Trees and the Bugs Who Love to Eat Them part 2

By Patrick Anderson

Aphid by Martin Cooper
Aphid by Martin Cooper

In our last edition, we discussed several arthropod pests who enjoy feeding on our trees and shrubs. While most of these creepy crawling pests have little impact on the overall health of a tree, a few can be devastating. This time around let’s look at some arthropods that really suck… literally.


Aphids are an interesting as in some instances they can produce live young asexually, and others are monophagous, meaning they only feed on one species of plant. In any case, aphids feed on trees and shrubs by passively sucking sap directly from the vascular system of the plant. High populations of aphids can cause leaf distortion, leaf drop, and a loss of tree vigor. Additionally, aphids produce honeydew, a sticky, high sugar content excrement, that can make an incredible mess on patio furniture and cars under the host tree. To make matters worse, sooty mold will eventually begin to grow on the honeydew, leaving a black crusty appearance on everything.

Scale Insects

Scale insects get their name from the protective shell, called a test, that they form over themselves. When scale insects hatch from their eggs, they crawl around until they find a suitable location to feed. The insect settles down, injects its mouthparts into the plant, and begins to form its test. Once settled, many of these insects will not move again. In high populations, scale can seriously harm to the plant, leading to tree and shrub decline.

Scale insects are broken into two groups; soft scales and armored scales. Soft scales are similar to aphids, in that they feed passively in the plants vascular system and produce honeydew. Armored scales actually feed within the cells of the plant.

Spider mites

Scale and Sooty Mold by Scot Nelson
Scale and Sooty Mold by Scot Nelson

Spider mites are in the arachnid class of arthropods, making them closely related to spiders and ticks. Like armored scales, spider mites feed within the cells of their host plants. This feeding appears as stippling on affected leaves. Severe infestations of spider mites can lead to defoliation.

Some species of spider mites are active in the fall and spring (cool season mites), while others are active in the summer (warm season mites). Feeding damage from cool season mites will often not become visible until the warm dry summer months. Treating for cool season mites in the summer when they are not active will not provide the desired control.

The ‘paper test’ is a simple method you can employ to monitor for active mites. Place a clean white sheet of paper underneath a branch you suspect may be under attack by spider mites.  Vigorously shake the branch over the paper. If you observe tiny black dots moving around on the paper, then you have spider mites on your plant.

Keep in mind, plant feeding by arthropods is a completely natural part of our ecosystem, and not all bugs are bad bugs. Be sure to property identify the host plant and perceived pest before treatment to ensure control and to avoid harming beneficial insects.

If you have concerns about these, or any other suspected plant damaging pest, feel free to call your local Limbwalker at (502) 634-0400 or email us at

Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants

By Jeneen Wiche

See What Healthy Soil Looks Like by NRCS.
See What Healthy Soil Looks Like by NRCS.

Soil Food Web

Soil structure is important.  I don’t just mean waiting for the garden to dry out enough so it is workable; I mean the web-of-life kind of structure.  There are organisms in the soil that help plants succeed.  Healthy soil is alive with good bacteria, fungi, nematodes, earthworms and more.

Bacteria and fungi help break down organic matter and what they don’t eat they share with our plants, naturally making important nutrients available at a rate they can handle.  Earthworms gently aerate the soil.  Beneficial organisms eat bad ones for breakfast.

The bad news is that we have managed to disrupt this symbiotic relationship in the soil because of lazy management practices in the garden.  We destroy soil structure, literally and figuratively, when we rototill and use synthetic chemicals and fertilizers.  Overtime the soil literally gets tilled to death so most gardens no longer have healthy soil.  Unhealthy soil means unhealthy plants that rely on too much intervention.  The irony is that we can now purchase all of these naturally occurring things to add back to the soil we have killed.  Organic matter, earthworms, various types of inoculants, and good fungi are all for sale.

Soil Food Web by USDA
Soil Food Web by USDA

On the subject of wood chips as soil-builders, I am a fan.  Even if just slightly aged the wood chips will return nitrogen to the soil as they begin to decompose.  They can reinforce undisturbed soil around trees, shrubs and vegetable paths.  They will provide a neat walking path as they build soil and they are an available by-product of arborist’s work.

