Tree Care 101

Tree Care 101, Sonoma County Gardener's Resource Guide, Spring 2010 edition

by Jeff Rebischung, owner of Fine Tree Care

The Value of Trees

We like to have trees around us because they make life pleasant. Trees are more than beautiful. They provide a multitude of environmental benefits and serve a variety of practical functions as well. Most importantly I think, the quiet strength and endurance of trees impart a sense of serenity, bring peace, and instill tranquility within our lives. In the years I have spent working professionally with trees, I have grown a deep sense of admiration for the perseverance trees demonstrate when they make the most of any chance to grow and prosper despite an often adverse environment.

Perhaps it is their slow growth and potential for such long life that make trees such a fixture in everyone’s lives; they literally span generations. Even though they are commonly considered private property, many trees are part of our local and even our global community as well. In my experience, we acknowledge and share in the consensus that trees are a valuable and beneficial part of our environment; they deserve our best long term care and planning.

Illustration with tree care issues noted

A trained eye can spot trouble, even in a beautiful landscape

The Importance of Tree Care

A well cared for tree that remains healthy increases in value with age. Mature trees beautify our yards and communities, purify the air, provide shading in the summer (which can help with the cooling bills), and shelter our homes from winter winds. They can even increase property values. A preventative care program can ensure the value of your trees will continue to grow over time because preventing a problem is less costly and time consuming than providing a cure years after a problem has developed. A maintenance program including regular inspections and the necessary follow-up care of mulching, fertilizing, pruning, end stage care, and eventual removal of trees, can identify problems and correct them before they become more damaging, fatal to the tree, cause property damage, or worse.

Inspection & Assessment

A tree inspection is the process of evaluating the health, vigor, and structural development of a tree while calling attention to any changes in the trees health before a serious problem can develop.

Defects

First, the tree is evaluated for general signs of poor health, such as trunk defects or decay, damaged branches, loose bark, or deformed growths such as mushrooms and conks. Major defects caused by construction damage, storm damage, improper pruning, and progression of uncompartmentalized rot may lead to tree failure without corrective action. Any abnormalities, defects, insect activity, or deformed and discolored leaves should be noted and watched closely.

Mistletoe parasite

Soil Type & Environment

Second, the soil type, slope, aspect, and placement of the tree are evaluated for a number of factors. Each type of tree has slightly different needs when it comes to soil type such as drainage and nutrients, pH, sunlight, and water requirements.

Conk - an early indicator of trouble

Mulching

Mulching can reduce the impact and stress upon the roots of a tree by providing a stable environment that is cooler and more moist than the surrounding soil. Organic matter (never plastic) in only a 2 to 4 inch deep layer from close to the trunk out to the drip line of the tree or slightly beyond also helps to control weeds and eliminate the need to mow grass that is in contact with the tree.

This will prevent the all too common mechanical damage to the trunk base and tops of exposed roots caused by lawn mowers and string trimmers. Mulch also helps eliminate competition for water and nutrients from the surrounding weeds and grasses. There are a number of readily available bagged and bulk providers of amended soil and organic soil amendments which can increase the organic matter content and adjust pH to some degree.

Defect in base from structural damage

Fertilizer

Mature trees growing satisfactorily usually don’t require fertilizer, which if not applied wisely may not benefit the tree at all, or even harm the tree. Keep in mind that mature trees have an expansive root system which can extend from 2 to 3 times the size of the leaf canopy. This is especially important for homeowners with lawns who also use weed and feed fertilizers – it contains a broadleaf herbicide which can be picked up by the trees roots.

Sudden Oak Death indicators

Canopy

Third, the overall balance, structure, form, and density of the canopy is evaluated. We use trees to moderate temperatures by planting evergreens for summer cooling, deciduous trees to allow winter warming, we use trees to create sound attenuation, screen objectionable views, frame desirable views, to deflect the wind, and to attract and harbor wildlife among many others. Pruning, the most common procedure in tree maintenance, is done to maintain the safety and aesthetics of trees in the landscaped areas of the house and also the forest trees near the personal areas of the property. Improper pruning can drastically shorten the life of a tree, or even kill a very mature or compromised tree.

Pruning

Pruning is necessary to remove dead, diseased, or insect-infested branches and to improve structure, enhance vigor, and maintain safety. It may be done to increase light penetration to the inside of the tree’s canopy or to the landscape below. Pruning changes the growth of the tree, and can also cause damage so it is important to understand the effects upon the tree. Removing foliage decreases photosynthesis and decreases the manufacture of sugar used as energy for growth and development.

After pruning, growth takes place on fewer shoots and branches, and so they tend to grow longer than they would if the growth was spread across the entire tree without pruning. Over-pruning can cause a multitude of problems with a tree, and sprouting is commonly seen within brashly pruned broad trees, and on the lower trunks of our local redwoods when too many limbs are removed. Pruning large and mature trees requires special education, training, experience, and equipment for a coordinated crew to perform safely. This work can be dangerous if done improperly and it is usually best left to professionals who can complete the work safely.

A pine canker indicates insect damage

Tree Removal

Removal is usually performed as a last resort when circumstances indicate it is necessary. Safety of persons and property is the most important reason to remove a tree. This may be due to the advanced age and poor health of a tree which is dying or irreparably hazardous, or due to inappropriate planting of a tree type and height that poses a reoccurring risk to an occupied area or valuable structure. Well-spaced trees can grow properly whereas overcrowded trees rarely thrive and reach maturity. Poorly maintained trees are more likely to prematurely succumb to disease and damage which will result in an untimely removal.


Sprouts indicate that the upper tree is dying

Preventative Care

A preventive care program can help you maintain healthy happy long lived trees which add considerable enjoyment and value to your property. When you consider that trees can live as long as 200 to 300 years, it makes good sense to begin a preventative care program for your trees. In doing so, you will become more knowledgeable and live more safely with your trees now, and demonstrate the time honored wisdom of investing in resources that will offer enjoyment and value for generations to come.

Jeff actually saved me money .. because he's honest about what needs to be done or, in this case, not done. I wanted to remove a tree because I thought it was dead. While we were on the phone, Jeff swung by to check out the tree. Luckily it's still healthy but just needs some trimming/shaping." ~ Dorothy J., Sebastopol CA