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Homeyer: Trees In Trouble

10/11/11 7:55AM By Henry Homeyer
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(HOST) Now that yard and garden chores are winding down, commentator Henry Homeyer suggests that we pay some attention to our trees.

(HOMEYER) As I drive down the road at this time of year I can't help but notice that there are many trees in trouble. I can't save every one of them, but maybe with your help we can save a few of them.

Here's the problem: when gardeners buy trees, most follow the directions they were given when they bought the trees. They plant the tree so that it sits in the ground just as it was in the pot that it came in. Unfortunately, that's bad advice.

Most trees sold here start their lives outside New England - generally in warm places where they grow quickly. They're put in pots using mass production techniques, with little regard to planting depth. But planting depth is very important.

If you cover up the bark of a tree, it will rot in six to ten years. The tree will go into a decline and die a premature death.

You can easily identify stressed trees right now: they're the ones that turn color before others of their species. They also have few or no leaves at the top of the tree. Look at the base of a tree growing in the woods. It will flare out with protrusions that look like roots emerging from the base. If a tree you planted goes straight into the ground like a telephone pole, you probably have covered up the trunk flare, that part of the trunk that is so susceptible to rot if covered with soil.

Here's the good news: you can still save a stressed tree. What you have to do is carefully remove the soil that's covering up the trunk flare.

Dig down until you find the flare, and then re-grade the area to look good after you‘ve exposed the flare. Sometimes that means taking away six to 12 inches of soil if you bought a large tree.

There will be tiny roots growing out of what was, formerly, the soil-covered part of the trunk, but they're not important - just cut them off.

Bark mulch covering the trunk flare can be just as lethal to a tree. Mulch is fine - so long as you leave a donut hole around the tree. Four to six inches of free space is needed between the tree and the mulch.

If you plant any trees this fall, be sure to find the trunk flare and dig the hole just that deep and no deeper. Dig a wide hole to loosen the soil so that roots can extend easily as they grow. No fertilizer is needed when you plant a tree - it can even hinder development of a good root system. And lastly, be sure that any trees planted this year go into winter well watered - either by Mother Nature or by you.
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