How to Kill Your Tree

Let’s kill a tree!  I say that tongue in cheek after seeing this over the holiday weekend; mulch piled up to a record setting height.  Why, why, why? Why is it so hard to break some habits that will ultimately result in the death or illness of our trees?


Trees are one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves and future generations. Trees are a financial as well as time investment. So why go to great lengths to care for a tree only to sabotage its health. A few bad habits can bring a healthy tree down in a matter of years. Here are a few things that will surely be the demise of your tree.

1. Volcano mulching.  When was the last time you saw a tree with soil and debris piled up against its trunk in the woods? Never. So why do we do this? If a tree was meant to have soil and mulch up its trunk, we would plant it deeper. Volcano mulching opens the door to diseases, pests and rot.  If you must mulch around the trees, perhaps to keep the mower and weed whacker at a safe distance, do not let mulch pile up around the tree, pull it back so it is not touching the plant. Also, let’s stick to 3-4 inches anymore is a waste and will smother fine roots accessing water at the soil’s surface

2.  Improper pruning: This opens a slew of potential pitfalls for your tree’s health. We will address proper pruning in more detail later, but for now the high points: Do not cut the branch so close that you scar, cut or damage the trunk or main branch. Do not leave a section of the branch to be removed behind. The ‘stump’ of the removed branch is an invitation to pest and disease.

3. Elbow Room: Read the tags! If the tree says 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide then make sure the space can accommodate the requirement. Cramming a tree will inhibit growth, distort branch development and cause the tree stress.

4. Light: Some trees are understory trees, like the lovely Redbud, others need elbow room (not understory trees) and full sun.

5.  Power lines. Again it’s as simple as reading the tags. Don’t plant trees under power lines that will exceed the height of the lines.

6. Tree guards and wraps. Those unsightly plastic collars that are used to protect against string trimmers and rutting deer are ugly- and that is reason enough not to use them. When they are forgotten, they cut into the tree as the tree grows, causing unnecessary damage to the tree.

 7. Edging or making deep cuts around the tree’s drip edge. Each time you make deep cuts into the lawn/garden to create an edge you are potentially severing valuable tree roots. Go easy on the deep edging around trees!

As I write this I see I can go on and on.  So let’s focus on the high points. As with any plant we select for our garden it is a matter of the right plant for the spot. If your site addresses every requirement on the tree’s tag, then plant away. If you try to fudge it, your tree will suffer and chances are you will be paying to have a dead or dying tree removed from the yard.

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