Beware of getting to close to those new trees with the mower

Published 2:00 am Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hopefully most of Friday’s free tree seedlings are in the ground and soaking up this February warmth. And between now and “real” Spring, a lot of purchased baby shade trees, fruit trees and just plain pretty trees will be planted in home landscapes. It is the right time for planting trees. So find what you want, buy ‘em and plant ‘em.

Back In the day, I spent quite of bit of time helping folks determine why young trees died or were obviously unhealthy. Human nature, I suppose, is for us to suspect disease, bugs, gnawing animals or wayward herbicide for the loss of young yard trees. And trees occasionally do fall victim to those causes as well as being planted in a spot too wet or too shady for the specie. But in my humble opinion, the leading cause of young tree demise is the organism homo apiens. Yep, and usually the male of the species is the culprit.

It’s a guy thing; man and his lawn machines. There seems to be an unspoken code amongst us men; let’s see how close we can get to the tree trunk and not quite hit it. Oops, nicked it that time. Sorry about that.

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I learned long ago the need to protect my new plantings from myself. And it is not difficult or costly to do. It is just a matter of putting a protective wrap of some kind around the trunks right after planting. Plastic spiral wraps are available most everywhere plants or sold. I have used scrap plastic pipe split down one side, spread around a trunk and closed up with duct tape. My homemade wrap for new peach trees is a full section of newspaper loosely wrapped around each trunk, covered by a layer of visquene and tied on with cotton or hemp string that will rot away over time. The wrapped trunks have decent protection from rodents, peach borer moths and me armed with Weed Eater.

Another good tree preventative health practice is to mulch new plantings. The main reason for mulching is to hold soil moisture in the root zone. But a thick layer of mulch negates the need to mow close to the trunk. The mulch becomes sort of a Do Not Enter zone for man with engine.

A mower bump or Weed Eater strike against the mature bark of a 30 year old oak is not a good thing but it is not going to kill the tree. Just don’t make a habit of it. Cutting the tender bark of a young tree, however, destroys a section of the tree cambium. Remember cambium from high school biology? Simplified, it is the thin layer just inside the bark that carries water and food back and forth between the roots and the leaves. Just a few whacks of the cambium over a few years can doom a young tree.

Women mowers are likely to heed this tree trunk advisory. And so will a lot of men. For those guys who just don’t have it in them for mower reform, at least do this; drive a metal stake in the middle of the lawn, hop on that zero-turn and go practice!

Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District, 601-636-7679 ext. 3.