Make trees a priority in the landscape

March 20, 2013 

Since I have more free time now, I have begun to work on my wife’s “honey do” list. One of the things I noticed is that her list of priorities is different than mine. And because the house is hers, I find that I need to ask her what she wants done next and not assume I know.

She seems to have a sense of priorities about household repairs that goes like this:

• If something is unsightly, fix it before she gets tired of looking at it.

• If something is leaking, fix it soon.

• If something is smoking, on fire or shooting sparks -- fix it now!

Priorities are important in every area of life. Without a vision for your life, you will go nowhere that is good. Aim for nothing and you will hit it every time.

Make your trees a priority in the landscape now. As they begin to bud out, they move from a very quiet time of life (almost asleep) into the most active part of their life cycle: spring growth. In fact, if you want to work around your trees (digging, planting, pruning, etc.) then winter is the best time since the tree is dormant. For these practices, spring is actually the worst time of year because the tree needs its energy to grow and has little left over to repair injuries.

In the spring, trees wake up slowly. They really do not want us to do much to them until after they are fully “awake.” This fully awake stage begins about the time the first leaves are full size. Until then, we need to be careful how we treat our trees.

Trees could say to us, “No breakfast yet. Let me wake up first.” Do not fertilize trees until mid-April. At this time, the lawn will absorb much of the fertilizer. Unless you are trying to make the tree grow more rapidly, most trees probably get enough fertilizer from the leftover from fertilizing the lawn.

If you can, hold off on digging and planting around trees as well. This damages roots that the tree will want to replace. And spring is the time for leaf growth, not root growth. Winter is the best time to plant under trees (if you must) but especially avoid digging around trees during the spring.

Pruning can still be done, but it does stress the tree more when done during spring green up. If you can, delay pruning until after the leaves are full-size. When you prune certain trees during this time, they tend to bleed a lot. This includes willows, maples, birch, dogwood and elm. This bleeding probably does not hurt them much, but it is unsightly. Once again, waiting a while to prune will prevent this. Go ahead and remove any dead limbs because this will not affect tree health.

One tree you do not want to prune at this time of year is the pine. Pruned pines bleed sap and the smell of this sap attracts pine beetles. These beetles may attack the trees in that area and can kill them. Once the beetles are in the trees, there is no cure for them. Wait until winter to prune pines if at all possible. If you must prune pines, spray the tree trunk with an insecticide containing bifenthrin to help reduce beetle attack.

Several types of boring insects look for weakened and young trees to attack in the spring. Some of these include ambrosia beetles, pine beetles and some clear wing moths. Young, recently planted and stressed trees are most at risk. Although many types of trees are attacked, I have found that maples and pines are especially susceptible to borers.

To prevent borers from getting into trees, treat them as soon as possible with an insecticide containing permethrin or bifenthrin. Do this soon because there is no care for these pests once they get into the tree and some of these pests have probably been flying around since February. Repeat the treatment in three to six weeks. Read the label for specifics.

Mulching around the tree, watering deeply once a week and removing broken and dead limbs are other good spring tree care practices.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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