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How to kill a tree

tree nursery

They're killing trees everyday. Homeowners, volunteers, even landscape professionals...

It's not hard to do. It usually happens at the trunk collar, that is, at the bottom of the tree where the trunk and the root system come together. Cover it up with soil and/or mulch and the roots will be allowed to grow around the part of the tree that was designed to be above ground. These roots will strangle the trunk causing premature decline and death.

The crime begins at the nursery where the trees are planted too deeply in the soil. In addition, if they're grown in pots, they're almost always grown in containers with smooth sidewalls. Following that, well-meaning but misguided individuals plant the tree at that same soil level in the landscape. Finally, a thick layer of mulch is spread on top to complete the scandal. It's not a question of if the tree will die, it's simply a matter of when.

Here at Woodlawn, we pay special attention to the root system. We take care to keep that trunk collar exposed. Furthermore, our trees are grown in root pruning containers to minimize circling roots and promote a fibrous root system which, in turn, help our trees establish very quickly in the landscape with minimal transplant shock. We use RootMakers®.

RootMakers® are designed to create fibrous, non-circling root systems horizontally and vertically at all phases of production to equip plants for transplanting success. These products aren’t just “containers,” but rather root production tools. Each step complements the next, building upon the previous fibrous root system. A fibrous root system means a greater root tip surface area and translates to a greater efficiency in the absorption of water and essential elements; an increase in growth rate, establishment, and vigor; a higher transplant transplant success; and ultimately, superior performance for your trees.

However, roots are not the whole tree.

Woodlawn also pays a great deal attention to the limbs and structure of the crown as well. Lower branches are valuable to young tree development. Most contemporary nurseries have a practice of pruning the lower branches off young trees. Sometimes as much as the bottom half of the tree will be pruned. The buying public has come to accept this as the normal look of a young tree.

There are several reasons why this is not a good practice.

  • Sun-scald on newly transplanted trees is much more common when the lower branches are removed. If the lower limb structure is maintained, sun-scald problem will be minimized or eliminated altogether.
  • Trunk taper helps to assure a durable structure that is much stronger and less likely to fail as the tree matures. Lower branches are important in the development of good trunk taper.
  • Root development and tree establishment is enhanced by lower branches. Trees with lower branching will establish more quickly.

How Many Lower Branches May I Prune?

A better question is, ‘How many lower branches can I keep?’. Until a tree is established in the landscape (usually one to two growing seasons with Woodlawn trees) all the lower branches should be protected if possible. After the tree is established, you should keep at least the top two thirds of the tree in foliage.
Lower branches should not be allowed to become major limbs, especially if they will eventually be removed. When a tree is established and the risk of sun-scald is minimal, the lower branches can be removed with little adverse effects on the tree.

So plant Woodlawn trees, don't strip off the lower branches, take care to keep that trunk collar exposed, and you're on the way to leaving a legacy, a tree that can continue to serve long after we're gone.