Ten Random Things about Trees for People Who Know Nothing about Trees

Spruce barkThe block that I grew up on was lined with massive sycamore trees. Their peeling bark was a patchwork of tan and grey. When their seeds fell each fall we would pick the tufts apart. The roots buckled the sidewalk making concrete ramps that we liked to race our bikes over. Once the roots pushed into their owner’s basement it was game over and they were cut down.

Trees take a lot of abuse. Like any family pet, they’re also much loved. Taking care of such a large pet can be a daunting task. This is especially true when you move and are faced with taking care of new and unfamiliar trees. When we moved, I pretty much ignored ours at first, trimming a low-hanging branch here or a bare branch there. But I eventually came to like them. In fact, I’m still obsessing over the spruce that I mentioned a few weeks ago in Identifying Plants with PictureThis.

In the years that I’ve been a tree mommy, I’ve acquired a hodgepodge of knowledge from neighbors, tree trimmers, and YouTube videos. Here is a quick primer of some basic things about trees.

Tree RootsDon’t leave their roots exposed…

Be sure to cover any exposed roots with soil and shade tolerant grass seed to protect them. If you walked around in your bare feet, they would get pretty torn up after a while, right? Same things with trees. Minus the walking.

…but don’t create a mulch volcano either.

Mulch is good. It helps retain moisture. Just be sure to form it into a mulch doughnut instead of a mulch volcano. A mulch volcano traps too much moisture which can lead to disease and rot.

Trees come in male and female varieties?

Mary told me this. Mary is our awesome quirky neighbor who I assume knows her stuff since both of our houses sit on what was once her family’s farm. I thought she was messing with me until I looked it up. It turns out that trees can come in male and female varieties. Male trees produce pollen and female trees produce fruit. (I didn’t doubt you for a second, Mary.)

It’s okay if they’re dead on the inside.

It’s perfectly normal for a spruce tree to have some brown branches inside because the sun doesn’t reach here. When a lot of the outer limbs start to die, it’s time to call in an expert to take a look.

To stake or not to stake?

It is not always a good idea to stake a sapling. Unstaked trees develop stronger trunks and root systems than their staked counterparts. If the staking is done improperly it can even damage the tree. If you decide to stake your tree only do so through one growing season. (I thought that saplings were in danger of snapping during the winter. It turns out that this is more likely in summer because their leaf canopy catches the wind.)

Staked MapleSaplings can wear pantyhose.

You can find kits for staking trees online and at local home improvement stores. If you’d rather DIY it, use pantyhose since they won’t damage the bark.

Don’t bury the graft collar.

Not all trees are grown naturally from seed. Some trees are created through a grafting process. The purpose is to create an exact copy of a particularly awesome tree. A scion, or shoot, from this origin tree is grafted to the rootstock of another tree. They are often joined near the base If you plant such a tree on your property, make sure that the graft isn’t covered with mulch. Remember, you want a mulch doughnut not a volcano. This is particularly important with a grafted tree.

Not all firewood is created equal.

Spruce wood is not good for burning, but oak is the “Cadillac” of firewood.

Leaf mold. It’s a thing. A good thing.

If you have deciduous trees on or near your property, you have more leaves than you know what to do with in the fall. One option is leaf mold composting. Chop the leaves into smaller pieces and pile them up somewhere in your yard. Make sure that they have air and moisture. They will break down in one or two years.

Spruce sapIf you prick them, they will bleed.

Sort of. At least some types. Remember how I was stressing about all the sap dripping down the trunk of our spruce a few weeks ago? It turns out that the cause of this was birds pecking holes in to the trunk. The tree pushes out sap in response. Kind of how humans bleed if you poke holes in us.

If you have any tree wisdom, please share in the comments below. Please subscribe if you’re interested in trees and plants and composting. I seem to blog about those things fairly often.