Spring Action Plan for Tree Health

Slowly but surely, spring is coming. As the snows fade and the days get longer, many people are emerging from the winter gloom and spending more time outside. As you prepare to take back your lawn for spring gardening and summer barbecues, put some thought into the health of your trees—chances are, they also need a little bit of TLC after a long winter. And, as the most impactful and noticeable vegetation around your home, the health of your trees goes a long way towards ensuring the health of your yard. 

Key elements of a tree’s spring check-up: 

There are a few simple steps you can take to quickly assess the general health of your trees. First is a visual examination: 

  • Are there any cracking, broken, or drooping branches? Damage may have occurred during the winter, and it’s best to get these branches removed by a professional. 
  • Is there excessive water around the base of the tree? This can be caused by snow melts and spring rains, and is cause for concern—too much standing water, and your trees or other plants can drown. 
  • As leaves start to bud, keep an eye out for branches or sections of the tree that are not budding—no sign of leaf life means the branch is likely dead or dying, or otherwise diseased. 
  • On a similar note, as leaves come in, make note of branches that have empty space at the end, especially towards the top of the tree—branches with bare tips can be a sign of trouble. 
  • Observe the trunk of the tree: does it gradually taper outwards towards the base, or does it more closely resemble a flagpole? Are there sections of bark that are falling off, or major lesions? Any of these could be signs of tree disease or infestation and require an arborist’s advice.

Practical tips for maximizing growing season: 

While trees grow healthy and strong in natural wooded areas, this is due in part to the underbrush and leaf litter that’s common in wild environments. This leaf litter traps moisture, keeping the soil’s water levels up and ensuring the tree gets enough water for sustainable growth. In landscaped residential areas where leaf litter and low-lying vegetation is considered undesirable, the solution is mulch. Mulch mimics a tree’s natural growing environment and helps keep soil moisture levels elevated. 

When adding mulch, don’t go overboard—around a 3” layer is ideal. Be sure to also leave a one-inch gap between the tree’s trunk and the mulch, so as not to harbor fungus. Spread the mulch as widely as you reasonably can in a circle out from the base of the tree. This helps protect the base from encroaching weeds and grasses—and lawnmowers, which can damage the trunk. 

A final thought? Watch your water. The problem of “drowning” a tree was mentioned above, but too little water is also an obvious issue. The goal is to have moist soil, but not too wet. Moisture levels should be measured with a trowel approximately 4-6 inches below the surface. As a rule of thumb, most trees in North American climates like an inch of water a week spread out over the root system. This translates to roughly ten gallons of water per inch of tree trunk diameter. That sounds like a lot of water, but your trees need it to thrive—and a tree with access to plenty of water is more resilient to other stressors, like weather events, insect infestations, and disease.

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