The new year is upon us and it is time that we resolve to use trees more wisely and give them the care they deserve. I am both a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener. As such I see a lot of problems with trees that could have been avoided if only we weren't saddled with several common misconceptions that can hurt our chances of growing healthy, long-lived trees.
First, let's look at the legal aspects of trees. You may plant a tree in an easement area next to a street but is it really your tree? In Cedaredge, you are responsible for the maintenance of such tree, not the town. If your tree's branches hang down too low over a street or sidewalk, you are responsible to correct this situation. If your tree becomes a hazard, you are not only responsible for eliminating the hazard but would be liable for any damage or injuries. Other towns' ordinances may vary.
Another misconception is that tree roots break sewer lines. There is no doubt that when you call a plumber to "snake" a sewer line that he often will retrieve lots of roots. But these roots found their way into pipes that were either in need of repair or that were installed incorrectly.
A common complaint is that "trees produce surface roots in my lawn causing mowing problems." Roots tend to seek the surface under conditions of compacted soil, high water table, thin top soils or the presence of many large rocks. Admittedly there are certain trees that are more prone to develop surface roots but truth be known, we are often more responsible for this problem than the tree.
The next myth is that overhead utilities and trees are incompatible. The most common way of avoiding the power company disfiguring your tree when it "threatens to tangle" with their lines is to plant low-growing trees. Does this mean we can't have tree-shaded streets? What about underground utilities in new subdivisions? What about taller utility poles? What about utilities placed in alleys, back yards or side yards?
Tree stakes are another bugaboo when it comes to planting trees. Evergreens with higher wind resistance will benefit from staking but often deciduous trees do not. If staking is used, make sure you remove the stakes after the first year and also tie trees to stakes very close to the ground. All you are trying to do is to keep the root ball from moving and shearing off the new roots growing into the adjacent soil.
Last but not least, overwatering. More trees are lost to overwatering than die of drought. Tree roots must "breathe." Water saturated soil (especially clay soils) has no air pockets to feed the oxygen needs of a tree. Stop suffocating your trees instead by watering to match the need of the tree. A newly planted tree needs only five to 10 gallons of water per week during the heat of a dry summer, depending upon its size.
By learning the truth about tree needs and the consequences of planting a tree, you will be able to see more clearly ways to protect and improve the health of your prized trees.
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.