Grounds Maintenance


McCoy Farm House
West Chester, PA 19382

Tree Care Guide

          West Chester University possesses a large and diverse shade tree population. It varies in both species composition and age. The health and vigor are increased by this diversity. No single agent can affect the whole population. A regular tree planting program along with periodic fertilization and inspection insures the future health of the population.

        Despite the best efforts of the University, individual trees will decline and die. It is important to identify problems as they occur and take appropriate action. Trees that are unsafe whether due to structural defects or located near a target are considered hazards. A target is defined as a structure, roadway, sidewalk, or any area where people congregate.

        The University has a moral and legal obligation to regularly inspect for hazardous conditions and correct them in a timely manner. Failures to report and correct a problem may be considered negligent.

        Hazardous conditions should be identified by a thorough visual inspection. Problems to identify are dead and hanging branches, cavities and rotten wood in the trunk, major seams and splits, v-crotches, leans, fungal fruiting bodies at the base, and broken or rotten roots. Insects and diseases should also be investigated.

        Dead branches can be identified by dead or missing buds, loose or stripped bark, and possible presence of fungus. These branches are more likely to fall on a target. Insects and diseases may enter the tree through dead branches.

        Dead hangers are broken branches hanging in the crown of the tree. The hangers often are located at an unusual angle with dead leaves persisting on the branch. Hangers can fall at any time. The stub should be cut at the collar to minimize insect and disease infestation.

        Cavities are holes in the trunk or major branches. They are the result of injury (fire, pruning, mechanical damage, etc.). Cavities form and enlarge by decay and microbial action. Cavities cause structural weakening and may lead to structural failure of the trunk or major branches.

        Seams are radial separations of the bark (cracks) that have been closed by the growth of callus tissue. Seams are often associated with decay. They can be caused by temperature differences or rapid growth. There is some structural weakening as a result of seams.

        Splits are cracks that have not healed over. They are related to seams and are caused by the same agents. Splits on opposite sides of the trunk almost always indicate rot. This condition always merits closer inspection as serious structural problems may be hidden.

        V-crotches are the junction of the trunk and major branches that meet at a 'V'. They are weakly joined and prone to splitting and breaking. The larger the leaders grow, the weight increases the possibility of breakage. Cabling is a common remedial action.

        Leans are trees that are not growing in a vertical posture. The lean causes the tree to produce shear and pressure wood. Structurally they are inferior to the normal wood an upright tree produces. While not hazardous when healthy, a leaning tree in decline is dangerous. When rot is introduced, the possibility of windfall increases.

        Fungal fruiting bodies are any of a class of fungus growth. The fungus feeds on decay. The presence of fungus is an indication of extensive wood decay. Some types of fungus are toxic to the tree, killing portions of live tissue, leading to rot and the further spread of the fungus. On the base of the tree, fungus indicates root decay. This makes a tree more susceptible to windfall. There is no correlation between the amount of decay and the size or number of fruiting bodies. A small fungal growth can result from massive root decay.

        Broken and rotten roots are indicators of poor structural support and a weakened ability to take up water and nutrients. Overall vigor is reduced. The possibility of windfall is increased.

        Tree location may not by itself lead a tree into a hazardous condition, but location can increase the likelihood of hazards. Locations to examine include lone trees, edge trees, high traffic areas, disturbed sites, wet sites, and shallow soils.

        Lone trees are more susceptible to lightning strikes. Certain species, most notably tulip poplars, are more prone to be hit by lightning. Tall lone trees with a high water content are more probable targets for lightning. Lightning arresting systems do work, but they are expensive to install and require annual maintenance. On a valuable specimen tree, they can be justified.

        Edge trees are trees that grow along the border of wood lots. They are more subject to full exposure to the elements during storms. Regular inspections should be made if these trees are over a target, especially if they are on the edge of a disturbed site.

        High traffic areas include trees that are over heavily used vehicular or pedestrian traffic areas. Soil compaction, puddling, and root damage brings problems associated with root damage. Trees with less severe problems in high traffic areas are more likely to be declared hazardous due to the density and value of potential targets.

