Trees are some of the most beautiful and important parts of planet Earth. They help the environment by providing oxygen, conserving water, preserving air and soil quality, and supporting various animal species.
If you’re lucky enough to have trees on your property, you should take their maintenance seriously. These six tips will help you master the art of tree maintenance and contribute to a more prosperous planet.
1. Follow a Seasonal Maintenance Schedule
The first fundamental step of tree maintenance is following a seasonal schedule as the weather changes. Fall is typically the busiest season of the year because of leaf cleanup, but you also need to winterize the trees before freezing temperatures arrive. Winterization may include trunk wrapping, mulching, fertilization and watering, depending on each tree’s condition.
Winter is the best time for pruning trees because they’re dormant. You can clean up overgrown areas, improve the branch structure and allow new leaf buds to blossom the following spring without damaging the tree. However, you must be careful. Remember to trim one-third or less of each branch’s length. Overcutting is the cardinal sin of tree pruning.
Spring is the season for inspection. Once the weather gets warmer, check your trees for frostbite and cracked or rotting wood. Any areas not flowering or growing new leaves might have contracted a disease. Clean up around the trunk and replenish the mulch or fertilizer if the tree looks unhealthy.
When summer arrives, your focus should shift to hydration now that the trees are in their peak growing season. Mature trees may require water up to three times weekly during stretches of hot, dry weather to ensure the root ball doesn’t dry out. You should also stay on the lookout for pest infestations because bug activity ramps up during the summer.
2. Utilize Different Pruning Techniques
Pruning is arguably the most important of all the tree maintenance tasks. It removes decaying wood, helps smaller branches get more nutrients, increases sunlight exposure for lower branches and improves the tree’s overall structural integrity. Pruning can also lead to bigger harvests for trees that grow fruits or nuts.
Here are some key pruning techniques you should be familiar with:
- Canopy thinning: Removing entire branches to thin out the upper canopy and let more sunlight through the tree
- Heading back: Cutting off parts of branches that have become rotten or unruly
- Renewal pruning: Removing old and weakened branches to make room for new ones
Deadwood removal: Getting rid of dead areas so they don’t spread to the rest of the tree
Aside from keeping the tree healthy, pruning is also essential for your safety. Falling branches are life-threatening storm hazards that often get overlooked. The 10-year average of wind-related deaths is 58 in the United States. Fallen trees and flying branches were among the most common causes.
3. Manage Soil Conditions
Keeping the soil in optimal condition for your trees is an ongoing challenge. You first need to figure out your yard’s drainage and ensure that each tree is getting enough rainwater runoff, which is their main water source. Improper drainage causes the water to form puddles on the surface instead of evenly spreading out, dehydrating your trees in the long run.
Mulching and fertilization are the next steps in maintaining healthy soil. Tree roots often grow between 6 and 12 inches below the ground surface, so mulch and fertilizer can be extremely helpful for keeping them oxygenated and nutrient-rich. Your goal should be to duplicate the soil conditions of a local forest floor, which means you want to lean on natural ingredients.
The best mulch consists of organic materials such as wood chips, grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, straw and compost. A 2-3-inch layer around the base of the trunk should be enough, but you might have to add more if the soil is sandy and fast-draining. This factor is another important reason for knowing your yard’s drainage.
The same principle applies to fertilizers. Although chemicals are quick and convenient, organic options improve the soil’s water retention and naturally aerate the ground without exposing trees to foreign chemicals. You can try a traditional animal byproduct fertilizer like manure or experiment with plant-based versions such as alfalfa and corn gluten meal.
4. Learn the Signs of Tree Trouble
To master the art of tree maintenance, you must learn all the signs of tree trouble from top to bottom. Your trees might suffer damage from storms, pests, diseases and dehydration. Here are the telltale signs of danger you should look out for in key areas:
- Canopy: Broken or dying branches, delayed growth, holes in leaves, leaf discoloration
- Trunk: Cracked or discolored bark, holes in the trunk, growing fungus
- Base: Shifting soil, cracked roots, roots interfering with other plants
If you notice these problems, they are most likely symptoms of a root disease festering underground. Your best bet is to contact a professional tree maintenance service for a proper examination. Removing the tree might be necessary if the symptoms get worse, but usually, you just need to improve the soil conditions.
5. Watch Out for Invasive Plants
One particular tree trouble that might not seem dangerous at first is the presence of invasive plants. Nonnative species can infiltrate a new ecosystem and latch onto anything that helps them grow. Mature trees provide the ideal growing environment for English ivy, Chinese wisteria and other vertical-growing invasive species that are difficult to eradicate.
You need to watch out for invasive plants year-round and eliminate any signs of them at the source. Cut them off the trunk and look for their biggest roots underground until you find the root ball. It might take several eradication attempts to eliminate the invasive species for good. Remember to wear goggles and gloves when dealing with poisonous plants.
6. Plant the Right Trees for Your Location
This final pointer will help you nurture tree saplings to adulthood. As much as you might want to plant a certain tree species, the climate and soil conditions may not be suitable. You must also consider the tree’s purpose in your yard and whether it has enough space to grow. Are you planting it for shade, privacy or simply to admire its beauty?
Once the tree reaches maturity, how tall will it be? How will the root system impact other plants and built structures in your yard? You must answer all these questions before putting the sapling in the ground. Generally, fall is the best season to plant saplings because the soil temperature is mild and moisture levels are strong.
Tree Maintenance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
Although they are the biggest living things in the neighborhood, trees are simple creatures. They enjoy water, sunlight and nutrient-dense soil just like any other plant. Maintenance isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, either. These pointers will help you create an ideal growing environment for your trees year-round so you can enjoy everything they have to offer.