Trees have been taking the brunt of nature’s fickle moods lately, so when humans compound the problem by treating the stately plants badly, gardeners shake their heads and mutter. Trees are used as billboards, planted in hell strips, or moved often, like furniture; their roots are chopped, mowed, sliced, or driven over. In short, they’re taken for granted by people who live under them.
Despite all these things, trees still grow, but there are a few things we do that make their lives miserable. If you want to avoid harming your tree, take some tips from local Foresters, who shared their lists of the seven deadly sins of tree care.
Keith Wood, Colorado State Forester, says tree problems can start at planting, unless your pay attention to digging the right hole for the plant. “Having the adequate size hole for the tree (wide and shallow) rather than (narrow and deep),” is the best way to get your seedling off to a good start. A wide and shallow hole allows roots to expand quickly into our heavy clay soils.
Kathleen Alexander, Boulder City Forester, and Ralph Zentz, Fort Collins Forester, caution that the wrong tree in the wrong place is a recipe for disaster. When ogling that cute young tree at the nursery, keep in mind that it will grow; popping it in close to the house, sidewalk, or driveway is something you might regret later.
Planting trees not suited to our area is another pitfall, so don’t believe everything that newspaper inserts advertise. “Diversity -do your homework,” says Alexander about giving thought to the trees you choose. Avoid planting species not adapted to Front Range, like red maples, Autumn Blaze maples, or planting ash, she said.
Ken Fisher, Forestry Assistant with the city of Boulder urges people planting new trees to be good stewards of your sapling by removing the wire basket, burlap, and string from the root ball. Provide mulch to buffer roots, but avoid mounding it up against the trunk, which offers insects, rodents, and disease a hiding spot. And if you stake, take it off after one year to allow the tree to flex a little in the wind and grow a sturdy trunk.
Once trees are in and growing, the list of offenses to avoid takes a wild turn. “Loving the tree to death with too much water or fertilizer, chaining a dog around the base of the tree, or using herbicides near trees (trees are broadleaf plants too),” are part of the list Fisher provided, who has seen a lot of damage to trees in public places caused by such things. And trees aren’t vampires, so why impale them with stakes or nails to hold signs?
Chains yanked by dogs cut into the bark, causing damage similar to weed whackers or lawn mowers, which are high on the list of damaging items Zentz and Alexander have. This type of wound, caused by string trimmers or lawn mowers, cuts into the cambium, a crucial pathway for the tree to move nutrients. A circle of mulch helps prevent grass from growing right up to the trunk and keeps trimmers away.
On older trees, a paramount concern is improper pruning, which can include the cardinal sin of topping a tree (cutting off the main trunk), something reputable arborists won’t do. Keep your tree in good health by hiring an experienced, International Society of Arboriculture certified arborist to prune them. “You check credentials or insurance for electricians, plumbers, etc. ; why not trees?” said Alexander.