Healthy Tree Maintainence: 3 Essential Steps

Like most folks, I love to work or relax in the shade on a hot summer day. While it’s easy to inherit big shade trees on a purchased property, it’s more difficult to grow and/or maintain healthy trees to develop or sustain good shade in years to come. This article will help you understand the easiest, most important ways to help your trees stay healthy and robust.

Good Tree Care is Proactive, Not Reactive

Search Google for “maintaining a healthy tree” and you will find a strikingly consistent recommendation: “be proactive, not reactive.” No matter what species of trees you have on your property, the following proactive steps will help your trees enormously:

• Maximize Water Infiltration: Maintain a generous layer of moist mulch over your tree’s root zone.
• Prune Regularly: Perform regular maintenance and/or train pruning to all trees.
• Observe Your Trees: Record annual observations to identify problems early on.

While further steps like adding soil enhancements or adding fertilizers can also be part of the tree care discussion, these simple essentials should always come first.

1. Water Your Tree Sufficiently

The first and most important component to a healthy tree is ensuring sufficient water is available to the tree throughout the growing season. Many factors dictate ground water inception (how well water soaks into and stays in the root zone soil); some are within our control, while others are not. Start by considering what material is covering the root zone, where the water infiltrates the soil. Do you have grass right up the to trunk? If so, the thick grass mat is blocking/diverting water infiltration to the soil. Would a mulch ring or mulch planting bed be a good addition to your yard? Mulch rings or beds not only make great flower gardens, but also reduce the amount of grass you must mow. Do you think your trees prefer chlorinated tap water or rain water? Not only do trees prefer rain water, but it’s free!

Creating a generous mulch ring as a infiltration or inception zone for water around your tree is the most basic step to increasing the water available to your tree. We always recommend “the bigger, the better” when considering the size of a mulch ring or bed.

2. Prune Trees Regularly

Once you have the biggest mulch ring possible, pruning is the next crucial step to maintaining a healthy tree. Each tree is different in terms of pruning needs; for example, mature trees often need less frequent pruning because their branch structure is established. Young trees often need more frequent train pruning (every 2-5 years depending on species) to improve branch structure by increasing branch spacing, creating a central leader (trunk), keeping temporary branches small, and establishing permanent branches.

Maintenance pruning attempts to address problem areas or reduce risk associated with decay pockets, cracks or splits, and overly heavy lateral branches. Often this type of pruning includes shortening or reducing branches to lessen the stress or weight placed on the problems areas in the tree. Regular pruning helps you stay ahead of areas of concern before they become branch or tree failures.

3. Keep Written Observations on Your Trees

Observing your tree over time and catching problems early improves a certified arborist’s ability to create a successful tree management plan when changes start to occur and potential action needs to be taken. Indications of tree problems include appearance of larger dead branches, browning leaves, decay pockets (link to photo) or cracks in the bark or wood near branch attachments (photo).

We recommend keeping a journal for all trees in your yard. Written observations help overcome our faulty memories, which have trouble tracking the slow changes that happen in our trees. Take note of things like annual twig growth (the distance the branch ends growth each year)(photo), changes in the tree bark, number of dead branches, leaf appearance (size, color, and also any presence of leaf disease), and any changes in to the environment surrounding or near the tree.

Following the three above principles will take you a long way in protecting your valuable trees. Not only will you enjoy your trees for longer periods of time, but you will save money in the long-run with reduced tree care bills. Unfortunately, when property owners don’t take these easy preventative tree care measures, we are called to address problems when they are too far gone. Don’t find yourself in such a situation: be proactive, not reactive, and your trees will thank you for it.