FALL TREE CARE - OUR TOP 12 TIPS
Trees and their leaves are one of the defining features of fall, especially in New England. They give off one final, colorful blaze of glory before going dead and dormant for the winter. If you want your trees to make it through winter to bloom again in the spring, fall is also a crucial time for you to prepare for the upcoming freeze. Even evergreen trees, named for staying vibrant even through the coldest months of the year, need a hand preparing for winter.
Learn more about how to keep your trees healthy and thriving for years to come with these 13 tips for caring for them through the fall months.
FallTree Care Tip 1
Inspect Your Trees
Fall is the easiest time to check your trees for damage, disease, or any broken or dead branches. Without the leaves obstructing your view, you’ll be able to spot any issues you might normally miss. Look for any growths, branches, or dead spots that are no longer helpful to the tree. Many creatures use trees to shelter for the winter, some of which can cause damage or disease.
Check your trees regularly for signs of unwanted guests. Keep a close eye on the moisture level in the soil, because once the ground freezes your trees won’t be able to access groundwater as easily.
FallTree Care Tip 2
Give your trees a drink
Most people think of summer when they think of drought, but cold winter air can also be dry enough to impact your trees. The best way to prevent winter drought stress is to regularly water your trees throughout the fall when it’s still too warm for the ground to freeze. When watering your trees, focus on the root area, specifically on the critical root zone. Water at least once or twice a week.
You should get the soil moist, but not soaking. Avoid wetting the foliage, as this can spread disease. Watering in the morning, especially earlier in the fall is important.
FallTree Care Tip 3
Blizzards and other fall and winter storms can come with high winds. If you have any loose branches, windy days could knock them down and cause damage to people or property. Remove any unstable looking branches before the worst of these storms hit to keep you, your home, and your family safe from harm. If your tree needs cabling, fall is also the time to do this. Cabling can help hold up a tree that can’t support its own weight.
While cabling won’t help keep a dying tree upright, it can help trees that have received minor injuries or that are oddly shaped stay in place under high-speed winds or heavy snowfall.
FallTree Care Tip 4
Prune dead wood from your trees
One of the easiest ways to prevent injury from falling limbs or branches is to prune dead wood from the tree. Not only does this remove loose, dead branches before they have the chance to fall, it also helps relieve stress on your trees and help them grow better.
It is better to perform this in fall once your tree have gone dormant so you can see any dead wood or structural problems, and to prevent injury to the tree. Pruning the wrong way or at the wrong time can cause injuries and make your tree more structurally unsound. You should also prune any sprouts that have infected your tree, as these can leech nutrients from the tree itself.
FallTree Care Tip 5
Plant new trees in the fall
If you’re looking to plant new trees, fall is the time to do it. As temperatures cool off, a new tree is less likely to die from drought or sun scorch. Cool, moist soil also provides ideal conditions for stimulating root growth. This way, the new tree has the chance to establish strong roots during the dormant season, so it is ready to bloom by the growing season.
In the warmer, wetter months of spring and summer, the tree will already have deep, settled roots and be able to direct more energy towards its top growth. If you are planting any bare-root trees, wait until they are completely dormant before planting them.
FallTree Care Tip 6
Take care of your soil
Since fall is such an important season for root growth and ensuring the longevity of your trees, you really want to make sure that your soil is in good shape to provide your tree everything it needs during this critical period. Keep soil moist over the course of the fall.
As winter comes and trees go dormant, they will require less water and there will be less overall evaporation of moisture from the soil, but until the ground starts to freeze you need to prevent your soil from ever getting too dry. In forests, organic matter naturally adds nutrients into the soil. Unfortunately, most suburban lawns don’t naturally contain the nutrients that trees need to thrive, so you will need to add them in yourself.
FallTree Care Tip 7
Fertilize for the coming winter
Nourish your trees’ roots by fertilizing the soil before winter sets in. Trees in developed yards and lawns have to deal with high-stress conditions including low moisture availability, physical damage, and compacted root systems. Modern lawn care practices also decrease the amount of organic matter that enriches soil. Like a hibernating animal, trees need to stock up on nutrition during the fall to make it to spring.
During the dormant season, a tree’s root system stores the starches that trees will need to activate in the spring to kickstart new growth. Applying a slow-release fertilizer can help provide a slow, steady stream of nutrients to your tree and ensure it maintains healthy growth throughout the year.
FallTree Care Tip 8
Keep your plants hydrated
While fall is when temperatures start to cool off, warmer temperatures and sunny days can persist well into October. Warm, sunny days can quickly evaporate moisture out of the soil and deprive the root system of vital moisture it needs to complete its fall growth.
Manually check for dry soil around the base of your perennial plants. If it is a dust-like consistency, it is too dry and you need to add some water. However, too much water can flood your trees’ roots and cause damage as well. Soil should be cool and moist to the touch, but not soaking wet to the point where you can make mud balls.
FallTree Care Tip 9
Clean up your yard
Forests have centuries of built-up decaying organic matter to pump nutrients into the soil. Your yard does not, and your fallen leaves, fruit, and branches aren’t going to break down quickly enough to provide any real benefit to your soil before the season ends. Instead, they become a breeding ground for disease causing fungi and snow mold. Plus, you are just leaving more work for yourself when spring comes.
Moldy fallen leaves can also exacerbate allergies in some people, making you, your family members, and your neighbors uncomfortable. It’s better for both the plants and the people around you if you clean all fallen debris out of your yard before winter snows hit.
FallTree Care Tip 10
Remove leaf piles from tree beds
Ever notice how mushrooms like to spring up around the base of your trees after a rainstorm? Unfortunately, some species of mushrooms and fungi can attack your trees’ roots, causing decay and disease. Fungi thrive in moist conditions, and fallen leaves retain moisture from fall rains and provide a perfect breeding ground for fungi to overwinter.
Once conditions warm up again in the spring, those spores will be ready to reinfect your tree. Cleaning fallen leaves away from the root area of your tree can help prevent disease from literally taking root. If your tree has previously been infected, this can prevent the infection from coming back.
FallTree Care Tip 11
Rely on mulch
Mulching in the fall, before the ground freezes, is essential for keeping your trees healthy throughout the winter and ready to bloom again in the spring. A good organic mulch can serve as a fertilizer and give your trees’ roots the nutrients they need for healthy fall growth.
A layer of mulch will also help retain that moisture you’ve worked so hard to put into the ground and keep soil temperatures consistent to prevent the roots from freezing, like a blanket. It can also prevent erosion or soil compaction. You only need a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch. Leave 2-3 inches of space around the base of the tree to prevent the bark from rotting.
FallTree Care Tip 12
Treat for pests
When inspecting your trees every fall, make sure to keep a special eye out for any signs of pests. Your local arborist or tree service can help you identify the exact pest, its stage of development, and the proper course of treatment. In fall, you want to be especially conscious of borers.
These insects, as their name suggests, bore holes into your tree to create a home to overwinter in. In the spring, they will feast on your tree as they emerge, causing massive damage. Start working in late summer or early fall to make your tree unattractive to borers.
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