Posted by: Dennis Hinkamp on Jul 8, 2011

Trees Need Extra Summer Care

Writer: Julene Reese, 435-797-0810
Contact: Jerry Goodspeed, 801-392-8908
            LOGAN — While it is widely known that humans experience stress, many homeowners forget that trees also experience stress. And, unfortunately, most of the stress is not created by the tree.
            “One of the common stresses we put on trees is changing the water pattern,” said Jerry Goodspeed, Utah State University Extension horticulturist. “This occurs most commonly by over- or under-watering, which is fairly easy to detect. Other moisture level changes are not as easy to spot. A change in the groundwater level can occur through upstream building or through an altered drainage corridor from downstream road construction. Drought also alters soil moisture, and its damage may go unnoticed by a homeowner for some time.”
            Any type of construction around trees also impacts them, said Goodspeed. Homeowners often fail to realize how far a tree’s roots extend. A neighbor putting up a shed, laying a new driveway or taking out an area of lawn to put in a hot tub or patio can affect a tree 100 feet away. If feeder roots extend into the construction zone, the tree is stressed while adapting to the new environment.
            Another problem for trees is if the grade of the area around it is changed, he said. Many noble trees have died because the homeowner decided to develop a 12-inch high raised bed around its base. This not only alters the tree’s oxygen and water ratio in the soil, but also increases the moisture at its base, making it vulnerable to root rot and decay.
            “Any change in grade around a tree can affect its growth, even cuts and fills several feet away,” said Goodspeed. “When roots are cut during landscape renovation, part of the tree’s water and nutrient supply is removed. Although most trees survive minor grade changes, it causes stress and leaves them susceptible to insect pests and diseases.”
            Another stress often overlooked is increased competition, he said. The thicker, more mature a landscape becomes, the more competition there is for existing water and nutrients. We forget that as a tree ages, it requires a deeper, more plentiful water supply. Simply sprinkling the lawn may be enough for a small, newly planted tree, but will not provide adequate water for a mature, 40-foot shade tree.
            “Many trees are planted in close proximity to each other when they are small, cute and cuddly,” said Goodspeed. “However, as they reach those troublesome adolescent years, they start fighting over the available water and nutrients. When this occurs, weaker trees often slowly decline as they lose the battle. Then pests and diseases move in to finish off the job.”
            Another stress put on a tree is limiting its root spread.
            “This occurs when we plant a large tree in a small space, kind of like forcing a large basketball player into a small Yugo,” said Goodspeed. “He may stay there for a while, but eventually will get tired of being cramped and go out and purchase a Hummer and a couple of homes. Most trees can’t purchase more space or move, so they get weaker and slow their growth. This is a common phenomenon in trees planted in small parking strips next to sidewalks.”
            For a healthy tree, reduce as many of the known stressors as possible, he concluded. Keep in mind that a declining tree may not be suffering from a plague or pests. It could be suffering from homeowner mismanagement.


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