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The Secrets to Growing Strong Trees

Put a little effort into tree care today, and it will pay off for decades to come.

Written by Elizabeth Millard
 Photo: Mark Sorenson
With a log home, you’ve likely discovered that thoughtful, regular maintenance is a must to protect it from weather and pests and keep your house looking its best. The same goes for the living trees surrounding it. Many times, it’s easy to think that the forest will “take care of itself,” and that’s true up to a point. But all it takes is one ferocious windstorm to realize how much you should have been doing to prevent damage. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure the trees surrounding your log home are strong and healthy (and will look beautiful, too).

Plant Strategically

When you plant new trees, be sure to keep their overall shape and height in mind. Regardless of species, plant them about 20 to 40 feet from the house, which should provide shade without encroaching on your utility lines (call before you dig!) and prevent fallen branches from landing on your roof or excessive leaves from clogging your gutters.
Good options that are easy to maintain include willows, sugar maples, juniper, Norway spruce and, in warmer climates, eucalyptus.

Prune Regularly

When people have tree issues, it’s often because they’ve neglected to prune dead or “sucker” branches — young, bushy clumps of growth that can hog a tree’s nutrients, (or may even be a different tree species altogether). Dead branches are a fire hazard and negatively impact the health of the tree.
When pruning, do so in stages. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch, about 18 inches from the trunk, about halfway through the branch. The second cut should be an inch farther out, cut from the top until the branch breaks.

Watch Your Collar

The next step in pruning is being aware of the dense “branch collar,” which is around the base of the branch and helps support it. The larger the branch, the bigger the collar. Fun fact: These are the “knots” you’ll see in cut wood.
When you prune, cut just on the outside of this collar, but be careful not to cut the collar itself, because it will help the tree seal the cut.

 Photo: Perry Mastrovito (See more of this home and property here.)

Dress the Wound if Necessary

Like human skin, when a tree gets a cut, it becomes vulnerable to infection. Fortunately, you won’t need to put wound dressing on every cut you make on the tree, but if the bark has been stripped, the branch collar got nicked or cut or you’re simply concerned about insect infiltration, there are several products you can use to seal it up. My favorite is TreeKote*. It’s affordable, easy to apply and proven effective; however I use it sparingly since trees do mend themselves fairly well, and many arborists believe excessive sealant application will prevent the natural healing process. In general, trees have excellent mechanisms for sealing breaches, usually forming a new boundary of tissue around a wound, similar to a scar or callus.
*All products featured are selected by our editors. When you make a purchase through a qualifying link, we may earn a commission via affiliate programs with Amazon.com and other retailers.

Prevent Overcrowding

A thick stand of trees might be pretty, but when they’re too abundant, it can affect an individual tree’s health because there’s competition for light, water and soil nutrients. When that happens, trees may get stressed and become susceptible to disease or insects.
Prevent the issue by planting appropriately — don’t place trees too close together, and if you want more greenery, add some shrubs into the mix. With established trees, you may need to thin them out, particularly the younger, less-sturdy trees. For safety, always turn to professionals if you’re dealing with trees that are oversized, close to the house or near power lines.

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