Things Most People Get Wrong About Trees
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 15, 2015)
Trees. Everyone has them or lives near them. Yet there are many mistakes people make in their care. Pleasant Ridge residents were recently treated to a seminar on trees that can help people in any community understand the nature of these beautiful, though sometimes problematic, large plants.
Kay Sicheneder is a Consulting Arborist with Owen Tree Service who has been in the business for 28 years. She recently gave a presentation at the Pleasant Ridge Recreation Center to help the community better understand the trees they have.
“Trees are just different enough from us there are misconceptions that people have,” Sicheneder said.
Just Because They Grow in Nature, Doesn’t Make Them Easy
Sicheneder said one common belief is that because trees grow naturally they are not hard to care for. “But what is natural about landscaping?” She showed pictures of trees in yards and trees in their natural forest environment.
“When a tree is all alone, it grows big. Trees in a group are tall and skinny,” she said. If given room, trees spread out. But this makes them prone to being too heavy, and breaking. A suburban yard also does not have the same rich environment of a forest. “Turf is hard. The ground in the woods is soft, wet, and made of all kinds of organic material. There’s huge community in the soil. Leaves fall and bird droppings and dead animals all make a very rich environment,” Sicheneder said.
Being mindful of nature’s intent can help property owners focus on ways to make the soil better for them. She suggested doing aeration and using natural mulches and compost, including mowing over leaves and leaving them on the ground to decompose.
You Might Need a Professional
Sicheneder said that not everyone with a saw is a tree expert, and that making mistakes can be costly. Inappropriate trimming can kill a tree, and a damaged tree can also cause damage to a home or other property. Also, if someone uninsured is injured while working on a tree, the homeowner could be responsible.
Get a good person. Beware of door knockers, never be rushed by bargains
Never pay in advance
Beware of arborists who work in curb lawns
Climbing spikes are only used for removals
Beware of removal as the answer
Ask for certificates of insurance
Be prepared to pay for an estimate
Know Your Roots
Many people have a false idea of how a root system looks. In SE Michigan where there is a lot of clay in the soil, roots tend to be shallow and spread out. The roots are shallow because they need air. Systems have thick woody roots and fibrous ones. Both are necessary, but damage to the big roots can be harmful or even fatal for the trees.
Sometimes people will damage the thick roots with lawn mowers, or even cut them completely when doing landscaping or putting in a sidewalk or driveway.
Another problem with roots happens much sooner in life. Trees that are mass grown for landscaping are grown inside burlap so that the roots can remain intact when transported. When planting a tree from burlap it is crucial to do it right.
Looking at the tree trunk there is a point where the bottom flairs out. This part must be above ground. Too often people plant it too deep and tree starves for air. Also it’s important to cut and loosen the burlap, but do not remove it completely. There is a fine balance that an experienced arborist knows, but that some commercial landscape company employees may not.
It’s important to always keep in mind a tree’s need for air and nourishment. The best advice is to create a wide compost ring around the tree – as large as the tree’s canopy if possible.
Also be aware of soil compaction or blocking the soil from air completely. Patios, play equipment etc. can all prevent air from getting to the roots.
Trees Need Water
Watering trees, and doing so property, is important. Sicheneder explained that rain does not necessarily get down into the roots. “Think about how when it rains you can stand under a tree and stay relatively dry,” she said. In the wild trees get a lot more water to their roots from the soft ground. “Think of how soft the ground is in a forest. There’s all that good organic matter, moss, decaying animals and birds, lots of insects and life in that soil. Our lawns are not like that. So you have to add nutrients and water.
Trees need a really good soaking in the fall, especially in a dry year like this one has been, she said. “They need a healthy supply of water to get through the winter.” She described how she sets the hose in one place, with the flow coming out gently, and letting it run for about 15 minutes before moving it a few feet away. The process takes an entire afternoon and should be done once or twice a year. “But I care about my tree so it’s worth the effort.”
Many people think sprinkler systems are sufficient. This is not usually the case. Many trees get damage on the trunks or low branches because they are hit directly by water. The water does not nourish the tree. Again thinking of how the rain rarely hits the tree truck, Sicheneder says caretakers should keep in mind that trunks are not made for this kind of treatment. The water can damage the bark or encourage the growth of fungus.
Grass and Trees Don’t Get Along Naturally
Sicheneder showed pictures of a forest and of a prairie, pointing out that there is not grass in the woods, and rarely are there trees in a prairie. “They look beautiful together in a landscape, but they aren’t a natural match,” she said. The best way to have them both together is to allow some space between. A large ring of mulch works well, she said. She showed examples of where a landscapers have put several trees in a row that was defined by an oblong oasis of mulch.
Another good tip is to mow fallen leaves into small pieces and leave them on the ground to decompose. This will add nutrients that are good for the lawn and for the tree roots.
Much of the wisdom of trees seems logical, but sometimes people forget that trees can get very big. A skilled landscaper can find the right tree for the right space. But some basic rules are:
Don’t put a tree too close to a building. This can prevent limbs from damaging roofs and roots from getting into basements and drains. Trees by homes can also give animals an easier pathway into buildings, as people who have had squirrel or raccoon invasions can attest to.
It’s also a good idea not to plant a tall tree under electrical wires. There are trees that won’t get to be problematically tall.
Sometimes it’s Okay to Kill Trees
While Sicheneder is a tree-lover, she realizes there may be times that trimming or removing is necessary.
“You can take out trees that are diseased, dying or hazardous, ugly, overgrown, or just because you don’t like it. If you own the tree than its okay,” she said.
To Learn More
To learn more about specific tree situations, contact a professional arborist. Kay Sicheneder is from Owen Tree Service, http://www.owentree.com/.
Things Most People Get Wrong About Trees