“I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” Joyce Kilmer put into words what so many of us think, which is why so many yards—big and small—are full of trees that offer shade and serenity. But if we want our trees to live a long and healthy life, it’s important to care for them properly.
We spoke to James Laan, a highly rated tree trimmer on Thumbtack and the owner of Laans Tree Care in Temecula, California for some tips about how to take care of trees. Though there’s a lot you can do yourself, he does say that if you want to have healthy trees that live for years and years, it’s a good idea to bring in a professional regularly to assess the tree and give it the proper care it deserves.
Here are some other things you should also be doing to help your trees thrive.
Make Sure Your Tree Gets Lots of Water… But Not Too Much Water
Water is the key to making sure your trees stay healthy, Laan says. And, they need more water in their first few years of life, so it’s important to have a system for watering your trees. Ask your tree professionals what they recommend because overwatering is a common mistake that can be very harmful. They may recommend doing a deep soak by turning on a hose at the base of the tree every week or so, as that can help keep the soil moist all the way to the roots which helps with root establishment.
Consider Trees That Are Native to Your Environment
If you live in a place where drought is an issue, your trees will fare much better if they don’t require copious amounts of water, and you won’t have to “waste” water to keep them alive. Conversely, if you live in a place where it never stops raining, you’ll want to plant trees that thrive in wet conditions.
Use Mulch to Protect the Soil
Laan says that laying down a layer of mulch helps keep the moisture in the soil so the roots stay moist. It also keeps weeds away and protects the soil from extreme temperatures. You’ll want to remove all grass and weeds within at least a three-foot area (it may need to be more, which is something a professional can advise you on).
But Don’t Over Mulch
Make sure the mulch isn’t actually touching the trunk of the tree as that can create ideal conditions for insects and decay and ensures the tree won’t live as long. Mulch also shouldn’t be deeper than two inches as that prevents rainwater from reaching the roots. Check the mulch every year and add more as necessary.
Don’t Prune Every Season
Laan recommends you prune your trees that bloom in the summer at the end of winter/beginning of spring before they start budding. If you want your trees to have a big new burst of growth in the spring, then you should trim them towards the end of winter, but when they’re still dormant. You can also prune them again when the flowers fade. Of course, basic trimming to remove dead branches etc. can be done at any time, though it’s best to avoid any pruning in the fall if you can, as that’s when decay fungi spread their spores.
Be Careful to Not Over-Prune
Laan says that over-weighted limbs, trees that look very full, or may have places that aren’t healthy need to be trimmed promptly. The problem is though that people usually take too much. He says you just want to take about 25 percent if you’re doing a healthy trim and avoid large cuts unless absolutely necessary.
Have a Professional Check for Hazard Trees Once a Year
It’s important to have a professional check your trees, Laan says, because they’ll be able to spot hazards you may easily miss, like dead branches, signs of decay, wounds and cracks in the trunk, root decay, and more. You should do your best to assess these hazards yourself every season, especially after a big storm, and again after they left out in the spring and leaf off in the fall.
Keep an Eye Out for Pests & Disease
If you’re concerned about the health of your tree, it’s best to call in a professional to assess the situation as tree disease can take out a tree permanently. In that case, when a tree is too sick to recover, it becomes a liability and needs to be removed.