Garden Maintenance,  Podcast,  Seasonal Care

Interview With A Tree Ninja

Last week I had the opportunity to chat with Benoit Boudreau, the owner of Tree Ninja, and I’m really excited to share our discussion with you!

Benoit is both an Arborist and currently finishing his Forestry degree from the U of A. He has an ecological and sustainable view to urban forestry and tree care. It’s important to him to have a healthy community of trees and he wants to share why that’s important to the city, and also to you, the homeowner.

What Is An Arborist

An arborist is a professional in the practice of arboriculture, which is the cultivation, management, and study of individual trees, shrubs, vines, and other perennial woody plants in dendrology and horticulture.

Many people often think of arborists as ‘tree cutters’ but Benoit wants to change that. In the Uk, they’re more commonly referred to as ‘Tree Surgeons’, and this is the view Benoit wants to promote. Arborists are tree scientists.

Why Forestry?

Forestry is a huge industry with a 95% employment rate. It’s recession proof with sustainable & renewable resources that have a more stable price compared to fossil fuels.

A forester manages the forest. This might include replanting after trees have been cut, identifying pests and pathogens, implementing treatment, or preventing infestations. A forester might even be in charge of the mill by overseeing how the woods cut and prepared for the public.

Benoit was drawn to forestry because of how intricate it is and because there’s always something new and exciting happening on the job. A forester is in charge of the the forest and its ecosystem. This means a forester oversees the people and all of nature within their forest.

There are many different species in a forest including fish, rodents, insects, and microbes. For this reason a forester needs a broad knowledge base. One day (s)he might build a bridge over a creek, another day (s)he might create a forest fire management plan (what happens if a fire starts, what do you do?) A forester uses science and makes practical decisions.

Everything that applies to rural forestry also applies to urban forestry. Information about insects, diseases, and management practices are all utilized to maintain healthy trees within an urban setting.

A forester takes a long range, 100 to 200 years, approach to maintaining their forest. The same long term view applies to urban forests and also your yard. Some people choose trees based on what it looks like right now, when you plant it. But often this results in extra costs in the long run, such as needing to relocate or remove the tree.

Choosing A Tree

Trees offer an increase in value in a number of ways. They increase property value based on aesthetics, but also in cost savings. Properly planted they offer savings on both heating and cooling costs. They absorb escaping stormwater, and they improve air quality.

When planting a tree there are a few important points to consider.

  • How big will it grow?
    • Sometimes the slowest growing trees are the most beautiful.
    • It’s important to know how large the root system will be. It’s often double the size of the canopy. So a 30ft oak tree will need 60ft of root space.
  • How long will you be in the home?
    • If you’re living in your dream home, then plan for not only the first 5 years, but also for what the trees will offer your grandchildren.
    • If you’re moving in a short time, healthy, well placed trees add to the value of your property.
  • What are common pests or diseases?
    • Some trees are more disease resistant than others.
    • Certain pests or diseases are more common.
    • It’s impossible to find a tree that’s completely risk free, but you can choose trees that are less likely to become infected or infested.

Trees Prone to Disease or Pests

  • Columnar Aspen: poplar borer and Hypoxylon Canker
  • Schubert Cherries, Mayday and related prunus trees: Black Knot

Emerald Ash Borer is a danger to the Green Ash Tree population in Edmonton right now they’re being seen farther east. We’re hoping it doesn’t cross Saskatchewan.

Edmonton has one of the largest Elm populations in the world. About 20% (1 out of every 5 trees) of the Edmonton urban canopy is American Elm. Dutch Elm Disease is destroying many elms around the world, but right now Edmonton’s trees are disease free. The beetle that carries the disease has been found in Alberta. A key step to preventing Dutch Elm Disease is maintaining healthy trees.

Recommended trees

  • Oak
    • Slow growing, but large and beautiful. Good for a large yard.
  • Linden
    • Heart shaped leaves with clusters of flowers in spring that attract bees.
  • Ginkgo
    • The Ginkgo tree has a very neat history. It’s very resilient and considered a living fossil, it’s survived many extinction events such as meteor strikes and even the bombing of Nagasaki in Japan. The Ginkgo is thought to be the link between deciduous and coniferous trees. Looking at their leaves they appear to be a needle leaf that’s been flattened and spread out. Good for a small yard, but plant it in a warmer, protected area.
  • Russian Olive
    • Smaller tree, beautiful silver leaves, but they do have thorns. So if you’re planting a tree for children to climb, you’d probably want to choose a different tree. They also drop a lot of seeds. Good for a small yard.
  • Amur Maple
    • Some say it’s prone to invasiveness, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the Edmonton growing region. Good for a small yard.
  • Horse Chestnut
    • Need to be willing to pick up the nuts. You cannot eat them. But they are cool trees with an interesting pattern. Good for a small yard.


