Young Trees are Our Future Forest
Invest in care now to reap future benefits
By Mark Ellison
We recently completed health checks of all trees planted from 2017 through the spring of 2019. We evaluated the health of each tree and gave a health condition designation of good, fair, poor or dead. We also evaluated the care that the tree was getting and offered suggestions to improve tree health and vigor. Door hangers were left at every residence with tree care recommendations and data was inputted into a tree inventory system to track each tree’s condition, growth and care. Pictures of each tree were uploaded to this tree inventory as well. To view this data and see how our trees are doing, go to: https://pg-cloud.com/cheyenne/
From these visits to all 425 trees, we saw some common problems in tree care that is compromising the health and vitality of these trees. In fact, 40% of the trees we visited were either dead or in poor to fair condition, which likely means 40% of all trees will not meet the goal of reaching the canopy and providing the multitude of benefits that mature trees provide. How can we turn this grim statistic around? By taking better care of young trees!
Cheyenne is an extremely difficult place to grow trees due to our lack of natural precipitation, poor soils, high winds, short growing season, hail events and unpredictable swings in temperature. For these reasons, extra care of young trees must be given so they become established and one day reach maturity. Newly planted trees typically take 2-5 years before root systems become established, active top growth is noticeable and energy reserves are built. During this time, the tree has little energy to spare and few defenses, making it particularly vulnerable to stress and dieback as a result of lack of water and soil evaporation, competition from turf and other vegetation and damage to the stem.
To address these issues and ensure your tree is healthy and vigorous, we recommend the following:
- Water your tree! Watering is the most critical thing you can do to keep your tree healthy. You should hand water once per month during the dormant season (when the leaves are off) and once per week during the growing season. Water at a rate of at least 10-15 gallons of water per in. of stem diameter. This means, a 2 in. diameter tree should get 20-30 gallons of water per week. Be sure to apply the water slowly so it does not run off and apply water directly on the root ball. Always water where the roots are, not where you want them to grow. When watering in the winter, be sure temperatures are above 40 degrees and complete watering by early afternoon.
- Maintain a turf-free mulch ring around the stem that is a minimum of 4 ft. in diameter. Remove all grass and weeds that have grown into your initial mulch ring and re-mulch the ring with wood chips or bark. Apply the mulch to a depth of 2-3 in. and pull it away from the stem of the tree. If you prefer decorative rock to wood chips, use the rock instead. Rock does not blow away and it reduces soil evaporation, however wood mulch has the added benefit of increasing soil organic matter which improves soil quality. Both mulch types will deter grass and weed establishment and help to prevent damage to the stem from mowers and string trimmers.
- Be careful when operating equipment near trees. Mowers and string trimmers can be deadly to young trees with thin bark. Protect your trees by visiting with your lawn care company, your spouse or whoever does your yardwork to ensure they keep equipment away from the stem. Consider wrapping the trunk or installing a trunk guard to prevent sun scalding, frost cracking and animal damage during the winter. Be sure to remove tree wrap and trunk guards in the spring so they do not girdle the stem.
Protect your investment in the future by taking better care of your young tree today. A young tree takes several years to become established and without your help, it will struggle and likely die. Please follow the steps above to ensure your tree becomes part of Cheyenne’s forest canopy and provides you and our community with an overwhelming return on your investment.