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Spring Tree Care

As the long winter cold and frost retreats and the first signs of spring emerge, trees and shrubs awaken from their dormant state ready to burst into vibrant life. Spring is a crucial season for tree care, offering a unique opportunity to support their growth, health, and resilience throughout the coming months. Below are some tips for landowners for spring tree and shrub care.

Tips for Spring Tree Care

Assessing Winter Damage: Before diving into active care for your trees, it's essential to assess any potential winter damage to trees and other landscape plants. Start by inspecting the branches, trunk, and roots for signs of stress, such as broken limbs, cracks, or lifting roots. Snow and ice can cause substantial harm and addressing these issues early on can prevent further damage and promote healthy recovery.

Assessing for Winter Burn and Dieback Damage: Many coniferous tree varieties, including spruces and cedars display symptoms of winter burn, evident in the browning and bronzing of their needles. The combination of winter's intense cold and strong winds has led to the desiccation of plant tissues, causing the shedding of needles in evergreen trees and the dieback of branches in deciduous trees. This dieback mechanism is a survival strategy employed by the trees, enabling them to sacrifice needles and twigs to ensure the overall survival of the tree.

Assessing for Pests: Prior to leaves blooming is great opportunity to inspect trees and shrubs for pests. During inspection, look for the following signs:

  • Diseases such as cankers (dead sections of bark on branches or tree trunks), blackened and curled twigs, black knot, Cytospora canker, and other fungal infestations and decays.
  • Signs of insect infestation such as scales, mites, beetle and borer infestation (exit holes, sawdust).
  • Wildlife damage, including by porcupines, voles, deer, moose, and beavers

Pruning: Late winter and early spring is the best time to prune trees. Remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches to promote air circulation and reduce the risk of pest infestation. Additionally, shaping the tree by selectively pruning can enhance its structure and increase fruit production. However, be cautious not to over-prune, as this can stress the tree. Pruning dead branches within shelterbelts is also a good idea, as they pose potential fire risks.

Soil Health Assessment: Healthy soil is the foundation of robust tree growth. Conduct a soil test to determine pH and nutrient levels and assess the potential need for additional nutrients. You should only fertilize based on your soil test results. Do not add additional fertilizer if your lawn is regularly fertilized, as your trees are probably receiving adequate nutrition. Only adjust the pH if necessary, and provide a balanced fertilizer to replenish essential nutrients. Slow-release fertilizers are often preferable, supplying a steady nutrient stream throughout the growing season. Avoid excessive fertilization, as it can lead to nutrient imbalances and harm the tree. Fertilizers injected into the soil and fertilizer spikes foster leaf growth in trees but force trees to neglect needed functions like root growth and pest resistance. Fertilizer spikes in particular, burn roots, causing root dieback.

Mulching: Re-mulching a 4–6 inch thick layer of an organic mulch, such as shredded bark or wood chips, replicates what nature creates on the forest floor. Known as duff, this accumulation of twigs, leaves and other organic debris, fosters rich microbial activity beneficial to tree roots. Mulching is a fundamental practice to shield roots. One of the primary advantages of tree mulching is its role in soil enrichment. Organic mulches gradually decompose, releasing essential nutrients into the soil. This process enhances soil fertility, promoting healthier tree growth. The decomposition of mulch also improves soil structure, aiding in water retention and drainage. Mulching inhibits weed growth, protects roots from extreme heat, and retains moisture. Establishing a donut-shaped wood chip cover around your tree is a simple yet efficient approach to conserve moisture and minimize soil freezing.

Watering: As fall and winter were relatively dry, with little moisture available to trees, watering in early spring is crucial. Young trees, in particular, require adequate moisture to establish strong root systems. Water deeply and consistently, ensuring the root zone is thoroughly saturated. However, be cautious not to overwater, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot. Mulching helps retain soil moisture, reducing the frequency of watering. Test your soil and water for sodium levels and avoid watering when high levels of sodium are present.

Spring tree care is a dynamic and rewarding undertaking that requires a combination of vigilance, knowledge, and proactive measures. By incorporating these tips into your tree care routine, you can create an environment where your trees not only survive but thrive, contributing to the beauty and sustainability of your landscape. Remember, each tree is unique, and understanding its specific needs is the key to successful spring tree care.

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