Whether you are planning, planting, or maintaining, these tree tips can help you have a better experience with trees.
Mature size – Check that tag for the mature height and width. Will the tree eventually get into power lines, be too large for your yard, encroach on neighbor’s property, block sun from your garden spot, create visibility problems for a driveway, or create other problems? Unless you are a bonsai expert don’t expect to keep a 40′ tree to 10′ tall.
Sun or shade? Dry or moist? – Some trees do better in shade, some in sun. Some trees are drought tolerant some are not. Find out what conditions a tree likes and give it those conditions. Maybe your neighbor, your co worker, or your friend is growing the same tree in non ideal conditions and it looks great. The tree will look better and live longer with less problems if you give it the right conditions to begin with. Also, trees vary in their needs by what climate you are in. Some trees may do fine in one area because the soil is more acidic or the summer sun is less harsh, etc but where those conditions are not met the tree will suffer.
Pruning – Dead and broken branches can be removed at anytime. Many trees do not need pruning other than dead and broken and the initial pruning for training the tree as long as the tree was pruned properly in the first place and was planted in the right spot. Fruit trees are an exception.
Pruning part 2 – when hiring someone to prune your trees make sure they have correct training (certified arborists are tree specialists), do not top trees, and are licensed. Topping trees is unhealthy for the tree and will create future problems. The size of the tree can be reduced to a point without topping. If you have a very large tree (you can’t reach without a tall ladder or cherry picker) it is safer to hire someone to prune it. If pruning is around power lines, large branches could fall on people or buildings, or other potentially dangerous situations hire someone to prune it!
Pruning part 3 – it is not necessary and not advised to use pruning sealant, paint, or anything else where the pruning cut was made. Trees heal over the spot as best they can and pruning sealants prevent them from doing so.
Trees from the wild – That cute tree you see growing in the mountains will not remain that size and shape. The tree also may not survive the conditions of your landscape or survive transplanting. Do not dig up plants from the wild to plant in your yard. In most cases removing trees from the wild is illegal. If there is land which will be bulldozed for construction ask permission before removing plants which would be killed anyway. It is still a good idea to know what you are getting so you don’t bring home a problem plant.
Soil – Do not change the soil level around a tree. Plant at the same level it was in the pot. Even with an established tree if you build up the soil or take some away you will kill the tree.
Exposed roots? It is normal for many large trees to have exposed roots as the tree grows. Resist the urge to cover them up or cut them off. A very small amount of soil over roots which are a few feet from the tree will probably be fine. If soil has washed away and exposed the roots then replace the soil. Since one purpose of roots is to provide support for the tree removing them can be dangerous.
Watering – when planting, a tree needs regular watering at least until established. Do not expect your sprinklers to do a sufficient job. Instead use a hose on a slow flow. The amount of water required depends on your soil, the weather, and the type of tree. You don’t want the soil to dry out but you don’t want the tree to sit in water. You may have to check a few inches down to be sure water is penetrating the soil.
Grass – when planting, remove grass from at least 3′ in diameter around the tree. Mowers and weed trimmers kill many trees without the homeowner knowing what went wrong. Edging which goes 4 – 5″ deep can help prevent grass from growing within the circle. Cement edging does not go deep enough.
Evergreen or not? – Evergreens keep their leaves year round which does not mean that they never drop any leaves. It just means that they should not be shedding them all at once. Conifers are trees with needle like leaves and cones such as pines and junipers. Yes, Juniper berries are cones. Many conifers are also evergreens. Consider whether you want an evergreen for year round shade, privacy, or appearance or you want a deciduous tree (sheds its leaves).
Ok, here is a bonus tip: “But I love ____ trees!” – no matter how much you like a tree consider possible long term problems. If it will get into your sewer line, spread baby trees all over your yard, drop fruit or nuts, smell bad, grow larger than the space, encroach on a sidewalk, or create other problems choose another tree or a better location. Is there a different tree that may be a satisfactory replacement?