I now hand-turn and hand-cultivate my vegetable garden adding composted horse and hen manure, once in the spring and again as a side dressing about mid-season.  I look forward to seeing the earthworms and the mycorrhizal fungi, evidenced by little white squiggly things, like threads, literally creating a web of life beneath the soil surface.  Mycorrhizal fungi fix nitrogen in exchange for carbohydrates and scavenge absorbable phosphate for our plants so we don’t have to.

So, it really is all about the soil.  Wait for it to warm up, dry out and abuse it as little as possible if you are planting a garden.  If you are maintaining a healthy landscape of trees and shrubs consider mimicking nature as much as possible this autumn as the leaves begin to fall.  Rake them back beneath the canopy of the tree to build soil in a truly sustainable act.  The soil is alive so feed it with compost and encourage the symbiotic relationship between the soil and plants that nature intended.  Feed the soil naturally and it will in turn feed the plants that will ultimately bring you shade or make it to the table.

For more information about building healthy soil, call Limbwalker at (502) 634-0400 or email us at

What To Do With Leaves On Your Lawn?

By Royce Hall

Fall by Kosala Bandara
Fall by Kosala Bandara

Every year, following the glorious colors of autumn, millions of leaves cascade to the ground and cover your lawn with their faded beauty. Fall, with all its colors and nicer temperatures, is my favorite time of the year, but it is also one of the most labor intensive times of the year. We have to go to the hardware store to get bags and rakes. Then we have to rake the leaves, bag them, and haul them to the curb. Our work stops there, but the leaves have to be hauled away by the city or by a private company and processed by them as well. We as individuals, and as a society, put a lot of time and resources into throwing away our leaves, but it does not have to be this way.

Mulching you Leaves = Mowing your Leaves

An easy alternative to raking and disposing of your leaves is to mow, or mulch them where they lay with a lawn mower. The goal of mulching leaves is to chop the debris into pieces that are smaller than the head of a dime. This prevents the leaves from smothering the turf over the winter. Likewise, you want no more than ½ of debris in your lawn for the same reason. To accomplish this, you may need to take multiple passes over your lawn (Pro tip: on your second pass, rotate your mowing pattern 90 degrees from your first pass to create a nice checkered pattern in your lawn). In the end, you should be left with a nicely manicured lawn with minimal visible debris. These leaves will decompose over the winter, leaving little evidence that they were there by the spring.

For better results with your mower, you may also want to consider buying a mulching blade. These blades are designed to keep debris in the mower for longer, thus chopping each leaf more times before the mower ejects it. Always remember to take out the spark plug before working under your mower!

Fall Points by Kenny Louie
Fall Points by Kenny Louie

Advantages of Mulching your Leaves

  1. Less work and effort

  2. Leaves add organic matter to your soil

  3. Leaves fertilize your soil

  4. Save money on bags

  5. Environmentally Sound

Will Mulching Damage my Lawn?

A common misconception about mulching leaves is that it will add to a lawn’s thatch layer. Extensive research through Michigan State University has demonstrated that mulching leaves does not detrimentally affect lawns, and does not cause thatch or disease problems. You can read Dr. Thomas A. Nikolai’s, lead turf expert at Michigan State University, summary of their finding here:

Furthermore, some research suggests that mulched leaves may help control dandelions (see this scientific article:!

If you have any questions about fall lawn maintenance, please contact Limbwalker at 502-634-0400, or Royce at

Kentucky Tree Climbing Championship, October 18 at George Rogers Clark Park

BW footlock

Come out and cheer on the guys from Limbwalker as they compete in the Kentucky Tree Climbing Championship, hosted by the Kentucky Arborists Association! The championship is a great way to see what arborists do every day but with plenty of cheering and a lot more excitement.

The action starts at 8 a.m. with 25 climbers from around the state (including defending champion and Limbwalker arborist Cory Petry) competing in five preliminary events. They’ll do two speed climbs using protective gear and test their skills at placing a throwline and climbing line on a target, moving around in a tree and performing work tasks and rescuing another climber from a tree.

