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Fall great time to prune, plant trees, enjoy colorful season


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The trees are putting on their final color show of the year. We will miss the leaves until they pop back out next spring.

I have been called a tree-hugger.  I take that as a compliment. Really though, who doesn’t like trees? I know sometimes they can cause problems (expense for care, falling limbs during a storm, sprouting up in unwanted areas).

Let’s look at some of the positives though, such as providing shade, acting as a windbreak and visual barrier, slowing surface water runoff, increasing property value, providing shelter for wildlife, producing flowers and fruit, taking carbon dioxide and pollutants out of the air, creating a play environment and yielding wood products.

Should I start selling “Save the Trees!” bumper stickers yet? OK, well how about this instead?

Recently, Purdue released an iPhone app called “Fifty Trees of the Midwest.” This guide helps you use photo-based identification, create field notes on your pictures, and import other pictures for reference. Compare your results to full-color pictures of the leaf, bud, twig, flower, fruit, bark and form of each tree.

The app costs $3.99. This product also is available as a CD for $15 at www.the-education-store.com

Let’s move into taking care of existing trees in your yard. To maintain healthy trees, prune out dead wood. Most mature trees need little besides water and possibly fertilizer. If you apply fertilizer to your grass, that is usually sufficient for the trees.

Young trees can really benefit from pruning to help establish the basic branch structure (remove diseased or weak and overcrowded branches). Plants can be injured from pruning, so be careful.

On the Web

Pictures demonstrating proper cut techniques can be found through the International Society of Arboriculture website at treesaregood.org/treecare/treecareinfo.aspx

For more information about tree care, contact Purdue Extension at 736-3724 or sspeedy@purdue.edu

Also, keep your own safety in mind if you are a do-it-yourselfer. Some deciduous trees have an exceptionally heavy sap flow in the early spring. If cuts are made then, the trees will “bleed.” While this sap loss does not injure the tree, it can be unattractive and cause problems for people passing underneath.

Bleeding can be avoided by pruning in mid-summer or late fall. Maple, birch, dogwood, elm, walnut and yellowwood are examples of trees best treated this way.

If you are inclined to hire a tree care professional, obtain references. Ask if they are certified or affiliated with any organizations. Reputable arborists also will be able to show you proof of insurance. Don’t hesitate to ask for an estimate on the cost.

I’ve probably talked about mulch before, and I will talk about it again.

Do not pile up a volcano mound around the tree trunk. Two to three inches of mulch (away from the trunk) is a great way to keep in moisture (i.e. less watering will be needed).

The mulch slowly breaks down, adding nutrients to the soil. Mulch also helps with weed control and temperature regulation.

Or perhaps you are considering planting a new tree. A basic gardening concept tells us to choose the right plant for the right place. This can help avoid headaches in the future.

  • Ask yourself the role of the tree. Will it be for a swing one day once Junior is old enough? Would you like it to be part of a living wall to block the view from next door?
  • Think about the way the soil drains, the amount of sunlight received, and the space required (above ground and below).
  • Look for healthy plants at a nearby nursery. Ask about trees with pest resistance. Most containerized or balled and burlapped trees can be planted in fall or early spring.

Sarah Hanson is the agricultural natural resources extension educator through the Johnson County Purdue Extension. She has a master’s degree in animals and public policy from Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Purdue University. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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