Think of tree care as an investment. A healthy tree increases in value with age: increasing property values, beautifying our surroundings, purifying our air, saving energy by providing cooling shade from summers heat and protection from winters wind. Regular maintenance, designed to promote plant health and vigor, assures their value will continue to grow.
Preventing a problem is much less costly and time-consuming than curing one once it has developed. An effective maintenance program, including inspecting your tree regularly, and the necessary follow-up care of watering, mulching, fertilizing, and pruning, can detect problems and correct them before they become damaging or fatal. Considering many tree species can live as long as 200-300 years, including these practices when caring for your home landscape is an investment that will offer enjoyment and value for generations.
Regular inspections can help prevent or reduce the severity of disease, insect and environmental problems. At least once a year examine for characteristics of tree vigor: new leaves or buds, leaf size, twig growth, and crown die back (gradual death of the upper part of the tree).
All plants require water for growth. They get water from the soil and lose most of it through their leaves by evaporation (transpiration). How much water is available to a plant depends on the depth and spread of the roots, as well as the water source. During dry periods keep a close eye on your trees to determine whether they are getting enough water. Signs of water stress include wilting, a change in leaf color (from shiny to dull, or from dark green to gray green), and premature leaf fall. There are a number of ways to water efficiently: basins, furrows, sprinklers, soakers, or drip systems. The most important goals are to eliminate run-off, to confine water inside the drip line of branches, and to apply water uniformly and slowly (deeply).
Mulches reduce moisture loss, improve soil structure, reduce soil erosion, keep weeds down, moderate soil temperatures, and provide a clean, firm surface for walking on during rainy weather. Most mulches are organic and are the by-product of industry, agriculture, or your own gardening. Inorganic mulches include gravel, crushed brick, and rock.
Apply mulches 2 to 3 inches thick. Keep mulch 6 inches away from trunks.
Nitrogen fertilization makes young trees grow more rapidly and reach landscape size more quickly. However, mature trees may need little or no fertilization as long as they have good leaf color and grow reasonably well. In fact, increased vigor may needlessly increase the size of trees, density of the leaves, and increase their need for water. Leaves on the inside of such trees, or plants under them, grow poorly because of heavy shade. If using fertilizers for your trees, use a slow-release form.
Pruning, done correctly, can do much to enhance tree health and appearance. Done incorrectly, it can cause starvation, shock, an excess of new growth, hazardous limb attachments, ugliness and even the death of the tree.
Reasons to prune include:
Shortening a limb should be done by cutting back to a lateral branch that is at least 1/3 as large in diameter as the branch at the pruning cut. Make sure the lateral branch is headed in a desirable direction.
Topping (also called stubbing, hat-racking, lopping or heading back) is a common practice but is not in any way good for trees. It is pruning at its worst. Many people top trees to make trees smaller, not realizing that the resulting sprouts are much more numerous and faster growing than normal branches - a "panic" reaction of the tree. The trees will quickly re-grow (and out-grow) their previous size, but the branches are weakly attached, and tree health reduced by the energy put into the new growth.
Reduction of tree size is possible through correct pruning procedures. It is best accomplished by a trained Arborist. However, if you find yourself continuously pruning a tree because of size restrictions, you may want to evaluate whether that tree is the right one for your spot.