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How to be a tree champion

A flowering tree overlooks apartment buildings.
Find out how to protect the trees in your neighborhood.
April 29, 2015


Trees need champions every day. How can you stand up for trees?

Here are some concrete suggestions for how you can help the trees in your yard, your neighborhood, and your community.

Water young trees. If you’ve recently planted a tree, or if a tree has been planted on the parkway near your house, help it by watering it regularly. A young tree has a very scanty root system, so it needs more frequent watering than a larger, older tree. The new tree will need the extra help for two or three years.

Water when weather is dry. Even larger, older trees can use watering when there has not been much rain.

Water deeply. Even a few buckets poured around the tree will help, but the best way to water is to leave the hose, barely dribbling, on the roots for a long time.

Don’t compact the soil. Most of a tree’s roots spread out horizontally just below the surface of the soil. If you pack the soil down around those roots by walking or playing around a tree, the roots can’t get the water and air they need.

Create a safe zone with mulch. Give a tree a buffer zone by spreading a layer of wood chips or shredded wood in a wide circle around the trunk. That will cushion the roots and discourage people from walking on the root zone. The protective zone of mulch also will keep lawnmowers and string trimmers away, so they don’t damage the roots or the bark of the tree.

Maintain the mulch. As it breaks down, add more mulch to maintain an even layer 3 to 4 inches deep (never pile it against the trunk). Mulch insulates the roots against severe heat and cold, holds in moisture for the tree, and improves the soil as it decays.

Let trees breathe. It’s a bad idea to build a planter or raised bed around a tree, because tree roots can be smothered if they are buried too deeply in soil. Piling soil against the bark of the trunk also can lead to rot or disease.

Disturb the roots as little as possible. Plant long-lived perennials such as ferns or hostas beneath a tree’s boughs. They can tolerate shade, and, since you only are planting them once, you will only have to disturb the tree’s roots one time. If you plant annual flowers, you will be cutting the tree’s roots every time you dig.

Speak up for trees. Let your local government know you care about trees in your community. Support tree ordinances that protect trees, and urge officials to budget for the care of trees on public property.

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