February Wisdom from the Trees 2014

Tree of the Month

American Beech Tree • Fagus grandiflora

by Lesley Bruce Smith

ISA Certified Arborist


American Beech Tree, Fagus grandiflora • by Lesley Bruce SmithIt is hard not to sing the praises of the magnificent American Beech, Fagus grandiflora.  It has such an imposing presence and the smooth silver grey bark make it easily recognizable.  The winter photo shows the distinctive “needle like” reddish brown buds that were once used as toothpicks. The coppery leaves that often persist into the winter months make it a favorite in the northern climate because it affords four seasons of beauty and interest.  The name Beech is similar to book in many languages, in Anglo-Saxon the “tree” was boc and bec meant “book” and indeed slabs of Beech bark were used in early times to write on and were sometimes tied together to create the earliest books.  The Latin term Fagus comes from the Greek, phagein which means “to eat”.  Most likely, because Beechnuts, although small, are nourishing for humans and livestock.  The Iroqouis aboriginal peoples would combine equal volumes of leaves from both the Beech and Linden trees and steam them to create a poultice that was used to treat burns.


Beech trees need to be carefully placed in the Chicago area if they are to survive and thrive.  They demand a loose, well drained soil.  This fact is only affirmed as we see Beech trees growing easily in the sandy well drained soils that are so abundant on the opposite side of Lake Michigan less than a hundred miles away.  The weather is certainly not the limiting factor here.  The heavy clay glaciated soils of the northeastern corner of Illinois are not friendly to the magnificent Beech trees we see growing like weeds in the soils of western Michigan and Door County, Wisconsin where the soils are loose, gravelly, sandy and extremely well drained, yet with plenty of moisture.  They also need lots of room, because they will dominate the space provided for them with their magnificent spreading canopy.

These are all fascinating facts about the Beech tree, but like most of our landscape plants, which have a rich history in ethnobotany, we plant the Beech because of it’s amazing structure and beauty.

A silver lining to the cold winter?  Have emerald Ash Borers been killed by cold temperatures?

Backyard Wisdom by Gilbert A Smith 

ISA Certified Master Arborist


There has been a lot of press recently, about tests done in Minnesota indicating that the cold weather may have killed large numbers of the Emerald Ash Borer.  This is very good news in the battle against the borer that is killing our Ash trees.  So what can we expect to see next summer?  Are the Ash going to survive after all?

Autumn Ash Tree • photos by Lesley Bruce SmithI’m very sorry to say it, but the answer seems to be, in the long run, no. The state of Michigan lost hundreds of thousands of Ash trees in spite of cold blasts.  Tests from Canada indicate that the borer has coping mechanisms for cold.  If the polar vortex had occurred earlier in the year when the insects had not yet acclimated to the cold it may have killed more borers.  Like us, the borers get hardier as the cold persists, but it is the big fluctuations between warmer sunny winter days and arctic blasts that are killing.

In the long run however, because there is no natural population control for the Emerald Ash Borer, their numbers will skyrocket. They multiply by a factor of 10 every year. This means that even if all but one single mating pair were killed, in six years this couple would produce one million of their kind.  To complicate matters they do their dirty work under the cover of the bark.  By the time we can see them, their populations have often built up so high that too much damage has been done to save the tree.

Really if the reports are accurate, and the borer populations have been knocked back, this is good news because nature is giving us a second chance. When the first wave of attack came to our area many tree owners didn’t act to protect their Ash trees until the infestation was out of control. Don’t wait!  If you haven’t already, ask your favorite Arborsmith to inspect your landscape to see if you have any Ash trees.  The cold may have given us “a time out” in which we can select a few Ash trees and protect them. In 5 years we may not have another chance.         

Sharing the Love

Mother Nature's Moment

by Lesley Bruce Smith ISA Certified Arborist


I wanted to remind everyone this month that Gilbert and I have been doing business on the North Shore of Chicago for 33 years now, and we have lived here our whole lives.  As fifth generation entrepreneurs we have a pretty amazing network of folks that we know who do all kinds of services.  I wanted to share a partial list of who they are, so if you find yourself in need of help in an area not having to do with trees, and you are uncertain as to where to turn, don’t hesitate to ask us for a referral.  We probably “know somebody!”  We have used and know every one of these vendors personally and the list is not complete. Be sure to ask us if you find you have a need, and need a referral you can trust.

