Your trees offer more than just shade. Caring for your living investment is essential to ensuring the aesthetic of your property, maintaining the value of your landscape, and protecting our urban canopy. Caring for your trees is your responsibility, but caring for our urban canopy is a community-wide obligation or duty. The trees on your property are a component of a collective good, providing clean air and mental health benefits for your friends and neighbors and for future generations.
Protecting our urban canopy requires a ground up approach. If we start with our soil and first focus on making sure that the nutrients trees require are provided to their roots, our trees will be in a better position to withstand the forces of nature working against them: wind, storms, insects, bacteria, for example.
Our soils are damaged and compacted, stripped of nutrients and submitted to monoculture, and yet we expect our trees to thrive. Sidewalks, buildings, grasses, playsets, foot traffic -- they all impact (and compact) our soils. These very soils are where the roots live in symbiosis with valuable fungi that feed the tree with extra sugar that it needs to grow strong. It is where water either drains and is absorbed by the roots or pools and drowns them.
Unlike the nutrient rich soils in thriving forests, our soils are damaged and compacted, stripped of nutrients, and submitted to monoculture. Sidewalks, buildings, grasses, playsets, foot traffic -- they all impact (and compact) our soils. These very soils are where the roots live in symbiosis with valuable fungi that feed the tree with extra energy resources that it needs to grow strong. It is where in a healthy soil, water drains and is absorbed by the roots or in unmaintained soil pools and drowns them.
First, focus on the trees that have been impacted the most by development. Because these trees are isolated from the natural systems provided in a forest for nutrient reclamation by fallen limbs and leaves left to decompose, it is important to see the individual trees in an urban environment. If your tree is surrounded by turf, the branches and leaves are more likely to be collected and removed resulting in the tree being impacted by things like foot traffic. This is the tree that needs your attention.
The single best thing that you can do for a tree like this is to install mulch around it.
Mulch provides protection from compaction and lawn mowers, it will eventually decompose and introduce more beneficial nutrients, it retains moisture without drowning the roots; the benefits are numerous. The breakdown process is slow, but the tree will benefit from the organic material being added to the soil over time.
To meet the more immediate nutrient deficiency needs, a high quality, slow release fertilizer injected into the soil is also recommended. This is especially true in cases where the tree is growing in an area with limited soil volume or where a tree competes with turfgrasses for soil nutrients. Your arborist can take soil samples to determine the best application for your tree.
Soil Care is just the first step in a proactive approach to protecting and investing in the health of your trees. Your arborist is a great resource for learning about protecting our urban canopy, providing the best resources for an individual tree, and coming up with a comprehensive plan that suits your needs.