Six Ways to (Unintentionally) Kill Your Tree

Quercus lobata on Hiltop dying from construction damage

Generally, trees in an urban setting live only a fraction of their lifespan. The most common cause of death is the stress that a tree undergoes from neglect and/or bad practices. The following is a list of 6 ways you can (unintentionally) kill your trees…

    • Under/over watering. During the first couple years after a tree has been planted, and during times of drought, trees are very susceptible to drying out. The most important roots lay just 6 inches under the soil surface. With the hot summer sun baking on the ground all day, the water quickly evaporates leaving the soil particles void of moisture. Also, if the soil surrounding a newly planted tree is not receiving adequate moisture it will steal the water from the root ball of the new tree. This is why trees should be watered in two different zones. One zone is the root ball area and the other is at the drip line (the edge of the canopy). This will ensure the root ball gets the water it needs while encouraging roots to spread out. Just as not enough water can kill a tree, too much water can do just the same.
    • Changing the soil grade. A tree’s roots are shallower and broader than most people know. Roots can expand three times the diameter of the canopy! Roots need air to stay healthy. Adding soil, removing soil and cutting into this area can be fatal to a tree. Even too much mulch can suffocate feeder roots. It’s best to keep activity to a minimum around the canopy area (drip zone).
    • Not removing tree stakes and ties. While it is best to not stake a newly planted tree at all, there are situations that require it – such as high wind areas. Generally speaking, stakes need to stay on a tree for only the first one to two years after planting. After that, the ties that secure the stake to the tree can fatally girdle the tree, inhibiting water and nutrients from flowing through the cambium. This causes a slow and painful-to-look-at death for the tree.
    • Planting in the wrong place. A common mistake many people make is planting a tree in the wrong place. There are several things to take into consideration when deciding where to plant a tree. Make sure you are not planting a tall tree under power lines. If the tree likes soil on the dryer side, don’t plant it in a marshy area. Knowing the needs of trees will help you make informed decisions when it comes to planting.

Liriodendron tulipifera suffering from topping

  • Topping trees. Although an old practice, topping or pollarding trees is very damaging to a trees health. Trees cannot heal the wounds made by cutting into their branches. Over time, this causes excessive dead wood to develop and slowly declines the trees vigor. When new growth comes in spring, it is not only ugly but is weakly attached to the main branches or trunk. Pollarding also stresses the tree and opens the door for diseases and pests.
  • Abiotic damage to the trunk. The most vulnerable part of a tree is just under the bark – the cambium layer. Damage caused by weed-eaters, vehicles, animals and other influences can be very detrimental. Although a tree can survive for many years with major trunk damage, premature death is almost always inevitable.

Generally, trees die slowly. Most times the damage is irreversible once signs of decline are noticed. Trees injured during construction can survive for ten years until they finally give up. With some knowledge and common sense, we can create a kinder, gentler world for our beloved friends – the trees.

marie

Marie Stadther’s life in Coachella Valley was void of trees. In 2001, she packed up and headed north. After a drive through the majestic redwoods, she arrived in Redding, where she immersed herself in horticulture as owner of her own landscaping company and as assistant to an arborist. She is now the lead gardener for Turtle Bay’s McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Her love of trees is a way of life, and she shares that passion with the community. Send the Tree Goddess your questions at mstadther@turtlebay.org.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.

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's life in Coachella Valley was void of trees. In 2001, she packed up and headed north. After a drive through the majestic redwoods, she arrived in Redding, where she immersed herself in horticulture as owner of her own landscaping company and as assistant to an arborist. She is now the lead gardener for Turtle Bay's McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Her love of trees is a way of life, and she shares that passion with the community. Send the Tree Goddess your questions at mstadther@turtlebay.org.
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4 Responses

  1. Avatar Grammy says:

    Everyone ask me why we have a huge oak tree in our front yard. The thing is over 250 years old (we had it trimmed by a tree doctor. He took one of the lower branches off, so we were able to count its' life after that branch starting growing.) I tell people that the tree has more right to live here than we do. And yes I feel that way.

    My guesses for Doni, grand-mother again, back with an ex, house is finished and an open house is going on, Dancing With the Stars called and she is going to be on the next season, going to be on the next Survivor, RSL wants her back, Doni is moving to Europe, getting out of re-hab, site is being sold to Google for 2.5 billion bucks (Doni is blowing up RSL in celebration.)

  2. Avatar Barbara Novack says:

    Yes, I love love love trees. I live in a bitter cold winter region and I am always thankful when my trees survive. If they survive the first year, I am more optimistic about them surviving. I have terrible rocky ground and clay soil. so they have to be tough. The everygreens and willow family seem to be most all that are here, I planted an apple tree and it survived last year, hoping it will this year also. But NO blossoms, do they have to be a certain age to blossom? Anything you can tell me or suggest for protecting my trees will be extremely appreciated. I am trying to protect them from the chilling winds we get here, should I do more? What about my everygreens that i planted this last summer? thank you so very much.

    • Avatar Tree Goddess says:

      Bloom loss can be associated with many things, such as a late frost or disease. Age should not be the problem. You might consider your soil nutrient situation as well. As far as protection, mulching around the tree is helpful. Wood chips are best. The same holds true for your evergreens. Some folks have told me that christmas lights wrapped around their citrus trees have helped. Besides bringing the temperature up a few degrees, it's also very festive. You can find frost cloth at many hardware stores, as well. This helps protect the canopy.

      Thanks for reading and good luck!

  3. Great blog, Marie.

    It's good to remind people how they can unintentionally damage trees.