Growth Rings – What tree removal reveals.

Annual Growth Rings on Trees - What Tree Removal Reveals

Growth Rings
What tree removal reveals.

Almost everyone knows that when a tree trunk is cut in half, it reveals the annual growth rings. Contrary to popular beliefs, each ring doesn't necessarily represents a year of the tree’s growth.

Dead read oak
Cross section of large red oak down near Elizabeth Furnace, Front Royal, VA.

Like most things in nature, trees have a specific way of adding growth rings. Growth rings are only added during the growing season. During the winter, the tree is dormant and doesn’t increase in diameter. The first wood cells laid down on the ring are usually lighter in color than wood laid down at the end of the growing season. That wood is darker in color and the cells are smaller with thicker cell walls. The oldest rings are towards the center of the  trunk and the newest rings are on the outside layer closest to the bark. Only the outer 1.5-7.5 cm of growth rings are alive. The remainder are inactive and a dead part of the tree. This wood is called the heartwood. One of it's major functions is to provide structural support for the tree.

Old oak tree with approximately 300 growth rings.Cross section of a Chestnut Oak tree that fell over and was removed in McLean, VA. It has about 300 rings. The photo clearly shows the outer most rings that are alive vs. the dead heartwood.

You can count the rings, and get a pretty accurate estimate of the tree's age. Pretty cool huh? A.E. Douglass invented a cool technique to use tree rings do gain knowledge about past climate changes. Dendrochronology is the science of dating and studying tree rings. Using this data, in conjunction with other data, can provide a way to recreate prior events in a specific area.

Cross section of a dead standing Oak that was removed from McLean, VA. The outer most layers of rings are dead and harboring decay inducing pathogens.

Rings on a tree indicate more than just the tree’s age. The size and shape of the rings can give clues to environmental changes that impacted the tree’s growth. Narrower rings may indicate years when growth was minimized due to poor weather conditions, lack of sun, physical damage to foliage, fire or drought. Usually, the inner most rings are wider and more vigorous in size compared to the outermost rings.

Cross section of a Hickory log.
Cross section of a live Hickory tree removed from Springfield, VA. This tree has about 110 rings. The uneven growth of the rings could be a sign of weather changes, stress, etc.
Example of missing heartwood.
Tree with missing heartwood at it's base.



Forest Academy - Annual Growth Rings

How a Tree Grows

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research

A Hike in the Woods: Northern Virginia

One of our favorite hikes

Hiking in Norther Virginia

At Vic's Tree Service we don't just take care of trees because it's our business, we appreciate the beauty of trees in the wild. We enjoy a great hike through a beautiful, and if we are lucky, magnificent forest. I find a lot of great hikes on this site, although I don't think this one is in there. The picture above is from one of our favorite hiking spots in Northern Virginia. I won't give away the location, but the photos may make you wonder where so close in town could a forest so old and beautiful still exist. 

A walk in the woods

This almost looks like it should be in the ocean and not on a tree. Beautiful to look at, but signals decay. 

A walk in the woods

The blue bells return every spring and bring an amazing burst of color. If you are wondering, the hiking trails have various levels of difficulty. There is almost something for everyone. There is one unavoidable hill climb on the way out, so be prepared. It is definitely worth the work. 

It looks like fairy dust. All of the seasons are different and amazing, but spring is almost magical. In the winter there is complete visibility along the hiking trails. In the summer, the trails close in, and the hike has a completely different feel. 

Hiking in Northern Virginia

     Unfortunately, the photos don't do the trees in this forest justice. They can't show enough perspective to get a real

     feel for the trees.  I guess you'll have to go visit to see for yourself. Email to find out the location.

Hike in the woods near the water

     Darn dogs almost ruined my photo!


     Vic's Tree Service

Is that poison ivy?

Toxicodendron radicans or better known as eastern poison ivy is a hardy fast growing poisonous plant that thrives in the summer. If you come in direct contact with the leaves and or vines, it can cause urushiol-induced contact dermatitis. The oil from the plant, urushiol oil, causes a delayed allergic reaction. Depending on how many times you have been exposed to the oil, will determine how quickly you develop the outward signs of the reaction. The rash, which is itchy, red, and swollen, can last for several weeks. The urushiol oil is persistent. If your dog or clothing come in contact with the oil, then you, it can still cause the rash!

You are probably wondering why a tree service would have a blog post about poison ivy? Well, these vines also grow on trees and sometimes fool folks into thinking that their tree is full of foliage. The image below shows a trees whose lower foliage is almost completely all poison ivy.

Closer inspection shows an established poison ivy vine growing up the side of the tree.

Poison ivy grows on live as well as dead trees. It thrives as an imposter of live tree foliage. When trees are covered with poison ivy, and need to be removed, it creates an added safety element for our crew. Not only can contact with the oil cause the rash, but the oil is also dispersed as the debris are processed through the chipper. Care must be taken when removing and processing the debris from trees with the foliage imposter, poison ivy.


Contact dermatitis
Toxicodendron radican
Poison Ivy info
Poison Ivy Facts

Trunk Wounds

How do trunk wounds affect my tree?

