Taking Care of Trees and Shrubs
In our urban environment, we have replaced wildlife, tree clusters, and soil with buildings, open spaces, and paved roads. The need for taking care of trees and shrubs by us as we change the landscape of our urban forests is imminent. Because of this, we have compiled information from universities and anecdotal experiences from us and other experts in our industry to formulate three concise yet definitive guide that every homeowner must consider before planting trees and shrubs. Hopefully, we can replicate what nature naturally does for them in the wild. Here are the three things to be aware of:
1. Enough Space
Plan ahead of time by making sure your trees and shrubs have sufficient space to grow through maturity. Texas A&M University, Forest Service is a great resource for identifying native trees and shrubs in Austin, Texas. Once you have identified your tree specie, take into account the expected final diameter of its trunk. As a general rule, give it a 1:1 space ratio. This means that a projected final diameter of a foot will also need a foot of space diameter starting from the base of the trunk. This space is called the critical root zone or CRZ. Tree roots from trees planted in a new development do not usually trench very deep into the layers of compacted soil. Instead, we find tree and shrub roots spread within 2-4 inches below grade around the CRZ. The reason for this is simple, oxygen, sugar, nutrients, and water are abundant around this depth. However, there are other species that do go deeper. For more information about CRZ, North Carolina Urban Forest Council expounds more on this subject.
Expert Tip: A good rule of thumb for freshly planted trees and shrubs is to totally avoid soil compaction and disturbance to at least 25% of the total CRZ.
2. Use the Correct Soil.
Different species propagate in different climates. Some trees and shrubs like acidic and drier soil more than others. But what all trees and shrubs have in common is the need for the correct soil type to imitate the natural habitat where they are normally found. The trick here is to stick with native plants found around your region. Ask a local grower or nursery for native plants. This way, you can simply use the soil around your undisturbed yard. Going native also lessens and even at times eliminates the need for soil amendments and irrigation. In a Drought Survivability Study by Texas Water Resources Institute , they found a significant amount of native plants in Austin and San Antonio show little to no noticeable change after they reduced or totally eliminated irrigation for 12 full weeks. This means that native plants are naturally hardy in their respective climate, and are able to survive with less human intervention. This comes as no surprise. Soil in different climates have different parent material, living organisms, and topography. These factors affect nutrients and acidity level of the soil. Science Learning Hub expounds more about it.
Expert Tip: If you ever have a native tree or shrub that has stunted growth, try getting soil at an undisturbed portion of your yard, and then spread it around the CRZ of the tree or shrub. This will give it a boost of nutrients and microorganisms.
3. Aerate Regularly
There is a lot more happening beneath the ground than we currently know. What we do understand is that soil compaction decreases the amount of air, water, and sunlight that enters the soil; thereby creating anaerobic conditions similar to the soil found in swamps and wetlands. Trees and shrubs need aerobic conditions, the opposite of anaerobic, to survive. Aerobic soil increases soil productivity and environmental quality according to Pennsylvania State University . But over and over again, we see trees and shrubs being planted right beside houses, patios, streets, walkways, and driveways that require more aeration and general maintenance. These locations are prone to compaction because of the use of heavy machinery to produce them, the amount of human traffic, and the sheer weight of our modern infrastructure. Without strategic planting and regular aeration, trees and shrubs near or at compacted soil risk root rot, a condition wherein fungi decays the roots around the CRZ, eventually causing structural failure. This is happening more common than we presume, especially in city living. Storms are usually blamed for fallen trees or uprooted shrubs. However, this is not the only reason we find onsite. Usually, the root has rotted because of years of neglect. The wind simply finished the job.
Expert Tip #3: Till two inches deep after aeration.
Trees and shrubs have been around for hundreds and thousands of years. They are fine without us. But the problem here is that they coexist with us. We, as responsible custodians, need to have a general understanding of their environment, and how we're changing it. Giving enough space, the correct soil, and aeration will take care of your trees and shrubs in the urban setting for the years to come. Let's learn to replicate nature because nature does it best.
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