Featured Stories

Tending to trees

by: Vern Uyetake, Dustin Marchello with Live Earth, Inc. takes a close look at a tree branch at a Lake Oswego home. This is just one of the many ways he spends his days as a certified arborist, paying close attention to trees and shrubs, diagnosing problems and helping ecosystems thrive.

Dustin Marchello is a doctor. But instead of caring for people, rather, he makes sure plants and shrubs are healthy. Marchello is a certified arborist.

On any particular day he could be climbing one hundred-foot trees, probing the soil to identify defects, examining bark and leaves for pests and disease, pruning to achieve function or beauty - or both.

'We eat properly to stay healthy. However, we do get sick and have to go to the doctor to get a prescription. But, we do constantly eat well,' Marchello said. 'I'll deep-root fertilize trees to make sure they're getting their proper nutrients so that they stay healthy.'

This method of fertilization provides nutrients to the soil surrounding the root zone. The product is placed directly into the soil, bypassing any weeds, shrubs and grass that would compete with the tree for the nutrients if it were to be placed directly on the soil surface, Marchello said.

With his company Live Earth, Inc., Marchello tends to trees and plants in Lake Oswego and West Linn that need pruning for good heath and structure, aesthetic reasons and to improve their chances of survival.

'It's all about having a plan,' Marchello said. 'Trees are always going to respond to whatever you do to them. If you do something dramatic (the trees) are going to push back. They want to recover.'

Marchello said that he uses a holistic approach when it comes to plant care. If nature is running its course, he said, and the plant-life is using its natural defense mechanisms, human interference isn't necessary. If a pest or disease causes the tree to no longer care for itself then Marchello could step in and assist, 'in as unobtrusive a way as possible,' he said.

'Just because I, as a person, am susceptible to cancer, I'm not going to take chemotherapy treatments,' he explained.

For instance, if a small infestation of aphids - small insects that suck sap from plants - are spotted on a tree, they needn't always be sprayed.

'Only when this infestation reaches the point of beginning to harm the tree would I recommend treatment. That being said, however, monitoring is wise and catching a disease in its early stage makes treatment much easier,' Marchello said, noting the importance of reporting health care problems.

He continued, 'It's important that we don't just start spraying pesticides - natural or otherwise - on anything that moves. Not all bugs are bad and everything works together within our ecosystem.'

So what, exactly, does Marchello do?

- Soil management and aeration

- Pruning

- Deep-root fertilization

- Dormant oil sprays

- Structural enhancements, such as, staking, cabling and bracing

- Pest and disease management

- Consulting, such as hazard assessments and tree value appraisals

- Weed control applications.

Marchello uses handsaws when pruning. He uses a variety of tooth spacing depending on what size limb he's cutting.

'I like to do everything by hand, and it really does lower the maintenance,' Marchello said. 'I can hand saw something and get it to the desired size or shape and the tree doesn't respond as it would if it was just hedged over.'

Pruning is important to a tree or plant in order to let in light and air, removed damaged branches and limbs, to rejuvenate neglected trees and help a plant fit into a landscape or next to a home.

Pruning helps reduce maintenance, Marchello said. And make the landscapes thrive - such as this one he visited, surrounding a home in Lake Oswego near the canal.

'I'm really fortunate to work on this tree in particular,' he said, pointing to a Lace leaf maple tree while walking the property. 'This is probably a 50 or 60 year old Lace leaf maple. It's priceless. If this thing was going to die, it would decimate the landscape.'

The tree is a focal point within the backyard. It provides shade, beauty and nutrients to the soil. Nearby, Douglas fir trees tower, providing a canopy of shade. If one of these trees were to die it would interrupt the backyard eco system.

'We're talking about removing a tree, which will most likely cost a couple of grand,' Marchello said. 'Pruning this tree,' he said pointing, 'is probably $300 to $400 to prune and $150 to deep-root feed it. … It takes a lifetime to grow a tree like this.'

While most days are exploratory, sometimes Marchello - like any doctor - has to be the barer of bad news for a client.

''There's nothing that could be done,' I've said. 'We discovered this problem a little too late,'' Marchello said.

