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8 ways to help trees at your cottage

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Trees add valuable aesthetic, environmental, and property value to cottages—but their maintenance can often get pushed down on the “honey do” list. According to Matt Logan, owner of Logan Tree Experts, which services the Kawarthas, this is an oversight.

“Many cottagers feel that since they are in the forest, tree care is unnecessary—but that isn’t the case,” he says. “If your cottage has a manicured landscape or you cut the grass, chances are your trees are living in similar conditions as trees in urban areas, and can suffer from the same stresses.”

We spoke with Logan and two other experts from ISA Ontario (the International Society of Arboriculture) to learn more about what you can do to keep your trees healthy this summer.

Regularly inspect your trees

The biggest mistake that cottage owners make? “Waiting until it’s too late,” says Logan. “Most cottagers may be unaware of a tree’s ‘cry for help.’ As such, many tree issues are neglected until it is too late and options are limited.”

Regular inspections can help prevent property damage and keep your trees healthy. According to Stephen McQuigge, a board member for ISA Ontario, it’s as simple as just looking up. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify things like deadwood and broken or hanging limbs,” he says.

Know your trees and tree diseases

Deadwood isn’t the only thing you should be looking for during your inspection. In Ontario, arborists predict that we’ll see more pest and disease issues in the next few years, largely due to the drought in 2016.

Diseases will vary dependent on region and the species of trees on your property, but learning how to identify the top three “nasties”—emerald ash borer, beech bark disease, and Dutch elm disease—is a good start.

Don’t transport firewood

Invasive insects, including those that are responsible for diseases such as the emerald ash borer, often travel via firewood, so be sure to buy local when you head out on a camping trip.

Plan for the health of your trees

All of our experts agreed that poor planning was another common mistake that cottage owners make.
“Cottagers love their trees but often fail to take the root systems into consideration when they build, or build too close to the trees,” says Phil Pavey, owner of Pavey Tree, which services the Lake of Bays. In addition to property damage that can be caused by tree limbs shedding, building too close can result in root damage, which has a significant impact on tree health and structure.

Don’t park under trees

You might be trying to keep your car cool, but you’re also killing your trees. The weight of vehicles causes soil compaction, which can limit the amount of water, air, and nutrients flowing to a tree’s root system.
Place mulch around the base of your trees

A simple way to keep your trees healthy—and to prevent lawn mower damage—is adding mulch. This insulates the soil, helps roots maintain moisture and prevents soil compaction.

Use a hammock stand

We’re ardent fans of the humble hammock, but hanging one between two trees can damage your trees in the long-term. Over time, keeping a rope around a tree trunk can throttle the tree as it grows. For more on hanging a hammock responsibly, see the video below:

How to hang a hammock without hurting your trees

Know when to call in an expert

If you spot a tree that needs some minor or major surgery, or potentially needs to be removed, it may not be a DIY job.

“Ladders and chainsaws may seem straightforward, but both have significant risks associated with them, and the outcome of an accident can be severe,” says McQuigge.

Professional arborists will also be aware of the tree bylaws that exist in your area. Pavey notes that these are in effect in Muskoka, Algonquin Highlands, Lake of Bays and Muskoka Lakes.