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Winter Tree Care

Do’s and don’ts to prep your yard

Trees, as with most elements of nature, are beautiful, but possess the potential to be dangerous. On the sunny side, trees can provide comfortable shade, enhance curb appeal, reduce energy costs, and provide recreation (think tree houses and tire swings). In order for a tree to keep giving, however, owners need to make sure to keep abreast of their tree's needs.
In preparation for winter's unyielding weather, when harsh winds coupled with heavy snow and ice can cause expensive damage to both trees and property, a certified arborist offers the skills and knowledge necessary for both owner and tree to remain unscathed until spring. Curt Walter, an ISA certified arborist with Tomlinson Bomberger (www.tomlinsonbomberger.com), offers some tips to get started.

Do:

Think Location. Location. Location.
One of the easiest solutions for reducing risk and minimizing workload (if adding new trees) involves simply choosing the right tree for the right location. The Arbor Day Society (www.arborday.org) suggests taking factors such as height, canopy spread, deciduous versus coniferous, growth rate, and hardiness zone into consideration when choosing a tree and its placement on the property. The hassle of raking slippery leaves from a driveway, having an automobile pummeled by plummeting walnuts, and cleaning clogged rain gutters could all result from choosing the wrong property location. Winter conditions can compound these stresses.
When making the decision of deciduous or coniferous, both types offer their own individual benefits. "Some are easier to maintain, like evergreens, more so than deciduous because of the dropping leaves,” says Walter. “But the Zelkova and Honey Locust are two easier deciduous trees," he suggests.

Prune Proactively
Proper pruning could be argued to be the single handed best practice for prolonged tree life. Winter conditions can wreak havoc on a neglected tree. "Thinning out branches is one of the most important things to do for winter because there are less branches to hold ice and snow," says Walter. He adds, "This does not necessarily need to be done every year; with deciduous, every three to five years can be sufficient." Heavy winds can cause a tree to uproot without proper thinning. Walter emphasizes: "A tree needs good branch structure."

Remember to Mulch
Not all remedies for a healthy tree need to be expensive or difficult. One affordable and easy practice is simply to use mulch. "[Mulch] is great for trees. It protects them from mower damage,  provides additional moisture, and lowers the pH level of our soil here, which in most cases is better for trees," suggests Walter.

Pest Patrol
Be on the lookout for damage from pests. Currently, the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive and destructive beetle, has killed millions of ash trees across the country this year alone. The Emerald Ash Borer, now in Lancaster, can begin destroying a tree within one year. Spotting damage early can be the difference between saving a tree or losing it. "Some signs to look for are the tops of trees won't have any leaves," advises Walter. The insect bores into the bark and leaves larvae behind; eventually the water cannot get to the top, killing the tree. Tomlinson Bomberger offers a preventative service, an insecticide injected into the soil, that gives the tree a 70 percent chance of survival (free evaluations and estimates provided). Other pests and disease exist, so being vigilant about a tree's appearance can foil future problems early.
A current approach to keeping pests at bay known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) means that there is a course of action that is "planned on and acted out," says Walter. Trained professionals assess situations and attempt to prescribe best methods to control pests without completely eliminating them, as was done in the past. Finding ways to reduce the attractiveness of an area (like removing a food source) can thwart pests without the need for lots of chemicals. Some pests can destroy the integrity of a tree's architecture, increasing the probability of future damage to its structure, or even eventually causing the tree to die.

Don't:

Prune Improperly  
Even with the best of intentions, improper pruning can leave lasting negative effects on trees. Two common mistakes according to Walter are "topping" and "lion's-tailing." Tree topping is attempting to shorten a tree by removing the tree's top, which can actually kill the tree. The other results when all branches are trimmed except the ones on the end, "which puts all of the weight on the end of the branch, looking like a lion's tail, and causing it to snap," says Walter. With added weight from winter snow and ice, snapped branches can become potentially dangerous and cause expensive damage.

Hesitate to Call a Pro
Not only are arborists people with genuine interest in the beauty and health of trees, but certified arborists have taken it a step further by voluntarily undergoing an examination that exemplifies their knowledge. An arborist certified through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)  represents a trustworthy professional prepared for tougher jobs or as a resource for information.

5 Essential Tree Care Tips

1. Choose the right tree
One of the easiest solutions for reducing risk and minimizing workload (if adding new trees) involves simply choosing the right tree for the right location.

2. Thin out branches
Thinning out branches is one of the most important things to do for winter because there are fewer branches to hold ice and snow.

3. Mulch
An affordable and easy practice for healthy trees is simply to use mulch.

4. Watch for Pests
Be on the lookout for damage from pests, such as no leaves at the top; spotting damage early can be the difference between saving a tree or losing it.

5.  Prune Properly
Avoid improper pruning techniques known as “topping” (cutting off tree tops) and creating “lion's tails” on branches by trimming all but the end.

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