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Why Did the Tree Fall?

At our program meeting on February 12, Brian Rombough gave us some answers to the perils faced by our beautiful Montclair trees from sun and rain, greedy predators, mechanical behomeths, and ignorant town planners and developers.


Brian is a Licensed Tree Expert and Certified Arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture, as well as co-owner of American Tree Experts, Inc. of Montclair. He led us through some of the dangers and suggested ways to help our giant neighbors avoid damage and remain our companions for many more years.


He told us that 90 percent of his work results from flooded roots and trunks and roots strangled with ties, cages, and burlap. Among some other fascinating facts:


  • Too much and too little water cause the same symptoms from lack of oxygen to the roots. Dig down six inches to look at the soil to diagnose its state.

  • Trees on a slope need extra water since heavy rainfalls simply slide off the hillside's surface.

  • Regrading a slope means special care to ensure existing tree roots are not buried too deep.

  • Watch where your drainpipes empty out in the garden. One or two drainpipes can focus water from the entire square footage of a roof.

  • During construction, fence off the whole root area to protect from heavy, careless vehicles that can damage a tree for ever.

  • The root line can sometimes be twice as wide as the leaf line.

  • So-called "antlers," bare branches sticking up from the top of a tree, are warning signs of stress.

  • When planting a new tree, remove the burlap, especially if it's nylon, and plant your baby one or two inches above ground level. You should be able to see the root flare at the base of the trunk.

  • Mulch like a doughnut and not a volcano.

  • Do not plant junipers anywhere near fruit trees to avoid juniper apple rust The disease needs both plants to thrive.

  • Yellowing rhododendron leaves mean the bush needs iron.


Brian comes from generations of tree experts, and had answers for all our questions, even if we didn't always want to hear them. Trees need as much care as any other plant in the garden.

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