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Tree Maintenance

Follow these basic principles to promote healthy growth in trees. Because most trees can fend for themselves pretty well, caring for trees is one of the less technical and complicated subjects for gardeners.

man trimming tree with lopper

Maintain Your Trees in 3 Easy Steps

Step 1

Watering: Slow Is Better

Thoroughly water a tree's entire root zone during periods of drought with the equivalent of 1 inch of water, once every week or two, depending on soil type. Apply water slowly to prevent runoff, and ensure that the water reaches the tree’s deep root system. An irrigation or soaker hose is great for this type of watering, as the water will leak slowly through the hose wall.

Step 2

Fertilizing: Deep Root vs. Surface Application

Trees have been traditionally fertilized by creating holes in the root zone and pouring in dry fertilizer. Some arborists use probes to inject liquid fertilizer into the root zone. The placement of fertilizers need to be where the tree can get them, so don't place them too deep. Most tree roots are within 12 to 18 inches of the lawn surface. As always, follow all instructions on the fertilizer packaging.

Step 3

Pruning: Trimming Trees at the Right Time and Place

Because there are so many different types of trees, it’s impossible to list every pruning technique here. Here are a few helpful suggestions for the most common types of trees:

  • Always trim flowering trees within three weeks of when they finish blooming. That should prevent you from inadvertently removing buds containing next year's flower show.
  • For live branches, use a bypass-style hand pruner or lopper, as this type of cut promotes healthy regrowth. For dead branches, use an anvil-style hand pruner or lopper, as this will seal the end of the dead branch.
  • Avoid topping a tree when the tree becomes too big. Topping creates a hat rack appearance and forever ruins the branching structure of the tree. It’s best to move or remove a tree altogether than to top it.
  • Never use a ladder to trim branches that are out of reach from the ground. A sturdy pole tree trimmer with a long telescoping handle is the best way to trim branches that are out of reach. Most pole tree trimmers have both a saw feature and lopper blade to cut through thick branches.
  • While bark provides a tough protective layer around the trunk of the tree, avoid using a string-line weed wacker against the bark, as it can split the bark and make the tree susceptible to destructive fungi. Mulch around the base of the tree to avoid having to cut the grass and weeds around it.

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