Winter Checklist

Homeowners Monthly Winter Checklist

Want to keep your property in the best possible condition? This checklist will give you a timeline to follow to maintain plant health and upkeep during the harsh winter months.

  • October
  • Plant new trees, shrubs, and ground covers.
  • Aerate, lime, and fertilize the lawn.
  • Prune evergreens.
  • Determine what trees should be pruned this winter.
  • November
  • Plant spring-blooming bulbs.
  • Fertilize decidious and evergreen trees and shrubs to promote winter root growth.
  • Remove lawn leaves and compost them. Leaves in ground cover and shrub beds should be left until spring, except for leaves from disease-prone trees and shrubs.
  • December
  • Begin winter tree pruning.
  • Spray evergreen trees and shrubs with anti-transpirants.
  • Prune evergreens carefully for holiday decorations.
  • January & February
  • Prune fall-blooming shrubs for shape and rejuvenation.
  • Prune hedges to keep them the desired height and width.
  • Finish winter tree pruning.

Are Your Plants Protected against Winter Burn

As air temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing, winds can cause plant dehydration. In particular, Broad-leaf evergreens, such as Hollys, Boxwoods, Rhododendrons, Laurels, Aucubas, should receive one to two anti-dessication treatments starting in early winter, or late fall if the weather turns more quickly than normal.

Cold temperatures and severe wind conditions are what makes winter the harshest time of the year. These adverse weather conditions can severely injure, or kill evergreen trees and shrubs due to winter burn.

Broadleaf evergreens, such as Aucubas, Azaleas, Boxwoods, Hollies, Laurels, Magnolias and Rhododendrons, are especially susceptible. Conifers, such as Spruce, Fir and Pine trees, also can suffer damage to their needles.

Broad Leaf Evergreen Evergreen

During cold winter storms, moisture is lost through the stomata, or pores, of evergreens, making them very susceptible to dessication. The application of anti-dessicants in the late fall or early winter will protect your evergreen plants. This should be performed expertly as the amount applied needs to be just right so as not to damage the plant.

What happens if broad-leaf evergreens are left unprotected? As winter air temperatures fluctuate above and As air temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing, winds can cause plant dehydration. The leaves will turn brown. Stems and branches may die because the roots are unable to replenish the loss of water. In worst cases the plant does not recover.

If you have any of these evergreens on your property, or questions about other types of evergreens that may need protection, call us soon to arrange a consultation before winter.

Warding Off Scales

Azalea Scale Infestation

Azalea bark scale (Acanthococcus azaleae) infestations can be severe. This sap-sucking scale can cause serious harm to your favorite Azalea or Rhododendron.

The adult females (1/8 inch) with their white egg sacs are most noticeable in May and June. Symptoms of their sucking include honeydew, sooty mold, and considerable leaf yellowing and die back. Infestations over several years can kill a shrub.

In addition to Rhododendrons and Azalea, this bark scale will also dine on other plants such as Andromeda, Arborvitae, Fremontia, Hackberry, Maple, Poplar and Willow, causing similar damage.

Native Cottony Maple scale (Pulvinaria innumerabilis) is another scale that attacks the phloem layer of the bark of other shrubs and trees. It has our attention particularly on Kousa Dogwoods. This scale is black (3/16 inch), and also is most noticeable in May and June when its cottony white ovisacs can litter bark and leaves. Heavy infestations may cause leaf yellowing, honeydew, stunting and die back. Cottony Maple scale can be found on plants such as Dogwood, Elm, Hawthorn, Linden, Poplar and Sycamore.

Because the nymphs for these scales live over winter in the forks and crevices of the shrub or tree, we use a dormant oil spray in early spring, and insecticidal soap, or summer oil, as needed, throughout the spring and summer to minimize the scale population. A soil injection of systemic insecticide in early spring almost always greatly reduces the scale population.

Our up-to-date certified arborists will inspect your landscape and recommend the best plant health care program for your shrubs and trees.

