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How to keep your trees thriving

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Tree pruning promotes good branch structure, reduces potential hazards, and improves overall tree health

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Healthy trees add shade and beauty to a yard, and they have a positive impact on the environment as well. Regular maintenance will keep your trees healthy and thriving.

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) recommends inspecting mature trees once a year to help you identify potential problems and take steps to keep them from getting worse.

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Look for new leaves or buds, normal leaf size and twig growth – all signs of a tree’s vigor.

The ISA says that other signs of poor tree health are:
•    trunk decay
•    crown dieback
•    spotted, deformed, discolored or dead leaves
•    loose bark
•    deformed growths

Talk about any of these issues with a certified arborist or tree care professional for advice on possible treatment.

Prune
Pruning is a key aspect of maintaining healthy trees. It promotes good branch structure, reduces potential hazards, and improves overall tree health by removing dead, diseased, and dying branches.

Home owners can prune small, lightweight branches which can be reached from the ground. Tree experts with the proper equipment should be called in to take care of larger branches and for working off the ground.

Mulch
Mulching around a tree discourages weeds, helps retain much-needed moisture, and protects the tree from potential damage from mowers and other lawn equipment.

The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) says that, while mulch can be applied any time, the best time to apply is in mid-spring, when the soil temperature has warmed up enough to promote root growth.

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Most industry experts encourage using organic mulches – mulches made of natural materials that break down over time. These mulches help improve soil structure and add nutrients and organic material to the soil. Wood chips, pine needles, hardwood and softwood bark, cocoa hulls, leaves and compost mixes all make suitable mulch for trees. The TCIA recommends composted wood chips, especially when they contain a blend of leaves, bark, and wood.

Mulching tips
Mulching is easy – but it’s also easy to do incorrectly. You may have seen mulch piled up high around tree trunks, forming a "volcano." This is not what industry experts recommend.

Piling mulch too close to the tree can lead to insect and disease problems, weakening the tree and perhaps eventually killing it. Keep a mulch-free area of at least four to six inches around the base of the tree.

Apply mulch between two and four inches in depth over weed-free soil around the tree. Experts at ISA say that to be most effective, mulch should cover the entire root system – which may be as far as two or three times the diameter of the branch spread of the tree.

This may not be possible for every yard, so ISA recommends that you mulch as much of the area under the drip line (where the outermost leaves are) of the tree as possible.

Water
On average, trees need the equivalent of one inch of rain every seven to 10 days, depending on species. Just as with lawns, frequent, shallow watering can do more harm than good.

Taking care of your trees ensures that they will add lasting beauty and value to your home for years to come.

For more information, see Trees Are Good.

Editor's note: Here's more about gardening: The main Monitor gardening page. Our blog archive. Our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. If you join the group (it's free), you can upload your garden photos (and possibly win a prize). Join the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions.

And finally, you can now follow us on Twitter.


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