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TLC for the big guys

Don’t forget to take care of your trees

I live on what would be called a wooded lot, and we have quite a few large trees.

So often when we are thinking about our landscape — ornamentals, perennials, annuals, groundcovers, flowers and vegetable gardens — we overlook some of the most important plants around our homes — our large evergreen and deciduous trees.

They add so much to the aesthetics of our properties and yet often, because they seem so big and strong, we forget that they need some TLC as well.

For the most part, trees have the amazing ability to look good for a long time after they start experiencing problems, so by the time we notice something is wrong, it can be too late. Make it a habit to pay attention to your trees when they are healthy and put some practices in place now that will benefit them down the road if something adverse should occur.

An important practice for tree care is pruning. Assess the tree’s overall health in summer, when it is fully leafed out, taking note of dead, diseased or crowded branches. But don’t prune until after December.

Pruning during the spring through fall months can add stress to the tree while it is focusing on growing. Pruning during this time also can attract insects, which often carry diseases to the open wounds. An example is oak wilt disease.

In the winter months, these insects will not be active and the tree will be dormant, so wounds won’t leak sap and healing can start quickly in the spring.

Always remove dead or diseased wood back to healthy tree tissue at a point where another branch occurs. Do not cut into the tree collar (the area at the base of the branch that is larger in diameter), but just flush or slightly beyond it. This way, the wound will heal and seal nicely. Using a tree wound dressing is not necessary and often only is applied for aesthetics.

Other general tasks will help your trees stay healthy.

Avoid driving over the roots with vehicles or parking under shade trees. This can increase compaction, reducing oxygen levels for the roots and causing water movement issues.

Mulching just 2 to 3 inches deep and out a few feet from the tree will reduce competition from grass and mimic the trees natural surroundings in the woods. Mulching right against the trunk can cause issues, though, and is not recommended. Growing flowers and other plants within a few feet of the trunk is not a good idea, either.

Fertilizing is always a question when it comes to trees. This is not a routine, every-year task. It is something to check and do only if necessary. It is not a way to fix a problem with a tree, but a way to improve the nutrient availability to trees.

Of course, a soil test is the first step to determine if any action is needed. Many large trees may not need fertilizer at all. But when it comes to trees around homes — there may be long-term issues due to the soil changes during construction of the home.

Some gardeners are under the impression that if they are fertilizing their lawn, their trees are getting their fair share and that’s not necessarily correct. When we fertilize a lawn, we are focusing on the top few inches of the ground getting nutrients — and focusing on the needs of the grass with nitrogen fertilizers. This will provide great food for grass roots but falls far short for the tree’s roots.

The tree’s feeder roots are much deeper, at least 12 to 20 inches, and if soils are lacking in nutrients, using the hole method or injection are ways to make improvements.

Take some time and pay a little attention to those beautiful big trees in your yard. They are majestically and silently growing year after year and with some general maintenance they will serve you well for decades to come.

To learn more about fertilizing large trees, go to http://go.osu.edu/largetreefertilizers.

To learn about pruning new and large shade trees, go to http://go.osu.edu/shadetreeprune.

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