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Tree care myths debunked and discussed by Wyoming expert

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Tom Heald

Most farmers and ranchers treasure the trees on their property, but they may be misinformed about how to care for them. Much of what many individuals have heard about tree care may be incorrect and based on myths and misconceptions. Here are the top six myths of tree care.

Tree stakes
The first myth is when a tree is planted, it should be securely staked to ensure the development of a stable root system and a strong trunk.

Although it is sometimes necessary to stake trees to keep them upright in our windy state, there are some adverse effects of staking. 

Compared to staked trees, unstaked trees tend to develop a more extensive root system and better trunk taper. Allowing for a small amount of movement during staking can help root and trunk development. Staking materials should usually be removed after one year to avoid girdling the tree.

Tree wrap
Second is the myth that newly planted trees should have their trunks wrapped with tree wrap to prevent sunscald and insect entry.

Studies using most common tree wraps have shown they do not prevent extreme fluctuations in temperature on the bark. In some cases, the temperature extremes are worse. 

Tree wraps also have proven quite ineffective in preventing insect entry. In fact, some insects prefer to burrow under the wrap as it protects them from predators. This said, tree wraps are highly effective in the fall and early winter in preventing trunk damage caused by marauding buck deer using sapling-size trees to scrape their horns. 

Wound dressing
The next myth is pruning wounds greater than three inches in diameter should be painted with a wound dressing.

Research has shown common wound dressings do not inhibit decay, do not prevent insect entry and do not bring about faster wound closure. 

 In fact, many of the commonly used dressings slow wound closure. The take home message is let the tree figure it out.

Early pruning and bleeding
Some species of trees pruned early in the spring will bleed, stressing the tree and causing health problems, says the fourth myth.

While it is true some trees, such as maples and birches, can bleed or lose sap from pruning cuts made early in the spring, this bleeding does not hurt the tree, and the loss of sap is inconsequential.   

This myth does hold some credibility however in that, the best times to prune are following leaf drop in the fall and throughout the winter when the tree is dormant. Pruning should be avoided following bud break in the spring as removing live canopy can reduce the trees food making capacity.

The fifth myth is the root system of a tree is a mirror image of the top. Many people envision a large, branching taproot growing deep into the soil.

Actually, taproots are very uncommon in trees.  If taproots do develop, they usually will be forced into horizontal growth when they encounter hard subsoil beneath the surface. 

The entire root systems of most trees can be found within the top three feet of soil, and most of the active roots can be found from the surface of the soil to 12 inches down. 

The spread of the root system, however, can be very extensive, five to seven times the height of the tree outward. A 50-foot cottonwood can have up to 350 feet of root mass extending away from the trunk.

Deep root fertilization
The last myth is trees require deep root fertilization to reach their root system. Applying fertilizers below 12 inches of the soil is an exercise in futility. This same advice goes for deep root watering.

In most Wyoming soils, the vast majority of trees’ fibrous, absorbing roots are in the top 12 inches of soil.  Roots do not sniff out water and nutrients, but instead grow where conditions best for root growth are encountered – where water and oxygen are most available near the surface. 

A little knowledge can go a long way toward protecting the health of trees. If people take the time to learn how to properly care for them, trees will be available for people to enjoy their benefits for generations to come. 

            Tom Heald is the owner of the Wyoming Plant Company Garden Center in Casper and can be reached at or 307-262-2963.  

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