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Little Known or Interesting Factoids About Trees and Tree Physiology

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                     Jim Rediker - Nurseryman -  Arborist  - TDA Certified
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Some Practical Lessons in Tree Management    

1. Root needs include:

                Growing room. Before planting a tree, assess the area available for root growth; and before building near existing trees, consider how this will affect future root spread.


                Air, for respiration. This means choosing planting sites where the soil is not water-saturated; loosening the soil before planting; and avoiding compacting the soil around trees.


                Water -- enough, but not too much -- to dissolve nutrients and transport them (along with sugars, hormones, etc.), and to cool the tree.


                Minerals - nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium; calcium, iron, boron & other micronutrients; a medium (clay, organic matter) from which they can be extracted from the soil; proper pH (balance of acidity/alkalinity). A SOIL TEST is the only way to determine whether a need for soil amendment, to compensate for needs that the soil can not meet.


 2. Problems for roots -- and some solutions, include:

                 Exposure -- usually caused by soil erosion, or by a high water table or hardpan. Fill with loose, loamy soil; add mulch & exclude traffic. A few shrubs nearby are OK, but don't "garden" regularly in the root zone. Compacted soil and oxygen exclusion. Exclude traffic, and don't smother or flood. Mulch and injected air or water may help. Girdling roots (wrapped around other roots, constricting them to some extent). The best solution is to use young trees with properly-formed root systems, and plant them properly. Cutting through a girdling root on a mature tree may cause more problems than it cures, and it may not address the worse problems that are out of sight.


                Direct injury, such as:  

  • Grade change (both cuts & fill)

  • Chemicals

  • Trenching soil compaction

  • Lawnmowers, string trimmers, rototillers

  • Fire flooding

  • Competition from grasses & weeds

  3. Damage Control

                 When roots must be cut, it is important to minimize the injury to the tree. Cutting them off cleanly maximizes the tree's ability to control decay and generate new roots. The cut should be as far as possible from the base of the tree. Wound dressings won't help the tree.


  4. Mulch

                  A substitute for the layer of natural leaf-litter on the forest floor, and it serves many of the same functions:

  • Moisture management: It is easy for rain or irrigation to soak downward through a layer of mulch, but difficult for it to evaporate away, so mulch can be extremely important in moisture conservation. Mulch can also play an important role in slowing down water movement where paving and roofing has increased run-off volumes.

  • Most plants require sunlight for early growth, so a layer of mulch can help suppress weed growth; and since mulch helps keep soils moist and loose, weeds and turf runners that do grow into mulched beds are usually easy to pull. Some types of herbicide may be used in conjunction with mulch, but these must be managed carefully to avoid unintended damage to desirable plants and soil organisms.

  • Since mulch helps keep weeds and turf are kept out of planting beds, trees and shrubs are less likely to be wounded by mowers and string-trimmers.

  • Mulch gradually breaks down and becomes part of the humus near the surface of the soil. Humus holds moisture, holds fertilizer elements where plants can pick them off, and also provides a favorable environment for earthworms, mycorrhizal fungi, and the other soil organisms that benefit plants.

  • Less utilitarian, but no less valuable, mulch can be a major contributor to the appearance of a landscape, connecting plants with each other within a bed, and connecting beds to each other by a common surface treatment.

                Still, it is important not to overdo mulch. It should be a natural material -- NO PLASTIC! -- applied loosely to a depth of 2-4 inches. Remember that a tree or shrub can be killed by a heap of mulch around its base: insects and decay organisms thrive in such a dark, moist, protected environment.


  5. Understand the Rules of 'CODIT' (Compartmentalization of Decay In Trees)


                Let them guide your pruning and other tree work:  When a tree is injured, all wood present at the time of wounding may be decayed, depending on how well the tree's defenses work. Wood formed after the original injury will not decay, unless the tree's defenses are broken down as a result of further injury or other stress. Don't confuse tree wounds with animal wounds. We actually "heal", replacing the injured tissues. Trees simply wall off decay, controlling its spread long enough so that new wood added to the outside of the tree can take over the functions of the wood rotted away. All trees work basically alike -- broadleaf and narrowleaf, and trees that form heartwood as well as those that don't. The best way to deal with tree problems is by avoiding them. Learn to work with the tree's natural defenses.


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Contact: cell: 830.257.8871
                     Jim Rediker - Nurseryman -  Arborist  - TDA Certified

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