As the Leaves Turn


Autumn may be the most beautiful season in the Delaware Valley. The magnificent fall foliage is a natural phenomenon that one can’t help but admire. While you enjoy fall’s colors, keep in mind that winter is the ideal time to prune your large specimen trees.

After the leaves drop, you may notice a significant change in the branch structure. Your trees may have too much weight on the ends of the branches and need to be thinned to reduce the load on the limbs. Weight reduction is especially important for trees growing in full sun which have a large spread to their canopy.

After trees are pruned, a healing process, called compartmentalization, is responsible for closing the cuts, or wounds. Compartmentalization starts, and is most active, in the spring when trees return from dormancy and begin their new growth. Winter pruning allows pathogens the least amount of time to attack a wound in a tree.

Another reason to consider winter pruning is to save the understory trees and shrubs, garden plants and groundcovers from being damaged by falling limbs.

American Elms are only to be pruned in the winter because pruning during any other season is sure to entice the Elm Bark Beetle to attack the tree and kill it. Mature Sycamores, Maples, and Oaks are all perfect candidates for winter pruning as well.

As a general rule of thumb, each tree on your property should be pruned at least once every five years, so you should consider having twenty percent of your trees pruned each winter.

Call your arborist for a fall property inspection and analysis to determine which of your trees should be pruned this winter so they may flourish for years to come.


Why Fertilize Your Trees

McFarland’s Arborists generally recommend fertilizing trees in the fall. When discussing fertilization with our clients, we have found three questions reoccur. Here are those questions and our answers to them:

Q. Why is it necessary to fertilize my trees when it appears the ones growing in a forest environment seem healthy without it?

A. Trees growing in designed landscape settings are not the same as those growing in a forest. Leaves and debris that fall from forest trees remain there. Breakdown of these materials creates a less compact and more nutrient-rich soil that is rarely reproduced in the average yard.

Leaves in yards are usually raked up and hauled away. Ground covers (ivy, pachysandra, etc.) and grass (the worst of all) are in competition with tree roots. Therefore, your trees must work much harder to get the water, oxygen and nutrients they need.

When you walk through a forest, you may notice many trees which are dying. Typically, that is not a problem because other trees will fill in and replace those that die. However, in your yard which has a limited number of trees and space, losing even one tree can be devastating to your landscape.

Q. Doesn’t fertilizing just make my trees grow faster and therefore accelerate the need to prune?

A. If your trees are growing more, they are healthier. Using a slow-release fertilizer in the late Fall, we create a gradual breakdown of nutrients, encouraging root growth over the winter and some new growth the following Spring. This is the optimum method of fertilizing trees and comes closest to the way trees feed themselves in the forest.

In most cases, pruning trees more often is less expensive than removing and replacing them when they die. Who wants to wait 20 years for the new trees to grow?

Q. Will fertilizing burn trees already stressed due to this summer’s drought?

A. The fertilizers we use do not burn trees. They release Nitrogen and the other necessary nutrients slowly into the soil over the course of the entire year. In fact, the extended drought over recent years is another reason to fertilize. When trees are stressed due to drought, their roots die.

Fertilizing encourages root regeneration, helping trees cope with drought stress in the future. Stressed trees are more susceptible to insect and disease problems that are killing so many of our trees in the Philadelphia region.

Providing adequate nutrients keeps trees healthy longer, and helps them not to succumb to problems as they age.


Emerald Ash Borer WarringtonThe dreaded insect known as the Emerald Ash Borer is now officially in our neighborhood. We have been following the spread of this pest since 2002, as it has moved through Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky, and New York. Over the past 10 years over 50 million Ash trees have been lost, either cut down or killed by the insect. Now it is officially in our neighborhood. Warrington, Pennsylvania is approximately 15 miles outside of Philadelphia and it is very likely that the insect is in other suburbs of Philadelphia as well. We are recommending that all Ash trees worth saving be treated with a systemic insecticide immediately.