Problems could mean anything from verticillium wilt, which large-leaf maple trees are susceptible to; over-mulching, leaf litter, flowers or grass planted around the base of trees, trees planted under power lines or learning that the soil doesn't have enough air.

'Ninety percent of all problems start with the roots. Either the trees has been planted improperly or is being over-watered or under-watered,' he said.

Diagnostic tools like binoculars, a hand lens and soil probe help Marchello look high above at dangerous branches and far below the surface to diagnose soil problems.

'However, the most important tool when diagnosing tree defects is the knowledge of the arborist and his ability to draw upon various resources to correctly determine the problem and best treatment,' he said.

In the Northwest water seems abundant at times; people install irrigation and sprinkler systems, and combining those efforts with natural rainfall might be too much for plants.

'Wilt is a symptom of over-watering, so people think (the tree) is dying and want to water it more. But the water is what's killing it,' he said.

Springtime and fall, Marchello said, are a appropriate times to have a certified arborist examine plants on one's property. In spring insects and funguses come out and in wintertime, trees need to become 'bulletproof' to face winter storms.

Marchello has always enjoyed climbing. Ten years ago, he combined his love for nature and climbing when he became a certified arborist. Since then he has worked at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas and removed downed trees in the gulf after Hurricane Katrina.

Marchello is certified in CPR and First Aid from the American Red Cross. He is also trained through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to aid with aerial rescues for injured tree climbers.

'I had someone in Las Vegas have heat stroke up in a tree. He was a little delusional and disoriented,' Marchello said. 'We needed to cool him down and get him some water and hydrate him.'

It's all in a days work.

'It's really gratifying to come up to a tree that's never been touched or pruned, and to prune it, see it thrive and so well and say, 'wow, I did something good today.''

Marchello said that working with living creatures that react are fascinating.

'I would do this as a hobby. I love to go to work. I love dealing with my two favorite organisms - trees and people,' he said. 'I get a lot of gratification.'

To contact Dustin Marchello with Live Earth, Inc. of Gladstone, call 503-387-3055 or visit his Web site at www.liveearthhorticulture.com. Marchello is a Certified Arborist and a certified ISA Utility Specialist and Qualified Line Clearance Tree Trimmer.

Most tree problems in an urban landscape can be traced back to two main culprits - improper planting and over-watering.

If your tree could talk, here are seven other tips it would give you for keeping it healthy.

1. 'Give me vitamins - and I prefer organic!' Because trees in an urban landscape don't have the decomposed leaf material available as in a forest setting, annual or bi-annual deep-root fertilization provides the nutrients necessary for healthy growth. It's like your trees' multivitamin.

2. 'Don't stress me out!' In order to avoid unnecessary stress, the optimal pruning times are either late in the dormant season or after the leaves are fully formed and expanded, typically late winter or mid-summer respectively. The exception is dead, broken, or weak limbs, which should be removed immediately. And no more than 1/3 to 1/4 live growth should ever be removed at one time.

3. 'Grass is the bully that steals my lunch!' Trees and grass compete for the same nutrients in your soil. For this reason, avoid planting trees in the midst of lawns. If a tree already exists with grass around it, help your tree by removing the grass around its base, preferably to the tree's drip line.

4. 'Thanks for the blanket.' A little mulch keeps your tree warm in the winter and cool in the summer. More importantly, 2-3' of mulch applied 1-2' from the tree's trunk is a simple method for keeping weeds at bay, another enemy of your tree.

5. 'Uhm...I've made a mess.' Rake up your tree's fallen leaves regularly to prevent fungus from developing on them, which can easily transfer to your tree.

6. 'It's time for my doctor's appointment.' Having a certified arborist perform a simple inspection annually is an easy way to ensure the continued health of your trees. Ideally, this inspection should be done either in the fall prior to storm season or in the spring in order to check for spots, which can be a signal of disease.

7. '911 - CALL MY ARBORIST!!' Whether it's a tree emergency or a simple question - when in doubt, call your Certified Arborist. They are equipped to provide the most reliable information, working alongside you to reach the right solution for your trees.

Source: Dustin Marchello,

Live Earth Inc.