According to Connie Head, an area consulting urban forester, now is a great time to plant new trees because they are dormant, but will still be experiencing some root growth. To care for existing trees, the Georgia Forestry Commission offers these tips:
Mulch: A thin, even layer of organic material (two to four inches thick) over the tree’s critical root zone can improve soil structure, oxygen levels, temperature and moisture availability. The mulch should be spread in a flat circle, starting at least six inches away from the base of the tree trunk.
Watering: In general, trees need two gallons of water for every inch of diameter. Soil shouldn’t be saturated and should be allowed to dry out between waterings. Newly planted trees should be watered regularly (daily to weekly depending on age), while mature trees can be watered every two to four weeks.
Pruning: Trees should only be pruned to remove dead, dying, diseased, broken or crossing branches. Branches should also be removed if they interfere with utility lines. Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before new leaves sprout. Young trees shouldn’t be pruned for shape until after the first two growing seasons. Topping, cutting tree branches down to stubs, should be avoided because it can cause decay and attract bugs and disease.
As of late, when it comes to rain it is either feast or famine.
Although the water level of Lake Lanier was the main concern for many people in Northeast Georgia, there were other scenic attributes that were affected by the fluctuating weather conditions — trees.
After going through a multiyear drought, followed months of heavy rains, area trees have been left vulnerable, experts say.
"For small trees without well-established root systems, the drought caused tree decline and death. I am finding in my re-inventory of trees in some communities that many small trees (like dogwoods and redbuds) that were there five years ago are now gone, and I blame the drought," said Connie Head, a Commerce-based consulting urban forester.
"For large, old trees, root dieback occurred during the drought. Root loss is reflected in the crown, and crown dieback occurs along with the root loss. The tree is generally weaker — not able to produce enough food for growth or store much energy to respond to insect and disease attack."
Head has been consulting on several projects with Jefferson’s Heritage Tree Council. Most recently, she oversaw the group’s recent tree canopy inventory.
The dramatic shift in ground, moisture levels are especially a problematic for some trees, more than others.
"Large, old trees, primarily our water and willow oaks, are the most susceptible," said Head.
"These trees do not respond well to changes in their environment because of their advanced age and because of human impacts they are subjected to over the years."
More often than not, property owners tend to excavate and pave over the root systems of larger trees. Those activities, which lead to the surrounding soil being compacted, have a negative affect on the health of the trees, Head said.
"Their growing space, and especially rooting space, is reduced over time when it should actually be expanded. Soil compaction is particularly bad because it reduces the amount of pores (in the soil) that hold oxygen and water — two things that roots must have to function and grow," she said.
"The reduction in the available pore space for water means that even when we do have rain, it can’t penetrate the roots where it is needed."
Property owners should be on the look out for clues that there may be an issue with their trees. Telling signs include crown dieback, mushrooms near the base of the tree and large, decaying cavities in the tree’s trunk.
"Once trees are in decline it is difficult and usually impossible to return the tree to good health. So to prevent tree decline and root and crown dieback, all trees, but especially our large canopy trees, should be protected," said Head. "That means avoiding any soil compaction, trench, excavation or any root disturbance within the tree’s critical root zone. The critical root zone is the area beneath the drip line, greatest extent of branches, of the tree, or 1.5 feet for every one inch in trunk diameter measured at 4.5 feet above the ground, whichever is greater."
When in doubt, property owners should have their trees inspected by a certified arborist.
And if you are eyeing your yard as extra parking space for that holiday party, Head has three words for you — "Don’t do it!"
"The greatest amount of damage occurs the first time a car parks on top of root systems. This damage cannot be undone," said Head. "Additional occurrences of parking on top of root systems damages them even further. The soil is damaged and pore space is reduced, as well as the pressure of the vehicle on top of roots compresses them and can actually squeeze out much needed water."