Contestants earn points for each event and the top three go on to the Masters’ Challenge, which starts between 2:30 and 3 p.m. The three fearless competitors will race to the top of the tallest tree in the park, between 100 and 125 feet off the ground.  (Are you impressed yet?!?) The champion moves on to the 2015 International Tree Climbing Championship in Tampa, Fl.

For a small donation to the Kentucky Arborists Association, kids can put on safety gear and participate in a special supervised climb. Local food trucks will also make an appearance. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, huh?

Event at a glance:

-Saturday, October 18 at George Rogers Clark Park (at Poplar Level Road and Thurston Avenue near St. Xavier High School)

-Preliminary events start at 8 a.m. and go until approximately 2 p.m.

-Masters’ Challenge starts between 2:30 and 3 p.m. and will last about 30 minutes.

-The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available off Thurston Avenue.

Tips for Maintaining Your Lawn

By Royce Hall


  • Service your mulching lawn mower, or have it serviced by a local dealer. Sharpen blades, add new fuel, and change air filters. Efficient machines save time and money. If you getting under the mower deck, make sure to pull the spark plug out first so the mower doesn’t start running with you under it!

  • Set your mowing height to 2.5” – 4.” We recommend a mulching style mower, as your grass clippings will provide nutrition for your grass. Thatch is not usually a problem for bunch-type grasses, such as fescue, and our Bio-TeaTM will help break down any thatch that may be present on your lawn.

  • Never remove more than 1/3 of the total grass blade during any one mowing. Letting the clippings fall back onto the lawn is similar to adding a 4-3-2 fertilizer.


  • The time for spring fertilization is over. Water will be the most critical addition your lawn needs this summer. So, before it gets too warm, you should check to make sure your irrigation system is in good working order.

  • Water consistently 2-3 times per week for 30 minutes, as long as water is not pooling on the surface. Avoid short, frequent watering. Longer watering periods will help your lawn grow deep roots. Summer is the most stressful time for your grass, so be sure to give it the water it needs!

  • Water early in the morning rather than late in the evening so your lawn can dry out, as this will help you avoid harmful lawn fungi.

  • Mowing your grass higher (3”-4”) can help your lawn conserve water and energy during the stressful summer heat.


  • On Limbwalker’s lawn program your lawn will be core aerated and over-seeded at this time. In the coming weeks, as you mow your lawn these cores will break down and disappear, so you do not need to remove them.

  • You can help your new grass seed grow by changing your watering routine for the next three weeks. Water 2-3 times a day for 10-15 minutes each cycle. This light, shallow watering will keep the seed moist and help it grow.

  • Keep your lawn free of leaves to ensure that none of your grass or grass seed is smothered by debris.


  • Once you are done watering your newly seeded lawn, you can move your above-ground irrigation system into storage, or have your in-ground irrigation system blown out for the year.

  • Continue to keep the leaves off your lawn, and cut your lawn short for the winter, To keep from removing more than 1/3 of the grass blade at a time, your next to last cut can be at 2.5” and your last can be at 2”.

  • Be careful to not get salt in your grass during the winter, as this will kill your grass. Also choose a place for your snow to be moved to, as snow piles may freeze and kill the grass they sit on. You may want to mark the edge of your driveway with stakes if it is to be plowed so your lawn will not be plowed and damaged by mistake.

  • Now would be the time to winterize your lawn equipment by either running your mower out of fuel, or by adding fuel stabilizer to the tank.

You can find more information about Limbwalker’s lawn care program here. You can contact us by calling our office at (502) 634-0400 or emailing us at

From the Editor: Summer 2014

Cory Petry
Cory Petry

By Royce Hall

Limbwalker News

Mark your calendars! The first weekend in August we will be cheering on Cory Petry as he represents the Kentucky Arborists’ Association at the International Tree Climbing Championship in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Be sure to wish the champ luck as he represents Kentucky a third time in the world championship.

