TREES and TURF – How to make the two of them work together! (part 1)

The International Society of Arboriculture publishes in its tree care website the following guidelines on planning for a beautiful, valuable landscaping for all needs. At ABOVE AND BEYOND – TREE SERVICE we can help you planning your next tree project!  Contact us if you have any questions!

Woody plants and turfgrasses are critical components of design plans for homes, offices, and parks. Trees and turf offer distinct personal, functional, and environmental benefits. Personal preferences for color, fragrance, and form should complement the functional properties of size, shape, density, and placement of plant material.

We’ve all seen thinning grass under large shade trees, large surface tree roots that cause safety hazards and mowing obstacles, young trees that don’t seem to grow, and tree trunks badly damaged by lawn mowers or string trimmers. All of these undesirable effects can be caused by trees and turf growing too closely together.

Turfgrasses provide many of the same environmental benefits as trees. They

  • change carbon dioxide into the oxygen we breathe
  • cool the air by changing water into water vapor
  • stabilize dust
  • entrap air polluting gases
  • control erosion

Turfgrasses, in addition to being environmentally beneficial, are attractive in formal and informal designs. There are many advantages to combining trees and turf in the landscape.

Selection

When trees and turf are used in the same areas, extra attention must be given to plant material selection in addition to the usual hardiness, climatic, and soil needs. An effort should be made to make the trees and lawn compatible. Grass is generally a sun-loving plant. Most grass species will not grow well in areas that get less than 50 percent open sunlight; however, new varieties with improved shade tolerance are being introduced. Consult your garden center specialist or sod producer for recommendations of shade-tolerant grasses for your area.

In areas where the lawn is the primary design feature, select woody plants that do the least damage to grass growth and maintenance. The woody plants should be small, have an open canopy (to allow sunlight to penetrate to the ground), or have a high canopy. Select trees that do not root near the soil surface; surface rooting is most serious where shallow topsoil or composted clay soils are present. Remember, tree roots get larger as the tree gets older.

Competition

Trees, shrubs, ground covers, and lawn grasses all require sunlight, water, and rooting space for growth. Each plant in the landscape competes with neighboring plants regardless of type or species. Some even produce chemicals that are exuded from roots to restrict growth of nearby plants. For each plant to do well, it must have adequate space. Because perennial woody plants increase in size each year, they require additional space over time. The landscape design should provide adequate space for these plants to mature.

While shade is the biggest, most obvious problem trees create for turf growth, a tree’s roots also contribute to poor turf performance. Contrary to general thinking, most tree roots are in the top 2 feet of soil. More important, the majority of fine, water absorbing roots are in the top 6 inches of soil. Grass roots ordinarily occupy a much greater percentage of the soil volume than tree roots and outcompete them for water and nutrients, especially around young trees. However, grass root density is often much lower in areas where trees were established first. In these situations, tree roots compete much better for water and nutrients and prevent or reduce the success of establishing new turf.

Competition is especially important when transplanting, seeding, or sodding. The newest plant in the area must be given special treatment and must receive adequate water, nutrients, and sunlight, which frequently means that competing sod should be removed from around transplanted trees and shrubs or that some of the lower branches should be removed from existing trees above a newly sodded lawn. In any case, do not do any tilling around trees.

Mulching is an alternative to turf around trees, and its use eliminates potential competition. A 2- to 4-inch layer of wood chips, bark, or other organic material over the soil under the drip line is recommended because it

  • helps retain soil moisture
  • helps reduce weeds and controls grass
  • increases soil fertility when mulch decomposes
  • improves appearance
  • protects the trunk from injuries caused by mowing equipment and trimmers that often result in serious tree damage or death
  • improves soil structure (better aeration, temperature, and moisture conditions)

Buying High-Quality Trees Advice

The International Society of Arboriculture publishes in its tree care website the following guidelines on planning for a beautiful, valuable landscaping for all needs. At ABOVE AND BEYOND – TREE SERVICE we can help you planning your next tree project!  Contact us if you have any questions!

When you buy a high-quality tree, plant it correctly, and treat it properly, you and your tree will benefit greatly in many ways for many years.

