Tree Care Tips: Debunking The Top 5 Myths About Trees

By Teo Spengler | April 27, 2021
Image by Thithawat_s
by Teo Spengler
April 27, 2021

You don’t need a license to plant a tree, or a degree in botany to offer tree planting advice. This might explain why so many people accept tree care “rules” that are actually wrong. Many of these false tree care tips are passed on from gardener to gardener over generations until they gain mythical status.

Tree myths that are not based in science can damage and destroy trees. Here are the top 5 myths about trees you’ll want to avoid in order to keep your trees happy and healthy.

Myth #1: Trees grow best when planted deep.

While it’s a good thing for trees to develop deep, strong root systems, planting the tree deep in soil is not the way to accomplish this end. If you are planting a young tree, make sure that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Improper planting is the top cause of tree demise.

What about digging the planting hole two or three times deeper than the root ball, then filling in the bottom of the hole with loose soil? Another no-no! A young tree is most stable and grows best if the bottom of the root ball is sitting on compacted soil. The roots will find their own way down.

Myth #2: It’s good to top a tree.

Topping a tree – cutting off the leader to make the tree shorter – is always, always a terrible idea. In fact, it’s the second most common reason that trees die. When you top a tree, you remove trunk and branches that use and capture sunlight needed to create energy. To compensate, the tree sends out sucker branches that are not firmly attached to the tree and make the tree unstable. 

Also, the wound caused by topping is not one a tree can heal. That means that the cut remains open, allowing in pests, rot and disease.

Myth #3: Heal tree cuts with wound paint.

Apply wound paint to a pruning cut used to be a recommended practice. But scientists have determined that it’s a very destructive practice. Trees have their own internal systems of healing. Layering paint on pruning cuts prevents that from happening and creates an environment prone to rot. 

Myth #4: The more water the better.

Of course, trees need water, but not too much. Overwatering has caused more tree deaths than drought. This can easily occur if a tree is near a lawn that gets sprinkled often. Remember that tree roots can extend far beyond the tree canopy when you irrigate. 

Newly planted trees require regular watering, but no more than 10 gallons a week. Once established, trees usually get sufficient water from precipitation. Only during prolonged dry periods is an occasional watering necessary to prevent water stress.  

Myth #5: Staking helps trees develop strength.

Tree are stronger if they are not staked. The natural sway of the tree trunk in the wind builds strong wood and good taper. Only young trees planted in areas that are constantly windy benefit from staking. Even then, you should remove the stakes after six months or so. Be sure to remove the straps around the tree as well as the stake or the tree may be girdled as it grows.

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