Before I get going let me put in a plug for a free tree care workshop for homeowners that will be held at the Lincoln Museum auditorium at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate on March 2nd from 10 to 12 a.m. You will get a lot of good information on planting, pruning, and maintaining healthy trees Call 423-526-2992 for more information. It will be well worth your time, because yard trees add a lot of personal enjoyment and equity to a home. They are a long term investment and so need some occasional maintenance to keep them healthy. What follows are a couple of tree care projects that I often see mishandled.
Proper pruning: Pruning is not something you do every year, but occasionally you do need to prune up a tree to provide clearance below it, or to remove a broken or dead branch. It is critical that the pruning cut be done at the right place or the tree won’t heal right and could eventually develop wood decay issues. Always cut a branch near a junction. If you look close there is a slight swell at base of the branch, called the branch collar. Prune just above the swell so you don’t leave a stub. This is critical because a tree always heals over at junctions. If you cut the branch and leave a stub, the tree will try to scab over at the base of the stub where it’s attached, but can’t because the stub’s in the way. So the stub eventually decays and can possibly transfer decay on into the tree. So stub cuts bad, junction cuts good. And while on the subject of stub cutting, please don’t do what is called tree topping, where major limbs and branches are cut back to a certain height, leaving a lot of really big stubs. It’s done primarily to reduce the height of the tree because the owner is afraid it will get too big, or to keep it out of utility lines. If you are tempted to have a tree topped, take a drive during the winter when leaves are off and look for trees that have been topped for a number of years. You will likely see badly decayed major limbs that will eventually lead to the trees’ early removal. Remember, stub cuts bad! Junction cuts good!
Protection from equipment: another common problem I see with young trees that have thin bark is wounding near the ground from lawn mower or trimming equipment. Bark is the protective skin of the tree, and like us an open wound can become infected. With trees the most common infection is a decay fungus called Heartrot. If the wounding is severe enough it can girdle the tree and kill it outright. It does not make sense to spend good money on a landscape plant and then have to take it down if a few years because of decay. So bottom line: keep the equipment away from the tree base. We are tempted to get really close with equipment to keep from having to hand trim the grass near the tree. You may get away with it for a while, but eventually you will ding the tree. So your options are either to suck it up and do the hand clipping, use herbicides to keep the grass knocked down near the tree, or mulch around the tree. Mulching is the better option, as it looks good and can help keep the soil moist. Just remember that more is not better. About 3” is as thick as you should apply it. If you put too much, it tends to pack down and shed water instead of letting it soak in. Also, don’t pile the mulch against the tree base, as this will cause the bark to be too moist, making it soft and susceptible to mold or decay issues.