Trees add beauty and value to your home, but they need care to thrive. Proper maintenance can reduce the risk of pest infestations, decay, and fall hazards.
Water young trees frequently. During a hot stretch of weather, it’s best to water once every two weeks. Mulching keeps moisture near the roots and blocks weeds and grasses that compete for soil nutrients.
Whether they’re growing over walkways or into driveways, rubbing against utility lines or your roof, threatening buildings or other plants, or just blocking sunlight, if trees are encroaching on usable space, it’s time for pruning. A bit of regular trimming will not only help maintain a desirable shape, it also promotes new growth, improves air circulation and light penetration and reduces the risk of damage from storms or insect infestation.
When to prune varies by woody plant, but in general the best time to trim is in late winter through early spring while the tree or shrub is dormant. That’s when the plant naturally sheds its old, dead or diseased branches and limbs through a process called abscission. When you prune, it’s important to do it correctly. It’s critical to avoid making any cuts that would expose the inner bark to the elements and to make sure that all pruning cuts are clean and made at the correct angle and location. It’s also important to keep in mind that removing the wrong type or amount of branch material can harm the plant.
In addition to removing dead or unhealthy parts of the tree, pruning can help shape it and reduce its overall weight which will improve its structural integrity. The most common pruning tasks include removing crossing or rubbing branches, removing crowded or low-lying branches, removing limbs that have grown too large for their support and thinning the canopy to allow for better light and air penetration.
Pruning also helps protect against disease and pests by reducing the likelihood of insects and pathogens entering open wounds on branches or stems. This is particularly important for species such as oaks and elms that can be susceptible to fatal, insect-borne diseases such as oak wilt and Dutch elm disease.
It’s a good idea to consult with an arborist for large, established shade and fruit trees as they have the proper training and equipment to safely remove large limbs. However, most ornamental and fruit trees can be pruned by the homeowner with a little knowledge of proper technique.
Trees need water to survive, grow and thrive. Many homeowners assume that rain provides enough moisture for their landscape trees, but that’s not always the case. Young trees, in particular, require regular irrigation and more frequent hydration in hot weather or droughts.
Even well-established, mature trees can experience stress from lack of water when air and soil temperatures are high. This can lead to wilting and brown leaf edges. Watering is especially important in the fall, when trees are preparing for dormancy.
It’s best to use a slow trickle of water that mimics the effect of rain or natural rainfall. Watering too often can actually be more detrimental than not watering enough, but that’s another topic for a future blog post. When watering, aim to soak the soil to a depth of 8-12 inches. This is more than the root zone and allows water to reach beyond the turf roots to deeper soil areas that are vital for the health of your plants.
How often you should water depends on your local climate and soil conditions, but generally a mature tree needs to be watered once a week during a drought or dry period. A new planting should be watered more frequently, but no more than every other day. It’s a good idea to check the soil for moisture before and after watering, and only irrigate when it is necessary.
If you have an automated system that waters your landscape, make sure it’s set to deliver the right amount of water. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are better than lawn sprinklers, which tend to deliver water at high rates and can burn or damage the roots. Alternatively, a garden hose with the valve turned down to a dribble and moved regularly can be a great way to manually water a small area around a tree.
If you want to get really creative, try buying some five gallon buckets, poking holes in the bottom and placing them on the ground near your trees. Move the buckets from one location to the next, soaking the soil in a circle under the drip line of the tree. This is an easy and efficient way to water your trees, and it can serve as a visual cue for when you need to fill them up again!
Weeding is a vital part of tree care, especially in greenstreets and street trees. These plantings have limited soil space, and weeds often compete for water and nutrients from the roots of the young trees. If left unattended, weeds can kill or stress the plants and inhibit their growth. Keeping the planting area weed free helps the tree by providing a more stable environment and a larger surface for roots to grow into.
When weeding, be careful not to damage the bark of the tree. Mowing and weed-whacking can cut the bark, exposing the cambium (the living inner core of the tree) to decay. This can lead to disease and insect infestation. It is also important not to pile up soil or mulch around the base of the tree. This can suffocate the root system by limiting oxygen, and create an entry point for rodents and other pests.
It is best to use a hand cultivator, rake or hoe to weed the planting area. This allows you to work close to the trunk of the tree and is less damaging than using a power mower or pulling weeds by hand. Be sure to keep a weed-free ring of one to two feet around the base of the tree.
Ideally, fertilization should be done after weeding in the spring. A chemical fertilizer with a 3:1:2 or a organic fertilizer are both good options. When using a chemical fertilizer, it is important to follow the instructions on the label to avoid over-fertilizing.
The most important thing to remember is that a newly planted tree is under stress. The soil is new and different, the tree has been moved from its nursery, and it may be in a completely different site. All of these factors can lead to the tree being more susceptible to insects, diseases and poor development. Observation and thoughtful care are the keys to success for any tree! Whether you are planting for aesthetics, wildlife habitat, property value, energy reduction or as a street tree, you will have better luck with a healthy plant in its first few years.
In addition to sunshine and water, trees need certain nutrients. If they don’t get them, their leaves can become pale and they may fail to develop new twigs. Proper tree fertilization boosts a tree’s growth and health and can also supercharge its natural resistance to debilitating insects and disease. But it’s essential to know when and how to fertilize so your tree gets the most benefit.
Most tree fertilizers contain macronutrients—the building blocks of plant growth—such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. These mimic the make-up of healthy soil that trees thrive in, and many also include traces of other important minerals such as magnesium and calcium.
Fertilizers can be mixed directly into the soil or applied as a surface-level additive. Using a spray or spreader, apply the product evenly across the ground for a circle 3 to 4 feet wide around your tree (or as recommended on the label). Avoid applying the product too close to the trunk.
If you use an organic fertilizer such as compost, mulch, or manure, mix it into the top layer of soil. It will take longer to work its way down into the root zone, but it’s a great way to provide your trees with the nutrition they need.
Aside from organic sources, it’s best to choose a fertilizer with a low nitrogen content because too much can cause foliage burn. Instead, add more potassium or other macronutrients. You can find a suitable combination by reading the label on your fertilizer or asking an expert.
It’s also a good idea to test the soil pH of your property before you begin fertilizing. If your soil is too acidic, it will prevent the roots from taking in necessary nutrients and can damage the tree over time.
If you’re not sure how to test the soil, you can send a sample of your soil away for testing. Look in your phone directory or online to find a lab near you. The lab will tell you which nutrient levels are lacking and can recommend a course of action for improving the soil.