As the year winds down and cooler temperatures begin, please keep in mind that here, in south Louisiana, fall is transplanting time – especially for trees and shrubs. I am focusing on trees for this month for two reasons. The first being that I, like so many of you, appreciate and value the contributions that trees make throughout our community. The second reason is I’m increasingly getting calls from homeowners asking about the health of trees, how to properly maintain trees, tree removal, etc. During site visits I encounter variety of problems that could have been avoided or diminished with some planning and a little research. The first thing that is recommended when deciding to plant a tree or trees is what is the intended use or purpose. Is its primary purpose shade or energy conservation? Is it going to be used primarily for beautification? Is it going to be used for wildlife habitat since many birds and animals depend on trees for food and shelter? If you consider what the intended uses are for a tree or for trees, then that directly impacts what you’ll plant, where you’ll plant it, and the required maintenance. Trees that have been properly selected, positioned, and cared for are a reflection of homeowners who have an appreciation for their environment. Trees are a long-term investment and we must not only think about how trees will benefit us but how they will benefit others and who will be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep long after we’re gone. For whatever reason that you want to invest in a tree or trees, one of the most neglected considerations is the size of the tree at maturity. A mature tree is a tree that has reached a desired size or age for its intended use. Remember that size, age or economic maturity varies , depending on the species and intended use. For example, most people who planted or plan to plant live oak trees are not aware of the space requirements as the tree grows and matures. A live oak tree can dominant an area if not given adequate space to grow. It’s not only the spread of branches but also the root spread that needs to be considered at planting. I personally planted 3 live oak trees in 1980, and have already had to remove two, and with the third one I’ve been forced to remove several large branches that were beginning to hang over my house. Unfortunately I see this scenario replayed over and over again throughout Lafayette and across many communities in our State. I singled out live oaks because of the familiarity of these trees by most people since live oaks are abundant and beautiful and add so much beauty to our outdoor living areas and property in general.
Anyone wanting to plant trees can find endless resources on the subject. The LSU AgCenter website – www.lsuagcenter.com has an abundance of information available to help make important decisions about tree planting. On the LSU AgCenter’s website there is a publication called “Guide to Successful Trees – Publication #2631.” It provides all the information you’ll need to make those important decisions from selecting the proper trees for your intended purpose to proper transplanting, to care and maintenance during and after establishment. There is even a section on common tree problems and choosing an arborist. Another publication is called “Trees for Louisiana Landscapes – Publication #1622.” This is a smaller publication but still contains a wealth of valuable information on selecting, transplanting, and the care and maintenance of trees.
Since fall is transplanting time, I’d like to mention how important it is that once the species of a tree or trees is selected for planting, that the proper transplanting techniques are followed. Root establishment is critical during that first year of transplanting, especially getting that tree or trees through the first summer. It must be noted that it can easily take at least a year and several additional months before trees are considered established. This is an important point because there are some people that honestly believe that after a few month trees are on their way and need no further care. Here are a couple of important points I’d like to make when transplanting trees: first, dig the transplanting hole at least twice the width or diameter of the root ball of the tree; next, don’t dig the transplanting hole any deeper than that which will allow the tree to sit in the hole at the same depth it was growing in the container, or at the same depth it was growing before being dug in the case of field grown trees.
One of the biggest mistakes where trees are planted is that they’re transplanted “TOO” deep. Because of our soil type, less than ideal drainage, compounded by improper mulching, we see issue of root rots which leads to the death of many trees. Additionally it is no longer acceptable to amend the soil that is used as a back fill once the tree is in the transplanting hole. Backfill the hole with the same soil that was removed from the hole. This is the soil that the tree will have to adjust to and live in for the rest of its life. Amending the backfill soil – especially with an amendment that is high in organic matter – may create a waterlogged condition around the root system especially during periods of prolonged rainfall, which again increases the possibility of root rots.
Another common practice that I take issue with is improper mulching. We all are aware of the benefits of mulching such as it reduces weed growth, reduces soil compaction, conserves moisture, add nutrients and improves the soil structure, etc. However, volcanic or pyramid mulching – which is placing mulch high and tight around the lower trunk of trees – is improper and leads to rot issues. Avoid placing mulch over the root collar. The root collar is the transition zone between the stem/trunk and the roots at the soil line of a tree. That area should never be covered up by mulch because it can leads to the buildup of moisture which can lead to rot issues. There’s been times where I’ve pointed this practice out and been told it’s “never been a problem with my trees.” To that I say why take the risk if you value trees; talk to someone who’s had to pay someone to take a tree down because of decline due to rot. The depth of mulches can also lead to problems. I have seen mulches pile high and tight against the lower trunk of trees sometimes to a depth of as much as a foot or more. Mulching trees to a depth of more than 3 -4 inches can lead to problems. There are some species of trees that tolerate pyramiding or volcanic mulching more than others, but under no circumstances should it ever be done. Mulching to a depth of 3 to 4 inches away from the root collar to the drip line will go a long way towards contributing to the long term health and performance of trees. Both issues, transplanting too deeply and volcanic or pyramid mulching is common, not just with home owners but also with landscape maintenance professionals who are getting paid to sometimes engage in practices that are not beneficial to trees.
Let Me Conclude By Stating That The Dormant Season Is Also The Major Pruning Period For Trees. Improper Pruning Practices Contribute To More Problems With Trees Than Is Necessary. By Neglecting To Properly Train Trees When They Are Young Leads To Structural Defects That Have To Be Addressed When Trees Are Much Older And Much Bigger. This Leads To More Shock To The Tree, Larger Wounds Because Of The Removal Of Larger Branches, Which Also Present Increased Safety Hazards. Anyone That Has Trees That Are Structurally Defective Because Of The Lack Of Pruning And Training While The Trees Were Smaller, Needs To Consult A Licensed Arborist. Please Consult The Lsu Agcenter’S Website For Recommendations On Selecting An Arborist. Information On Recommended Pruning Practices Can Also Be Found On The Lsu Agcenter Website. Additionally, Someone Who Is Credited With Studying Pruning Techniques And How Trees Respond To Wounds, Advises That Pruning Paint Or Sprays Serve No Useful Purpose And In Some Cases May Slow Down A Tree’S Natural Ability To Cover Or Seal Wounds. That Person Is Dr. Alex Shigo, Plant Pathologist With The United States Department Of Agriculture’S Forest Service. I Highly Recommend Reading Some Of Dr. Shigo’S Studies And Recommendations On Pruning And Training Trees.
Selecting the right tree for the right location is very important. So is proper transplanting, proper mulching and
pruning. Selecting and transplanting is only the beginning. The care and maintenance can determine whether or not
trees gives us satisfaction by meeting our expectation for their intended uses.