Be Mindful of Your Trees’ Needs, to Maintain Beauty and Safety of Your Property

As kids, we took trees for granted. We saw them as big, beautiful places to cool down from playtime during summer or a place to stay dry during a downpour. They were infinitely strong. We could climb them and even build houses in them.

As adults, we also recognize these giants for the value they can add to our residential property. Maintaining that value—and preventing any liability issues—requires that we be mindful of their needs and vigilant in their care. Your landscape will thank you—and so might your neighbor’s rooftop or car!

Myths We Have About Trees

MYTH 1: Trees have deep roots. We use a phrase like “firmly rooted” to describe the reliable, strong nature of people or things in our world. What’s oddly interesting is that trees actually have shallow roots. Though they are quite extensive and spread several times the width of the canopy, a tree’s roots grow in the “soil oxygen zone” with other organisms (plants, fungi, bacteria). Trees can become vulnerable very quickly when their roots are damaged. This can happen through soil compaction, soil removal, severing roots, filling soil over roots, flooding or drought.

MYTH 2: Trees are self-healing. When a tree is wounded, it actually does not heal as animals or humans do. This is because the cell wall structure is very rigid. The biological characteristic that gives trees the ability to grow tall is also what makes them more vulnerable when injuries occur. Because trees cannot heal, the only way a tree can protect itself from further damage is by sealing off the wounded area.

MYTH 3: Trees can’t be defective. Trees, just like man-made products, can have defects. Tree defects such as poor branch attachment, ineffective compartmentalization (sealing), lack of taper in stems or branches, cracks and other deformities can weaken a tree and start it on the path to decline.

Planting A Tree is Easy, Right?

Planting the wrong tree in the wrong place or in an improper manner are both very quick ways to ensure a tree is headed for failure. If you don’t have a natural green thumb, be sure to educate yourself thoroughly before planting new trees to match your beautiful renovation. Chances are, there will be some species better suited than others for success in your selected spot.


1.  Room for the crown and roots.

2.  Prevailing winds and sun exposure.

3.  Utility wires or other obstructions nearby or overhead.

4.  Soil quality (sandy, clay, poorly drained, well-drained).

5.  Function (shade tree, ornamental tree, deciduous tree, conifer).

Pruning and Proper Maintenance

Just as you do with your properties, you should periodically inspect your trees to maintain their health. Proper care includes pruning, mulching and fertilizing. Pruning may be the most significant of these practices, as it can improve the tree structure and extend its life for decades.


1.  Removes dead or hazardous branches.

2.  Improves the tree structure.

3. Provides better clearance from buildings or other objects.

4.  Increases light or air penetration.

5.  Maintains aesthetics.

Routine maintenance and pruning of dead wood can be done at any time, but it may be easiest to prune live wood when it is dormant. For example, you may want to prune any flowering trees after they bloom. Check with experts in your geographic area for more detailed instructions and advice on the best techniques and timing.


1.  Reduces competition from turf and weeds.

2.  Moderates soil moisture and temperature.

3.  Helps prevent mower and string trimmer injuries.

4.  Creates a better environment for soil microbes.

The ideal mulch consists of coarse wood chips several inches thick, spread over as much of the root zone as practical, but not against the trunk.

What About Fertilizing?

Applying moderate amounts of slow-release nitrogen fertilizer to the soil over the root zone of young to mature trees helps their growth and survival. Trees past maturity or that are deteriorating as they age should not be fertilized. In general, any modification to the ecosystem of your trees will need to be done slowly and gradually, as they do not respond to rapid change. Trees usually cannot be cured of problems, but with proper care, their life may be extended.

How To Protect Trees During Construction


1.  Don’t dig in the root zone. Careful planning can ensure that the root system is not endangered when digging for underground utilities, removing or repairing sidewalks or driveways, constructing curbs and engaging in other similar activities. If the root system is compromised, the tree’s ability to sustain itself will be, too.

2.  Don’t pave over too much of the drip line. Tree roots need access to oxygen and water. The drip line (root area extending from the trunk) needs to be protected to remain healthy.

3. Don’t change the grade. Changing the ground level around a tree can be very detrimental. If roots are buried too far underneath the surface, the tree literally can suffocate. If you are re-grading a landscaped area, don’t pile excess soil around the tree.

4.  Don’t allow contractors to park under trees. Also, make sure they don’t use root zones for concrete washout areas or contaminate the soil with other pollutants.


1.  Do communicate your tree protection plans to everyone on your team. You can make sure that they abide by your directions by writing damage clauses into your service contracts. If someone damages a tree, he or she may be financially penalized.

2.  Do erect a chain-link fence. Putting a physical barrier in place can help keep the drip line of the tree from being injured.

3.  Do carefully monitor the construction process. If your team is getting too close to a protected area, don’t just sit back and let it happen. You can always re-establish your protection zone.

4.  Do correct any damage to the root system. Roots should be cleanly cut with a saw and not ripped with a backhoe.

5.  Do consider removing a tree if it is severely damaged. If its stability has been compromised, it may become a liability hazard in the future.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Don’t simply assume that all is well with your trees. Practicing preventive measures costs less time and money than trying to fix a problem that has taken hold. It can save both life and limb—literally!

Additionally, educating yourself about tree care can ensure a beautiful landscape for decades to come. •

  • BreAnn Stephenson

    BreAnn Stephenson is assistant vice president of Affinity Loss Prevention Services. Contact her at

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