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Caring for the trees in your yard

This is my last article for this season and I would like to write about trees and their care. Trees shade homes and tree-filled yards make life pleasant and provide practical benefits. They help lower heating and air conditioning costs and increase the re-sale value of homes. When you examine the structure of a tree you begin to see how they benefit and make our lives more comfortable.

The leaves of a tree break the force of falling rain and reduce soil erosion. They retain 2 to 7 percent or more of the water produced by a short downpour by allowing it to slowly evaporate back into the atmosphere. Tree leaves contain water, and the shade they provide lowers the air temperature 5 to 10 degrees making a comfortable place to relax on hot days. Large trees which shade roofs of homes make the house more comfortable as well as reducing cooling costs. As leaves fall to the ground, they decompose and help to build a spongy layer of topsoil which retains water and contributes to plant growth.

Tree roots bind the soil in place and guard against erosion. They also take up quantities of water that would otherwise be added to runoff. When trees are used in parking lots and shopping centers they attract business and encourage shopping. They also reduce air pollution, calm traffic and lower noise levels. It is important then to use pervious materials such as brick, interlocking stones, honeycomb blocks, gravel, chips and porous asphalt when building parking lots, driveways or walks. These pervious materials allow the rainwater to be caught, slow down and enter the soil. This provides water for the roots of the trees as well as limiting the amount of runoff and erosion into our storm water systems, lakes and rivers.

It is important to take care of our trees so they can take care of us. If you have young trees or trees which you have planted this year, they should be getting about an inch of water a week. Young trees need to go into the winter well watered. After the ground freezes solid about the first part of November, there will be no water for the roots to take up. If they are well watered there is less chance of the branches and needles drying out from the sun and wind.

Sun scald (elongated, sunken dried or cracked

areas of dead bark) can be prevented by wrapping the trunk with a commercial tree wrap, plastic tree guard or any other light-colored material. The wrap will reflect the sun and keep the bark at a more constant temperature. Put the wrap on in the fall and remove it in the spring after the last frost. Newly planted trees should be wrapped for at least two winters and thin-barked species (cherry, crabapple, honey locust, linden, maple, mountain ash, plum) up to five or more winters.

Winter injury to evergreens can often be prevented by constructing a barrier of burlap or similar material on the south, southwest and/or windward sides of the tree. If an evergreen has exhibited injury on all sides, surround it with a barrier of burlap, but leave the top open to allow some air and light to penetration.

The holiday season is still a ways off; however, if you want to take some cuttings off some of your trees or shrubs, it will do them no harm. Using a hand pruner, take off branches in a symmetrical order around the tree or shrub. When you are done the plant should look balanced, not lopsided. The amount you take off any one plant should be no more then 5 percent.

When pruning a branch, always cut back the stem to a side branch or a bud. Do not snip off the branch so there is a stub. This can lead to decay in the branch and the short stub will always dry up, die and look unsightly. Pines and spruces will not send out new growth at the cut off end of a branch, so it is important that they are cut at a side branch or bud where new growth will start. Remember that late winter or early spring (by April 1) is the best time to prune trees. This is just before spring growth starts. This leaves the fresh wounds exposed for only a short length of time before new growth begins the wound sealing process.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.