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Maintenance for Yard Trees

Maintenance is essential for healthy and vigorous trees.  Here are ways in which the landowner can improve tree vigor.


Mulching trees can help retain moisture, control weeds and grass, reduce erosion, improve appearance, prevent soil compaction, prevent mechanical injury from mowers and string trimmers along with simplifying maintenance. The organic mulches can increase the soil’s fertility as they decompose.

Mulches of three to four inches deep are all that is needed. Any deeper can cause damage by causing the roots to grow in the mulch instead of the soil. Also, keep mulches away from the trunk to prevent rodent damage.

How to Make a Compost Pile

Diagram of a compost pile

  1. Place your compost pile on a soil of good drainage characteristics, or a layer of limbs. Boards, chicken wire or other side frames can help hold the pile together if space is limited.
  2. Build successive layers of leaves (except walnut leaves) and other green matter. For more rapid decomposition, chop and mix components together.
  3. Cover each layer with one to two inches of soil. Adding manure makes it even better.
  4. Sprinkle each layer with a balanced fertilizer without weed killer at a rate of half a pound per ten square feet. (For garden use, add from one half to one pound of lime per ten square feet.)
  5. During dry weather, keep the pile moist. In winter, cover the top with black plastic to insulate and shed excess water.
  6. For aeration, place a vertical drain pipe, or a post that can be wiggled occasionally.
  7. After the pile is built, turn it with a pitchfork after about six weeks. This will aerate and mix the pile, and keep the bacterial processes from overheating.


Fertilization is another aspect of tree maintenance and tree health. A soil sample test should be done in order to determine what if any nutrients are deficient. Extension offices in your area can assist you with the soil sample. Fertilizer is best applied in the spring or fall. Active root growth occurs mostly in the early spring or late fall when soil temperatures are cool and little competition from leaves for water and nutrients is present. Nitrogen is possibly the most critical in the growth of the tree and is the element most deficient in most soils. Nitrogen is responsible for the green color in leaves and twig growth. It is easily depleted from the soil. Treatments of nitrogen between July and September should be avoided since they promote late flushes of growth that are too succulent and easily damaged by the freezing temperatures of early autumn. Phosphorous aids in the maturing of tissues and stimulates root growth. It is important in flower, fruit and seed production. Potassium, also know as potash, assists in the manufacturing of sugar and starches, helps tissues mature and heightens the color of flowers.


Fertilizers can be applied in several different manners such as foliar sprays, trunk injections, trunk implants, on the soil surface or beneath the soil surface. The foliar sprays, trunk injections and trunk implants supply a limited amount of nutrients to woody plants and are mainly recommended for applying micronutrients like iron or manganese.

Woody plants are well equipped to absorb nutrients through the root systems and in most cases respond best to soil applications of fertilizers. Soil application methods include surface applied, drill hole technique and soil injection.

Surface applications are as effective as those applied below the surface due to the mobility of nitrates through the soil. Surface applications can be completed by using a spreader starting 2 – 3 feet away from the trunk and moving outward. This method is the quickest and least expensive.

The drill hole technique requires the most time. Using a punch bar or auger, punch holes 12 to 18 inches deep and 2 feet apart beginning no closer than two to three feet from the trunk and extending from two to three feet beyond the drip line of the tree. Approximately 250 holes are needed per 1,000 square feet to be fertilized.

To reduce turf grass injury, keep the fertilizer level four inches from the soil surface. One advantage of the drill method is that in compacted soils, the vertical holes help to increase water and air penetration in the soil profile.

Liquid or soluble injection is an alternative method to the drilling method, however, since equipment costs are high, it is best done commercially.

Application Rates

The amount of fertilizer is based upon the square feet in the area beneath the crown spread. If the root system is restricted by paved areas, foundation walls or other obstructions in the soil, fertilization based on trunk diameter may be excessive and cause damage to the tree.

Distance From Trunk to Dripline Area in Square Feet Lbs. of Fertilizer Needed *
4 50 1.0
6 100 1.7
9 250 4.5
13 500 9.0
15 750 14.0
18 1000 19.0
22 1500 29.0
25 2000 38.0
31 3000 57.0
35 4000 76.0
40 5000 95.0

* Based on the fertilizer 12-12-12

Tree Inspections

Frequent inspections are needed to make sure there is nothing major or dangerously wrong with your trees.

Inspection after a storm has passed is always necessary to assess damage to the tree. Check for broken limbs, limbs that are split and later will fall and lightning damage, to mention a few.

Trees, especially live trees, have been known to kill people simply due to neglect on the part of the landowner.

Some things to look for that may cause future damage are in the following check list.



_____ Loose Bark
_____ Decay
_____ Resinous or Bleeding
_____ Hollow or Poorly Healed Wounds
_____ Open or Poorly Healed Wounds
_____ Angular Crooks and Deformities
_____ Swollen Areas
_____ Abnormal Butt Swell
_____ Fungi/Mushrooms Around Base of Tree



_____ Discolored
_____ Curled or Disfigured
_____ Wilted
_____ Leaf Spots
_____ Developing Premature Fall Color


_____ Tip Dieback
_____ Dead Limbs
_____ Development of Water Sprouts
_____ Suckers
_____ Cankers
_____ Resinous or Bleeding
_____ Rubbing Branches
_____ Narrow Branch Angles
_____ Double Leaders