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Caring for your Trees

Photo courtesy of John Snell

by John Snell

The snow is nearly melted and the buds on many trees are beginning to swell. Soon their flowers will bloom (yes, trees have flowers!) and their leaves unfurl. As all this happens, it is a great time to look around your yard and check the condition of your trees, especially after such a brutal winter. Here are a few tips to get you going:

• When pruning, use a pruning saw rather than a bow saw. Only prune if you can do it safely. If the work is too high or the branches are too large, calling a professional will be cheaper than a trip to the emergency room.

• You don’t need to be afraid of having big trees in your yard. Just make sure they are healthy—maybe this would be a good time to call in a professional “arborist” for a health and safety assessment.

Photo courtesy of John Snell

• Many trees cannot tolerate the salt used on sidewalks and roads during the winter. Spreading gypsum (inexpensive and harmless to humans) in the root zone can help minimize salt damage.

• Check to make sure the tree is not being girdled or strangled by wire, rope, or old holiday lights! Too often these go unnoticed until life-threatening damage is done.

• Most trees do not need fertilizer, but a bag or two of compost under the “drip line” (the outer edge of the tree when you are looking up) is always appropriate.

• Avoid using herbicides on the lawn; they can be detrimental to tree health.

• Mulch around trees, especially young ones, but do not make a “mulch volcano” that buries the bottom of the tree’s trunk. Mulch will help keep the soil moist and, most importantly, keep the weed whacker or lawn mower from damaging the tree trunk. Compaction of the soil under a tree can be deadly, so maintaining a thick mulch will help prevent or alleviate compaction.

• Do not dig extensively in the root zone or add more soil in that area. Both can harm a tree irreversibly.

• Crabapple trees and all kinds of fruit trees, young or old, require special care:

• Spray fruit trees with non-toxic “dormant oil” and, depending on the species, kaolin clay (Surround is one brand), to reduce insect damage.

• Fertilize with an appropriate nutrient mixture and follow the directions.

General purpose pesticides are usually not recommended; instead understand what specific pest is involved and find appropriate solutions.

• Plant a new tree this spring! Trees can add beautiful flowers (e.g., star magnolia) or foliage (e.g., Freeman maple), interest (e.g., catalpa), history (e.g., American chestnut hybrids) or summer shade (any large tree on the south or southwest side of your home).  Again, educate yourself about how to plant a tree properly and make sure to water it every week all summer and fall.

Not sure what to plant or have other tree-related questions? Email or call the Montpelier Tree Board (jrsnelljr@gmail.com or 802-229-1751) and we’ll come talk trees for free! Please look out for numerous TreeCity events throughout May, including Treasured Trees photo exhibit and book display at Kellogg-Hubbard Library, Montpelier’s Arbor Day tree planting on May 3, Green Up Day on May 5, and All Species Day on May 6.

John Snell is chairman of the Montpelier Tree Board.