ROOT CARE: WHEN ROOTS BECOME A PROBLEM
Know the warning signs
A large shade tree is a treasure to be valued and preserved. Mature trees can cut utility bills substantially by shading the house and blocking wind. They can increase your home’s value by as much as 10 percent. Trees capture air pollution and absorb traffic noise. The trees in our yards are our children’s playground and the touchstones of our family memories. All that, and they’re beautiful too.
As a tree grows larger it provides more benefits. That makes mature trees worth attention and care. Here are some tips for safeguarding these green treasures:
Protect the bark. Keep power tools such as lawnmowers and string trimmers from striking the tree and damaging its bark. A circle of mulch around the tree is a good way to create a buffer zone. It’s important to avoid harming the vital water vessels and vulnerable growing tissue just beneath the bark.
Spread mulch. A wide, even layer of mulch around the trunk is one of the best things you can do for a tree. It will insulate the soil around the tree’s roots, keep away power tools, discourage foot traffic, and improve the soil as it decays. Use mulch made of wood chips or shredded wood. Spread it three to four inches deep all around the tree; the wider the area covered with mulch, the better. Distribute mulch in an even layer without piling it against the bark. That can lead to rot and disease.
Stay off the roots. When the soil is packed down around a tree’s roots, the tree can’t absorb the water and air it needs. To avoid compacting the soil, discourage foot traffic in the area beneath the branches of a tree. Keep paths and play equipment well away. Don’t park cars or pile heavy loads on the roots.
Don’t hang things from trees. A rope used to suspend a tire swing from a branch can quickly wear away the protective bark and damage the vital tissue. If the bark damage doesn’t kill the branch, the weight may break it. To hang a hammock, don’t tie a rope around a tree. You will damage much less bark if you drill a hole and screw in a large eye bolt.
Water when it’s dry. Most of the time, a mature tree can live off rainfall. But when the weather is dry for several weeks at a time during the growing season, even a large tree needs watering to avoid stress. Water it slowly, so the roots have time to absorb the water. Turn the hose on with a slow trickle and lay the nozzle on the ground underneath the tree’s branches. Every 20 minutes or so, move it a few feet until you’ve distributed water throughout the tree’s root zone. If the tree is out of reach of the hose, even a few buckets of water poured slowly on the root zone will help.
Get a professional inspection. As a tree ages, it may develop cracks, disease, rot, or heavy dead branches. Have it inspected every few years by a certified arborist, who will be able to spot problems early and recommend pruning or other measures to prolong the tree’s life.
Photo courtesy of Bartlett Tree Experts.