This Fall, Give Your Trees Some TLC

By Jeff Hansen, President of Hansen?s Tree Service

They add character to neighborhoods, beauty to rolling hills and depth to flat prairies. They mark the changing of our seasons as well as the passage of time. Most people really appreciate their trees, as they have watched them grow from tiny, fragile seedlings into budding, flowering trees at the first sign of spring.

Whether they have guarded your home for a few years or even for several decades, your trees need some extra attention this autumn. A few simple treatments make a big difference when spring emerges and your trees are already strong, beautiful and healthy.

What to Look For

There are many things that you can do to make sure your trees are healthy. First of all, look at both young and older trees for signs of disease, which often include sap running off the tree, little branch growth on the trunk, dead bark, cankers and wilted, misshapen or discolored leaves. Oftentimes you can alleviate these symptoms with conservative pruning and mulching, but sometimes these symptoms derive from root problems which can only be treated by a professional. If you have concerns about your trees or you are not sure what to do, a licensed arborist should examine your trees, both young and older, for diseases as well as to prepare them for the frigid months ahead.

Another tree characteristic that homeowners should pay attention is co-dominant stem attachments, or fork-like branches, which occurs when there are multiple branches competing with the main trunk. Co-dominant stem attachments should promptly be removed from young trees to ensure their strong future growth. Older trees with co-dominant stems are weak, and are prone to splitting under the heavy weight of snow, ice or wind pressure. Co-dominant stem removal not only strengthens trees, but beautifies them as well.

As for damage, one must keep an eye out for small nicks in young tree trunks. Created by lawn mowers and other gardening tools, these nicks attract disease and insects. You can take preventative measures by placing PVC pipe around the tree or by using tree wraps made from fiberglass and various synthetic foams.

Young trees can also be threatened by weeds that grow within their driplines, or watering basins. Since weeds compete with young trees for water and nutrients, they should be removed. Mulching with nutrient-rich, organic mulch can prevent future weed growth.

Homeowners should also pay attention to older trees since they create large liabilities if they fall on your own property or that of your neighbors. A 2000 lb. oak tree can cause a lot of costly damage, and insurance often doesn?t cover the majority of the accident. Be proactive and examine your trees before the cold weather comes so that winter storms don?t bring them tumbling down.

Pruning and Mulching: Important for Healthy Trees

The list of tree damage and disease is a long one, but don?t worry: many of your trees? ailments can be alleviated by the simple tasks of pruning and mulching. Many homeowners prune and mulch their trees, but if you feel overwhelmed it is best to hire a licensed arborist who is educated on the scientific principles of plant physiology. You must always remember that there is danger to do-it-yourself trimming and pruning of larger trees.

One important step in preparing your trees for winter is deadwooding, which refers to the removal of a tree?s deadwood. It is often easiest to identify deadwood during autumn since the entire tree?s architecture is clear. Deadwooding maintains a tree?s structural integrity, and lessens its chance of being damaged in an ice storm. Removing deadwood also reduces the risk of insect infestation.

Another essential task is thinning, which refers to the removal of excess foliage and growth from trees? interiors. Like deadwooding, thinning reduces weight on branches, which can minimize winter storm damage. Thinning also promotes wind circulation within the trees? canopies to reduce fungal growth.

Aside from pruning, autumn mulching is crucial because it helps prepare trees for the upcoming winter months. Mulch is not only attractive and gives your landscaping a professional look, but it also increases trees? root masses, helps trees absorb nutrients, moderates soil temperature and increases water retention. Don?t skip fall mulch! It?s just as important to mulch now and freshen it up in the spring.

There are many types of mulch on the market, but not all of them are created equal. According to a study performed by the Ohio State University Agricultural Research and Development Center, the nutrient uptake in composted yard trimmings is 20 to 25 percent higher than in bare soil or typical bagged mulch, which is typically made from pear tree bark and hasn?t had adequate time to cook. Therefore, the best mulch for your trees is premium blended organic mulch because it produces more microbial nitrogen than non-composted mulch.

In order to properly mulch your trees this fall, there are several guidelines to keep in mind. Firstly, remove all weeds and grass from the areas that will be covered with mulch. The areas should be covered with two to four inches of mulch, raked into a flattened doughnut shape. The mulch must be kept at least six inches away from the trunks. Finally, dig a ?moat? around the base of the tree, and also leave a small gap between the mulch and the edge of the surrounding lawn.

If aesthetics are important, mulch is available in numerous colors, ranging from pale tan to rich mahogany to nearly black. This wide variety ensures that you will find colored mulch that perfectly complements your trees and landscaping. Homeowners can also purchase organically dyed mulch, which is less likely to bleed or succumb to sun bleaching. Organically dyed mulch is popular because every ingredient in it is organic, which means that it will not harm your trees.

So during the next few weeks, look around your yard and examine your trees for signs of disease and damage. Even if your trees seem healthy and strong, they should still be pruned and mulched before winter. If you see something that seems unusual, call your local licensed arborist for diagnosis and treatment. A little extra attention will prepare your trees not only for ice storms, but will also ensure their glorious beauty when winter finally thaws.

Jeff Hansen is president of Hansen?s Tree Service, a full-service tree and lawn care company that performs diagnosis, treatment, pruning, tree removal, stump removal and lawn care. Hansen?s is fully accredited by TCIA and ISA, and serves residences and companies throughout the entire St. Louis metro area. With nine fully certified arborists on staff, Hansen?s educates the public on the values of proper tree and lawn care, its maintenance and the importance of environmental responsibility.

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