NYSA Welcome

Syracuse was the hub for important education, thoughtful discussion and good networking at NYSA’s Fall Conference.

Late Summer

Outside the DoubleTree Hilton, late summer hydrangeas ran riot.


Inside, the meeting got underway.

New York State Urban Forestry Council offered cookies and information on grants as well as a survey regarding the recent billion-dollar federal IRA funding for tree projects across the country.

Nina Bassuk of Cornell University’s Urban Horticulture Institute opened the meeting with her keynote, “A Lifetime in Urban Tree Research: Key Findings.”

She spoke about her forty-odd years of work focusing on the establishment of new trees in difficult sites. It’s a process, she told the audience, one that moves from understanding site constraints or opportunities, to modifying the soil, selecting the right tree and transplanting it with the best chance of success.

She spoke about urban heat islands, delineating the difference between western and eastern exposures on New York City streets, and pointing out how the temperature differs depending on the presence of asphalt and buildings that make it difficult for trees to take up water through their roots. The legacy of red lining remains, she said, even though the practice was outlawed in the 1960s. While the recent IRA monies awarded by the federal government gave a huge amount to communities suffering as a result of this legacy, she said, we need to give monies to other needy places as well.

Bassuk showed a picture of a housing development in Ithaca. “It was a mess,” she said. “So much soil devastation had happened there.” She was able to transform the area into a garden.

Another slide depicted a south-facing wall and a line of trees, “crispy guys that actually got smaller with eighty-five degree temperatures coming off the wall.” After trenching and mulching, the same trees grew healthy.

She talked about the problem of monoculture in New York State, where roughly forty-four percent of trees are either maples, oak, honey locust or linden. “We need more diversity to resist pests,” she said. Recently Bassuk has hybridized oaks to achieve greater drought tolerance. For example, she is working to cross a bur oak with an overcup oak. “Same parents, different kids,” she said about the project. “Every acorn is different.”

She then discussed the critical issue of soil remediation. She has utilized different methods in her research, including “scoop and dump” and CU structural soil. To illustrate the success of the first method, Bassuk employed the example of one important Cornell University building. “We scooped and dumped the entire front of the library,” she said. It is now an award-winning space on campus. In discussing the success of structural soil, she showed the now-well-known experimental “sidewalks to nowhere.” Structural soil, Bassuk emphasized, can help avoid the problem of roots heaving a sidewalk. So far, there have been 3,500 projects with installed structural soil around the U.S. Used in tandem, porous asphalt allows for sufficient rainfall to reach the plant’s roots.

The bottom line, according to Bassuk: “People want to be under trees, whether they’re recreating or walking or sitting.”

Nina Bassuk
Mike Galvin
Why Do an Tree Canopy Assessment

Another excellent presentation offered was a look at “Tree Canopy Assessment – Why, What and How,” by SavATree’s Mike Galvin. Tree canopy assessments, he relayed from extensive experience, are increasingly used to assist urban foresters and planners in planning for sustainability. Methods can be highly technical, employing a variety of approaches, which should match the information need and budget.

Galvin spoke about the typical objectives of a tree canopy assessment: a comprehensive plan; equity concerns; heat island mitigation, carbon sequestration; storm water management; and sustainability. He also referenced the IRA grants, saying that “for the last twenty years, every partner we’ve worked with has been concerned with equity, so it’s not a new concept.”

“A tree canopy assessment,” Galvin said, “is a GIS application to biophysical and social questions. It may seem like a tech thing (and it is) but it is a technical approach to answer questions about trees and people.” Explaining somewhat abstruse terms such as “chlorophyll as a unique spectral signature” and “the normalized vegetal image,” he went on to talk about the typical process, which includes project planning, assessment, analysis, implementation and monitoring/evaluation. Common sense matters. “You would not want to plant trees in a football field even though it could biophysically support trees,” he said.

Dr. Matthew Borden, a pathologist with Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories, presented on the topic of “Beech Leaf Disease: Management Efforts and Lessons Learned.”

Borden introduced himself by talking about his diverse experiences in the field – he spent some time with the Virginia Tech fruit pathology lab, worked in beekeeping, contributed to Driscoll’s Strawberries and currently works out of the Bartlett Arboretum, where they host thousands of oaks, hollies, Camellias and the “world’s largest collection of magnolia cultivars.”

