Cottage Q&A: Preventative tree maintenance

A close-up of pruning shears used in tree maintenance By sauletas/Shutterstock

What kind of preventative tree maintenance should I do before winter hits? We don’t want any of our trees to come down on top of the cottage or woodshed.—Theodore Hudson, Lake of Bays, Ont.

Ideally, you’ll have been doing preventative maintenance all summer. “It’s always better to take care of your trees before you start to get concerned,” says arborist Matt Logan, the owner of Logan Tree Experts. Focus on keeping the trees’ roots healthy. Adding a small amount of mulch around the base of your trees helps the roots retain moisture and can alleviate the impact of soil compaction (it can happen even from foot traffic). And surrounding your trees with other native plants helps boost soil nutrients and moderates soil temperature. “Trees are communal. They like other stuff around them,” says Logan.

Weakened trees are more likely to come down in a storm. Inspect yours. Are the leaves discoloured? Did the tree drop them earlier than usual? After a hot, dry summer—like the one parts of the country just had—trees may be stressed and more susceptible to disease or other problems. If you’re concerned about a particular tree, get an expert opinion before you do anything; removing it should really be the last resort.

This former lumberjack will help you take down a difficult tree

Ultimately, structural issues are usually the biggest risk factor when it comes to whether or not a tree is going to fall, says Logan. Go ahead and prune any damaged, hanging limbs yourself, but trying to “rebalance” a tree that’s, say, lost a bunch of branches because of a previous storm could backfire. “If a tree is damaged on one side, and you take healthy branches off the other side, you’re taking food from the fridge,” says Logan. Don’t be fooled by a tree that looks as if it’s precariously leaning. Trees, like other plants, will bend and grow in the direction of light—it’s called “phototropism” and it’s normal.

“Most of Tom Thomson’s trees looked lopsided,” says Logan. “If we’d cut them all down…well, that just wouldn’t have made for good landscape paintings.”

This article was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

Got a question for Cottage Q&A? Send it to answers@cottagelife.com.

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