When you buy a low-quality tree, you and your tree will have many costly problems even if you take great care in planting and maintenance.

What Determines Tree Quality?

A high-quality tree has:

  • enough sound roots to support healthy growth.
  • a trunk free of mechanical wounds and wounds from incorrect pruning.
  • a strong form with well-spaced, firmly attached branches.

A low-quality tree has:

  • crushed or circling roots in a small root ball or small container.
  • a trunk with wounds from mechanical impacts or incorrect pruning.
  • a weak form in which multiple stems squeeze against each other or branches squeeze against the trunk.

Any of these problems alone or in combination with the others will greatly reduce the tree’s chances for a long, attractive, healthy, and productive life.

When buying a tree, inspect it carefully to make certain it does not have problems with roots, injuries, or form. Remember the acronym RIF; it will help you remember roots, injuries, and f orm.

Here are some details on potential problems and some other considerations that you should be aware of when buying a tree.

Root Problems

Roots on trees for sale are available as one of three types:

  • bare root: no soil; usually on small trees
  • root balled: roots in soil held in place by burlap or some other fabric; the root ball may be in a wire basket
  • container grown: roots and soil in a container

Bare-Root Stock

Bare roots should not be crushed or torn. The ends of the roots should be clean cut. If a few roots are crushed, re-cut them to remove the injured portions. Use sharp tools. Make straight cuts. Do not paint the ends. The cuts should be made immediately before planting and watering.

Root-Balled Stock

You should be able to see the basal trunk flare. The flare is the spreading trunk base that connects with the roots. Root balls should be flat on top. Roots in soil in round bags often have many major woody roots cut or torn during the bagging process. Avoid trees with many crushed or torn roots.

The diameter of the root ball should be at least 10 to 12 times the diameter of the trunk as measured 6 inches above the trunk flare.

After placing the root ball in the planting site, cut the ties and carefully pull away the burlap or other fabric. Examine any roots that protrude from the soil. If many roots are obviously crushed or torn, the tree may have severe growth problems. If only a few roots are injured, cut away only the injured portions. Use a sharp tool. Use care not to break the soil ball around the roots.

Cut the wire on wire baskets. Place the basket into the planting site. Cut away at least the top two wires without disturbing the root ball. Inspect exposed roots for injuries. If many roots are injured, the tree may have serious growth problems. If the trunk flare has been buried, gently expose it before planting the tree, taking care not to damage the bark.

Container-Grown Stock

Roots should not twist or circle in the container. Remove the root ball from the container. Inspect the exposed larger roots carefully to see whether they are twisting or turning in circles. Circling roots often girdle and kill other roots. If only a few roots are circling, cut them away with a sharp tool.

Trunk flare should be obvious. Be on alert for trees planted too deeply in containers or trees “buried” in fabric bags. As with root-balled stock, you should be able to see the basal trunk flare with container-grown plants. If the trunk flare has been buried, gently expose it before planting the tree, taking care not to damage the bark.

Injuries

Beware of injuries beneath trunk wraps. Never buy a tree without thoroughly checking the trunk. If the tree is wrapped, remove the wrap and inspect the trunk for wounds, incorrect pruning cuts, and insect injuries. Wrap can be used to protect the trunk during transit but should be removed after planting.

Incorrect pruning cuts are major problems. Incorrect pruning cuts that remove or injure the swollen collar at the base of branches can start many serious tree problems, cankers, decay, and cracks.

Incorrect pruning cuts that leave branch and leader stubs also start disease and defect problems. Do not leave stubs.

A correct pruning cut removes the branch just outside of the collar. A ring, or “doughnut,” of sound tissues then grows around the cut. Do not make cuts flush to the trunk. The closing tissues may form only to the sides of the flush cuts. Trunk tissues above and below flush cut branches often die. When the heat of the sun or the cold of frost occurs, cracks or long, dead streaks may develop above and below the dead spots.

Form

Good, strong form, or architecture, starts with branches evenly spaced along the trunk. The branches should have firm, strong attachments with the trunk.