The Ash Borer kills trees by drilling into the trunk and tunneling around between the bark and cambium. This tunneling girdles the tree and kills it quickly. The borer moves fast and Mature Ash tree. comes in large numbers. It does not make sense to wait until the damage is visible before treating a tree. Once a tree is infected, we can kill these insects immediately, but it will often be too late to save the tree. There are many things to consider when deciding whether or not to treat your Ash trees preventatively for Emerald Ash Borer. Because the insect will be around for a long time, yearly treatments will prob- ably be necessary. However, the cost of these treatments will be sig- nificantly less than the cost to remove dead trees on your property, not to mention the cost of planting replacement trees.

Ash are native to our area and the Eastern United States. At matu- rity they reach heights of 60 to 70 feet tall. They are beautiful, full- canopied trees that are essential parts of landscapes on many proper- ties in Philadelphia, and the surrounding suburbs. If you have Ash trees on your property, it is very likely that your McFarland Arborist has already identified them and begun the neces- sary treatments. If, however, you feel we may have missed a tree, or you have not yet given us permission to treat them, please call us immediately to have your Arborist review the situation with you. We can save these trees, but it is essential that we begin treatments now to guarantee that the insecticide is present in the tree when the borer arrives and begins feeding. (More on page 3)

Preparing for Hurricane Season


Well, Hurricane Isaac is barreling it’s way through the gulf coast, and there’s no better time to prepare homeowners and businesses for the onslaught of hurricane weather that always  visits us in the fall.  In order to protect trees from the harsh winds of a hurricane or tornado, pruning is necessary.  People who have their trees properly pruned on a 3-to- 5-year cycle experience less tree damage than those who let nature do the pruning.  Fall and winter are the best times to prune most trees. There are several reasons why the colder weather is preferred for pruning. First and foremost is the health of the tree:

• Deciduous trees are dormant dur- ing the colder months, therefore mak- ing them less susceptible then to insect and disease problems. After pruning a healing process occurs whereby cuts and wounds close natu- rally. This process is most active in the Spring when trees return from dor- mancy and begin their new growth. Late fall or winter pruning allows pathogens the least time to attack a wound in a tree.

• Tree pruning in late fall and win- ter, when the ground is frozen, also makes sense because it saves garden plants, understory trees and shrubs from damage by falling limbs.

• Tree pruning in late fall and win- ter, when the leaves are gone, enables the pruner to prune limbs more effi- ciently.

• Mature Sycamores, Maples, American Elms, and Oaks are all per- fect candidates for pruning this time of year.

• When pruning in all seasons, weight reduction at the ends of outer canopy branches is essential, in addi- tion to removing weak, diseased, and dead limbs.

We prune for aesthetics, we prune for tree health, and new research confirms the need to prune for safety.  Recent research conducted at Kent State University examines the hazard posed by trees to human health and life during severe weather. Data main- tained by the National Climatic Data Center tracks information on storm fatalities in the United States. These data reveal that fallen trees accounted for 407 deaths between 1995 and 2007.

Tree species vary in their resistance to breakage, or being uprooted. For hardwood trees, such as Oak, Maple, Birch and Ash, a three-second gust of 74 mph will break large (greater than 1 inch) branches. Winds at 91 mph will uproot trees, and at 110 mph will snap tree trunks.  For softwood trees, such as Pine, Spruce, Fir, and Hemlock, a three-sec- ond gust of 75 mph will break large branches, winds at 87 mph will uproot trees, and at 104 mph will snap tree trunks. These are not absolute num- bers but a value near the middle of the range of minimum wind speeds is expected to cause the damage.

People will always live and spend leisure time around trees, which pro- vide many benefits to our environ- ment. Meanwhile, the legal liability of tree owners for damages caused by fallen trees has been rising in the United States.  The risks from fallen trees are strong reasons why regular pruning will help maintain your trees in struc- turally sound condition.


