In winter, it’s time to think about trees. It’s easier to see the health of your existing trees once the leaves have fallen, if the tree’s a deciduous one. And it’s easier to plan the right spot for a new tree, such as that potted Christmas tree majestically occupying a corner in your great room until the holidays are over.
Let’s start by thinking differently about how trees grow.
The title of this post is true, even though the artwork illustration is not. Ponder the shape of a tree and how it needs to respond to wind and other stressors. The trunk of a tree grows bigger, tougher cells on the side most exposed to wind so the tree can withstand the wind’s force. If most of a tree’s roots were to grow as illustrated, how long do you think the tree could withstand wind and storms, even with a strong trunk? Not long, actually!
A tree’s roots tend to be more horizontal, with many entwining fibers called roots that fill the top foot of soil at least as far out as the canopy of the trees spreads.
These roots grab the water, soil minerals, and air in the soil’spockets to nourish the tree. These roots also provide stability for the tree against the natural forces above ground, no matter what direction they come from.
That’s why it’s hard to grow anything under a tree. The tree’s roots will out-compete those lovely shrubs, even ground cover, or annual flowering plants. The best option for covering the ground under a tree is mulch. And if you just have to have something green, try a spreader like a vine planted at the tree’s dripline that’s encouraged to grow toward the trunk in the shade by skimming over the surface of the soil.
Remember, too, that the tree you planted as a sapling continues to grow roots as well as branches.
Are you struggling to keep grass surviving even though the tree’s canopy now shades it? Maybe it’s time for a little landscape re-design that replaces the grass. As a tree ages, it builds a lovely flare where the trunk meets the ground. That’s wiry muscle where roots and trunk connect. A big flare shows a healthy tree, kind of like a weightlifter’s bicep.
So, for a healthy tree, allow tree roots to be dominant in their ground space, be proud of the trunk flare, and keep mulch from touching the tree.
What else? Studies show that trees like to space themselves apart in nature – letting both canopy and roots have room to grow to mature size. Plant them too close together, and over time you’ll see the weaker trees die off in between the stronger ones.
A good rule of thumb, especially for big shade trees, is to allow at least 30 feet between them.
With today’s small yards, why not measure from your neighbor’s tree if one of yours looks unhappy or you’re thinking of filling in an empty space in the yard? It’s prudent to consider tree competition when deciding how to help a tree or add to your landscape.
And finally, take care of your tree by shaping it carefully.
Find the best arborist you can to help you determine whether to remove that extra trunk or where to cut back the branch that’s touching the roof, crossing another branch, or shading the neighbor’s roses. Arborists are now certified. When one visits your landscape, ask them exactly what will be done. Learn about branch collars, and ask the arborist whether he/she or a landscape crew will actually make the cuts. Even knowledgeable tree care companies can have inexperienced crews manipulating the saw or pruner, resulting in poor cuts that collect water and introduce rot into the tree or that tear strips of bark around the cut.
Planning carefully, allowing room for the tree’s natural growth habits, and taking good care of it will give you absolute pleasure with all of the trees in your landscape.