He spoke about the biology and life cycle of the nematode responsible for BLD, a critical topic given the importance of both the American beech forest communities and the iconic European cultivars in urban landscapes, both of which offer strong ecosystem benefits and aesthetic value. BLD management trials have been underway for several years and have provided both impressive failures and the first exciting successes.

American beech trees, Borden said, “are survivors. They regenerate by clonal root spouts, they have iconic bark which people love to carve, and they hang on to their leaves throughout the dormant season.” They also have unique, spreading above-ground root flares, “which makes them easier to inject.” Also, the beech “has a wonderful wood – which is important for a certain beer (Budweiser).” He extolled the European beech as well as one of the “plants that make the landscape,” showing a slide of the world’s largest beech hedge in Scotland.

Borden described the damage caused by the beech leaf nematode, which first appeared in Lake County, Ohio around 2012. Eventually, examination of symptoms revealed thousands of nematodes within the leaf’s tissue, causing galled tissue on foliage, but it was unclear how severe the problem might be. Between 2019 and 2020 the disease spread rapidly to the east but there was very little encroachment to the western states. “This has become important, to say the least,” Borden said, asserting that BLD is now being ranked by experts at a similar level of concern as chestnut blight.

Matthew Borden
BLD Spread
BLD Treatment

BLD presents first with dark banding, “then the leaves become radically deformed and dysfunctional.” The bands turn chlorotic. Tree death is likely due to energy depletion. “Where severe and over multiple seasons, the tree may eventually starve to death.” Though the disease affects both European and American beech, the symptoms are less easy to discern with the European beech, especially the copper or purple cultivars.

Borden spoke about research into how BLD spreads. Hypotheses include wind-driven rain, small animals and gravity. Another possibility is the movement of birds feeding on infected buds and moving long distances. For European beech, the disease can be spread in nursery stock.

Challenges in fighting BLD include the novel nature of the pest, its unusual life cycle and interaction with the host. So far there are extremely limited management options. It has appeared as though Fluopyram, a fungicide and next-generation nematicide already in agriculture, might be effective. It offers “the best results of anything that’s been tried so far to deal with this particular nematode.” Thorough coverage is critical, Borden said in conclusion, with both a foliar application and injection options needed. Even so, he said, the takeaway is worrisome: “I don’t think they’ll all die, but we’re going to lose a lot.”

In another presentation, “The Diagnostic Process,” David Olson of the Davey Tree Expert Company shared the biotic and abiotic stress factors that challenge trees, with descriptions of some of them along with associated symptoms. First, he said, it’s necessary to identify the causal agent, then to decide upon corrective measures, next to choose the most effective product or method to treat the particular problem, and finally to correct the timing. Biotic ailments include living things, pathogens, insects or animals, while abiotic factors include cultural or environmental issues. An important determination is the past product use history. “Clients are often hesitant to tell you what products they’ve used on the tree,” he pointed out, “ especially if the tree isn’t doing well.”

He cited bacterial diseases to watch for, such as water-soaked spots, leafspot, blackened leaves and wilt, which can result from overwatering and “sometimes looks like somebody took a blow torch to the tips.” He advised in making a diagnosis to “always check the roots – make sure you’re checking out the whole plant,” as the problem could be root rot.

Insect predators include sucking insects “such as honeydew, when an insect’s excrement is full of sugar,” chewing insects, “boring – the biggest one in terms of severity.”

“All the little stressors can add up,” he concluded, “including temperature fluctuations, where we see bark sloughing off many years down the road.” And “the quality of the diagnosis depends on the quality of the sample. The lab needs a sufficient quantity to test. “One leaf from an eighty foot oak is not enough.” Sometimes the whole plant is necessary for testing. And it’s necessary to preserve the sample properly: “I’ve seen so many samples fry because they’re left out in the hot sun.”

David Olson
Wayne Cahilly and Scott Cullen

Refreshment breaks, receptions and meet-and-greets with vendors provided opportunities for attendees to chat with colleagues and share perspectives on current trends and issues.

Loading Dock

Outside, the painted door of a loading dock furnished a reminder of arboricultural beauty.

Robert Bink

Nearby, a hands-on workshop provided insight into “Performing a Compliance Assessment on a Truck and Chipper.”

Participants gathered in the parking lot behind the hotel to hear Robert Bink of National Grid detail the importance of a safety inspection before arriving at the field.