We consistently get questions regarding flaws in tree trunks and their safety. Highly simplified, the bark protects the cambium layer. This layer is the tree’s vascular system and is the pathway for movement of water and other nutrients. When wounds penetrate through the bark and into the cambium, then the tree has sustained some potentially threatening damage. If possible after a wound occurs, the loose bark should be removed carefully to allow the tree to heal the wound naturally. Petroleum based paints, concrete, and other fillers and protectants are not necessary. In fact, they can prevent the normal wound healing process and allow water and pathogens in but not out. This creates a perfect environment for decay and rot to flourish and possibly enter the heartwood. Trees have survived because they compartmentalize the tissue around the wound by forming special wood that physically and chemically repels invasion plus they create a callus collar to isolate the infected area.  It is not suggested to clean decay from a wound because it could disrupt the normal healing process. (continued below)



Of course, the size and degree (depth) of the wound are always a major issue when assessing safety and health of wounded trees. Here are some signs to look for when assessing the potential extent of damage of a trunk wound.

Obvious Problems

The structural integrity of the tree is clearly compromised. Leaning, twisting, large gaping wounds and large areas of rot are never good. The height of the wound and branch structure should always be taken into consideration.

There is a structure or play area within striking distance if the tree or parts of it fall.

Less Obvious Problems

There is fungus, mold, or signs of carpenter ants. This could indicate internal rot and decay.

Large dead branches can indicate that nutrients are not flowing up the tree to feed the upper foliage.

Cracks near or originating from the wound that are not just superficial in the bark, but extend into the tree’s tissue. This is sometimes seen when lightning strikes a tree and peels a strip of bark away as it travels to the ground. Many times the tree also cracks do to the sheer power of the electric force.

The surrounding trees and structures to offer protection from weather. The trees in the photos above are all in the woods. The surrounding trees offer some protection. If these trees were singles or in a more open area, they may not have still been standing and all would require assessment by a tree care professional.

What to do?

From our 39 years of experience, if the homeowner suspects there is a problem, then there is usually a problem! More subtle problems need to be evaluated by a tree care professional.



Tree Trimming: Is Tree Topping Bad for Trees?

Naturally growing, no trimming for these lucky trees!

In their natural state, trees are magnificent works of nature’s art. At times, trees in populated areas out grow their space and require tree trimming.


Tree trimmed using improper techniques

Poor tree trimming practices

This is an example of how not to trim a hardwood tree. All of the natural lines and beauty of the tree were destroyed when someone trimmed this tree like a bush! This tree was just trimmed in the fall of 2016. It hasn’t had time to show the structural effects of poor tree trimming techniques.


Example of a topped tree

Reasons why topping trees is detrimental.

This is a perfect example of ‘topping’. The tree was topped at the point where the shoots start to grow straight up. There are several reasons why trimming trees by topping them is not an acceptable practice. Removing too many limbs at once can cause the tree to be starved for nutrients, and it may go into shock. Severe tree topping could kill an older tree because the tree’s foliage provides it with nutrients. Large limb stubs of a topped tree struggle to heal, resist insect invasion and disease. This picture shows a perfect example of how rapidly the new growth grows, usually giving the opposite effect of the intent. The straight stalks are probably only a few years old. Because several shoots grow from each cut, these joints are weaker than a typically growing tree limb. Finally, the tree is ugly. Nature did not intend for trees to look this way. At Vic’s Tree Service, we pride ourselves on using acceptable pruning techniques to maintain, the beauty, safety, and the health of trees.




Tree topping, more info


International Society of Arborculture, Arborists’Certification Study Guide, International Society of Arborculture, 2001.

The Emerald Ash Borer (agrilus planipennis)

The emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire, is a green jewel beetle native to eastern Asia. It was first found in the United States in 2002. Since then, these beetles devastated millions of ash trees. The adult beetles are emerald green in color and about 1/2″ in length. They feed on the ash foliage and typically cause little damage. It is the larvae that can cause significant damage. They feed on the inner bark of the ash trees and disrupt the trees’ ability to transport valuable nutrients. Adult EABs leave a characteristic D shaped hole, when they emerge from the tree in the spring. Woodpeckers love the larvae, and they feed on infested trees, causing even more damage.

Larvae and woodpecker damage from an EAB

There are several options for treating EABs. It is best to have an arborist determine whether your tree is a good candidate for treatment. Infestation can cause trees to lose 30% to 50% of the canopy after two years and die within three to four. Trees that are good candidates for treatment usually have at least 50% of their canopy still alive. The result of the feeding and tissue destruction from the larvae is directly evident in the canopy. Because many insecticides are transported through the trees’ vascular system, they may not work if the vascular system is already significantly damaged.

EAB D-shaped exit hole

Issues to consider when deciding to treat or remove an ash tree infested with EABs include the following:
1. The health of the tree.
2. The financial and sentimental value of the tree.
3. The cost of the treatment and the prognosis.
4. The cost to remove the tree.
5. Optional, the cost to replant another tree.

It is never easy to determine when to remove a tree. Careful consideration should be taken to make the most cost effective decision.

Vic’s Tree Service


Emerald Ash Borer Information Network

Insecticide Options for Protecting Ash Trees From Emerald Ash Borer

Hungry Pests: Frequently Asked Questions – Emerald Ash Borer USDA. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.