A homeowner’s job is never done. Just when you complete one room in your home, another shows signs of wear. You consistently have a “honey-do” list that can keep you busy all year through.
But it doesn’t stop at the front door. It includes every corner of your home, inside and out. That includes the landscaping in your front and back yards. And it includes the trees that tower over your home.
Like other honey-do projects, tree maintenance isn’t always a do-it-yourself project. Selecting a new tree to plant in your yard? Yes, that’s an easy one. Raking the leaves that fall in October? Yep, that’s a requirement too.
But what about identifying pests that may be putting your tree at risk? Or knowing the best time to prune? For some tree maintenance items, it’s better to ask. And with that comes knowing when the best time is for each part of the job.
Pruning at the wrong time can put your tree at risk. And a weak tree can put you, your home, your family, even your neighbors at risk. So what should you do in 2018 to ensure your trees stay healthy?
Start by finding the right tree
Proper tree care starts with selecting the right tree and planting it in the right location. They may start out as tiny sticks you can easily lift with your hands. But if cared for properly, they can rise hundreds of feet towards the sky.
Begin by defining your tree’s purpose. Is it to provide privacy from the neighbors? Will you use it shade your home? Or provide a windbreak? Replace a tree you’ve previously taken out?
Once you have your goals in mind, you can start looking for the right tree.
Select a healthy tree
Good tree care starts by planting a healthy tree. If you’ve ever been to a big box store in the spring, you’ve probably looked at hundreds of trees waiting to be purchased. Are they healthy? Should you buy from a nursery instead?
Trees are either grown and sold as a bare root tree, a balled and burlapped tree, or a container-grown tree. If you can see the roots, they should be moist and fibrous with roots about equal to the stem length. Rootballs should be firm to the touch, especially near the trunk. Potted trees should not contain large circling roots. While the roots should be joined tightly together, it should never be rootbound.
When should you plant
Here in the Pacific Northwest, to give a tree its full potential, it’s important to plant it at the best time. And the best time to plant depends on your location.
For a deciduous tree, the ideal time is during the dormant season, which is generally between November and April. But keeping that in mind, it’s equally important to give it a chance to adjust to its new location. A frozen ground can stunt a tree. Hot, dry weather is also anything but ideal. Watch the weather forecast and give your tree a little TLC in its first few months after planting.
Watering your trees
One of your most important tasks of tree maintenance is to water your trees appropriately. Not enough water can harm the tree. Too much water and the ground can become soggy, possibly damaging the roots.
A new tree should be provided plenty of water immediately after planting. It’s also important to give your new tree plenty of water during the first two years of growth. It’s expending a lot of energy trying to establish its root system into the soil. Use mulch to protect the surrounding area and add extra water, especially if the temperatures rise or we go extended periods of time without rain. Deep watering can help speed up the root establishment process.
As a general rule, your soil should be moist. Usually, a 30-second steady stream of water from a garden hose should be sufficient. Mulching is key for a new tree to help hold the water in. Once a tree has been established for two years, it can withstand a wider range of watering conditions.
When to prune
When you request a pruning depends on why you want to prune your trees. Light pruning and the removal of dead wood can be done at nearly any time. For more extensive pruning, it should be performed according to the seasons.
Winter – Most pruning is performed during a tree’s dormancy. It will give a tree a burst of new growth in the spring. It is usually best to wait until the coldest part of the winter has passed.
Summer – To slow the growth of a tree, prune it back after the seasonal growth is complete. This can be used to direct the branches in the direction of your choosing. It can allow you to pinpoint defective limbs more easily, limbs that may droop from the weight of the leaves.
Flowering trees – If a tree flowers in spring, prune once its flowers fade. For a tree that flowers in mid to late summer, prune it in winter or early spring.
Fall – Because fungi spread the fastest in fall, exposing fresh cuts to a tree in the fall is never advised. It opens up the potential for tree problems in the coming weeks and months.
How to prune throughout the years
Tree maintenance is something that occurs throughout a trees life, from new to maturity. Yet, there are different ways to approach pruning through a tree’s life.
At planting – When you prune a tree shortly after planting, you should do so with care. Only trim away broken branches, branches that may be competing with the leader, or swollen branches that may contain insect eggs or stings.
Established after three to four years – The tree will be firmly anchored in place. Cut off root suckers and sprouts at the crown. Thin out excessive branches to reduce competition for water or light. Remove lower limbs to help create a tapered effect and add to the strength of the tree. Eliminate branches that rub or are in undesirable directions.
Established after five to seven years – Now is the time to make a good tree even better. Ensure the lowest limbs won’t interfere with human needs, like your home or with power lines or lights. Cut back on higher branches, so they don’t protrude beyond the outline of the crown. The tree should also be inspected to ensure even spacing throughout.
After fifteen years – With proper pruning, you can extend the life of your tree for years, helping it survive even in extreme conditions. Proper pruning gives it strength.
Are you ready for 2018?