What a year! Ample rain started the growing season in a per- fect way. Then came a five- week drought that left us all begging for rain. August turned out to be one of the wettest months and it looks like more is on the way.  So, what does this mean for our trees? Surely lots of water has to be great for them, right? The answer is not so simple. While the rainfall did provide a temporary solution to a lack of soil moisture, the extent of the rain caused some adverse effects.

Many trees have suffered from late- season foliar blights due to all the wet weather. Fungi thrive in damp, moist environments. Over-saturated soil has led to some adverse reactions of species that don’t particularly care for “wet feet,” where roots stand in water.

Fertilization of your trees will help reduce the effects of this year’s heavy rains.  Pines, Arborvitae and Hemlock, to name a few, aren’t happy with the con- ditions we’ve had. You may have noticed that your trees experienced a late-season flush of growth, or that your Horse Chestnut tree actually re- foliated after contracting its annual leaf blight.

Tree fertilization to help your trees deal with this environmental stress is of utmost importance this year. Keeping trees fed will also help replace some the nutrients that may have been flushed out of the soil during flooding. Pruning your trees this fall or winter is something you should consider.

Big Tree Pruning

Big Tree Pruning

Pruning large mature trees is time consuming and difficult. McFarland Arborists have the combination of knowledge, experience and skill required to accurately assess the needs of such trees. Considering the consequences of bad pruning and wrong diagnosis, we do not hesitate when it comes to recommending the correct treatment, even when we know that we are often telling our clients what they don’t want to hear.

The photographs in this post are of an incredible Elm tree that we have been maintaining for more than twenty years. Our crew spent two days in this tree checking its lightning protection system, adjusting cables, and pruning. It takes time and hard work to keep old trees healthy and safe.

Large, old trees often fail. When growing in landscape settings without competition, they grow horizontally as much as they do vertically. The best way to reduce the risk of failure in such trees is to climb out on the ends and prune them back to healthy lateral branches. This is called crown reduction and it is an essential step in mature tree maintenance.

There are no shortcuts for this work. Deadwooding and thinning the crown, while important parts of proper pruning, are often not enough when considering the long-term health of a tree. If a tree person promises to get more trees done in the same amount of time, or the same tree in half the time, it is because they are taking short cuts and not doing a thorough job.

At McFarland’s, we take pride in the fact that we will always recommend what is best for the trees and safest for the client and their family first. Because of our knowledge, experience and skills, our clients can always be confident that their trees are getting the best care possible.

Elm Tree

Saving the American Elm Tree

elm bark beetle protection

With all of the recent buzz about the Asian Long-horned Beetle and the Emerald Ash Borer, many arborists are comparing these latest invasive insects to the most famous tree killer, the Elm Bark Beetle. The American Elm, at one time, was the most common street tree in most cities in the Eastern United States and the Midwest. Dutch Elm disease nearly eliminated one of America’s most beautiful and stately trees. McFarland currently takes care of approximately 20 to 30 American Elm trees in the Philadelphia area. Each is very rare and must be monitored regu- larly because of this disease, which can kill a tree in a few days, if it strikes at the right time and location. Our Success Story One Elm we care for is in the Wayne area. It is well over one-hundred-fifty-years old, a classic, beautiful American Elm that rises up like a vase and has a horizontal spread of over 100 feet.

During the summer of 2000, one of our employees noticed that a branch in the canopy of this tree was “flagging.” Essentially its leaves were drooping and turning brown in one small section, yet there was no sign of physical damage to the tree. McFarland’s arborist repre- sentative was called to the property and diagnosed the disease. An emergency crew was there within 24 hours. A large branch was removed back to the trunk and we immediately injected the tree with a systemic fungicide. We also sprayed the tree with an insecticide to kill any beetles that might still be present. It is very likely that the disease would have spread to the trunk and killed the tree within a week. Today, this tree is one of the largest and most beautiful Elms left in Southeastern Pennsylvania.


