All trees clean and filter the air, provide shade and cooling, buffer noise and wind, add to neighborhood character and beauty, and provide homes and hiding for suburban wildlife that would otherwise be displaced or non-existent. Big trees with their much larger biomass can produce substantially more of these benefits than smaller trees.
Unfortunately the very thing that makes them great also makes us afraid; their size. Living under a great big tree brings many concerns for safety and property damage. Before calling for a removal or aggressive pruning such as topping, tree preservation should be considered. Some people think that topping a tree manages its size, but topping a tree causes decay and rot over the long term and the tree will resprout many fast growing suckers that will have to be continually recut, thinned or restored. For more info, see Why Topping Hurts Trees. Trees that are too big for your comfort level can be correctly reduced in size by making selective cuts but, similar to topping, it is costly and labor intensive to manage trees to be smaller than they are supposed to be. The best approach is to cultivate a strong and healthy tree that you can trust with the help from a certified arborist. If you just can’t accept the risk that comes with living under or near big trees, removal is your only option. Risk is greatly subjective, but an arborist can assess what risk level you are living with through a hazard assessment and can develop a maintenance plan for your tree(s).
If you have trees around your home and worry about a fall, one factor to consider is the direction and intensity with which the wind typically blows through your property. If you have been living on a property for many years, you may already know its unique weather patterns. However, if you are new to a property, it is worth taking time to think through before developing a removal or pruning plan.
You can measure the wind direction and speed with simple devices like wind socks or weather vanes or go high tech with digital anemometers and other gadgets. Check out your local prevailing wind data online which graphs direction and speed of winds over many years.
Think about whether your trees are protected on the larger landscape by hills, groups of trees and/or buildings, or are they fully exposed and stand alone on a flat landscape. If there are buffers, have they long been there or have there been recent site changes such as construction or land clearing?
Trees slowly adapt over many years to the site on which they are growing by sensing where additional strength is needed and adjusting height, branching, allocating root and wood growth in order to stand upright against wind forces. Sudden, strong changes in wind direction (like from a storm) or an abrupt change in exposure can drive a tree to the point of breaking or uprooting.
Have you ever come outside and seen a branch laying on the ground or perhaps heard a loud crack and fall? A branch can crack and break anytime wind, snow, ice or just gravity puts more pressure on it than it can handle. Branches grow to withstand a certain amount of these forces but they also can develop weak spots, called defects, around which they can break easier than normal. Holes, clustered branches, inclusions, and cankers caused by infection are some examples of weak areas in a tree.
A branch can also break on a hot, dry day due to a moisture imbalance within the wood which causes the wood fibers to separate. This is called “summer branch drop” and it’s still not fully understood by tree experts.
Lastly, wood strength varies greatly by species. For example, White Pines are naturally more prone to breaking under high storm winds than Oaks. And certain trees are prone to developing defects such as the Bradford Pear which develops multiple branches originating from one spot on the trunk.
If you have a tree that has a break or crack and it is concerning to you, it’s best to have an arborist check it out in a Hazard Inspection.
In the forest, soil nutrition comes from decaying organic matter on the ground, but in urban and suburban environments, soil composition and water drainage has been significantly disturbed, and gardens and yards are cleaned of organic debris. This is why tree and shrub owners might consider using fertilizers annually or as needed. Choosing a fertilizer wisely can help you maintain a healthy landscape in a timeframe, budget and method that best suits you.
When shopping for a fertilizer, there are 3 things to decide on:
1. Ratio of N-P-K. Each macronutrient (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) promotes different plant reactions, which is the significance of the numbers. Fertilizers with higher rates of Nitrogen encourages abundant new leaf growth, high Phosphorous encourages root growth and Potassium encourages drought tolerance and winter hardiness. For these reasons, Fertilizers that are high in N are applied in the spring and high in K in the Fall.
2. Synthetic/Chemical or Organic. Organic Fertilizers have lower N-P-K amounts than Synthetic ones. Organic fertilizers are made from composted organic materials like fish, blood, manure, etc. and can increase soil activity and structure. Synthetic fertilizers are fast acting and are sometimes blended with pesticides or have other engineered properties such as slow release biodegradable capsules.
3. Granular or Liquid formulas. Granular may be a good choice if you already have a spreader handy, whereas some liquid products are available that you can attach onto your hose end for easy spray application.
*Always follow application rates on products to avoid pollution, plant injury and/or pest problems.