Basic Tree Care
Good soil and adequate water are the two essential pillars of good tree care. Most tree health issues are created or compounded by insufficient water or poor soil quality. It is also important to be aware of when and when not to prune a tree.
Water is the most essential nutrient to a plant. See below for essential practices to follow regarding watering.
- Establishment watering should be conducted in at least the first year after planting; two to three years is even better.
- Water once or twice per week, with 10 gallons per inch of trunk diameter. If it rains significantly in the previous week, 1.5 inches or more total rainfall, there is no need to water.
- Excess watering or daily watering can lead to tree health problems and should be avoided.
- After the establishment period, it is only recommended that you water your tree during times of drought, when it hasn’t rained for two or more weeks.
- Watering is often done with a hose or bucket for young trees, and a sprinkler or drip irrigation for a large mature tree.
- Water should saturate the soil out to the drip line of the tree.
Soil Health: Mulch!
Soil health can be maintained and improved by the simple practice of regularly applying organic matter in the form of wood and leaf mulch. Mulch and organic matter work wonders as they build and glue together a desirable soil structure, increase water and nutrient holding capacity, protect the soil surface from compaction due to rain fall or foot traffic, insulate the soil from temperature swings, add fertility to the soil, and feed the soil food web. See below for recommended practices for preserving and improving your soil.
- Maintain a 3-inch layer of mulch as far out from the tree as you can, out to its future mature canopy drip line if possible.
- Replenish mulch as needed as it washes away and decomposes.
- Woodchips and leaf mulch can often be obtained for free from tree care companies or at Takoma Park Public Works.
- Avoid soil compacting activities from your tree’s root zone.
- You can work with a tree care company to identify nutrient deficiencies in your soil and determine a prescription for remedying them.
- Especially compacted soil may benefit from more intensive decompaction techniques implemented by a tree care service.
Look into Chip Drop, Free woodchips delivered by tree care companies
Most trees do not need regular pruning. If someone says that your tree needs a ‘haircut’, be suspicious. A tree grows branches and leaves for a reason and removing them when they are healthy will damage its ability to photosynthesize the food it needs. However, pruning for good structure and increased safety can sometimes be necessary. Keep in mind the following guidance when considering pruning your tree.
- Young trees sometimes grow branches or trunks that compete with one another and form weak attachments, requiring ‘structural pruning’. Work with a knowledgeable arborist to see if your tree needs structural pruning.
- Pruning is sometimes required for clearance from structures, pedestrian or vehicle traffic, or overhead electric lines. Contact PEPCO for the latter.
- Dead or defective branches that hang over potential targets should be pruned out. If there is a low likelihood of a target getting struck by falling branches, it may be fine to leave them.
- Topping a tree, or cutting off its main trunk(s), is very harmful to its structure and is only permitted when absolutely necessary to achieve a safety or clearance requirement.
And, keep in mind that a Tree Impact Assessment is required before pruning more than 10% of the live crown of an Urban Forest Tree.