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Trees 101

6 Signs of a Sick Tree

Dead branches
Wilted or discolored leaves
Hollowed areas, decay or cracks in the trunk or major limbs
Fungus or mushrooms growing at the base of the tree or along roots
Ants or sawdust present at the trunk base or roots (insect infestation)
Man-made wounds

How should I care for my trees?

Mulching – One of the most beneficial measures one can take to enhance a tree’s health is to apply a layer of mulch around the base, covering as much of the “drip line” (area from the trunk to the ends of the branches) as possible. Mulch should be applied no closer than 5 inches to the trunk, and should be applied 2-4 inches deep. Hardwood grindings, bark chips, or even pine straw are fine for most trees, and should be applied 2-4 inches deep. This keeps moisture in the ground, conditions the soil, and protects surface roots from damage.

Don’t Fertilize Without A Professional’s Help!  - Fertilizing, if necessary, should be done only after a soil analysis and only by a professional. Most trees do not need fertilizer; in fact, one can easily damage or kill a tree by applying fertilizer haphazardly (the salts in the fertilizer may actually dehydrate the roots).

Trimming – A sick or stressed tree need not always be cut down. There are 4 main types of trimming operations that will enhance the health and aesthetic value of your trees, and in turn, add value to your property.

General Pruning
This should be done to most trees periodically for several reasons. The most common is to remove dead or damaged limbs before they fall (causing damage), or before their decay reaches a main limb or trunk (which can cause lasting problems for the entire tree). Pruning is also done to keep limbs from damaging your home or other structures.

Raising the Canopy
Removing the lower limbs up to a desired point is most often done to allow more sunlight to reach grassy areas. Another reason is to clear a roof, power line or other structures.

Thinning the Canopy
Often on trees with dense foliage, interior branches will receive inadequate sunlight and die off. In other cases, trees under stress will grow small chutes (called “water sprouts”) from the trunk and along main branches. In both cases these should be removed and the canopy thinned for the long term health of the tree. On large, potentially hazardous trees, thinning the canopy will reduce the weight that the trunk must support and will reduce wind pressure on the tree by allowing the wind to pass through more easily.

Crown Reduction
If your goal is to “make the tree smaller”, a crown reduction is what your tree needs. This is done by pruning the outer portions of all main branches to reduce their length. This must be done carefully and selectively by an experienced professional. On a Bradford Pear tree, this operation performed at the 10-20 year mark, will keep the tree from splitting and allow it to live out a full, healthy life.

These services can be performed moderately at any time of the year, but on most trees, any extensive pruning or crown reduction should be done between the months of November and February. Generally, not more than 20-25% of the live canopy of the tree should be removed in a single operation. These guidelines make for a healthier, safer, and more attractive tree.

When should I remove a tree?

When deciding whether to remove a tree, we look at several different risk factors. Generally, if a tree has two or more of the following risk factors, or one that is extreme, we recommend removing the tree.

Weight Distribution – Most of the time, a tree will collapse in the direction it is weighted. If a tree is leaning significantly or has all of its growth on one side, this puts uneven stress on the root system, and the tree stands a chance of uprooting. If there are valuable “targets” in the direction of the weight such as a house, power lines or trafficked area, this may be reason enough to remove the tree.

Trunk Damage – Regardless of whether a tree’s canopy appears healthy, trunk damage can render a tree structurally unstable. If you can see a cavity or outward signs of decay any place on the trunk (especially at the base), then the tree’s stability may be in a steady decline. Once the decay process has started, it is irreversible.

Ground Conditions – There are several ground conditions that decrease the stability of a tree, regardless of its health. The first is the slope of the ground – a steep slope provides a less stable foundation for a tree than flat ground. Another risky position for a tree is right along the bank of a creek or river bed. In this case, the dirt underneath the tree is being constantly eroded away and the tree will eventually collapse. A third hazardous location is one where water collects and keeps the ground wet. Less firm soil means less “grip” for the roots. This is why many trees uproot in heavy rainstorms – the combination of a soggy ground and high winds is enough to bring down even the most healthy, well-established tree.

Multiple Dead Limbs – When a tree has several large dead limbs (roughly 25% or more of the total canopy), this is a sign of a serious circulatory problem. If you look closer, you will probably notice trunk decay or a disturbance of the root system. The tree is likely in a decline toward death. If the dead branches are over a structure or play area, either the branches or the tree should be removed.

Pine Beetles – If a tree is infested with pine beetles, it should be removed immediately in order to protect adjacent trees. The Southern Pine Beetle is the most destructive forest insect pest in the Southeast. They typically attack the trunks of mature or over mature trees, but are known to attack trees as young as five years of age. Once a healthy tree is infested, it will die quickly, although it may take weeks or months for the foliage to change from green to reddish. Surrounding trees can also be infested. Evidence of a pine beetle infestation includes sap or a brown sugar-like substance oozing from bark crevices, or white or reddish-yellowish “sawdust” around the base of the tree or in the bark crevices.

Stump Grinding

Stump grinding allows for landscaping use of the area. Grinding will also prevent bothersome suckers and shoots growing from the stump until it dies. Because of a high ph level, it is recommended to wait 6-12 months when replanting new trees. Another reason to wait is to allow the old roots to decay, enabling the new, emerging root system to take hold. Stumps will be ground 6-8 inches below ground level. There will be a remaining mulch pile. Surface roots are not included in stump grinding.