        Disturbed sites have a high rate of root damage. Changing the grade near a tree can cut or smother roots. Reduced structural support, loss of vigor, root rot and their related problems are increased. Prevention of disturbances is always a better solution than any remedial actions that can be taken afterward. Proper planning can minimize this problem.

        Wet sites are commonly populated with trees with shallow roots. Root rot and suffocation are usual problems associated with wet sites. The occurrence of windfall is greater in shallow rooted trees. Deep rooting is necessary for structural soundness. Lone trees in wet sites are especially susceptible to windfall.

        Shallow soils are sometimes difficult to locate unless indicators such as rock outcrops are present. Windfall is likely as the roots are shallow and soil failure may occur.

        The determination of a hazardous tree on campus is up to the Grounds Manager. When remedial action can be taken, National Arborist Association guidelines should be followed. If remedial treatment will not correct the hazard, the tree will be placed on a tree removal list. The Vice President for Fiscal Affairs will review this list on a semi-annual basis. In the case of emergency, the tree will be reviewed as soon as possible. The final decision to remove a tree belongs to the Vice President.

        A healthy, vigorous tree that receives proper care is less likely to become a hazard. In that vein, the University will follow guidelines to maintain tree health. The ensuing practices will be part of University policy.

        Fertilization of all shade and ornamental trees is done on a rotating basis. The frequency should be once every three to five years. The most commonly used method is to auger holes under the drip line and fill with granular fertilizer and peat moss. This aerifies as well as fertilizes. Another method is root needle injection using liquid fertilizer and water. Liquid fertilizer is more readily available to the tree. Granular fertilizer persists in the soil, making it longer lasting.

        Inspections for hazards are done on at least an annual basis. Spot inspections of the trees are done regularly. When actions need to be taken, pruning, cabling, and removals are done by a licensed arborist using National Arborist Association guidelines. Topping, drop crotching, and other improper methods are discouraged.

        Care is taken to select and plant the right species in the right location. Large trees are not planted under powerlines or too close to buildings. Weak and brittle trees are only planted in remote locations, well away from potential targets. Trees adapted to the proper site conditions will be selected i.e. wet site trees will be planted in wet sites and shade intolerant species will be planted in full sunlight. Cultivars resistant to diseases are sought. Diverse species are researched for suitability to planting in West Chester's climate.

        Fences are to be erected around the drip line of valuable trees within construction zones. No vehicular traffic or storage of materials will be allowed within the fence. Fuel storage should be well outside the root zone. The contract should specify these restrictions and provide the obligation to the contractor to erect these fences before any other work is done. A bond should be posted by the contractor to pay for any damage done to the tree during the construction and for a period three years afterward.

        Tree planting has been and will continue to be a priority. Tree planting will stay at a rate higher than tree removal. By choosing healthy nursery stock of diverse species composition, the University will provide specimen quality trees into the twenty second century.

        Record keeping is important to the health of the tree population. A database of over 1600 trees is kept on Microsoft Access. The records store location, species, Latin name, size, health, planting date, and memos. A separate electronic map with tree locations and health is on Auto-Cad.

        Records may be accessed in any one or multiples of the fields of data. For example, the health of the individual trees of a certain species over a specified size can determine the long term suitability of that particular species on campus. Additionally, counts of any one or multiple fields can be done. The count of all trees in good condition can be contrasted to the count of all trees in poor condition to get a feel of the health of the population or of a single species.

        It is a goal of West Chester University to follow the preceding guidelines as general policy. The benefits will be numerous. The aesthetics of the campus will be enhanced for generations to come. Potential students first impression is more apt to be positive. With fertilization, the vigor can be kept at a high level. With improved vigor, trees should grow larger and have longer life spans. Potential hazards will quickly be identified and removed. There will always be a constant influx of young trees of varied species. Lastly, good record keeping provides an excellent picture of the overall process.