10 Bad Things We Do to Our Trees

Loving a Tree to Death

Here are ten common ways you can harm trees that grow in yards and urban wood lots. More often than not, a tree owner does not realize the tree is in significant trouble until it is too late and the tree either dies or is harmed to the point where it needs to be cut. All of these harmful tree practices can be avoided.

We have talked to hundreds of worried tree owners in our many years of forestry career and they all might have benefited from reading this pictorial on human-caused tree problems. Read this and reassess your yard trees...

1) Do Not Love a Tree to Death

loveStaking and mulching newly planted trees seems to come naturally to even the beginning urban tree planter. Hey, both practices can be beneficial when done properly - but they also can be destructive when overdone or not done properly.

Staking and guying can make a tree grow taller, will anchor a tree in heavy winds and can protect trees from mechanical damage. Still, you must remember that some tree species need no staking at all and most trees need only minimal support for a short time. Staking can cause abnormal trunk growth, bark damage, girdling and cause a tree to become top heavy.

Mulching is a great practice but can also be done improperly. Never apply too much mulch around a tree. Mulch around the base of a tree that is over 3" deep can be too much to the point of effecting root and bark function. Avoid mulching right next to the base of the tree trunk.

This tree pictured is doomed to slow growth in addition to the haltering stakes. This light-loving tree is expected to grow under pines that limit it's sun exposure and will have poor health for the remainder of its life.


2) Do Not Girdle Your Trees

girdleYou see tree girdles (like the one in the photo) all the time. Girdling a tree results in the eventual strangulation of a tree. This tree owner saw an easy way to protect a crepe myrtle from the lawnmower and the weed eater but did not realize the tree would be suffering a slow death from this protection. Seems it really needs protection from the tree owner.

It is just not a good practice to cover a tree's trunk base with plastic or metal for protection from mechanical yard tools - especially on a permanent basis. Instead, think about using a good mulch that will keep the tree's base weed free and worry free. In combination with a small amount of annual herbicide, the mulch you apply will conserve moisture as well as prevent weed competition.


3) Don't Plant a Big Tree Under a Power Line

power linePower lines and trees just don't mix. You can invest in a sapling and years of growth only to see the tree topped by an electric utility crew when the limbs touch their electric wires. You will get no sympathy from your local power company and can expect a fight when you ask them to spare your tree.

Utility right-of-ways are a tempting place to plant trees. They are usually open and clear. Please resist that temptation. You can get by only if you plant a small tree that has a projected lifetime height that is less than the height of the power wires.


4) A Tree Needs a Little Love, Too

injuryA tree's health and care often takes a back seat when problems and opportunities demand most of our time. I am as guilty as anyone and regret the times I've let things slide or improperly care for my tree. But being a tree owner comes with a bit of responsibility which a few of us tend to put off to the point where the tree suffers permanent harm.

This Bradford pear has not only suffered mechanical injury but the pruning job was done as an afterthought. It is just as important to nurse a tree back to health as it is to plant and prepare it for a healthy future. Tree injury and improper pruning can lead to the death of a tree. Regular maintenance and proper attention is necessary when a tree sustains injury. 

5) Do Not Force Your Tree Into Competition With Other Plants

competitionThis is not a tree. It is a wisteria vine that successfully won the battle for survival against a beautiful live oak. The dead trunk is all that is left of the oak. In this case, the owner cut off the tree crown and has allowed the wisteria to live.

In many cases trees cannot compete with an aggressive plant that can completely control all nutrients and light. Many plants can take advantage of their spreading habit (many are vines) and have the ability to overwhelm the most vigorous tree. You can plant spreading shrubs and vines but keep them away from your trees.