How To Keep Healthy Trees

Like your 401K, your trees are leafy investments that pay dividends. You want to keep them green and growing for years to come.

by Carole Howell

Do regular inspections of your trees to ensure they're not at risk for damage. 

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If part of your landscape includes a canopy of trees, you may not realize just how fortunate you are.

According to studies, trees can be responsible for up to 10 percent of a home’s value. A big shade tree can reduce your home cooling bill, and evergreens provide a windbreak that helps reduce your heating costs. Among many other environmental benefits, trees reduce air and noise pollution, especially important in cities where asphalt reigns. If you’ve been taking your trees for granted, don’t. The green and seemingly vibrant tree that you’ve always depended on may have unseen problems that are shortening its life or creating a hazard that could cause property damage or worse.

Tree Check Up

As a homeowner or property owner, it’s important to perform annual checkups on your trees to make sure they’re healthy and thriving. Don’t let any part of the tree’s anatomy go uninspected.

  • Tree Base and Roots: Start low. Rake back leaves or mulch and pull ivy and other material away from the base to inspect for cavities, rot and fungus. Mushrooms around a tree’s base and on the trunk can be signs of root decay.
  • Trunk: As your eyes move up the trunk, look for areas of missing bark that could indicate a dead or dying section, a lightning strike, or maybe even a fungus or insect attack.
  • Limbs: The most obvious sign of trouble and possible risk are dead or split branches. Look for limbs with dead leaves, brown needles or a complete absence of bark.
  • Stature: If your tree is leaning, even slightly, and you see cracks and lifting in the soil against the lean, your tree is at real risk of toppling without warning, roots and all, from a gust of wind or unstable wet ground. If your home or your neighbor’s property is in the fall line, this is a problem that you shouldn’t wait addressing.

Seek Out Expert Help

A certified arborist can help you identify and solve tree problems, like rot or insect infestations. 

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It’s expensive to replace a tree. Besides purchasing and planting, it can take 20 to 40 years for a tree, depending on the species, to grow to its greatest potential. Reaching out to a certified arborist, who is trained to examine your tree with an eye to saving rather than removing it, before you face a major tree problem can save you a lot of time, money and heartache in the long run. An on-site inspection and report can run from $50 to $150 an hour, plus more for treatment.

“Unfortunately, people don’t call an arborist until they notice that their tree is too big and dangerous or has a problem or is stressed,” says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist at the Tree Care Industry Association. “A tree neglected for years may need to be removed, whereas providing it with proper tree care could keep it healthy and vigorous for its full life-span potential.”

Secrets To Healthy Trees

Select trees for your property that can acclimate to your climate to ensure their longevity. 

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To ensure your trees will provide your fruit, shade and shelter for years to come, you’ll need to give them the proper TLC. Follow these maintenance tips to avoid the costly damage of an unhealthy tree.

1. Choose The Species Carefully

Some trees like the Bradford pear, while beautiful, have long, thin limbs that typically break and split in wind and ice storms. Other species are susceptible to insect attack. Before planting a new tree, do some research to determine what type of tree will do what you want it to do in the area you want to put it, Andersen recommends. A delicate Japanese maple in the north woods of Maine, for example, will not survive long.

2. Water, Water And Water Some More

Lack of watering is a common problem in trees. “Maybe a homeowner will water for the first year after planting, but as the tree gets to be four or five years old, they just assume that rain water is enough,” Andersen says. “Too often, especially in urban areas, trees don’t have sufficient soil to grow enough root support to capture rainwater to sustain them.” Water frequently enough to keep the soil moist but well-drained.

3. Hold Back The Mulch

A popular esthetic technique is to pile thick mulch around the base of a tree, but mulch arranged too close to a tree trunk prevents moisture from escaping and can cause root decay. It’s better to leave a mulch-free ring about 8 inches from the trunk.

4. Prune With Care

Trees that have been trimmed incorrectly are susceptible to breaking, Andersen says. If you decide to hire a tree trimming and removal service, choose one that is experienced and insured with several good references and the proper equipment. Make sure that the company doesn’t use any type of climbing spikes, which create tiny wounds in the trunk, where decay can begin. Andersen adds that a do-it-yourself approach to tree trimming is risky business for the tree and for you unless you can easily reach the branch with a pole saw.

If you’ve just moved into a new home, or have a tree you value, it’s a good idea to get a professional consultation. Over time, the benefits of a large, healthy shade tree or evergreen will more than cover the cost of maintenance, while an ailing tree will cost in property damage and the expense of removal and replacement. Trees are a beautiful and beneficial gift from nature and a lifetime investment that, with care, give back in so many ways. Treat them well.

About the Author: Carole Howell is a freelance writer in North Carolina.


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