Maintaining Trees

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Trees in human landscapes need periodic inspection and care. Because we plant trees in highly altered non-forest conditions, we should expect that they require periodic pruning to redirect their spreading, sunlight-seeking growth. We are responsible for training their growth to coexist with all the different and often conflicting needs of our civilization: roads, utilities, safety, sight clearance, height requirements, and many other potential conflicts.

In Rock Hill, property owners are legally responsible for maintaining their trees in safe condition (City Code, Chapter 28 TREES ). The tree ordinance defines nuisance trees and specifies how they are to be abated. But, nuisance trees are not the only tree maintenance issue that concerns property owners. Tree owners should periodically inspect their trees for defects such as decay, dead branches, cracks, splits, and insect or disease problems. By looking at your trees periodically, you become aware of what they normally look like and can spot problems more easily when they arise.

Possible Red Flags  

trunk crack, small format

  • Large cracks or splits in the trunk or branches
  • Swollen or sunken areas on the trunk or branches
  • decay and mushrooms
  • Mushrooms sprouting from trunk, branches, root flare or main roots
  • off color leaves
  • Discolored (yellow or browning) foliage
  • Stunted or misshapen foliage
  • Wilting or drooping foliage
  • sparse foliage
  • Sparse, thin foliage
  • dust in bark cracks
  • Wood dust (can be coarse, or fine like powder) in bark cracks
  • dust at base of trunk
  • Wood dust in pile at base of trunk
  • Holes in the bark
  • Dark stains on bark, often associated with sap flow 

If you suspect a structural problem such as a crack or split in the trunk or a major limb, seek assistance immediately from a qualified professional arborist. If you suspect an insect or disease problem, try to identify the problem and solution. Possible sources of assistance include local tree service companies, Clemson Extension Service, the Rock Hill City Forester, the South Carolina Forestry Commission, the York County Library, and the internet.


 Maintenance Tips 

  • Water trees during dry periods, especially during the growing season. A soaker hose run at a trickle for several hours is effective. A clean plastic 5 gallon bucket with a 1/8 inch hole drilled in the bottom also works well. A couple of times a week during dry weather is usually sufficient.
  • Mulch with composted organic matter. A 2-inch layer of thoroughly composted leaves, top-dressed with a thin layer of pine straw, is ideal. Worms and other critters will eventually churn this layer into the top of the soil, which breaks down and encourages mycorrhizae and other highly beneficial organisms to associate with the tree roots.
  • Forget about "wound dressing". There is no data to show wound dressing prevents decay.
  • GO EASY ON FERTILIZER. Remember, you can always add more later (if needed), but too much nitrogen can quickly harm trees. If you fertilize your lawn, the trees are getting it too. Nitrogen (the primary ingredient in most fertilizer) is a stimulant, NOT plant food, no matter what the fertilizer package may claim. All plants (trees included) make their own food from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. It's called photosynthesis!