As we prepare to head into spring next month, last spring’s weather is probably the last thing on our mind. But at Ryan Lawn & Tree, our full-time experts are working to bring you the best early spring tree and lawn care tips to reboot the root systems of the trees and plants that will make your outdoor living area the envy of your neighbors in the next few months.
It can be easy to forget that trees and shrubs are biological organisms that don’t segment their life into convenient periods of time. Just like people, last year’s injuries can persist for some time. Last year’s torrential rains in the spring left soils unconducive to root growth during the time of the year when plants typically do most of their recovery. Damage done to a perennial plant’s root system can cause stress, damage and even die-back for several years. This year there are several things we can do to help stressed plants recover more effectively.
Plants develop roots best when soils are near saturation and subsequently dry out before repeating the process. As such, too much time on either end of this spectrum can inhibit root growth. Although we have no control over the weather, we can try to monitor and regulate ground moisture as best as we can. I’ve lost count of the times throughout the year when I’ve driven by a
home in the middle of a thunderstorm and their irrigation system was running full throttle. A new rain sensor on an older system, or even a new smart controller, can help eliminate this waste and avoid over-saturating soils this spring. Although the technology isn’t perfect, a new smart controller accesses local weather data and can help plan your water schedule accordingly.
Although it’s usually not a problem, we do run into drought conditions in spring from time to time. Most homeowners are under the impression that their in-ground irrigation system is sufficient for keeping their woody plants watered. While some systems have separate drip lines for landscape beds, their watering schedule is oftentimes inadequately set up on a turf-type watering cycle. Most irrigation systems are run for 10-15 minutes every other day which means the amount of water that makes it to the root system is insignificant. Generally, trees consume about 10 gallons of water per inch of trunk caliper per week. Factoring in the water absorbed by the much shallower grassroots which often surround them, many trees rarely receive adequate moisture for optimal growth and recovery.
If, like me, you find yourself without an automated irrigation system or a fancy way to monitor it, you’re in luck! If you are ever in doubt about whether your plants need additional water—or perhaps have too much—you can use this old standby. Take a long screwdriver and push it into the ground. Soil with sufficient moisture will offer little resistance. If the soil is dry or partially dry, the screwdriver will begin to offer resistance at the depth at which you’ve reached dry soil. For optimum tree and shrub care, we would like moisture to reach a depth of at least eight to ten inches.
The root systems on trees do a majority of their development when soil conditions are favorable in the spring and fall. This is the reason why these are the two-time frames in which fertilizer is recommended for perennial plants. While fertilizing your lawn yields fast and noticeable results, that’s not the case for trees and shrubs. For these, fertilizer really only functions to increase root production. While a healthy root system will often lead to increased canopy growth, the primary benefit happens below the ground where the casual observer will never notice its benefit.
For targeted fertilizer of landscape plants, there are many great options available at your local garden center. They can be applied to the surface if you provide plenty of follow-up watering or can be injected with ground spikes or applied with a root-feeding hose attachment. For larger landscapes, it may be best to hire a professional company that has specialized equipment that can make short work of what may otherwise be a long weekend chore.
If you walk around the woods, you’ll quickly notice that in places where trees are doing well, they are not surrounded by grass. If you’ve ever over-planted a landscape bed, you know that after a couple of years the canopy and foliage begin competing with one another for space and sunlight. This competition is even more important underground, where root competition can often be enough to kill off weaker plant material.
Proper tree and shrub care mean keeping a healthy layer of mulch that will aid in moisture control, suppress weed competition and provide nutrient-rich organic matter to the soil as it breaks down. It may seem odd to some but mulching a shade tree all the way out to the edge of its canopy is one of the best things you can do for the health of a tree and its roots. Your RYAN Pros offer mulching services to properly mulch your trees and landscape plants twice a year.
My last tip for spring lawn, tree and shrub care is best reserved for specimen trees or plants that suffer from dramatically reduced root systems. Plant Growth Regulators—or PGRs—are products applied to plant material that manipulate hormone levels within the plant. A mature plant is essentially pre-programmed to prioritize canopy and fruit growth, often at the expense of root growth.
PGR’s have many effects such as decreasing canopy growth and increasing resistance to several diseases. In essence, the energy of the plant is redirected towards root development. This can help recover a damaged root system, prepare a healthy tree to resist construction damage and increase a plant’s drought tolerance. Of all these recommendations, PGRs are best reserved for application by a professional. Many plant varieties have a very specific tolerance for these types of products. Under-apply and the product doesn’t work, apply too much and the plant can be “over-regulated” which leads to long term issues. More sensitive plants can even be killed by over-regulation from plant growth regulators.
I have often been warned about the ravages of time! If you’ve ever broken a bone, damaged a joint or been in a car crash, those injuries can take years to heal properly. Even then it is likely they will never be the same. I hear from those approaching retirement complaints that the old injuries suddenly reappear as aches and pains. Trees are no different. Last year’s record level of springtime rain has damaged the root systems on woody plants that will take years to recover, if ever. Keeping the above early spring lawn and tree care tips in mind can help promote as healthy of a recovery as possible this year. Our team at Ryan Lawn & Tree is standing by now to help you solve these issues in your yard. If you need an expert opinion, give a call to the office location nearest you in Kansas City, St. Louis, Wichita, Springfield or Tulsa. Our goal is always to care for your lawn, trees and plants in a way that increases both the short-term and long-term vitality of your landscapes.