Do your research! Don’t go to a nursery not knowing what kind of tree you’re going to buy only to end up buying a pretty tree that catches your eye.

Create a landscape design and research the three points listed above. How much space do you have? What trees do your neighbours have (risk of disease as well as competing nutrients)? What do you want the over all tree to look like at maturity.

Once you have an idea of what tree you might like, then double check the details. Buy and plant a tree for the future.

Talk to a professional. Foresight and planning saves you money in the long run by preventing the need for disease care or tree removal or relocation.

When creating your over all planting plan, consider the tree’s native environment. Some trees grow well with other plants under the canopy, others don’t.

For instance blueberries naturally grow under coniferous trees. They like the acidic soil, and the shade offered by the trees. The blueberries don’t impact the tree in anyway so it’s a great combination.

But planting something like ivy under a tree isn’t a good idea because it can choke the tree. You don’t want something that’s going to suck up too much moisture or nutrients. Let them work together instead of competing.


Half the tree’s biomass is in the soil. Before planting a tree, make sure you consider where the roots will grow. Where are the utilities (Call First).

Alberta naturally has some of the best, richest soil in the world. It’s taken millions of years to develop this soil. When undisturbed, roots are able to efficiently get nutrients from the soil. But when a home is being built, those layers are disturbed and mixed together. Once this happens, plants don’t do as well. It’s important to make sure your soil is healthy. Amend it with compost or even bring in healthy soil from a garden centre.

Tree Care

Trees are pretty delicate. They can’t just be abused like we do other plants. An arborist will guide you to proper tree care for your specific tree. If your tree required professional care, they will offer a quote. Otherwise they’ll tell you what you can do to keep your tree healthy.

Hiring an arborist when you have a young tree is an excellent way to make sure your tree grows with a healthy shape. Pruning when they are very young is very important. Some trees are left to be co-dominant. Which means they have two trunks from a central stem.

When you have two trunks, they’re very likely to break as the tree matures. The crevice between the two stems is also a very good place for moisture and decay to set in.

An arborist would select a stem when the tree was much younger.

Improper pruning can lead to unbalanced and stressed trees.

It’s a great idea to have an arborist visit your trees annually. They’ll make sure they’re healthy and help you prevent potential problems.

Signs & Symptoms of Disease

Signs of disease are visible to the eye. For instance you see a mushroom so know it’s growing or see an insect on the leaf. Those are signs.

Symptoms are the tree’s reaction to disease or pests.

A leaf turning yellow in the middle of summer is a symptom that could mean. Wilting leaves, or parts of the tree dying are also symptoms. These symptoms can be caused by different reasons, for instance if they need water, if something happens to the soil, or if their root system is disturbed.

Spending time in your garden, looking at your trees allows you to notice changes that take place. Also paying attention to your neighbour’s and community’s trees can give you forewarning if something is harming them. This awareness can let you take action to protect your trees, when possible, before damage occurs.

Benoit has many clients who have him give the trees a check up annually. Early stages of disease, such as Black knot, aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye. But early detection and treatment can prolong the life of the tree.

If you’re interested in having Benoit or his team give your trees a check-up, give them a call. In the spring, fall, and even winter appointments are usually booked in 1-2 days, in the summer it can take a couple weeks because there’s a shortage of arborists in the Edmonton area.

Free Wood Chips

Tree Ninja promotes sustainability by offering free wood chips that are organic, free of dyes or preservatives, and locally sourced.

All you need to do is contact them and let them know you want some. When they have a load and are in your area, they’ll drop them off for you.

Wood chips retain moisture, give off heat, and improve the soil quality. It’s a good idea to add new chips based on how quickly the old ones decomposed, this can be every 1-2 years.

Give Tree Ninja A Call

I really appreciated Benoit stopping to talk to me about being an Arborist as well as a forester. I highly recommend anyone with trees to give him a call!

I’m including the podcast episode here for you to listen to. I apologize for the sound quality, I’ve had some technical difficulties with my recording equipment and don’t have the ability/knowledge to correct it right now.

Magical & Practical Gardening Ep 2

An arborist is a tree surgeon. Benoit Boudreau of Tree Ninja shares  what you can do to get the most out of your trees and why your trees need a visit from an Arborist every year.

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