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April 19, 2023

A New Focus This Arbor Day

Be sure to avoid mulch volcanoes this Arbor Day!

Friday, April 29 is a holiday. It doesn’t come with a day off and you won’t see any parades but it has been celebrated for more than 150 years. I’m talking about Arbor Day. Arbor Day was first set aside to plant trees on the virtually treeless plains of Nebraska. Today, it’s a national holiday.

Arbor Day is marked in communities across the country with tree plantings in public places. Grade school classes learn about the importance of planting trees, and service clubs often donate seedlings that the students can take home and plant in their yards. I’ve recommended that families take an Arbor Day outing to a garden center, buy a tree and plant it in their yard.

Some of the Arbor Day trees families have planted over the years have reached maturity and, just like us, need some care. If this describes your situation, I’d like to suggest that you celebrate this Arbor Day with some TLC for the stately giants on your property.

You can begin by touching your trees. I’m not suggesting that everyone become a tree hugger. However, the late tree pathologist, Dr. Alex Shigo admonished everyone to touch trees in order to commune with nature, and he should know.  Dr. Shigo, was a renowned researcher whose writings revolutionized arborists’ thinking and the way we approach tree care today.

One easy way you can help the trees in your yard this Arbor Day is to protect them from lawn mower or string trimmer damage. Do that by removing any sod at the base of your trees and replacing it with two or three inches of organic mulch. I recommend ground wood chip in their natural color. Besides protecting the tree’s bark, the mulch will also moderate water and air so the roots don’t get too much or too little. Wood chip mulch also returns organic material and nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.

Ideally, the mulch should reach from the trunk all the way to the dripline (the outer edge of the crown). If that’s not possible or practical, spread it at least a foot from the trunk for every inch of trunk diameter, measured at 4.5 feet in height. Spread it flat; don’t pile it up against the trunk in a mulch volcano. Mulch volcanoes can kill a tree. Pull the mulch out from the trunk a couple of inches. Otherwise rodents can hide in the mulch as they feed on the bark at the base of the tree. Dining rodents can eat all the way around the trunk, girdling and killing it.

While you’re touching your trees, look up into the crown and down at the root area. Be on the look-out for insect activity and signs of diseases. Leaf damage – holes in the leaves or chewed edges indicate insect feeding. Shriveled leaves or premature leaf fall indicates that the tree is hosting either an insect like the emerald ash borer that lives inside the tree or a disease. Fungal diseases can be identified by fruiting bodies on the outside. Mushroom-like fruiting bodies aren’t doing any damage. The damage causing fungi are inside the tree.

While examining your tree(s), also check for broken, weak or hanging branches. These are hazards that can be disastrous if they fall on people or property. Removing dangerous branches and treating for insects or diseases is best left to our professionals - arborists for the broken branches and Plant Health Care professionals for the insect and diseases.

The Arbor Day objective of planting more trees is admirable. However, many properties in our area have plenty of trees. These large trees can give back to you more benefits than smaller, younger trees. Benefits like the oxygen we need to breathe and sequestering carbon from the CO2 in the atmosphere. Don’t trees deserve to receive some pampering on this day that’s all about them?