This week's column is a continuation of my last one on how to kill a tree. As I sit here writing this, it is raining pretty well.
Rain totals from my rain gauge indicate that we are approaching double the precipitation from rain we received last year. We've already had a few mornings below freezing but as yet no hard freeze. As long as you can work the soil, you can continue to plant trees well into November and later if weather permits.
So let's get to the list of practices that can kill a tree or at least potentially harm it. After planting I would say the first practice would be to let trees and their surrounding soil dry out. This can be particularly problematic during the winter when many folks think trees without leaves no longer need water. Wrong! Depending upon snowfall, trees may need to be watered as frequently as once per month. But don't over water — this can be equally bad.
My next concern would be compacting the soil around a tree so that its roots can't breathe. I bet you didn't know tree roots need oxygen to live. Protect the root area around the tree by planting in flower beds and especially away from areas that have heavy foot traffic.
When trees are young, they are especially vulnerable to damage from lawn mowers and weed trimmers. These are two of the most used weapons to murder a tree. Provide a barrier around the tree by mulching out in a circle around the tree. Better yet, don't plant your tree in the lawn.
Improper pruning is another sure way to disfigure and even hurt the health of a tree. There is no need to prune a newly planted tree until year two or three. Pruning should be an ongoing process where you remove no more than 25% of the living crown in a single year. We usually like to prune to promote a central leader. This will promote the best growth rate and form. Removing crossing limbs, water sprouts and other competing branches are good practices but do not need to be done right away. The worst pruning practice I see is where folks wait several years before pruning. By then branches are large and pruning is not only more difficult but returning a tree to better form is often impossible.
Another sure way of hurting a tree is to plant one too close to a building or under power lines. To be sure, there are smaller trees that will fit these situations but many people plant too big a tree for the site. Then the power company may need to clear branches from its lines and thereby permanently disfigure your tree.
Changing the soil level around a tree can often lead to death. Trees do not like this change at all. Ditching near a tree to put in a sprinkler system or other pipes can lead to disastrous results as well. Stay outside the trees root zone.
Last but not least, do not use weed killers over the tree's root zone. While some are contact only chemicals, others may have chemicals that have soil activity. Many broadleaf herbicides now have dicamba as an added active ingredient. Do not use these products anywhere near trees or shrubs. Dicamba has soil activity. Personally, I won't use products with dicamba in them in my yard. I've had problems with these products and won't take any chances.
So have I covered all the tools and practices you can use to kill your tree? Probably not, but this is a good start. Until next time, happy gardening.
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a master gardener.blog comments powered by Disqus