Troup extension agent: Caring for trees in wintertime

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 27, 2015

Brian Maddy

Contributing columnist

So far we’ve had a fairly wet summer and fall. We should welcome rain anytime, but sometimes too much can cause problems.

Just as too little rain can stress our trees, too much rain can cause all the pores in the soil to fill with water and deprive the roots of oxygen. Ideally, the soil should have approximately 25 percent of pore space filled with air and 25 percent filled with water.

Necessary root growth and functioning will be retarded. Water logged soil may also cause premature leaf drop, which results in very little fall color.

Airborne funguses during wet weather also have a field day on the leaves and further stress the trees. Diseased leaves reduce the amount of healthy leaf surface to manufacture carbohydrates through photosynthesis.

If leaves fall prematurely, rake up those diseased leaves and dispose of them to reduce the chance of foliar diseases the following year.

After a heavy rain, if you notice water ponding, this is the time to develop a strategy to drain excess rain. You may have to establish shallow swales to divert the water or install tile lines.

Keeping water where it lands and not allowing it to move is also important. Mulching trees out to the branch drip line with two to four inches of mulch is sufficient, or blowing leaf mulch to the drip line will work as well. This will also help to preserve moisture during summer droughts.

Be careful to not to over mulch or pile up mulch — volcano mulching — at the base of trees. This will keep the roots and trunk wet and more susceptible to root and trunk rots.

Another way of improving the health of trees is not to broadcast herbicides for lawns in the vicinity of the drip line of the trees. Tree roots spread out laterally approximately 2.5 times the diameter of the trunk. For example, 2.5 times a 6-inch diameter maple would result in in a 15-foot root spread. The answer is converted to feet.

Most tree roots grown in our heavy clay soils spread out laterally rather than developing a taproot. Most of the roots are in the top 17 inches of the soil. Driving or parking vehicles under trees damage the root systems as well.

Wait until late winter to prune trees. If you prune too soon, the trees don’t have enough time to transfer the carbohydrates from the leaves to the roots. You can prune dead limbs or damaged limbs when necessary. If your trees are spring flowering, prune after they flower rather than in late winter. UGA extension has excellent pruning guidelines online or just drop by the office for a copy.

Fertilize the trees in the spring, not the fall, with a slow release tree and shrub fertilizer.

Tree can be a valuable asset to your home. The curb appeal of beautiful trees is undeniable. Keeping our trees healthy can add value both aesthetically and monetarily.

What’s going on in Extension?

Jefferson Street Market begins Saturday mornings from 9:30 to noon at 625 Jefferson St. just off of Dallis Street.

Tree seedlings can be ordered from the Georgia Forestry Commission, 706-845-4122.

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–noon and 15 p.m.