4 ways to care for the trees in your yard

July 29, 2015

Choosing trees that make sense for you and the landscape means they will grow with you for a long, long time. It's also important to know how to tend to tree-related problems as they arise. Here are some smart ways to do just that.

4 ways to care for the trees in your yard

1. Fast growth vs. longevity

  • A tree can last from 30 years to hundreds of years.
  • Just like animals, trees have life expectancies, and some trees are genetically predisposed to live longer than others.
  • Birches and shadblows may give you 30 to 50 years, while oaks will outlive not only you but also a few generations of your descendants.
  • There's also a trade-off between growth speed and longevity: Trees that grow quickly typically do not enjoy long lives, in part because fast-growing trees form relatively weak wood that can't stand up to the ravages of time.
  • Remember this when you're choosing trees to create a privacy buffer or for any long-term purpose.

2. Take care with trimmers

  • Tree trunks sustain more injuries from the lashing of string trimmers than from anything else.
  • The damage may seem minor, but it can cause major problems if it happens repeatedly.
  • A way to avoid the problem is to prevent grass, which needs to be trimmed, from growing up to the trunk of a tree in the first place (this works for shrubs as well).
  • Install shallow edging about one metre (three feet) from the trunk to keep grass at a healthy distance, and apply a layer of maintenance-free mulch inside the edging or plant the area with a low-growing shade-loving ground cover.
  • It will look neater and keep your woody plants healthier.

3. Consider tree roots

  • Where trees are concerned, prevention is the best medicine, and that means protecting their roots from damage.
  • Before planting a tree you'll want to think about what else will be going on in or near the area where you're planting.
  • Make sure that cars don't drive over or park in the root zones of trees. Also make sure that people don't habitually walk over the same area.
  • Never heap soil over the roots of trees or around their trunks.
  • It may take years for mounded soil to suffocate a tree, but it most assuredly will.
  • Don't garden aggressively directly beneath trees.
  • The constant digging and disturbance are damaging to roots.
  • Keep trees and gardens at a respectful distance from one another, and both will benefit.
  • If you are planning major work on your house, fence off the root zone of any trees in the vicinity so that heavy equipment operators won't drive over the roots.
  • This will also help ensure that the trunk isn't damaged by equipment or materials getting too close.

4. Take a tree tour

  • Homeowners often walk through their gardens looking at the herbaceous flowers, but it's all too easy to ignore trees and shrubs — the woody backdrop.
  • Every so often, make a point of "touring" your home landscape looking for woody plant problems that are starting to develop.
  • If you find branches broken or torn by heavy winds, prune them neatly with a sharp blade to minimize the opportunity for infection.
  • Look for signs of disease — discolouration or disfiguration of leaves, defoliation or masses of insects — and take steps to treat them. But don't go overboard.
  • A few tent caterpillars aren't an infestation.
  • Consult a professional if you have doubts about how or whether to treat insect problems.
  • For major tree work, consult a licensed arborist, not just any garden service.
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