In this Edition

First up is an article by Jeneen Wiche, “Bagworms are Slowly on the Move,” concerning the life and control of a devastating pest we see at this time of year: the bagworm. If homeowners are not vigilant, this caterpillar can quickly defoliate beautiful landscapes.  However, with proper timing, this pest can be defeated through careful pruning or organic insecticide applications.

Next, Patrick Anderson has written an article introducing us to several common types of tree pests called, “Trees and the Bugs Who Love to Eat Them part 1.” Aside from environmental catastrophes and diseases, trees often decline due to the presence of insects.  In this first of two articles on tree insects, Patrick briefly describes with examples the habits of leaf-feeding caterpillars, stem-boring insects, and leaf-feeding beetles.

Finally, Royce Hall wrote an article on how to understand the label on grass seed, “Buying Seed for your Lawn.” Before you buy your next bag of seed, you need understand the differences in the products on the shelf. The label will tell you how much seed you are actually getting, if there are any weeds in the bag, and how much of each variety of seed you are getting. With a little investigation, and a little math, you can get more seed for your money by understanding the label.

Trees and the Bugs Who Love to Eat Them part 1

By Patrick Anderson

The Emerald Ash Borer is a type of stem-borning insect (Picture by U.S. Department of Agriculture)
The Emerald Ash Borer is a type of stem-borning insect (Picture by U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Trees can make a tasty snack for a multitude of arthropods. Both native and exotic multi-legged creeping pests can be a real nuisance to our landscape trees and woody ornamentals. Heavy infestations of a given pest can significantly reduce the vigor of a tree by consuming the foliage a tree needs for photosynthesis, sucking sap directly from the tree, or in some cases, actually feeding on the cells of the plant. Let’s take a look at a few common genera of tree-feeding pests.

Leaf-Feeding Caterpillars

Caterpillars come in all shapes and sizes. They are the larval (immature) form of moths and butterflies. These voracious pests damage trees by eating leaves. They are usually active for a few weeks, and different species of caterpillar can be found feeding throughout the growing season.

Most species of tree-feeding caterpillar only cause peripheral damage to trees, but some can completely defoliate a mature tree if left untreated. One example of a native caterpillar species that can cause major damage is the bagworm. Bagworms emerge in late spring. They get their name from the protective case they form around themselves of silk and from debris of the affected plant. Bagworms attack many species of tree, but seem to prefer spruce, pine, juniper, and arborvitae.

Stem-Boring Insects

Leaf Destruction by Japanese Beetles (Picture by Steven Depolo)
Leaf Destruction by Japanese Beetles (Picture by Steven Depolo)

Stem-boring insects, or borers, are the larva of either beetles or clearwinged moths. Stem-boring insects are arguably the most fatal pest for an affected tree. While some of these pests simply bore straight into wood, many feed directly in a tree’s vascular system. These vascular-feeding borers girdle the tree, killing sections of the trunk or limbs. Trees heavily infested with vascular-feeding borers can be killed in a matter of years to a matter of months.

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an exotic pest that is wreaking havoc on our native ash population. The adult beetles emerge in spring to mate and lay eggs. EAB larva hatch a few weeks later to feed within the tree’s vascular system throughout the growing season. These insects are fatal to their hosts if left untreated.

Leaf-Feeding Beetles

There are a multitude of leaf-feeding beetles that affect trees and, similar to caterpillars, most only cause minor damage to foliage. As their name implies, leaf-feeding beetles eat portions of leaves.

Japanese beetles are an exotic pest that can cause significant damage to a host of woody ornamentals including; rose, purple leaf plum, linden, crabapple, elm, and maple. The beetles emerge in late spring/early summer. These nasty iridescent creeps can completely defoliate a tree over the course of days. Trees defoliated once by Japanese beetles usually recover with little issue. However, if defoliation occurs in consecutive years, tree vigor can decline.

These are just a few pests to be on the lookout for. Luckily these tree damaging pests are easily treated. We’ll be back in the next issue to discuss three more arthropod pests to keep an eye out for.

