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North Hills Monthly

Prepare Trees Now to Help Them Survive Long Winter

Aug 29, 2014 08:57PM ● By Denise Schreiber
September is the time of year when local landscapers pull up in their trucks and offer to ‘trim’ or ‘shape’ your trees to keep them from getting out of control. The only ones out of control are these so-called ‘tree experts,’ who know nothing about proper pruning and everything about making a buck off of an unsuspecting homeowner.

Just drive through any neighborhood after the leaves have fallen and you’ll see the damage wrought by improper pruning, such as weird shapes, large ‘knuckles’ where a branch has been pruned several times, and water sprouts, which are straight, vertical branches shooting skyward from large branches. While Joyce Kilmer may never have seen ‘a poem as lovely as a tree,’ he would have cringed if he’d seen these types of horrors.

For starters, the only pruning that should be done this time of year is for broken, crossed or hazardous branches. Other than that, waiting until late winter is the best time to prune a tree. Pruning a tree now can actually trigger new growth that will not harden off before the dreaded frost appears, killing the new growth.

So how should you care for your trees? Water is vitally important to trees, especially during a dry Indian summer. A two-inch caliper tree should receive a minimum of 10 to 15 gallons of water a week. You can break that up into five gallons of water at a time, and you should continue to water your trees until we have a hard freeze, not a frost. Watering like this will help protect trees from windburn during the winter; even though there are no leaves, they can still lose moisture.

Watering evergreens is critical to their survival through the winter. A six-foot evergreen requires the same amount of water as a deciduous tree. There is debate on the use of anti-transpirants that help retain moisture in the needles, but as long as you follow the directions on the bottle, your trees should be fine.

Mulch your tree with just a couple of inches of bark mulch, being careful not to pile it up against the trunk. Apply it after a hard freeze. It will help regulate the soil temperature of the tree root, ensuring that the tree doesn’t think it is warm enough to bloom. Just because you saw a landscaper making volcano mounds at the strip mall doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea. He is selling mulch to his clients, not good practices.

So how else should you care for your trees? Walk around your tree looking up at the canopy; too many people walk around looking at the grass. Is the canopy full and healthy looking?

If the canopy crown is thinning, continue to watch it into the spring. If it still looks thin, it may be time to call in an arborist for an evaluation. Consultations are usually free, though service is not.

After every storm—and we have had quite a few this year—walk around the tree and note any broken or dead branches. Remove them if possible; if not, called an arborist. Paying an arborist is much cheaper than hospital, or even funeral, bills. A caveat: if your tree is a silver maple, be aware that in the trade these are known as widow makers. This is because the homeowner thinks that he/she can take care of it, climbs into the tree or uses a ladder, and one or more branches break, plummeting the homeowner to the ground and causing serious injury. Silver maples are always best left to the professionals.

Be on the lookout for leaves that have spots or discoloration; it is usually a sign of disease or stress. If you have green or bronzed leaves falling from your oak tree in June or July, it is a warning signal that it might have oak wilt disease. Do not under any circumstances prune it; certain insects can detect the odor from the cut and will come feed on it before they move on to another tree, spreading the disease. Arborists are trained in how to cope with this disease.

Finally, look at the bark on the trunk. Some trees have naturally exfoliating bark such as paperbark maples, certain birches and lacebark pines. Others have smooth bark or very rough bark. If you see holes or sawdust at the base of the tree, have it identified as soon as possible to make sure that you don’t have borer or other tree boring insects.

Following these tips should help your tree live a long and happy life.