September Wisdom from the Trees 2014

Mother Nature’s Moment
by: Lesley Bruce Smith, ISA certified arborist

Team Tyler Rides

From time to time it is good to come to you not just as your arborists but as fellow human beings.  Eleven years ago this December we lost our 15 year old niece, Tyler Rebekah Byrd Smith to a rare form of germ cell cancer.  Sadly the funding for cancer research for pediatric cancers is only 4% of the national Federal totals.  This is the case even today, in spite of the fact that more children die of cancer in this country than AIDS, asthma, cystic fibrosis, congenital abnormalities and diabetes combined.  

Gil’s brother, Jon, and his wife Kim, Tyler’s parents, are riding their bikes across the USA, over 3000 miles, from San Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL. As I write this they are in the deserts of eastern Arizona attempting to raise awareness and funding through their ride to benefit St Baldrick’s Foundation, an organization singularly dedicated to  funding life saving research grants throughout the world, that focus on major types of pediatric cancers. They work very hard to insure every dollar donated has the greatest impact, by demanding each grant award go through a rigorous scientific review process. We were devastated by the fact that in spite of traveling the world for a cure, Tyler not only succumbed to cancer but had she survived her ordeal, she had lost her hearing and had a multitude of other serious debilitating side affects from her treatments. This was primarily due to a lack of pediatric specific protocols.

Gilbert and I will be joining with Jon and Kim from October 5 through the 12 to ride beside them and support this great effort. We will ride from Baton Rouge, LA, through Mississippi to almost Pensacola, FL. Any family that has gone through the devastation of losing a child to cancer knows the heartbreak and lifelong effects it has on everyone that is related or involved. We are riding in memory of our niece Tyler Rebekah, and to insure that our grand daughter, Tyler Katarine, will live a long and cancer free life.  

Won’t you join us on our ride? We will be posting on Arborsmith’s Facebook page during the ride to update on our progress and would love it if you are encouraged to give to the cause of childhood cancer research find cures by donating to St. Baldrick’s Foundation by visiting the St. Baldrick’s Foundation Team Tyler Page here.

You may also donate by sending a check made to:

St Baldricks Foundation
mail c/o Arborsmith Ltd.
28915 N. Herky Drive, Suite 102
Lake Bluff, IL  60044

Click here for printer friendly version of September Mother Nature's Moment

Backyard Wisdom
by: Gilbert A Smith, ISA master arborist

What Do the Birds Eat?

Photo by Susie Lipps

Every spring when the weather warms I bring my house plants outside. I know it is healthier for them because the growing conditions are better. The light is at least 10 times more intense, the humidity higher and the rain waters them naturally without tap water’s chlorine or salts. And no matter how infested my plants may be with aphids, scale or white fly the birds clean the insects off.  If you’ve ever watched a Chickadee hunting along a tree branch mining for insects you’ll see what I mean. The birds that we attract with our bird feeders are grateful for the seeds but for the most part they survive on insects, worms and fruit.

The point is that birds depend on insects to survive. For example, Cedar Waxwings eat all kinds of insects especially during their mating season, Finches eat aphids, caterpillars, leaf hoppers, leaf miners and Japanese beetles. Wrens are voracious insect eaters including ants, beetles, bees, millipedes, spiders, flies, stink bugs and wasps  Sparrows eat ants, cabbage loopers, cut worms, leaf hoppers, wasps and spiders. Chickadees like aphids, caterpillars, beetles, weevils, moths, scale and wasps.  Cardinals eat a host of insects including beetles, tent caterpillars, tomato hornworm and Japanese beetles.  Barn Swallows are 100% insectivores. With a nest of Barn Swallows you will not need to use any insecticides, including for mosquitoes. This is a short list of birds and a short list of insects they eat to make the point that birds are our natural and effective insecticides.

Photo by Lesley Bruce Smith

What happens if our gut reaction is to spray our yard/lawn whenever we see bugs? In the short run it will kill all the bugs. In the long run however because they have no insects to eat the bird population will fall and then the insect population will sky rocket above pre-spray levels. There are no insecticides as effective as the birds in long term insect control.

Can we just put more bird food out to make up for the insects we’ve killed? No, most birds can not survive without insects to eat.  So why would we pay to apply insecticides that eliminate the birds in our neighborhood but in the long run increase the insect populations? Of course we are all concerned about insects eating and killing our landscapes. I’m writing this to reassure you that plants have co-evolved with insects for their mutual benefit. For example, a tree can sustain as much as 40% defoliation without suffering adverse effects. So the presence of bugs in your yard is actually a natural and healthy occurrence.  

If I treat my Ash trees for Emerald Ash Borer will it kill the birds? No, the populations of wood peckers that eat wood boring insects has apparently increased, I’ve conjectured because wood peckers don’t eat dead borers.

What about West Nile Virus and Lyme's Disease?  Remember the most effective mosquito and tick control is a healthy bird population. And the most effective preventative for both of these diseases is careful personal use of insect repellents.      

Everyone hates mosquitos and other creepy crawlies so here are Arborsmith’s guidelines for protecting our trees, our birds, and ourselves. 

  • When you see bugs don’t over react.  Insecticides are chemo-therapy which if not applied by careful, licensed applicators may end up killing what we hoped to protect. Instead I invite you to relax, take a breath and enjoy nature’s wonderful balance.
  • Inspect to positively identify each insect and leave it alone if it is not doing damage.
  • Treat the plant culturally first to make sure it is healthy so it can fight off invading insects by itself.
  • Use non toxic, organic sprays such as oil, soap and natural predators or “do no harm”.
  • As a last resort use low toxicity, non persistent pesticides only to reduce insect populations to natural levels.

The neighborhood birds thank you.

Click here for a printer friendly version of September Backyard Wisdom