If you have concerns about these, or any other suspected plant damaging pest, feel free to call your local Limbwalker at (502) 634-0400 or email us at

Bagworms are Slowly on the Move

By Jeneen Wiche

Bagworm on a Bald Cypress (Picture by Kristine Paulus)
Bagworm on a Bald Cypress (Picture by Kristine Paulus)

Like most caterpillars, bagworms are voracious eaters as they store up calories for growth, metamorphosis and reproduction.  Now is the time they do the majority of damage to evergreen trees and shrubs, so be on the lookout for activity.   A large infestation can literally strip an evergreen of nearly all its needles.

Life Cycle

The life cycle of a bagworm begins in late May to early June when hundreds of larvae emerge from almond shaped bags from last year.   As the larvae hatch they begin to feed immediately on the foliage of the plant.  As the individual larva feed they also begin to construct a bag from the plant material they are feeding on, creating a new personal protection unit.  This almond-shaped bag is quite distinctive.

If you watch bagworms this time of the year it is quite fascinating because you can see them drag their bags around as the feed.  The caterpillar’s head is visible as it scoots around on the foliage of the plant, from afar the tree or shrub looks like it is quaking because of the jittery movement of the bags.

Bagworms can infest any type of tree or shrub but there is no doubt that they prefer evergreen species.  Arborvitae, spruce and pine are particularly vulnerable to large infestations because they do not re-leaf like deciduous plants.  So, if you have hundreds of bagworms feeding on an evergreen for 2 months the potential for major defoliation is there and once an evergreen is defoliated the chances of recovery are slim.

Bagworm Control

Bagworm eggs (Picture by Kristine Paulus)
Bagworm eggs (Picture by Kristine Paulus)

Do a bagworm check now before it is too late. Picking bagworms off of plants that are small is pretty easy because the caterpillar is not yet firmly attached to the plant.   Use a paper grocery sack as you pick so you can stomp on the folded bag when you are finished.  DO NOT pick them and throw them on the ground, they will find their way back if they are not destroyed.

The bagworm will be dragging its bag around everywhere it goes until it reaches maturity at which point it affixes the bag to a twig. The male bagworm, now a small grayish moth with clear wings leaves its bag, flies to the female, who never leaves her bag, and mates.  Once mating is complete the male dies.  Once the female lays her eggs inside her bag, she dies leaving her eggs inside the protective bag. The period of active feeding usually lasts to about early August, than mating occurs in September and the eggs are in place by late summer.

If the bags are not removed during active feeding then be sure to pull them off during the winter months (or, at least, before the hundreds of eggs hatch next May).  This is important in order to reduce the chances of an increasing infestation each year.  Picking the bags off has always been our control of choice but you can also use insecticides.

Insecticides require the right timing and only work during the feeding stages of the caterpillar’s life cycle.  You can use biological controls containing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) or Spinosad early in the season, shortly after the larvae have hatched.

For more information about bagworms or bagworm control, call Limbwalker at (502) 634-0400 or email us at

Buying Seed for your Lawn

By Royce Hall

Baby Grass by woodleywonderworks
Baby Grass (Picture by woodleywonderworks)

As summer wears on, and we start approaching fall, you may want to consider filling in those bare patches in your lawn with some seed. In Kentuckiana, fall is the best time of year to plant cool season grasses, such as Fescue. With that in mind, here are a few guidelines for purchasing good seed.

What is in the Bag?

When you are buying seed, you need to understand what the seed label means. On the label, you will find a column naming the seed varieties, such as ‘Falcon 5’ Fescue, with ‘Falcon 5’ being the variety name of this particular Turf Type Tall Fescue. There will also be a column across from the name saying “pure seed.” This shows what percent of the product is that particular seed. A blend may be made up of three Fescues, for example, that make up 33% of the bag of seed. There will usually be a little inert matter, crop seed, and maybe weed seed (should be 0.00% or very close – cheaper seed mixes may contain some weed seeds), but a good bag of seed will usually have 95% or more of the bag as seed. To the right of the variety name you will find a column labeled “germination.” This tells you the percent of the seed that has the potential to germinate and grow.

