One of our greatest achievements as a species was our mastery of the land. When we were able to start cultivating wheat, we were able to form communities and provide for the masses.
This was such an important piece of our human history that I cannot say for sure we would be where we are today without an understanding of the flora around us. These days, it seems as if our mastery has been diminished or forgotten with most rural landscaping. Quite often on my rounds in Northern Virginian communities, I continue to see our favorite plants improperly pruned and placed, most often with trees. I have already talked about right plant, right place in “Location, Location, Location”, now it’s time to talk about what nature would do in regards to our woody companions.
One thing to keep in mind is that our green environment has been steadily evolving and perfecting itself for 475 million years, and we have only been playing in it for the last 200,000 years. Don’t get me wrong, we have certainly achieved a lot in our only 0.004% of time on Earths history, but our knowledge needs to change with it. If you take a hike in your local woods (assuming you live around a deciduous forest), you can see nature at its best; Large, strong trees emerging from the ground tied in by thick fibrous root systems. Detritus in the form of leaf litter and other decaying materials providing nutrients back into the soils. There are vast forests with a multitude of plants with their unique variety of shapes and sizes, competing for their individual needs, and some lying dormant for the right time.
Yet, when it comes to our yards we seem to take nature out of the equation as we manipulate the plants and environment to suit our aesthetical needs. The first topic I want to discuss is with the planting of trees themselves. Most individuals make the mistake of hiring laborers instead of trained professionals, and doing so will prove to be an expensive mistake to make in the long run. The majority of laborers do not understand specific tree needs, and as a result, trees tend to be planted too deep or too shallow. If that was not enough, they add to this mistake by “caking” (my scientific term for this) mulch around the base of the tree, inevitably turning it into a favorite elementary school science fair project, the infamous volcano. This wreaks havoc on the root system and can stunt growth of the tree with evidence found in girdling of the root system and leafless branches at the tops of canopies. That is just the tip of the iceberg as improperly planted trees are more susceptible to a range of pests and pathogens. Storm or no storm, with these stressors in place, you are asking for the limbs and eventually the tree itself to come crashing down, potentially damaging property or posing a danger to people.
Pruning is another common error that I see as the laborers and “DIY-ers” who are leading the cause of premature tree death and spreading of disease and/or pests. I commend your motivation and effort; however, all efforts are in vain as it decreases the life of the trees by more than half. The biggest reoccurring problems we see are with Crape Myrtles (“Crape Murder” is what we call it), and with tree topping. Tree topping is an archaic practice in which individuals cut the tops of main leaders off to have their trees become a size that they want, instead of choosing a tree to fit this need naturally. This has been going on without proper education in the industry for years. In fact, within the last ten years we have learned more about trees than we ever have!
Hopefully with this blog and the extra links below, you will help me pass along proper tree care and help to reduce the amount of premature death in our most beloved species.