The Dog: Not Always a Tree’s Best Friend

The Dog: Not Always a Tree’s Best Friend

There is a dog in our neighborhood. He is an old golden retriever who is never on a leash. When other dogs pass by, he lets out weak barks - more like huffs, actually.

Johnny Utah is his name. He's a sweet dog with a bit of a sad, wise face that usually wears a red bandana. In fact, he reminds me of a friend of his name sake - the character Keanu Reeves plays in 1991's hit "Point Break." Like Patrick Swayze's Bodhi, he's like an old surfer dog.

But unlike Bodhi and his gang, he is never suspected of mischief. Yet I know he causes death and destruction in front yards up and down the street. I have seen him commit countless murders … and I suspect his involvement in others even though I haven't been an eye witness. Mark my words: Soft, fluffy, golden-haired Johnny Utah is a killer.

Shrubs. That's right - Johnny Utah kills shrubs. He walks around the front yards around his house and conducts his business. My one neighbor had to replace her sedum   and its beautiful rose-colored blooms three times as a result of Johnny Utah's powerful weapon. He's killed other perennials too, and though I haven't seen him murder a tree I have seen him weaken one with his strong "perfume."

But because he's so weak and quite sad looking, none of us complain. But, make no mistake about it, his urine hurts trees and plants.

"The acid eats right through the bark and cambial zone to the wood zone, destroying the tree's defense system," says Eric Fleisher, the director of horticulture at the Battery City Parks Conservancy, which oversees the public park at the lower tip of Manhattan, adding that even a small opening in the bark is a gateway for micro-organisms that can spread disease through a tree.

In a story in The New York Times, Fleisher discussed the devastated base of a 15-foot linden tree near the walkway along the Hudson River. He pointed out that urine usually contains a lot of salt, which deprives the plant of water and can burn roots. The linden's bark was eaten away, exposing the living tissue where water and nutrients flow. The tree had tried to curb the damage by forming a knobby ridge of calluses. But it was no use. The tree's base was stained dark gray and the bark deeply fissured - from dog-leg-level down. The soil was hard from constant dog paw traffic, suffocating the roots.

Of the 24 trees Fleisher replaced in one year, six were due to dog urine - and trees at park entrances are usually the first to go. And when plants are weakened and stressed, they are also susceptible to insects and disease, he says.

To offset the acidity, Fleisher says Battery Park landscape professionals add lime to the soil. And to counteract ground compaction, lighten the soil and neutralize the salt, they add gypsum. Aeration can also open up the soil and help roots breathe, and mulching and adding organic matter to the soil also helps keep soil moist and provides plants with valuable nutrients.

Planting a tree at the proper depth can also help give it "a leg up, so to speak, on dogs," the article reported. Planting too deeply forces the roots to grow upward seeking oxygen. The bottom of a trunk flare should be flush with the ground, Fleisher points out. "The periderm is much tougher in this area so it won't deteriorate as fast from dog urine," he says, adding that bark higher up is less resistant.

Ultimately, the best thing anyone can do is train their dog to use the street, sidewalk or more resistant turf as a restroom, Fleisher encourages.

The good news: You can have the best of both worlds: a happy dog and a healthy tree.

Add a comment:
Featured or Related Blog Posts
  • Tune In

    So I haven't played a comic book superhero with incredible powers like telekinesis or the ability to fly. And I haven't donned fangs and sported the trendy tall, dark and handsome vampire look. But, now and again, my fellow Davey arborists and I have something in common with such unique characters: doing something really cool and doing it with a "wow" factor you can see on television.

    That's right, Davey has enjoyed a few minutes of broadcast fame - admittedly not as much as those vampires or superheroes we all know and love - but it still counts, right?

    Our most popular eye candy? moving massive trees. You may or may not know this, but Davey has been moving trees since the 1920s! In fact, we've recently combined our operation with Environmental Design Inc., which equals more than a century of tree moving.

    Read More
  • "Leaf" It to Mother Nature: Falling for Creative Fall Crafts

    'Tis the season for tree canopies to explode with color. Tree leaves exemplify the sun's gradually diminishing heat as the brightest of warm hues paint splotches of color along the surface. Oranges, yellows , reds and plums drape each tree leaf with such beauty for such a brief period of time you can only wish it would last all year long.

    Although Mother Nature limits the highly anticipated fall foliage color show to only a few months of the year, you can preserve autumn's aura by dedicating a bit of extra care, attention and creativity to the leaves falling from the trees.

    Why not share the love you're feeling for fall by preserving some of its best assets--crisp, brightly colored leaves, freshly fallen from the trees--and transforming them into art? Dry and press them like flower petals between the pages of old books and newspapers. Hang them like garland from the railings along your staircase or front porch. Or coat them in wax or Mod Podge® to protect the leaves from losing their color throughout the coming seasons.

    Read More
  • Cherry Crush

    For centuries, trees have been planted to honor an accomplishment, important milestone or rite of passage - birth, graduation, wedding, retirement, death, to name a few.

    And the specific type of tree chosen usually has some symbolic meaning relative to the event. For instance, the oak tree has always been a symbol of strength and courage - "the mighty oak," they always say. And the Bonsai tree has long symbolized harmony, peace and balance.

    When someone plants one tree to mark a triumph, it's quite significant. But in early April this year, when I was in Washington, D.C. traveling for Davey Tree, I saw such a stunning display of trees and realized when someone plants many trees in a symbolic fashion, the result can be extraordinary.

    Read More
  • Happy Arbor Day!

    Don't worry, I won't be long-winded today. Just hope you'll join me in celebrating National Arbor Day. If you're a tree buff like I am, this is truly a great holiday!

    While you're celebrating your trees today, take a few minutes and check out a website that some of my friends at Davey just launched. It's a place where you can share your tree stories and memories. I'm planning to do that myself soon, and I hope to see your story there!

     

    Read More
  • The Bird-y Bunch

    It's a rainy, gray Saturday morning in spring. Our previously planned trip to the local park is canceled - wet bottoms and mud pies just don't seem that appealing today when we were longing for shorts and sunshine.

    Yet, despite the initial disappointment, my 8-year-old daughter picks up her spirits quicker than I do. She spends at least an hour marveling at the birds out of our family room windows. They flit and flutter from tree to tree and back and forth to the two bird feeders we have hanging from hawthorn trees.

    Little wrens, chickadees and nuthatches are always present, hopping next to the slower, fatter, cooing doves. Then, in a bright red streak, the cardinal flies in, going from the trees straight to the ground, picking up the seed the other smaller birds have discarded.

    Read More

Request a consultation

What do you need services for?
Sorry, we can’t seem to find the zip code you specified. Our residential tree care offices may not service your area. If you believe this is an error, please try again. Need help? Email us at info@davey.com.
  • Email newsletter
  • Woodchips
*Please fill out all required fields.