In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Lawn mower damage on a tree is not a pretty picture.
We all try to do the best for our landscapes, but sometimes, we just don't realize that we may be making some mistakes that can be avoided. Most of the mistakes I'm going to describe can be fixed; all can be prevented with a little education.
As long as we have grass, we will have lawnmowers. And although they are beneficial to turf, they can be deadly on trees and shrubs. Mower and string trimmer damage are some of the most common causes for tree decline. It may not seem like more than a nick at the time, but nicking over and over again can cause severe bark injury. This type of injury can be easily prevented by putting mulch circles around trees so mowers and trimmers stay outside the ring at a safe distance. If you do accidentally hit your tree, the best thing you can do is leave it alone and let the tree heal itself. If the unsightly gash bothers you, rub a little mud on it to cover the white inner bark. It'll make you feel better, although it does nothing for the tree.
Where's the Flare?
Check your trees, especially the ones that are struggling. Does the trunk go straight into the ground with no flaring out at the base? This can mean that the tree's natural root flare, the point at which the trunk and root material join, has been buried. This joint is a place where a plant's feeder roots, the ones that take in oxygen and water, begin. Burying this below ground compromises a tree's ability to thrive. To prevent it, remove enough soil from the root ball before planting to find the gentle flare. That flare should be right above the soil level. To fix a buried flare, you can dig and replant or remove enough soil to expose the flare.
Burlap on the Root Ball
When trees are planted, the burlap, twine, and wire basket should be removed prior to backfilling the hole. Burlap is biodegradable, but when buried, it often doesn't get enough oxygen to decompose and can strangle roots. The same goes for the wire basket that held the root ball. Any twine wrapped around the trunk can strangle the trunk and kill the plant. To prevent, remove as much as possible before planting. To fix, cut away all visible twine and burlap, below soil level so the burlap doesn't wick water away from the root ball.
Nursery tags left on tree and shrub branches can eventually girdle the branch and kill it. This is a no-brainer -- simply make sure all tags are removed when planting. I have a habit of removing any I see in any landscape, which can make for suspicious neighbors sometimes. A quick explanation soothes them, though.
Mulch heaped up around a trunk holds moisture and can cause disease. Mulch should slope gently into the trunk, with the last couple of inches without mulch at all. This allows the trunk to have plenty of circulation. To prevent problems, don't mound mulch. To fix an existing situation, remove mulch from near the trunk and slop it upward to the outside of the mulch circle.
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