How not to be a “TREE KILLER!”

By Chase Bergeson, AWS Stewardship intern

The other day, I helped to lead a group of elementary schoolers on a field trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in Northeast DC. Out in the mud some of the kids seems a little dubious about planting wild rice and were mostly worried about getting dirty. I wasn't thinking that we had a new group of environmentalists under our wing, but apparently they took their educational experience to heart. Upon passing a maintenance man pruning some trees along the trail, the kids began to shout: "Stop that!" "You’re hurting it." "Leave that tree alone!" "TREE KILLER!" I was astonished to learn that we had some tree huggers all along.

And while their hearts were in the right place, their shouts were uncalled for. The man was actually helping the trees. If you want to make sure that you don’t have a group of 40 ten-year-olds coming after you (they can be pretty scary when they want to be!), then keep reading for some tips about properly taking care of your trees!

Watering trees in the hot DC summer is a must, especially in the first 3 years of life of the tree. Remember the handy "25 to Stay Alive" mantra by our friends at Casey Trees.

When most people think of doing their yard work, they think of mowing the lawn or watering the flowers. It is important to recognize that your yard is not just the sum of its parts, but an intricate system, where the health of one plant is related to another. Most trees have roots that extend well into lawns and flowerbeds. You may not think about it when you fertilize or water your lawn, but you are also impacting the health of your trees. Maintaining these trees is just as important as maintaining the rest of your lawn and can be even more beneficial! Sure, having a pretty lawn will keep the neighbors happy, but proper tree maintenance can mean improvements in safety, comfort, and aesthetics as well.

Inspect:

It is important to regularly inspect your trees. At least once a year you should take note of any new growth, changes in leaf and twig size, dead branches, insects, discoloration, loose bark, or fungi. Keeping track of the health of your trees can help you prevent sick or decaying trees from falling apart and causing damage, and can prevent the spread of infection to other trees.

Mulch:

Mulching can really help to protect the roots of your trees. Mulching creates a more moderate root environment and prevents temperature and moisture extremes, which can damage roots and cause them to rot. It also saves you from weeding, by keeping away grass and weeds that cause competition for the tree. Organic mulch helps improve the nutrients in the soil. Inorganic mulch made from rubber and stone can also be used and does not need to be replaced or maintained regularly, however it is not recommended because it does little for the soil surrounding the tree. When mulching your tree, a layer of mulch 2-4 inches deep should be made around the tree, covering as much of the root system as possible. Try to keep mulch away from the base of the tree in a 1-2 inch ring to prevent the bark of the tree from becoming over moist and rotting.

Prune:

While some people might think that pruning your tree is "hurting" it, if done properly it can actually be quite healthy for the tree and for your property. In forest settings, trees grow naturally with their branches fairly evenly spaced and with a single trunk that is larger and taller than the rest of the branches. This happens when they are closely spaced and competing for resources. In the setting of your yard, however, they tend to grow with many competing stems branching off many times from one another. This can cause branches to get weighed down, excessive bark growth, and weak branches that may break off and fall into your property.

It is most beneficial to prune your trees at an early age to make sure that they grow correctly and with a healthy structure. This involves trimming branches so that they are regularly spaced around the tree and not too close together. It also involves ensuring that there is one leading branch, or trunk, that is longer than all the others and dominating the tree structure. As the tree matures pruning should be limited to branches that are dead, too close to the ground for proper use of your yard, or pose safety threats (e.g., the infamous "widow makers"!).

Before pruning any branches it is important that you have a good reason. Cutting too many branches can damage the tree and cutting off too much foliage can prevent further tree growth and repair. Remember this: prune no more than 25% of the tree crown in any one year. Pruning more than that is not recommended since it jeopardizes the integrity of the tree as you are removing all that nice foliar area that the tree uses to photosynthesize and grow.

Protecting trees from wildlife damage is very important in our area. This can be done by installing tree shelters or chicken wire fencing, and most importantly, don't forget to maintain these tree shelters by rectifying them and keeping them upright and in place on a regular basis.

Keeping your trees healthy can improve the aesthetics of your yard, the safety of your property and family, and can help you save energy! Remember this summer to make tree maintenance a part of your regular yard work and if any children or other tree huggers give you a hard time, show them how much you love trees too by explaining to them the importance of tree care!

For more information visit http://www.treesaregood.com/

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