Effective Air Heating and Cooling, owned by Gil’s brother Jon Smith.

Hanson Painting, owner Greg Hanson, Greg is always going the extra mile, has a shop where he can powder coat/paint outdoor furniture to get ready for summer.

Cornerstone Painting, owner Jonathan Richards, Jonathan has worked for us several times and is meticulous and exacting, superior work.

Lake County Movers, owner Mark Paiser, moved us to our new offices, can’t say enough about Mark’s quality and dependability.

The Organic Gardener, Jeanne and Verd Nolan owners, creates beautiful organic edible gardens to nurture your family’s health and well being.

Legal Council, especially for litigation, Timothy M Johnston, just the guy you want in your corner no matter the issue, gives free initial consults.

Alpha Graphics Printing in Vernon Hills and online, contact Christie Sweatman.

General Contractor, BDS Construction, owner Bryan Slowick, Bryan won’t settle for anything less than excellence.

Jean MacDonald, Network Connect Success, Jean is the queen of networking and  does motivational and sales speaking nationwide.

Marketing Department for Small Business, Leslie Lipps, helps us create all our beautiful e-marketing materials, I couldn’t do Arborsmith without her;).

ADT Security Services, contact Mike Hogan, will help you evaluate your security even if you don’t buy anything from him, such a great guy, there to help, works with many professional ball players!

Chuck Bourgeois owner of Progressive Energy Group, will save you money on your energy bills, at home or better at your place of business.

The Chalet Nursery, for all your gardening supply needs in Wilmette, IL, contact: Jennifer Brennan.

Pasquesi Garden Center, the elegant showplace for all gardening and garden decorating, Lake Bluff, IL

The Beaded Garden, Anne Flannery, Landscape Designer, great plantswoman and lovely lady with a great design sense.

Cliff Miller owner of PC Miller, Landscape Artist and simply the most knowledgeable native plantsman on the North Shore.

The Garden Consultants, owner David Migdal, landscape architect, beautiful work, second generation horticulturist, we have worked with David and his mother, Fern, almost our entire career.

Photographer, Studio West, Jeff Mateer, owner, just beautiful portraits and commercial product photography.

Possibility Place Nursery, owner Conner Shaw, absolutely best source for small trees and native plants.

Nancy Lyons Hannick ASLA, NLH Design, a real landscape architect with over 25 years of experience on the North Shore, educated on the east coast with a flare for excellence.

Urban Forestry Products, owners, Bruce and Erica Horrigan, Don’t burn your dead  Ash tree make a family heirloom out of it, by letting UFP mill the wood and kiln dry it,  Gil and his brothers created our beautiful dining table using a Black Walnut we harvested.  

PC Custom Woodwork, Peter Cichy, owner, an amazing cabinet maker and creator of  all things from lumber...meticulous, conscientious and exacting! 

Architect, John Hershey of J Hershey Architecture, specializing in consultations with homeowner associations to get the repairs and maintenance done correctly the first time, saving you time and money in the long run!

Don Csiky of Current Electric, top notch performance, neat, knowledgeable “bright ideas with powerful results.”

This is just a partial list:  we really do probably “know someone” if you need a referral...ASK us, we all like to support good work and good people, so this is our “February Sharing the Love”.

March Wisdom from the Trees

Tree of the Month • Ash - Fraxinus

by Gilbert A Smith

ISA Certified Master Arborist


Green Ash, Fraxinus americanaIt may seem unusual to feature a tree that is facing extinction as our tree of the month.  Fraxinus americana, Green Ash is our naturalized Ash and can be identified by its beautiful early yellow fall color.  Fraxinus pennsylvanica or White Ash is difficult to tell from the Green except when the ‘Autumn Purple’ exhibits itself in soft shades of lavender to kick off the fall season. 

Because of its shock resistant wood, Native Americans used this tree for making tools and the American Baseball League uses Ash wood to make its bats.  It is also excellent wood for making furniture and terrific firewood.  

