Many American families live in beautiful subdivisions with lush landscapes and beautiful trees. It seems to simply be a part of our American culture that dad mows the lawn on the weekend and trims the shrubs while mom keeps the flower pots full of bright annuals. While this is a pretty drastic oversimplification, a part of it rings true in many subdivisions across America. Would it surprise you then, to hear that many landscapes are not properly managed by the homeowner, especially trees?
As a landscape horticulture student, I have been learning about all the nuances of caring for landscape. My favorite class has been Arboriculture, the study of trees in an urban environment, where we have learned about the whole tree from roots to branches. While trees are fairly hearty, if we don’t maintain them properly, they will quickly become hazardous and even die.
There are a few main areas where trees are consistently poorly managed simply due to a lack of knowledge. The first is mulching. It is extremely important that all trees are mulched as it drastically improves how quickly a tree grows. Grass around a tree actually competes with it for water and nutrients and will slow the trees overall growth. The shape of the mulch ring is also critical to tree health. It should be in a “donut” shape around the base of the tree. The mulch shouldn’t actually touch the tree trunk at all. It’s important that there is no moisture where the base of the tree trunk “flares” out. If the base of your trees looks like a telephone pole going into the ground, that’s how you know you might have a problem.
The other main issue is pruning. This is a little more complicated issue to summarize but If I clear up a few misconceptions, it might help. Many people believe branches move as the tree grows, this is false. Once a branch grows, its location in relation to the ground will never change. It is also true that the distance between branches will not change and will actually grow smaller as they thicken with age. If branches get too close together as they grow, they will actually “choke” each other out and both die. Removing some branches early in the trees life to make room for other branches as the tree grows will be better for the tree in the long run. It is much less traumatic for a tree to have branches removed at a young age rather than when they are more mature.
These are just a few of the simple things I have learned about landscape maintenance that will help everyone keep their trees looking healthy and happy.