Caring for your property's trees

Six common questions on tree care answered and explained

Trees do a lot for us. The US Forest Service reports that trees have many benefits. During the summer, they can reduce air temperature and act as natural “air conditioners” by providing shade. They can absorb and block noises. They can trap dust, purifying the air. And best of all, they absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful gases, releasing oxygen for us to breath!

While trees do a lot for us, we don’t always do a lot for them. Many of us take a “set and forget” approach to tree care, neglecting these helpful plants. Whether you’re planning a landscape for your home’s yard or for a commercial property, trees are indispensable. Below are some of the most common questions I get about trees.

When is the best time to plant trees? — The best time to plant a tree (or shrub) is in the fall, though it can also be done throughout the winter and during early spring. However, fall is best because it allows the tree time to recover from transplanting and to create root systems before the more robust growth happens in the spring and summer. You can prepare the soil for planting by adding a slow-release fertilizer and compost in late summer.

How much water do trees actually need? — Generally speaking, water is always a major concern for Texans when it comes to landscaping. Yet, at the same time, water is also an important factor when it comes to tree care. Younger trees, especially ones under five years of age, need much more supplemental watering — whereas older trees may never need to be watered, unless there’s a significant drought.

I typically tell people the same thing I tell them about watering their lawns — with trees (as with lawns), it really isn’t about how much water, but how you’re watering. Instead of frequent, light, shallow watering on the top of trees and shrubs, let the water run slowly and deeply around the base of your tree. This way, the soil will retain much more moisture — and so will your tree!

How often should I water? — There are too many variables to truly say. Rather than having a hard and fast rule about watering, the best thing to do is to check the moisture level of the soil around the tree. Take a long (at least 8 inches), solid object, like a large screwdriver and try to push it downwards into the soil. If it slips right in, there’s enough moisture in the soil. If not, you should water it.

As far as technique goes, water trees well around their drip line — where the tree’s branches are the widest spread — instead of at their trunk. Tree roots often extend well beyond the tree.

What are some of the best trees for Texas? Trees such as oaks, elms, crape myrtles and mountain laurels are all great Central Texas trees that take well to fall plantings. Some of the most drought-resistant trees I like to suggest for properties include:

  • Bur, red, and live oaks
  • Montezuma Cypress
  • Cedar and American elm
  • Texas redbud
  • Texas ash
  • Desert willow

When is the best time to prune a tree? In the dead of winter. Trees are dormant at this time of the year. In the spring and summer, sap is flowing and you could rob the tree of essential nutrients if you prune them. Pruning in the winter allows trees to recover before the summer heat rolls in.

What should I prune? Remove any dead or damaged limbs first. This will prevent insects and disease from capitalizing on your tree. Crossed or rubbing branches should also be looked after. You can remove living branches, but always try to keep at least two-thirds of the living branches on the tree!

Remember, these are only meant to be general rules of thumb. A lot of folks — landscapers especially — will tell you that “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.” While I agree with the sentiment, I think this neglects the planning that needs to go into tree care. Certain species are meant for certain soil types, or they might need more space to truly thrive. There are a lot of variables at play when planning a landscape. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by them, reach out to us and let’s chat. We’d love to help!

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