We, the team at Arborsmith hate to drive through our North Shore neighborhoods and see the symptoms of infection that will lead to Ash death.  We hate it because we love all trees.  Also Ash is one of the toughest trees, and adds its grace to scorching hot parking lots and dry, polluted street-scapes. 

This tree’s strengths have become its downfall.  Like the American Elm, the American Ash was so versatile, it was over planted. Nature always balances herself out.  When one species dominates, she balances that species with a predator. In fact people are really to blame for the devastation of Emerald Ash Borer.  Whenever we put all of our eggs in one basket we are looking for trouble.  

So take the warning from the Ash Trees. DO NOT REPLANT WITH JUST ONE OR TWO ‘TOUGH‘ SPECIES OF TREE. Instead give our trees more soil room to grow in parking lots and parkways and plant a wide variety of species. 

See the list of alternatives we have here and/or see Trees That Merit Attention by Chicago’s own Janet Poor. We will be adding to this list periodically to keep new ideas on trees that are good options for the Chicago landscape with photos and brief growing requirements.

Emerald Ash Borer Clarification

Backyard Wisdom by Gilbert A Smith 

ISA Certified Master Arborist


Green Ash - Fraxinus americana by Lesley Bruce SmithRecently there has been a lot of press about Emerald Ash Borer.  Many villages are taking their Ash trees down rather than treating them preventatively.   It’s confusing to be hearing one thing from your village forester and another from your arborist.  So let me try to simplify.   At Arborsmith we are always prejudiced toward saving trees, and if we’re hearing you correctly, so are our customers.

One village compared the costs of removing their trees with the cost of protecting them.  What they neglected to add to the equation was the value of the tree, which if properly calculated, includes the aesthetic value of the tree and its replacement costs. The situation is different when we are thinking of village parkway trees where the decision may have to be strictly a matter of economics. 

But a tree in your yard that is well placed and large (10” DBH or more) can be valued according to national standards at $10,000.00 (or more)  This is because up to 15% of the value of your home comes from your landscape and the larger portion of that value is derived from your mature trees.  When you think about it, what do we love about our houses that is missing in a new development?  So we are now touching on the aesthetic value which is hard to quantify....until it is no longer present.  Can you ever replace a mature tree with a sapling?     

I hate recommending the removal of a tree, and it is a difficult decision no matter who you are.  If the treatments are preventative and consistently applied they have proven to be very effective (94% effective in current research).  To me the choice is clear.  At Arborsmith we help you decide which trees you really value and we do everything we can to save them.  In 10 years when most of our Ash trees are gone, I’m sure you will look back and be glad.

March Madness

Mother Nature's Moment

by Lesley Bruce Smith ISA Certified Arborist

Winter Aconite, spring’s first flower by Lesley Bruce Smith

Winter Aconite, spring’s first flower by Lesley Bruce Smith

March came in like a lion this year, we will have to see if it goes out like a lamb.  We don’t usually think about flowers popping up when there is snow on the ground but this photo of winter aconite was taken this morning in our garden, popping up through last fall’s oak leaves under the shadow of our Burr Oak tree.  So...if you are growing weary of the snow, remember that spring is biting winter in the heal just now!  

I am going to use our newsletter this month to announce some pretty exciting stuff happening here at Arborsmith.  First I want to let everyone know that Gil and I will be teaching again this month at the Chicago Botanic Garden on: 

“Demystifying Winter Trimming of Trees and Shrubs” 

It is a two part class on Thursday, March 21, 2013 @ 7pm - 9pm

part two (practical hands on) is Saturday, March 23, 9am - 11am

This class is for the beginner and the seasoned professional who could use some help understanding how to trim shrubs (and trees) anytime of year and still preserve their beautiful spring flowers.  Please come and join us or pass the word along.  You can sign up on the CBG website at www.chicagobotanic.org and go to their education tab and then register on line or call 847-835-8220 or email them at customersupport@chicagobotanic.org.  We will be teaching again in June on Evergreen Trimming.

