Street tree maintenance tips

Now that warm weather has arrived, remember to include your street tree in your spring gardening chores. An annual maintenance program should include:

  • Clearing away any mulch within six inches of the tree trunk to avoid buildup. When clearing the mulch, also clear away the dirt around the trunk and look for any roots that are encircling the trunk just below the surface above the tree collar.  If you have encircling roots, they should be cut away and removed — roots that encircle the trunk will inhibit future growth by strangling the trunk.
  • Removing any grass growing within 18 inches of the trunk. This grass is taking the nutrients and water from the soil that are better used by the tree.  Also, if you are trimming the grass that is too close to the trunk, you risk damaging the trunk with your weed whacker.   Continually damaging the bark will inhibit your tree’s growth.
  • Cutting all lower branches that may impede people walking on the sidewalk as well as those branches hanging low over the street. Once the greening up of the tree is complete, cut out any dead branches.  These will eventually break away and fall causing damage especially when we have high winds.  If you don’t have the proper trimming tools or are uncertain how to remove these branches, notify our property manager at 904-242-0666 (ext. 13) and he will arrange to have the lower-branch trimming done for you.
  • Fertilizing your tree. Jobe’s tree spikes are easy to use and are cost effective. Three applications a year will help your tree maintain healthy, constant growth.  If you prefer to use a granular fertilizer,  a slow-release type with a high content of nitrogen and potash and a low phosphorous level works best for trees (e.g. a 16-4-8 combination).
  • Last, giving your tree a good long drink. Regular lawn irrigation usually does not provide enough water for trees that are trying to establish themselves.  They appreciate a slow constant watering with a hose every now and then, especially when rain has not been adequate.

Arborist’s Street Tree Findings

The arborist who the HOA recently hired has completed his evaluation of Brookwood’s street trees. His comprehensive recommendations state that the trees are generally suffering because most of them were initially planted too deep and have developed roots that are encircling the trunks.  Also contributing to the condition of the trees is a lack of water and proper fertilization. The good news is that most of the trees can be improved with a minimum amount of work.

After conferring with Duval County’s urban forestry extension agent, Arborist Charles Florida recommends the following easy steps to improve the health of the street trees:

  1. To check and correct for encircling roots, pull back the mulch and soil from the root collar. Do this using a hand trowel or wet vac to loosen and remove the soil around the base of the tree until the first set of roots is found.exposing-the-root-collar
    • If a tree has any encircling roots, cut and remove them and leave the very top of the root ball exposed. Do not cover it with dirt or mulch.  Maintain a ring of organic mulch around the tree so that it forms a well to catch rainwater.

      Encircling tree root


      The do’s and don’ts of tree mulching

    • Also make sure that the top of the root ball packaging was removed. If you find traces of it, cut it away taking care not to nick the bark.

      Root ball packaging

      Cutting root ball packaging

  2. Keep the tree well watered. You can test the moisture content by grabbing a handful of soil from the base of the tree.  If it clumps easily, it is watered well.

    Moisture test

    Moisture test

  3. Fertilize the tree if a soil test indicates that it’s necessary. Soil testers can be purchased at home improvement stores. When put in the soil, it will reveal the pH balance. “Deep root” fertilization is not needed.

    Soil tester

    Soil tester

  4. Prune dead branches ONLY at this phase. Branches that do not have leaves at this time of the year but bend without breaking are still alive. The trees are struggling now so they should be pruned for strength and shape at a later stage.

The moss growing on the trees is not harmful to them.  Moss is a separate organism which “feeds” off the air and not the tree.  Copper sulfate fertilizer spray can be used to kill the moss if you do not like it.

Each homeowner will receive a copy of this article with a report showing what type of street tree is in their yard and an estimate of the percentage of viability of the tree.  Homeowners with trees that have less than 50 percent viability will be required to replace the trees.

A homeowner with a tree that has 50 percent or more viability may try to improve the tree’s condition by following the instructions above.  If the tree declines below 50 percent viability, it will need to be replaced at that time. Please remember to inform the HOA Architectural Review Board of any decision to plant a new tree by using the ARC Submission Form.

The arborist recommends that all replacement trees should be 2” to 4” in diameter (the closer to 2” the better).  The only replacement choices for street trees are:

More information about these tree species is available by clicking on the links above.

Illustrations used are from “Tree Owner’s Manual,” a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. It contains much information about caring for trees and can be accessed or downloaded by clicking on the link.

Photographs were taken at Brookwood’s playground area where the HOA president performed Florida’s recommendations on the oaks and crepe myrtles there.