Mulch comes in various forms. Here to assist you are the main options and their pros and cons frpm McFarland Tree Service:


Wood chips are a good choice for mulching paths or areas with a lot of ground to cover. Chips often can be obtained for free from tree and utility companies, arborists, and municipal yard-waste facilities. Wood mulches should not be used in garden beds or locations near the house due to termites and other destructive insects that may be living in them. A popular low-cost choice for wood chip mulch is made from construction wastes and wood pallets, however they should not be used in vegetable gardens due to possible industrial contaminants.


Typically sold as shredded pieces, bark decomposes slowly but stays in place. Options include hardwood or softwood. Common hardwood types include hickory, oak, and elm. Softwood bark, such as pine, fir and redwood, decompose more slowly than hardwood. For garden beds with perennials and shrubs, or where you don’t turn the soil often, you can use mulch materials that break down slowly.


Durability is both the appeal and the drawback of stones as mulch. They stay put and don’t degrade, however they do nothing to improve the soil. Stones or gravel are best used in paths or around trees and shrubs about one inch deep for weed control and water permeability. During hot weather, stones or rocks can radiate heat and cause extreme temperatures, resulting in water loss and severe plant stress.


If weed control is your goal, shredded leaves are your star, especially in garden beds. Leaves from just about any deciduous tree work well. Contrary to popular belief, leaves such as oak will not acidify the soil. Oak leaves are acidic when they’re fresh, but they lose acidity as they decompose.

Leaves should be coarsely shred or chopped by running over them with a lawn mower to prevent matting or blowing away. When you dig into soil that’s been mulched with leaves, you’ll find lots of plump earthworms—nature’s finest fertilizer for your garden.

GRASS CLIPPINGS Grass clippings are a treat for vegetable, annual, and herb gardens, because you can get them from your own yard (though never use grass that has been treated with herbicide). Grass clippings decompose quickly, especially in very hot weather, so reapply them often. For best results, allow them to dry before spreading. Both leaves and grass should be applied two inches deep and replenished as needed. Grass clippings and shredded leaves provide a natural mulch. They breakdown much more quickly than bark or wood chips and offer more nutrients to the soil.


When you dig into soil that’s been mulched with leaves, you’ll find lots of plump earthworms—nature’s finest fertilizer for your garden. Spring is the best time for mulching trees, shrubs and planting beds when Landscaping. Mulching offers many benefits, including weed control, retention of soil moisture, and improvement of the overall aesthetics of the landscape. Mulch helps maintain uniform soil temperatures, minimizing damage during drought conditions in summer and root freeze in winter.

Save Our Beech Trees from Phytophthora

Weeping European Beech tree

Many Beeches we see in Pennsylvania have become infected and have died from this treatable disease, resulting in the needless loss of these once magnificent trees.

Phytophthora is a name some of you may not be familiar with, while its devastating effects you may know well. It’s a fungus that affects many trees and shrubs, often resulting in major losses each year. With spring rains it spreads in the soil, usually around when leaf and flower buds open. It targets new and stressed plants with poor drainage conditions and is one of the most common root rot and canker causing pathogens in our landscape. A strain of this fungus caused the potato famine in Ireland. Symptoms vary with strain and species, but wet-bark staining, top or limb die-back, wilting, or loss of leaves are sure signs Phytophthora may be present in the soil.

Phytophthora example Beech treeFor sensitive plant species, such as Beech, Boxwood, Azaleas and Rhododendrons, poorly drained soil and irrigation should be monitored closely. Improvements such as diverting water runoff and pooling with landscaping, and use of sprinkler/irrigation systems less often will also reduce the spread of the disease. Beech trees are of particular concern. Many Beeches we see in Pennsylvania have become infected and have died from this treatable disease, resulting in the needless loss of these once magnificent trees. McFarland offers treatments with proven success for both preventing and delaying the spread of this disease. Treatments consist of sprays and soil drenches for any tree or shrub that already has contracted Phytophthora. As well, we offer solutions and options for landscaping which can help prevent the disease. If you have concerns about this threat to plants on your property, please make an appointment with one of our Arborists so we can provide you with a strategy.