Homeowner's Guide to Tree Care Homeowner's Guide to Tree Care

Trees, as you know, are alive. For the most part, they can be left alone, but they need care and attention, just as you or I do. Unlike you or I, though, trees need to be inspected regularly. They can’t talk, so they depend on you to keep them healthy. How do you do that?

You can ensure their integrity - that means that the tree's insides and outsides are in balance and developing properly. The most important step is to prune, on a regular basis.

Pruning A-B-C's

Pruning will keep your trees longer-lived and healthier. To prune, remove diseased, dead or broken branches. This is known as maintenance pruning and, along with cleaning too-dense areas, lets the tree "breathe," and grow to its natural and beautiful capacity!

Trees are beautiful! Have you ever seen anything more magnificent than a tree that's several hundred years old; its trunk circumference the size of a small car, and its lustrous leaves or ferns reflecting the sunlight?

When pruning, don't be haphazard. Cut the branch diagonally, in the same direction as the bud is growing. Cut it right above a bud.

When you have to saw or use your pruning shears to cut a long branch, cut it at the crotch, or where another branch intersects horizontally. This will preferably be underneath the branch you are cutting.

Follow the Leader

This is another part of pruning and involves raising the leader branch. To do this, search out and identify the largest - or leader - branch, which is an extension, or prolongation, of the trunk, and prune diagonally around it. Keep its growth unimpeded by "de-cluttering." That is, remove branches around it.

Raise Your Tree's Canopy Naturally

When pruning the canopy - the highest part, or the dome that reaches, in a proportioned arc, to the heavens - you'll softly redesign the canopy.

The canopy acts as a "roof" to the rest of your tree. By removing the uppermost branches, you can raise the canopy of your tree. Just follow a left - to-center, and center-to-right arc. Your tree's branches will spring up and out, to their full height and width!

Topping Is Not "The Tops"

Raising your tree's canopy is not to be confused with "topping" your trees. Topping is the indiscriminate removal of a majority of a tree's upper branches, and only hurts your trees - health and appearance-wise.

When you and your landscaper are tempted to cut large parts of a tree's upper branches, it is very likely that you ought to have considered planting a smaller tree in the first place.

You can still do that, if you are unhappy with the height of your tree. Simply cut down the existing tree, and plant a smaller one. Planting the right-size tree is a better solution to ensuring that a tree does not exceed a certain height.

Topping a tree is not a good way to keep a tree from growing. This practice will stunt its appearance and size, yes, but it will also create unbalanced trees that are more likely to topple over during a storm. Topping a tree makes it more prone to diseases and insects.

When Artificial Support Is Needed

Don't worry if you or your landscaper find a structural deficiency in one of your trees. (That means that your tree is growing a little "funny" and needs support.) The trunk can be propped up, so that it continues to grow stoutly. Branches, too, may need support. Sometimes too-tight branch crotches (parts where branches start to grow out from trunks) are signs there are weak branches.

A professionally-placed steel cable can be installed all the way up in the canopy of the tree. With the slight pull that ensues, there will be less strain on the branch crotch. These cables are placed so they are pleasing to the eye: in fact, they're hard to see. Your landscape won't be diminished!

Hazardous Trees

You will want to think of removing your tree when it is deemed hazardous Trees that are expected to fall include the following:

Leaning trees
- Trees naturally lean, but if you note extensive leaning and exposed dirt and roots, keep pets and people away from the tree, and call in an expert (an arborist or a tree removal professional) to look at it.

Decay - Mushrooms, conks or other fungi at or near the base may indicate decay. Large peeling bark and hollow areas where the branch meets the trunk are also signs of problems and should be examined.

Split Trunks - Some trees develop multiple trunks. This usually leads to a weakening of the trunk if the trunks are not attached properly. This may result in a split, or crack. Trees with splits or cracks have a high failure rate, and should be looked at.

Remember, trees are living, breathing organisms. Don't neglect them! If you put the required effort into caring for your landscape's trees (read: give 'em plenty of care and attention!), you'll reap the reward of being provided with a lifetime of aesthetic pleasure, as they dutiful protect generations of your family and friends from harsh winds and the rays of the sun. That's how trees care for you.
Eva R. Marienchild is an accomplished communicator: an author, editor, poet, artist, speaker, and life and career coach. Eva's specialties are health, home, nutrition, environment and spirituality.

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