WWhile there may be some differences between regions, there are a few general rules when it comes to learning how to care for trees.
“As an example, in the Northwest Pacific, we have different trends in the weather, and our climate is quite different from, say, Colorado or Virginia, so this will change depending on your specific needs,” says Lisa Tadewaldt, an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture and co-founder of Urban Forest Pro, a tree care company based in Portland, Oregon.
Although the extent to which these effects can occur (due to extreme temperatures per region), the seasonal patterns are also quite universal. Here is a good guide to caring for your trees all year round, broken down by seasons.
How to care for trees in every season
“Our summers are getting hot, and large parts of the western states are experiencing drought, so watering in the summer can be really important,” Tadewaldt says. You will probably need to water once a week, but be aware of signs of overwatering.
“A big one is pooling that is not absorbed too quickly into the soil, which means you have achieved a moistened soil depth of anywhere from 18-24 inches, which is good,” she says. It is best to water early in the morning or late at night to also avoid evaporation in the hot hours of the day.
Take a look at your trees in the fall and see if anyone looks like they may be susceptible to an accident in the coming weeks or months. “If you have a limb that you think has been compromised and can get down in a heavy snowstorm or wind, it’s best to address that cut in the fall,” Tadewaldt says. “It’s always better to cut a problematic limb too early instead of waiting for it to fall unexpectedly, as they can easily kill a person or damage any number of assets.”
And as long as your region is not too wet in the fall, you will probably maintain an irrigation plan similar to the summer (albeit a little lighter), as the fall is also pretty dry for most regions. “Continue to check the soil’s moisture depths, avoid pooling and monitor night temperatures to avoid watering until the first frost of the season,” she says.
Winter is when you probably do not need watering as it is cold and often has moisture and precipitation that season so it will be more naturally humid due to the seasonal weather habits. (This may vary if your region is super dry.)
“If you happen to not have a wet winter and the soil and air temperatures are above 40 degrees, you can water, but I would only recommend it during particularly dry periods,” says Tadewaldt. “If you have cracked soil from cyclic freezing and thawing, avoid watering the cracked areas as it may damage the roots left exposed.”
Water also at noon so that the water has the opportunity to penetrate into the soil before the nocturnal freezing. Winter is also the ideal time to perform your wood maintenance tasks until you can do so with a secure foothold. It is best to call in a professional for these tasks.
“This is because you will be able to more easily see the wood and limb structure with seasonal leaf loss, which means you can snipe problematic limbs with a bar saw or pruner without so much effort,” she says. With the cooler weather, insects that attach to limb cutting sites in the summer are not as active, reducing your chances of attack.
Avoid heavy or large cutting projects (extensive pruning, fall of limbs, etc.) in the late spring / summer dry season if you can, as insect infestations occur when they come to attach to the newly exposed incision. “Slightly shaping pruning, such as just the tips of new growth, is fine in the summer, you just want to avoid removing entire limbs and branches,” says Tadewaldt.
As long as your region experiences spring showers, watering is less critical during this time. “One way to know if you are getting enough rainwater is by checking your soil dryness weekly,” she says. “To do this, check for moisture down to 6 inches, which can simply be done with a trowel or your hand if the soil is soft enough.”
If you see that the soil is dry, water the trees once a week during the growing season. “If you expect a particularly dry summer, you can do a deep watering once or twice, which would be about three times your usual amount of water per session,” says Tadewaldt.
General tips for tree care from an arborist
To begin with, always avoid rinsing cuttings when pruning, which is when people cut flush with the trunk instead of leaving the cut just beyond the branch collar. “You want the small branch collars completely intact for future wood health, as the alternative can cause all sorts of problems,” she says.
“Also consider your root systems. Roots extend as far in diameter as the leaves above the ground. Do not hyperfocus on watering at the trunk of the tree, which can overwhelm it in one area, instead of getting it spread out over the root system,” she says.Ewatering at the trunk increases the chances of disease and fungal attack.
What’s more, consider the intensity of the sun every day. “Mulch at a depth of 3-4 inches is great for retaining moisture in the soil from the harsh (and hot) sunlight of the day, and this is one reason why you will often see bark chips around the base of a tree somehow below landscape design, “she says.
Always water the soil and do not “shower” your leaves and branches. It may seem like soaking your foliage would be refreshing as a child running through the sprinklers, but it can lead to fungus, mildew, bacteria and more. Not so good for your trees!
New trees that are less than two years old are more sensitive to overwatering, so be careful not to get lost in it, especially when they are young.
“Location is also key, as being too close to a commercial building or certain materials can reflect heat on the wood (not good) or inadvertently dump too much water near the trunk base when rainwater comes from the roof or gutters,” she says.
More open areas in your lawn or natural surroundings away from home are best – which is also a smart move to keep large roots from your foundation years down the road.
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