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Avoid These Five Common Mistakes When Caring for Established Trees

House with nice trees and landscape

Mature trees are strong and hardy. Compared to smaller plants, like shrubs and herbs, they do not require a lot of care and maintenance. However, many property owners accidentally end up harming their trees when they unknowingly make tree care mistakes. Here are five common mistakes to avoid if you want your trees to live a long and healthy life.

Mistake #1: Assuming That, Once the Tree Is Mature, It No Longer Requires Trimming

Pruning is essential when a tree is young because it allows you to establish a healthy shape. However, this does not mean that, once your tree reaches a mature size, you no longer need to trim it. Regular trimming has a number of benefits:

  • It improves air flow through the tree's branches so they don't become overly moist and prone to infection.
  • It ensures dead branches are removed so they don't keep leeching valuable water and nutrients away from the healthy branches.
  • It protects your home from damage caused by dead or damaged branches that may be knocked loose during a storm.

In most cases, it's best to have a certified arborist come out to trim your mature trees once a year. These experts know exactly which branches to remove and which to leave in place for best results.

Mistake #2: Pushing Mulch up Against the Trunk

Mulching around the base of a tree does help trap moisture in the soil so you don't have to water your tree as often during periods of low rainfall. However, it's important that you do not push the wood mulch directly up against the trunk of the tree. Doing so can trap too much moisture against the trunk, which leads to rot and the development of fungal infections. Leave about six inches between the trunk and the edge of your mulch circle.

Mistake #3: Applying the Wrong Fertilizer at the Wrong Time

Fertilizing your tree can be helpful, especially if it's showing signs of nutrient deficiency, such as yellowed leaves or early leaf loss. However, you should only apply fertilizer between September and April (during the late fall, winter, or early spring). Fertilizing in the heat of summer can cause late growth that will only be damaged when freezing temperatures arrive.

Also, pay close attention to the type of fertilizer you choose. Since tree growth is usually limited by a deficiency of nitrogen, you want a fertilizer that's higher in nitrogen than in phosphorus or potassium. Both 18-8-6 and 12-6-6 are good choices. (The numbers stand for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium content, respectively.)

Mistake #4: Damaging the Trunk or Roots With Your Lawnmower or Trimmer

Nicking your tree with a weed whacker or lawn mower may not seem like a big deal. After all, your tree is so large and the cut is small. However, the fungi that cause diseases like heart rot can enter the tree through wounds like these, causing your tree to die back within a few years or less. Be very careful when trimming around your tree. Make sure you do not damage any superficial roots when mowing over them, either.

Mistake #5: Ignoring Early Designs of Fungal Illness

If your tree shows signs of a fungal disease, do not just ignore them and hope the tree gets better on its own. Most fungal diseases need to be caught and treated by an arborist early on if you want your tree to survive. Some early signs of a fungal infection include:

  • Spots on the leaves
  • Cankers (sores) on the twigs and small branches
  • Early loss of leaves
  • Sudden death of various branches.
  • Scabs or spots on fruit

Caring for a mature tree is not difficult, but you do need to avoid these mistakes along the way. If you have any questions about caring for a specific species of tree on your property, reach out to a certified arborist like those at Horton Tree Service.