long stiff sharp needles and 3-4 inch long golden cones help identify the Colorado. Size and growth pattern similar to the white spruce, usually a wider tree than the white. Very aggressive in the landscape crowding space and light and hogging water resources, choose your planting site very carefully.

Norway spruce, another import, this tree under utilized is a graceful beauty. Size and all other planting concerns mentioned above still apply. It is the shape of the Norway that is so attractive, the branches swoop up, they leave the trunk and arch upwards creating a pleasing appearance. The Norway produces large unmistakable cones that can be 7-8 inches long with a 2 inch diameter.

Calgary Fir Trees

The next group of evergreens are the Firs. Firs are mountain and coastal trees, so here in Calgary the numbers are low. Of the true Firs only the Colorado silver Fir has made a stand. In native Colorado they attain great height as most mature evergreens do, here I have never seen one taller that 45 feet. Bright silver bark with sap bubbles in the younger bark and nearly 2 inch long silver/blue needles give this tree a handsome look. This tree is severely under utilized in Calgary.

Other Firs very rarely planted that thrive here are from close by in our mountains, the Sub-Alpine and Balsam Firs.

The Douglas Fir is a single species with no related tree family here. These are not true Firs, scientists call them false Firs. That said the two varieties here in western Canada are magnificent trees. The coastal giant is well known, have you visited cathedral grove? most of those preserved giants are Douglas Fir.

Here on the eastern slopes we are blessed with the rocky mountain Douglas Fir.

Calgary's Douglas Fir trail is a great place to meet your elders. Many of the largest trees are at least 500 years old ! Planted in the landscape the rules that apply to spruce trees would work here also. Very tough and trouble free tree.

One feature of the cone can be used for 100% correct identification. Between the cone scales is an additional tissue called a bract. this forked snakes tongue shaped brown tissue is present only on Douglas Fir.

Calgary Larch Trees

Our last group of evergreens is the Larch. Larch are amazing and do something no other evergreen does, each fall they drop their needles, but not before an amazing color change from a warm green to a canary yellow. Ever been to Larch valley? something to see ! The larch in the mountains does not grow here but two of its cousins, one from Europe thrive here.

The tamarack is native just north of here and as far east as Hudson's bay. A classic conical evergreen form, the tamarack is a strong tree, able to deal with wet conditions, in the native setting is near boggy country. Tough and nearly problem free, it is greatly under used here. Excellent fall color.

The other Larch is the ever popular Siberian larch and if you know a larch it is probably this species. This conical shaped evergreen has quite a wide base, when the oldest lower branches are left alone. The branching habit is somewhat like the Norway spruce and they swoop, or lift up towards the branch tips. Very hardy and nearly problem free the Siberian larch is a great evergreen choice. The big bonus being that they allow winter light thru , so can work well as a summer, south side shade tree.

Broadleaf Trees to Follow soon!

Kevin Lee, Arborist, Tree Surgeon, Calgary Arborist, Calgary’s Tree Whisperer

Learn About My Services Here https://krltreeservice.com/services

Pruning in Calgary with Nature in Mind

Welcome to a great space, about live, healthy, vigorous trees

Yes, beautiful healthy trees. Follow a few simple practices and the limping along, struggling,
not looking too good will be gone, forever
It is a proven fact that any of Calgary's trees that get close to the water THEY want, will thrive and to a greater extent be disease and insect free.
Pruning, is not a excuse to make firewood, it is strong life changing medicine and should be administered very carefully. Mostly trees know what they are about, and know it better than we do. Almost all pruning ideologies are a cultural construct.
Witness the ancient untended natural growth of forests all across this beautiful planet. They seem to do fine, fine that is until some say they have to go. Rather than including them in our thinking.
The whole tree, the natural growing balanced tree. From the far tips of the highest upper shoots, thru the twigs, branches, sub trunks, main trunk and the entire vast unseen root system. This is one whole living thing , working well as nature designed it over a immeasurable length of time. Time to get it right.
This whole tree is in balance as is any other living creatures body, there just aren't any extra leaves, or branches. Intelligence is needed to know what to prune , when and where so that the desired cultural effect can be achieved without harm.
From a distance any tree that looks pruned, really its been over pruned. And they suffer accordingly, witness the struggling poplars of Memorial drive , thinned to the point of weakness.
This is new ground, a new way of conceptualizing your trees, lets be kind, respectful, knowledgeable. That thinking with a chain saw, is not whole. I love trees and have been practicing a holistic approach for decades, its really very simple, put the tree first.
This website is packed with lots of healthy tree info, please enjoy.

Caring For Your Trees This Winter

"Winter has always been a good time to prune and a mild winter is made for it."

Trees are Here in Winter, Just Quieter...

I like to see the beauty of trees in winter. These long lived friends are still here for us, just quieter. This is the time of winter wisdom.

Pruning Deadwood is a Powerful Health Practice

Even the healthiest tree has some deadwood. Internal deadwood is natural, usually caused by shade. Every dead branch, no longer part of the functioning system, should be pruned off. Pruning deadwood is a powerful health practice that prevents decay. I love pruning in winter and seeing the beautiful shaped bounty in the spring.

Dead Branches Have Two Visual Clues That are Easy For You to Learn

Absence of Healthy Buds:
  • Healthy buds are plump and when opened contain the miniature first green leaves. This is another miracle of tree intelligence, similar to the embryo in the seed. Trees are very good at being prepared for what comes next. The bud is an amazing structure which takes the entire previous growing season to fully form. They begin as a tiny green node in the axis of every leaf. As summer advances the bud is completed and finally gets its durable winter coat we call the bud scales. It is these healthy buds that get through winter and are ready at first call of spring to begin again.
  • Dry dead buds are small, dull and shriveled looking. When opened there is no green inside.
Condition of The Bark:
  • The other symptom of a dead branch is the condition of the bark. Dead or dying branches are many times a different shade of color than their healthy brothers and sisters. As important as color is the texture; dead branches often have peeling or even missing bark. These two visual keys are easily learned and proper winter pruning becomes natural, especially without the leaves present.

Off-Season Rates on Now

I am around this winter and not camping in the desert as usual. The mild conditions seem to be with us this year, perhaps payback for two serious winters in a row. This is our off-season, most people think trees can only be pruned in the summer, not so, winter is a excellent time to prune. So, I am offering a 20% reduction for winter pruning right now.

Visit my Contact Page to get in Touch with me.

I hope you enjoy your winter.
Kevin Lee (Calgary Arborist)