Squeezed branches signal problems. Weak branch unions occur where the branch and trunk squeeze together. As the squeezing increases during diameter growth, dead spots or cracks often begin to form below where the branch is attached to the trunk. Once this problem starts, the weak branch attachment could lead to branches cracking or breaking during mild to moderate storms.

When several branches are on the same position on the trunk, the likelihood of weak attachments and cracks increases greatly. As the branches grow larger and tighter together, the chances for splitting increase.

Avoid trees with two or more stems squeezing together. As stems squeeze together, cracks often form down the trunk. The cracks could start from squeezed multiple leader stems or where the two trunks come together.

If you desire a tree with multiple trunks, make certain that the trunks are well separated at the ground line.

Remember, trunks expand in diameter as they grow. Two trunks may be slightly separated when small, but as they grow in girth, the trunks will squeeze together.

Look for early signs of vertical trunk cracks. Examine branch unions carefully for small cracks below the unions. Cracks are major starting points for fractures of branches and trunks. The small cracks could be present for many years before a fracture happens. Always keep a close watch for vertical cracks below squeezed branches and squeezed trunks.

If your tree has only a few minor problems, corrective pruning may help. Start corrective pruning one year after planting. Space the pruning over several years.

Remove broken or torn branches at the time of planting. After a year, start corrective pruning by removing the branches that died after planting.

Trees Have Dignity, Too

Most nurseries produce high-quality trees. When you start with a high-quality tree, you are giving that tree a chance to express its dignity for many years. Remember RIF.

MATURE TREE CARE – Fertilization

The International Society of Arboriculture publishes in its tree care website the following guidelines on planning for a beautiful, valuable landscaping for all needs. At ABOVE AND BEYOND – TREE SERVICE we can help you planning your next tree project!  Contact us if you have any questions!

Think of tree care as an investment. A healthy tree increases in value with age—paying big dividends, increasing property values, beautifying our surroundings, purifying our air, and saving energy by providing cooling shade from summer’s heat and protection from winter’s wind.

Providing a preventive care program for your landscape plants is like putting money in the bank. Regular maintenance, designed to promote plant health and vigor, ensures their value will continue to grow. Preventing a problem is much less costly and time-consuming than curing one once it has developed. An effective maintenance program, including regular inspections and the necessary follow-up care of mulching, fertilizing, and pruning, can detect problems and correct them before they become damaging or fatal. Considering that many tree species can live as long as 200 to 300 years, including these practices when caring for your home landscape is an investment that will offer enjoyment and value for generations.

Fertilization

Fertilization is another important aspect of mature tree care. Trees require certain nutrients (essential elements) to function and grow. Urban landscape trees can be growing in soils that do not contain sufficient available nutrients for satisfactory growth and development. In these situations, it may be necessary to fertilize to improve plant vigor.

Fertilizing a tree can improve growth; however, if fertilizer is not applied wisely, it may not benefit the tree at all and may even adversely affect the tree. Mature trees making satisfactory growth may not require fertilization. When considering supplemental fertilizer, it is important to know which nutrients are needed and when and how they should be applied.

Soil conditions, especially pH and organic matter content, vary greatly, making the proper selection and use of fertilizer a somewhat complex process. When dealing with a mature tree that provides considerable benefit and value to your landscape, it is worth the time and investment to have the soil tested for nutrient content. Any arborist can arrange to have your soil tested at a soil testing laboratory and can give advice on application rates, timing, and the best blend of fertilizer for each of your trees and other landscape plants.

Mature trees have expansive root systems that extend from 2 to 3 times the size of the leaf canopy. A major portion of actively growing roots is located outside the tree’s drip line. It is important to understand this fact when applying fertilizer to your trees as well as your turf. Many lawn fertilizers contain weed and feed formulations that may be harmful to your trees. When you apply a broadleaf herbicide to your turf, remember that tree roots coexist with turf roots. The same herbicide that kills broadleaf weeds in your lawn is picked up by tree roots and can harm or kill your broadleaf trees if applied incorrectly. Understanding the actual size and extent of a tree’s root system before you fertilize is necessary to determine how much, what type, and where to best apply fertilizer.