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Common mistakes made when caring for mature trees

The benefits of mature trees are numerous whether it’s mental and physical well being, economic value or environmental benefits. And if you're lucky enough to own a mature tree, then you might want to know how to care and protect that investment.

Mature trees, like all plants, need three main things: Light(sun), water and nutrients. If they lack any of them then this will affect their health and the benefits they give us. There are some common mistakes we usually make when caring for our mature trees.

Don't damage their bark/cambium

The bark/cambium of the tree is the lifeline of the tree. It is the bark of the tree that protects it from disease and transports water and nutrients the tree needs to live and thrive. So when we nail things like fences and bird boxes to the tree we’re damaging that protective barrier and tree life support systems. The other favourite thing we love to do is pile grass cuttings and soil against trees stems which, as the grass decomposes and rots, it creates heat and damp humid conditions. The heat damages the bark and the damp humid conditions are perfect for diseases to thrive.

Left: Compaction of soil on a housing development. Right: Severed roots from digging.

Don’t stand on their toes(roots)

Healthy tree roots are key for a healthy tree and we can damage them by; driving under them and compacting the soil, digging them up, cutting them, and flooding the soil to name just a few. This will cause die back in the tree, death or event worse cause the tree to fail/ fall over. So remember to give a mature tree space, avoid driving over their root zone or parking under them. If your digging near a tree bear in mind that it has most of its root in the first 3m of topsoil, so keep it to the edges of the crown and try not to cut any large roots.

Above: How the root plate of a tree actually looks, compare to what most people think.

We need water

People love to water their grass in hot spells but often forget about their trees. You might not have realised it but a mature tree on your property is adding value and benefits to it a lot more than the grass. So if things get hot give your tree a long deep soak once a week. After all, its easier to replace dead grass than a dead mature tree.

Prune them right

It’s easy just to lop those low branches that get in your way off, but make sure you do it right. Trees don’t like just being cut anywhere and in some cases just lopping them off will cause more problems than before due to the trees reaction growth. Different tree species react to pruning in different ways so it is essential to do your research and know how your pruning will impact the tree. If in doubt contact a qualified arborist as most will happily give you free advice.

Don’t top your tree

Topping is not a good management method for your trees. Topping a tree often drastically reduces its lifespan. The tree cannot recover from the large pruning wounds, and will slowly decay at these points. The tree will either die, or respond by growing lots of vigorous shoots, often around the pruning wounds, or from the trunk and branches of the whole tree. As well as the safety issue already highlighted, the vigorous shoots that form because of the topping, will grow at a faster rate than if the tree hadn't been pruned or was pruned correctly. This growth response is a reaction to losing large amounts of the canopy. This means that the tree might well get bigger fast with more dense and unstable branches, thus causing the original problem to be worse than it was before. More information can be found on our blog post Why topping trees is bad, can cost you money, and be unsafe!

Sit back and reap your rewards

If you follow these simple rules you should be able to sit back and enjoy the massive benefits your mature trees give you in the knowledge that you’ve done your bit to protect and preserve not just an asset to you, but the world around you.

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