This year’s Arbor Day fell on April 29, 2022. While I was reflecting on the importance of Arbor Day, Arbor Day Foundation and trees, I was reminded of a particular tree in my yard in Orange Beach, Alabama, and an event that took place this spring. This particular tree, a water oak (Quercus nigra), was damaged during Hurricane Sally back in 2020 and the damage allowed disease to take hold. Ultimately the tree succumbed to the disease, and we had to have the tree removed. During the removal process, which involved numerous steps of removing large branches and cutting chunks of the trunk away in sections, a mama raccoon was scared away and got separated from her kits. The numerous people, loud noises, and the vibrations from the chainsaws most likely caused the mama raccoon to find another shelter, leaving the baby raccoons unaccompanied in the rotting trunk of the oak tree. A few days after most of the trunk had been removed, leaving little more than a decaying stump, baby raccoons were crying out for their mother hungry and that is when we discovered the babies, and immediately we called the City of Orange Beach Wildlife Center. The Wildlife Center stepped in and came to collect the abandoned kits to take them to the center where they could monitor the kits and ultimately find a rehabilitation center for them. We hope the baby raccoons will be able to be returned to the wild eventually, but this isn’t always the case. The best thing we can do is preserve tree health generally, so these situations arise less frequently.
Trees give us oxygen from carbon dioxide, shade during the hottest part of the day, and an average tree sequesters around 50lbs of carbon per year. Trees also add value to property and communities while assisting with erosion control and air pollution. These traits are typically what come to mind when we talk about all the things trees can do for us. We often overlook that a single tree can be home to a wide variety of critters. It’s not just birds who build nests in branches, and insects that crawl around on the bark and burrow into the roots. The inside of trees can be homes for raccoons, owls, and even bats! Some communities have designated tree health experts who work on tree health for the whole community, but most often, property owners are on the front lines of tree health.
Here are some quick and easy tips and tricks for keeping up with the enormous task of managing the health of the trees on your property.
- Planting a new tree?
- There are trees that prefer wetter climates and there are trees that are hardier. Knowing your hardiness zone will help you make the best selections.
- HERE is a tool from the Arbor Day Foundation that can help when selecting trees for your yard.
- Know the signs of disease and pests.
- Lack of fruit or flowers, distortion of leaves, holes in the bark, irregular growth of branches, and oozing sap can be signs of harmful insects or disease.
- Overwatering can be just as hard on trees as not getting enough water. If you are curious, dig a small hole 2” down, and make a little trench so you can touch the soil, is the soil wet to the touch? Your tree doesn’t need to be watered as often as you might think.
- You want to ensure that enough oxygen is getting to the roots as well as water. Soil that is damp and dries over a short period of time will ensure that your tree is getting enough water and enough oxygen to the roots.
- Pruning is an important seasonal activity for healthy trees. Winter and Summer are the most important seasons to prune your tree; the Arbor Day Foundation advises against pruning in the Fall.
- Check out this helpful video for tips for pruning your trees.
- Mulch: Mulch insulates, creating a buffer from heat and cold for your soil and helps prevent soil compaction. Mulching around your tree will help prevent damage from mowing and help the tree’s roots compete effectively with weeds.
- Most trees should have mulching up to a 3-foot area around the tree (up to 10 feet for larger trees).
- Keep mulch 2-4 inches deep within the area you are mulching.
- Natural mulch such as wood chips or bark pieces is ideal.
- Mulch should not touch the tree’s trunk.
- The International Society of Arboriculture and the Arbor Day Foundation have great resources as you investigate how best to take care of your trees.
What if you are watering, pruning, and mulching properly, yet your tree doesn’t appear healthy? Something could be off with the pH of the soil or your tree may not be getting all the nutrients it needs to be healthy. Worst case, your tree has a disease or fungus that is impacting the tree’s health. First, start with a soil test – SoilKit has made it simple and can save you time figuring out what’s going on with your trees. Once you have your SoilKit results, you can contact your local university agricultural university extension office or contact an arborist. These experts can come out, take a look at the tree and your soil chemistry results, and help you develop a plan. Trees give us much more than we can ever give to them, giving them the attention they deserve will reward you handsomely.
And while not all trees can be saved, we should do our part to help sustain their health and always keep in mind that they have such a powerful role in our ecosystem!