The third week of the Florida Master Gardener class was dedicated to tree care and insects. Most of our day was spent in the extension auditorium, listening to lectures on the two topics. However, we also did venture out onto the extension grounds for several “live” demonstrations about pruning and planting trees.
We learned a surprising thing about tree care: The natural order of planting a tree should start well before tree selection. For instance, what is the desired goal for the tree — to enhance your landscape; to provide shade or edibles; to attract certain wildlife? Once you’ve decided on the main goal, you should research the types of trees that you wish to plant to make sure your space will meet the needs of the desired tree.
Tree Care – Selection, Installation and Maintenance
Michael Orfanedes, Ph.D., the Broward County commercial horticulture extension agent, delivered lectures pertaining to tree installation, maintenance and care, and personally provided the class with the “live” demos on the extension grounds. Throughout these lectures, it became obvious from the stories shared and questions asked that we, as homeowners, rely too heavily on others’ “expertise” to provide truthful, accurate, research-based information; and, too often, fail to take the proper measures when it comes to the care of our trees.
So whether you have “inherited” your trees or you’re looking to add trees to your landscape, make sure you self-educate. Don’t be afraid to ask for help — you can get great advice by calling your local extension office for great, free, accurate advice.
Once you have concluded that you have the adequate space, you need to locate an outlet that offers your choice for sale; I would start with a nursery. Chances are that if they sell it, they have the experience in its proper care, as well as insight on things to keep an eye out for in the realm of possible diseases, pests and so on.
Pick out the specimen that looks the best to you — one that has no flush cuts, has full foliage and looks in excellent health. Once you’ve found a potential specimen, it’s very important to inspect that its roots are in good health. You want to avoid trees that have root entanglement or are “rootbound.” A tree’s root system should never be large or circling.
Now that you’ve found the right tree, take it home and plant it in the right place. Make sure to dig the proper-size hole for the size of your tree. Don’t be afraid to snip all roots that start to grow downward. Remember: Roots are anchors and are supposed to grow outward, not downward. Your tree may need additional support in the beginning. This can be accomplished by using TADs (Tree Anchoring Devices). And last, make sure that your tree’s first-order roots are not buried, or covered by mulch — they need to be exposed at all times. Pay close attention to make sure you follow proper planting direction; you do not want to promote girdling root. Watch some videos for demos.
Your tree has been properly planted in the right place. But now it will rely on you to provide extra attention to its watering needs in order to lessen the “shock” of its newfound freedom. Watering needs will very from tree to tree, and they even vary depending on the time of year.
The average time for a tree to become established can be anywhere from six months for a smaller tree and up to a year for a larger one. Adopt a pruning schedule soon after planting, in order to groom and maintain your tree to reach your desired look and its healthiest potential.
You can go about pruning your trees one of two ways: doing it yourself or hiring a professional. Whether or not you choose to be hands-on, I recommend taking a Basic Tree Trimming Class; most extension offices offer them on a monthly basis for a nominal fee, and you can’t beat the knowledge and know-how that you’ll walk away with. When hiring a professional, know that you do not want anyone who isn’t a certified arborist grooming, pruning or trimming your trees. This is for you and your tree’s benefit!
A tree is a lifelong commitment, and the more you understand and meet its needs, the better it will grow. I know we’ve all heard “Do your research,” but let’s face the cold hard truth: Even with the help of “Google,” you can still find yourself suffering “mulch mishaps,” “palm tree butchery” or various other forms of “tree abuse” that are frowned upon and, in some cases, illegal.
After today’s discussions, the master-gardeners-in-training walked away with valuable information and visuals to recognize the right tree, right place, proper tree- and shrub-pruning techniques, as well as how to identify a “cut, blow and go” landscaping crew vs. true professionals.