Trees are one part of our landscape that we usually take for granted. Sometimes, it takes a lightning strike or precarious limb dangling above our home to get our attention. However, you can follow a few simple tree maintenance tips to keep your landscape looking more beautiful than ever.
Thank you to Jones Road Tree Service for sponsoring this post! The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own, and I only recommend products and services I personally use and enjoy. For more information, please see my disclosures.
Why is tree maintenance important?
As a native Houstonian, I could tell many stories about the damage done to trees by torrential rains, extreme heat, and heavy winds…not to mention pests! (Have you seen the size of our bugs?)
It’s impossible to predict the natural disasters looming in our future. However, it’s easy to prepare for them with routine maintenance.
Even in the absence of weather disruptions, certain trees are more vulnerable to disease or pests. Once you know how to properly care for them, you can effectively reduce these risks.
It can take several decades for these towering plants to reach maturity, so ideally you want to protect the ones you already have.
9 Tree Maintenance Tips
1. Mulch around the perimeter
Mulch helps protect tree roots and maintain moisture in the surrounding soil. It also releases useful organic matter (humus) into the soil as it decomposes.
To properly apply mulch, spread the mixture to a depth of about 2-4 inches, extending out to the drip line of the branches. Then pull the mulch away from the trunk to create a donut hole shape.
You’ll want to avoid creating a “mulch volcano” around the base (called the root collar) since the trapped moisture can lead to pests, disease, or decay.
2. Water regularly
Newly planted trees require watering once a day for the first few weeks after planting, while most mature ones need 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter (source: Arbor Day Foundation).
The key to maintaining a healthy tree is keeping the soil moist but not soggy. Drip irrigation is ideal for regular watering slow and deep, and mulching helps retain the moisture.
During the summer, water in the morning or evening to prevent the water from evaporating.
Tip: Test the soil with a trowel 2 inches below the surface to determine whether the tree needs water.
3. Manage soil conditions
Choose the right mix of soil at the time of planting to put your tree on the path to successful growth. A blend of original soil and 10-20% compost works well as backfill when planting a tree or shrub.
If you suspect that the soil lacks nutrients, you can perform a soil test to determine the appropriate fertilizer needed.
4. Fertilize in the fall
Just like any other garden plant, trees need fertilization in the fall before colder weather puts a strain on root systems.
Applying phosphorus and potassium to the soil can help root tissues begin to “harden off,” which is how the tree acclimates to winter conditions. Arborists typically recommend a slow-release nitrogen (SRN) type fertilizer during this time.
5. Control pests and diseases
Often, pests or diseases can go undetected for some time. Most homeowners don’t nurture their trees as much as they would flowering plants or vegetable gardens.
Signs of Pests or Disease
- Hollowed trunks or decaying branches
- Mushrooms near the base (an indicator of decay)
- Severely stunted growth
- Discolored, misshapen or stippled leaves
- White spots or unusual masses on branches
In Texas, a common fungal disease called oak wilt can spread via sap-feeding beetles. As a result, arborists do not recommend pruning between February and June when the beetles are most active.
If you suspect you have a pest infestation or disease problem, consult with an arborist in your area to determine the best course of action.
6. Protect against freezes
A fruit-bearing or immature tree may need extra protection in advance of a major freeze. (Personally, I’ve had to nurse a young lemon tree back to health after it suffered a hard freeze several years ago.)
Covering the plant with a sheet or tarp that extends to the ground can help trap the warmth of the soil. When doing so, you’ll want to use stakes or another structure around the tree to prevent direct contact with the leaves. Once the threat of frost has passed, you should remove the covering as soon as possible.
7. Remove invasive plants
Certain fast-growing invasive plants like ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, and wisteria, can damage trees by trapping moisture around the root collar or preventing leaves from receiving adequate sunlight.
You can remove these plants by cutting the stems near the base, rather than pulling them from the bark, which can cause further harm.
8. Trim appropriately
Perhaps the most important (and aesthetically pleasing) aspect of tree maintenance is routine trimming and pruning. I’ve seen many pruning jobs gone wrong, however.
Pruning helps to remove dead or diseased branches and thin the structure to allow light and wind to pass. It also ensures clearance for nearby structures, driveways, or utility lines.
According to Jones Road Tree Service, less than 25% of green foliage should be removed at one time and even less (perhaps only 10%) for mature trees. The amount of pruning required will depend on a risk assessment as well as the customer’s objectives.
Keep scrolling for the before and after photos!
9. Remove dead trees
If a tree creates an obstruction, presents a hazard, or crowds out other plants or structures, sometimes removal is the only viable option. Once you assess your tree risk and determine that removal is needed, it’s time to call a specialist.
A good tree removal company will cut or grind the stump and provide for the disposal of logs and brush.
How to Choose the Right Specialist
I chose to work with Jones Road Tree Service as my preferred tree service in Houston because they have an ISA-certified arborist on staff and carry the necessary liability insurance. The company also offered fair and competitive prices compared to other businesses in our area.
The trees around our home pre-existed the neighborhood, so I wanted to protect what nature gave us. While these oaks provided good shade, you’ll notice they also completely obstructed the view of the home before pruning.
Many companies trim based solely on appearance. However, an arborist has more extensive knowledge about how much to trim at a time and which parts of the tree to preserve.
Questions to Ask a Tree Service Company
- What is the company’s philosophy on arbor care and maintenance, especially when pruning trees? Beware of companies offering “tree topping” which dramatically reduces a tree’s size by removing major branches and creates hazardous new growth.
- Is there an ISA-certified arborist on staff? The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) offers credentials that certify an arborist is trained and equipped to provide proper tree care.
- Is the company a member of the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) or American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA)? TCIA accreditation is one indication that a business has professional standards met by all employees, including proper training and safety measures.
- Does the company carry liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance? Given the inherent risk involved with tree trimming or removal, having proper insurance is critical.
- Does the company offer a written contract detailing the scope, cost, and timing of the work? Always get a detailed quote in writing.
Just remember, you should never feel rushed into selecting a tree care company, and you should never pay for services in advance.
For additional information, you can see these tips on hiring an arborist from the TCIA industry association.
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I hope these tree care tips will help you maintain a beautiful landscape this year. If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave a comment below!