When 10 lbs is not 10 lbs

Ready for Renovations by Royce Hall
Ready for Lawn Renovations (Picture by Royce Hall)

Both the purity and germination are important in figuring out the amount of “pure, live seed” in the bag, which is the actual amount of seed in a bag that is capable of becoming a grass plant. To find the total amount pure, live seed in the bag, you will first need to figure out how many pound of seed you actually have. So, if you have a 10 lb bag with a purity of 90%, multiply 10 x .9 to get 9 lbs of seed. Then, you multiply that number by the germination to get how much of that 9 lbs is actually able to grow. If the germination is 90%, you multiply 9 x .9 to get 8.1 lbs. So, in a 10 lb bag of seed, you may only have 8.1 lbs. of pure, live seed that is capable of growing. Keep that in mind, because seeding rate recommendations are based on pure, live seed.

Some companies make seed products that have additives, such as paper mulch, designed to keep the seed wetter longer. While these products may have some value, you need to keep in mind that a 10 lb bag of these products may give you much less than 10 lbs of seed.

Certified Seed

Something else to look for when shopping for grass seed is a blue “certified seed” label. Certified seed is guaranteed to contain the cultivars listed on the label, and generally have higher purity, and germination with less inert matter, weed seed, and crop seed. A gold tag indicated certified sod quality seed, which is a step up from blue label seed. Blue label seed is usually adequate for home lawns. These seed blends may cost more than regular contractor’s mix, but will usually give you much better results.

If you have any questions about lawn seeding, where to find quality seed, or want your lawn seeded, please contact Limbwalker at 502-634-0400, or Royce at

From the Editor: Spring 2014

Limbwalker in a Log

By Royce Hall

Limbwalker News

Tree work is a very dangerous business. Aside from the working with heavy wood, we work with heavy, and sharp equipment in not always perfect weather. That is why Limbwalker strives to keep safety first on every job, both for our employees and customers. Part of our safety protocol is to make sure our employees are first aid and CPR trained. This past January, Limbwalker participated in an in-house training day to certify, and re-certify our employees to ensure that, if anything should go wrong on a job site, we have the skills needed to give aid. We are proud to offer our services in a safe manner to Kentuckiana.

We continue to support Love Louisville Trees, started by Limbwalker in partnership with Louisville Grows, as they work to improve Louisville’s tree canopy. The latest planting day was scheduled for Saturday, March 29. However, plans got changed at the last minute due to rain, and the planting day was rescheduled for Sunday, March 30. Thank you to all the volunteers who were willing to work around the rain to pull off the Germantown planting day on short notice.

Limbwalker in the News

For a closer look into how Limbwalker got started, or if pictures of Chris and Cory doing yoga in trees interests you, check out “Riding High” in Louisville Magazine’s February edition, page 42:

One of the values of Limbwalker is improvement through innovation. One of Limbwalker’s innovations for sterilizing equipment to limit the spread of disease between trees been noted in the latest Tree Care Industry Magazine. You can find the article on page 26 here:

In this Edition

As nature regains its color this spring, you may find yourself with the itch to get outside and do some planting. In her article, “Free Your Trees from the Guy Wire and Stake,” Jeneen Wiche gives some timely advice about how to properly stake a tree so that it is not over-stabilized, or choked by guy wires.

If you have ever gone to a garden center and purchased “plant food,” you have seen all the numbers on fertilizer bags and know that you are probably buying a little nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and maybe some iron too. In his article, “N-P-K and Fe, What are they Good For?” Patrick Anderson explains how your trees use each of these nutrients, and what happens when they do not get enough of them.

Finally, Royce Hall in “What is in a Bag of Fertilizer” explains how to understand the fertilizer label, and how to decide which fertilizer to buy for your lawn. He also gives you a little math to help you apply the right amount of fertilizer every time.


Commercial Tree Services

Louisville’s award-winning Limbwalker Tree Service is ready to manage the trees on your commercial property. After an initial consultation with one of our certified arborists, we develop a plan to address the needs of your trees and to eliminate as much risk as possible to your property.

Click here to learn more