We are also thrilled to announce that due to happy growth and hard work Arborsmith is growing up, and like plants that have outgrown their containers, we have grown out of our “container” for the second time in our 32 year history.  We’re moving this spring to a new facility in Lake Bluff.  This will put us closer to most of our clients.  It will make it easier for us to get to you in a timely manner and, with the new room, we hope to have a chance to run a few classes out of our bigger space.  Stay tuned for more details on the move and for information on an open house we are planning to say thanks to all of you that have made it all possible!

Welcome to our First Tree of the Month

Our premier tree of the month is the Illinois State Tree, the White Oak.  One of our favorites, although to be honest you will be hearing that a lot from us.  We just love trees and so we have a lot of favorites.  As you can see from this photo taken just outside New York City, White Oaks in maturity are magnificent and stately beings that deserve the honor we give them.  Those dwarfed humans under the boughs of this grandaddy Oak are your arborists, Gilbert and Lesley.

When planning for a White Oak plenty of space requirements are needed as they can reach a branch spread in our area of 40’ to 60’ and reach 80’ tall.  They love an acidic well drained soil and do not like getting their roots messed with once they reach adulthood.  They start life as a little acorn and maintain a shallow root system that usually is no deeper than 3’ to 6’ with the majority of roots staying in the top 12” of soil...yes, the top 1’ of soil.

Medicinal properties of the Oak are found beneath its bark where a chemical called quercitrin is found that supports the tree’s ability to trap and use sunlight in the shorter wavelengths.  It is an important vasoactive drug that helps control human blood pressure.  Similar plant compounds were used like Viagra by the pharoahs.

You are on our brand new website!  Help us by taking a quick look around and letting us know what you think...suggestions, insights, observations?  We would so value your feedback! lesley@thearborsmiths.com

Emerald Ash Borer Update

Backyard Wisdom by Gilbert A Smith

You may have heard that the Illinois Department of Agriculture has released several batches of non native wasps that kill the Emerald Ash Borer.  This is good news indicating that the State is on a campaign to slow the borer that has killed over 200,000 Ash trees in Michigan.
    No one knows if this introduction of natural controls will work.  Only time will tell.  In the mean time we will remain vigilant in protecting our beautiful Ash Trees.
    Because it has killed so many trees in Wilmette and Glenview, we are using a stronger, more invasive insecticide called Treeage on select trees.  Those of you who have large champion trees or are near infected trees will notice this change of strategy in our annual renewal. The initial application of Treage insecticide is twice as expensive but because this treatment lasts for 2 years the cost increase amortizes to be the same.  
    Arborsmith is always experimenting and studying what approach is best to keep your trees healthy, while protecting the environment and human health.  If you have any questions please feel free to call us, visit our website for more information, or request our Abstract on Emerald Ash Borer.

Confessions of a New Beekeeper

Mother Nature's Moment by Lesley Bruce Smith

    Last year I began a new adventure of keeping bees, or apiculture.  I became fascinated after watching a friend work her hives.  I was interested in helping the bee populations who are struggling with sudden colony collapse disorder and I hoped to learn more and help with flower pollination in our gardens as well.  I got so much more than I bargained for!  I am in love with my “girls”.  
    Did you know that during the winter the bees are working to keep the hive healthy and warm, and because they keep the hive in pristine shape to insure clean honey production and a tidy nursery, they never urinate or defecate inside the hive?  They have to “hold it” until they have an above freezing sunny day.  They were out one or two days in both January and February and amazingly throughout most of March we have witnessed the bees out and about  returning with full pollen sacks.  Not a good sign for allergy sufferers, it will be a long spring season.
    I started with two hives last May.  You purchase bees by the pound and I bought two queens who came with 3 pounds each of attending workers.  Working with my more experienced friend, I literally just dumped them out of the box in which they arrived into their new homes.  They have been hard at work ever since and those relatively few thousand bees increased their numbers to about 60,000 to 80,000 in each hive during the peak of the season.
    In addition to raising and caring for all those bee babies, who start their lives as tiny eggs in one of the hexagon shaped cells of the comb, the girls produced approximately 250 pounds of pure delicious honey between the two hives. What a sweet reward for all our collective labors.  Keep watch for more buzz about the bees in upcoming Wisdom from the Trees newsletters.