Tips for a Healthy Landscape and Trees

The key to a picturesque and healthy landscape is achieving the proper balance between having a perfect lawn and perfect trees. The amount of time spent on your landscape does not necessarily equate to a happy and healthier landscape. For example, spending hours on end applying herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and other chemicals in an attempt to control issues may be harming your landscape beyond reasonable repair. Conversely, not spending time on your landscape could lead to out-of-control weeds, overgrown trees and plants, and other conditions. Rather than the amount of time spent on landscaping, what matters more is how you care for your lawn and trees.

Planning Your Landscape

To help reach the right balance, you need to understand what your end goals are for your landscape. When setting these goals, keep certain caveats in mind. A perfectly manicured and weed-free lawn and garden may come at a cost to your trees and bushes. Likewise, having perfect trees and bushes may affect your lawn and garden. Ideally, you want to be somewhere in the middle, where one operation is not negatively affecting the other. Thus, it may not be possible to completely eradicate all weeds or go without pruning your trees.

As industry experts, our job is to understand the goals and desires of our customers, while implementing them in a way that is beneficial to the landscape as a whole. Unfortunately, it seems like the green industry is divided into two categories: either all about the grass or all about the trees. There are very few professionals that have a foot in both sides of the conversation. This general lack of knowledge for both sides causes conflict and damage in one or both areas. For example, many tree service providers think that over pruning trees to allow for light penetration through the crown is the answer to growing more grass beneath the trees. However, this is not best practice nor the solution to the problem.

Landscaping Terms to Know

The only solution to these issues is through education for the arborist, tree service, lawn care professionals, and the homeowners. People on both sides can benefit from learning more about the landscape and its members. Here are useful landscaping terms and common misunderstandings to gain a better understanding of the complexities of your landscape, as well as links explaining them in more detail:

  • Allelopathic chemicals1

Trees and plants produce hormones that control or kill other plants and animals. This explains the reason why grass does not grow beneath some trees and why healthy grass is more weed-free.

  • Changing the soil pH2

Many arborists, landscapers, and homeowners lack the knowledge and skill to accurately diagnose a condition that has a lookalike symptom to improper soil pH levels. Despite all the information on soil pH, an attempt to change the pH in the root zone of a plant or a tree can cause physiological disorders leading to further misdiagnoses and even tree or plant death.

  • Cutting grass too short3

Cutting the grass too short can circumvent the grass’s ability to control weeds with its natural allelopathic chemicals.

  • Dirty mulch4

Dirty mulch is sourced from recycling yards because these yards receive trees that have been trimmed or cut down carrying deadly diseases like fusarium wilt of palm. These yards chip up these diseased trees and turn them into mulch. If this dirty mulch is introduced to your landscape, you will lose your palms. You may also be unable to regrow more palms in that area due to the contamination from that type of disease.

Despite its appearance, this is actually an oak tree that has been damaged by over pruning and excessive herbicide usage.

  • Excessive mulch5

Applying mulch anywhere upon the trunk of the tree can lead to stress causing adventitious rooting, fungal infections, and death of the tree. Always keep mulch away from the trunk of the tree.

  • Garden within the critical root zone of trees6

Tree roots stretch out further than most people realize and digging a garden under the crown of a tree can introduce the tree to diseases and stress it out. On smaller properties with gardens and extensive landscapes that could mean hundreds of roots every square inch of your landscape.

  • Herbicide usage7

Herbicides contain synthetic auxin, a man-made plant growth hormone, that can affect different aspects of plant growth. This can cause the plant to exhibit signs that can lead to a misdiagnosis of an ailment or disease. If not treated properly and herbicide use continues, it will lead to a decline of the plant.

  • Important tree diseases8,9

There are several important diseases to be on the lookout for when it comes to your landscape. Some of these diseases are, but not limited to, fusarium wilt of palm, lethal bronzing, lethal yellowing, Phytopthora root rot, and citrus greening. These diseases commonly spread via dirty mulch and dirty equipment.

Improper pruning and over pruning can cause long-term tree damage.

  • Irrigation issues (over/underwatering)10

If the irrigation is set up improperly and the periods of watering are too short, it allows salt to build up in the soil causing several physiological problems. Lack of water will lead to nutrient lockout and the associated chlorosis or yellowing of the plants. If the irrigation system watering periods are too long, it can lead to anaerobic conditions causing serious issues to the trees and plants.

  • Over pruning trees11

There are tree pruning standards set forth by the International Society of Arboriculture ANSI Standards A300 Series Part I to prevent any undue stress and damage to your trees.

  • Sprinkler installation12

Trenching within the critical root zone of a tree to install the piping for a sprinkler system can put the tree into stress, decline, and even kill it years after installation. As stated above, the critical root zone extends way beyond the drip line of the tree.

  • Use of fertilizers13,14

As technology moves forward along with our understanding of how plants get their nitrogen, we learn that there are non-symbiotic stand-alone atmospheric nitrogen-fixing bacteria that make more nitrogen available than the plant could ever use. This bacteria lives all over the plant, making the need for the use of fertilizers obsolete. Another interesting way that plants are able to receive nitrogen is through lightning strikes.

Lightning strikes can actually help trees fix nitrogen naturally.

  • Use of fungicides15

All fungicides are non-selective, which means they kill any and all fungi they come into contact with. Plants and animals need certain fungi to survive and live a healthy lifestyle though. Without these fungi, plants and animals cannot survive.

  • Use of insecticides16

Apply insecticides, as well as other chemicals, with caution after researching the product being applied. They should only be used when a treatment threshold is met. This refers to the maximum point at which an infection or infestation can go without incurring serious deficiencies in the landscape before treatment is required. In fact, most of the time, the environment will stabilize and the infestation will go away naturally. Insecticides kill beneficial insects that help to control pest insect population thus causing a new issue to the plant.

  • Weed eater damage17

When the weed eater hits the bark of the tree, it can strip bark off or bruise the cambium layer of the tree. This disrupts the flow of nutrients causing stress and even death of the tree. 

Hiring the Right Landscaping Contractor

We can conclude that our landscapes require a vast knowledge base to properly care for them. However, this information is readily available to anyone willing to learn despite its complicated nature. Research any contractor you employ to work on your landscape and arm yourself with the knowledge to recognize when work is being done improperly. We recognize that we cannot possibly know everything there is to know about our landscape. By working collaboratively, the homeowners and the arborist/lawn care professionals can ensure that the job is done properly.

Links Used