Living in a region known for trees, many Northwesterners assume that the trees growing in their yard can fend for themselves. If only that were true! Fallen trees and broken branches are among the top causes of property damage during our frequent Northwest windstorms.
Acts of nature are beyond anyone's control. However, strong, healthy trees often can withstand forces that bring down their weaker neighbors.
Here are six tips to help keep your trees vigorous and upright:
1) Choose the right tree for the location.
Make sure you understand the tree's growth habits, its mature height, and soil, water and light needs before you plant. Near buildings, avoid planting trees that eventually will grow tall enough to cause serious damage if they fall or are likely to fill gutters with leaves. Also, avoid species known for invasive roots that can damage septic and drainage systems, requiring expensive excavation and replacement.
2) Plant with precision.
Trees can struggle from the start if they're planted deeper than their root ball. Make sure you can see the top of the tree's "root flare" when you're finished to ensure roots grow out instead of up, resulting in a more stable tree. While young trees often require staking at first, long-term staking can have the opposite effect – creating a tree that relies too much on the stake for stability and quickly grows tall rather than developing a sturdy trunk. Always call 811 before you dig to locate underground utilities.
3) Replace what you take away.
In the forest, the soil naturally renews itself as fallen leaves break down and provide nutrients for plants. In yards, however, we rake up natural debris, requiring us to replenish the soil with fertilizer. Check with your nursery to learn the best type of fertilizer for each species of tree. Also, at least until they're well established, make sure trees are getting adequate water, since many yards are sloped to encourage rainwater runoff.
4) Stay off the critical root zone.
A tree's roots are most vulnerable from its trunk to the edge of its branch drip line. Avoid compacting the soil and cover that area with two to four inches of protective, non-flammable mulch to hold water and provide a buffer to keep lawn mowers and weed whackers from scuffing the bark. Take care to keep the mulch off the trunk, though, and adjust sprinklers so they don't blast the bark.
5) Prune just enough.
Years ago, wind-sailing and tree-topping were thought to be the best ways to give trees a fighting chance against the wind. The Department of Natural Resources now advises that those practices weaken trees. Prune to maintain a healthy structure, remove sucker shoots and crossed or damaged branches and limb up and space branches so they don't provide a brush-to-branch, tree-to-tree or tree-to-house pathway for wildfire. If you doubt your pruning know-how, hire a professional pruner every couple of years to keep your trees in shape.
6) Don't ignore signs of insects, disease or weakness.
Wood shavings or borings near the base of a tree are signs that insects have invaded and are likely damaging it. Large numbers of yellowing needles or dead branches are another sign your tree is in trouble. Don't just hope for the best. Hire a certified arborist to take a look. While homeowners aren't to blame for healthy trees that fall in a windstorm, they could be held responsible if they knew or should have known there was a problem with their tree.
If, despite your best efforts, your tree still falls victim to a windstorm and damages your home, fence or other structure, don't go it alone. Call your local PEMCO agent or 1-800-PEMCO and we'll explain how your PEMCO policy can help.
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