Arborist’s advice on caring for trees throughout the year

The care of trees varies based on the region, but there are a few general principles.

Lisa Tadewaldt, an arborist and co-founder of Urban Forest Pro, a tree care company based in Portland, Oregon, says that weather patterns and climates in the Pacific Northwest are quite different from those in Colorado and Virginia.

Even though these effects can occur to a greater or lesser extent in different regions (due to extremes in temperature), the seasonal patterns are pretty universal as well. Seasonal tree care guidelines are outlined here.

What trees need in each season

1. The summer

Watering in the summer can be very important in California and much of the western states, especially with the hot summers. You’ll likely need to water once per week but take note of overwatering signs.

“One problem is when water pools and doesn’t absorb too quickly, which means that more than 18 inches of soil has been soaked, which is good.” she says. If possible, water your lawn early in the morning or late at night to avoid evaporation in the hot days.

2. The fall season

Consider your trees for accident risk in the fall. “If you have a limb you think is compromised and could come down in a heavy snowstorm or wind, it’s best to address that cut in the fall,” says Tadewaldt. “It’s always better to cut a problematic limb too early versus waiting for it to fall unexpectedly, as they can easily kill a person or damage any number of assets.”

In most regions, fall is also very dry for most plants, so as long as your region is not too wet in the fall you’ll likely water the same as in the summer (albeit a bit lighter). To prevent watering for the first freeze of the season, she says to observe depths of soil moisture, avoid swimming, and monitor the night-time temperatures.

3. During the winter

Since it’s cold and often rains during that season, you probably won’t need to water, as the weather will be more moist accordingly. (This may differ if your region is super dry.)

If the soil and air temperatures are higher than 40 degrees, Tadewaldt recommends watering if it doesn’t have been a wet winter. However, he recommends that only in particularly dry weather. It is best to avoid watering cracked soil if it has been cyclically frozen and thawed since that can damage the roots left exposed.”

Make sure to water the soil by midday so the water has time to soak into the soil before freezing at night. Winter is also the ideal time to perform your tree maintenance tasks, pending you can do so with secure footing. It is best to call in a professional for these tasks.

The reason is that with seasonal foliage loss, you will be able to see the tree and limb structure more clearly, which will allow you to snip problematic limbs with a pole saw or lopper more easily,” she says. As a result of the cooler weather, bugs that are active during the summer are not nearly as active during the winter, which reduces the possibility of infestation.

4. Sprouting

During the late-spring/summer dry season, don’t do heavy or large cutting projects (e.g., extensive pruning and limb fall) because insects come to feed on the freshly exposed cut site. “Light shaping pruning, such as just the tips of new growth, is fine in the summer, you just want to avoid removing whole limbs and branches,” says Tadewaldt.

It is less critical to water during this period if there are spring showers in your region. Checking your soil’s dryness every week is one way to identify whether you are receiving enough rainwater. “You can simply do this with a trowel if the soil is soft enough, or by hand if the soil is hard.”

Water your trees every week during the growing season if you notice the soil is dry. Tadewaldt recommends deep watering once or twice in the summer, which would be about three times the volume you usually use per session.

Advice from an arborist on how to care for your trees

Always avoid flush cuts when pruning, which is when people cut just beyond the branch collar instead of cutting flush with the trunk. In order to prevent issues in the future, it’s best to leave those little branch collars intact, she explains.

“Don’t forget the roots. Roots extend as far out in diameter as the foliage above ground. Don’t hyper-focus on watering at the tree’s trunk, which can overwhelm it in one area, rather than have it spread out across the root system,” she says. Overwatering at the trunk increases the chances of disease and fungal infestations.

Additionally, it is important to think about each day’s sun intensity. It can help conserve moisture in the soil by blocking the harsh (and hot) sunlight from the daytime, and this is why mulch is often used around trees’ bases during landscape design.

Do not “shower” your leaves and branches with water. Water the soil always. It might seem like drenching your foliage would be refreshing like a kid running through the sprinklers, but it can lead to fungus, mildew, bacteria, and more. Not so great for your trees!

It is important not to overwater newly planted trees, especially those that are less than two years old.

She says place is equally important, as too close to a building or certain materials can reflect heat into trees (which is bad). Likewise, rainwater coming off the roof or gutters could just as easily flood the tree’s roots.

In your lawn or in the natural environment, open areas away from your home are best-this will also prevent large roots from reaching your foundation years in the future.

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