As a State Certified Tree Expert I am called upon to look at many types of tree problems. These problems range from construction damage to young trees planted too deep to insect and disease problems. One thing I learned while studying to become certified, was that almost all tree problems are cultural, or site related. Most tree deaths are the result of an accumulation of stress factors. Again, over ninety percent of the time, the first in line is a cultural problem. As I practice, I am discovering that what many good instructors have taught is proving true in the field.
Far too many people are losing countless trees because of poor arboricultural practices. We should start with the young trees first. By young trees I mean trees planted within the last five or so years. When planting a new tree, you must first do a proper site analysis. You should consider soil type, ph level, light situation, water needs and space available. By choosing a tree to fit these circumstances you can elminate the first stress the plant would encounter. Example: A client calls to have us look at a Dogwood tree that seems to be struggling. Upon arriving, the first thing I see is a tree in full sun. Dogwoods are naturally an understory plant. Living in direct, full sun will cause the tree to live in a stressed out condition.
Another form of stress for young trees is improper planting depth. Whether you are planting the tree yourself or having a landscape professional do it for you, follow these simple rules. First dig a hole that is two to three times the size of the root ball but only deep enough so that the bottom of the root flare is at grade. The next step is critical and is almost always overlooked, even by professionals. Inspect the root ball to find the root flare. Often times there are several inches of soil on top of the ball. Cut the twine and pull back the burlap to expose the trunk. Run your fingers down the trunk until you find the flare and pull back any dirt that is on top. You have now established natural grade. Example: We are called to look at some American redbuds that have been in for almost three years and are really looking thin. When we look at the trees the trunk goes straight into the ground which tells me the root flare has been buried. After some careful investigating, I discovered that the trees had been planted too deep. The work was done by a professional landscape company.
Soil compaction is another common problem that will cause a tree to become stressed. Soil compaction is caused by anything that moves over the rootzones of trees with enough weight and or repetition to squeeze the life out of the soil, from heavy construction equipment to foot traffic. Think of a foot path worn in the grass. Example: trees at an elementary school in Mullica Hill look very sparse. I suspect BLS. However, after walking the site, I saw that the soil around the trees looked inactive. It turns out that this is where the school buses park. The first thing we had to do was to get the vehicles off those roots, and then aerate. The last thing is to reintroduce some microbes back into the soil.
These are a few of the most common causes of stress that I have been faced with this season. There are some simple remedies to some of these problems. Many of you invest good money into caring for portions of your trees above the ground by pruning out the dead limbs, thinning for air flow, taking out crossing and rubbing limbs, etc. These are all solid practices, but we tend to ignore the portions of the tree beneath the surface. This area is equally important and deserves just as much attention as a part of the tree we can see. Small changes in the environment below the ground can create big changes in the canopy. I would highly recommend investing part of your tree care dollar into caring for the rootzones of your trees, as this will give you great returns on your ventures.
There are new soil amendments being developed and introduced all the time to help feed the soil and enrich the earth. These products are all organic, use no pesticides and strengthen the livelihood of your trees.