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Extension advice: Some tips for understanding your trees
Richard Evans
Richard Evans is UGA Extension Service agent in Bryan County.

I’ve been fielding a lot of questions at the Extension Office lately, and many of them have been about trees.

Today I wanted to dust off a fun article about things to notice about them. Many of us have trees on our property and want them to succeed - after all they are a treasure and offer many benefits. So how do you understand your trees?

Trees are big but they are non-verbal. They generally let you know very subtlety when things are awry and when the situation is very serious it is often too late to help much. Go outside and stand under the limbs of your favorite tree. Took up at the tree and observe.

Are the small limbs leafy throughout most of their length? Are there plenty of full-sized leaves?

If not, or if there are a lot of small dead branches, then the tree may be trying to say, “I’m hurt!”

Some trees will even develop more small branches further down the trunk to replace ones at the top. Injured trees may allow lots of light through the branches. When we see the canopy thinning, trees are often saying that there is a root problem. Drought, digging around or driving around the tree, piling soil up next to it or other factors have killed roots.

Once the roots are damaged, the top follows. The roots are the most important part. Keep them healthy and the tree will usually flourish. Don’t believe everything you hear. Some tree owners get excited when they see lichens growing on weak trees and say, “These things are killing my trees!”

Tichens are grey-green, often flat or ruffled and stuck on the limbs. They can be peeled off. Ball mosses are similar but grey-green and moss-like.

In most cases, these do not damage plants. They just grow on plants weakened by other factors.

Correct these problems and the tree may recover.

Another way trees warn us they are in trouble is by losing bark.

This can be the sign of a serious problem. A tree’s vascular system (like our arteries and veins) is just right under the bark.

Once the bark dies and falls off, this system is destroyed or disturbed in this area. The way it’s been explained to me is that if a tree loses bark from 50% of its diameter, it is like a person with a 50% heart blockage.

Safe to say it’s not a great situation.

We cannot do much if your tree is in serious decline. It may take years to recover, if ever. We often do not know a tree is in poor health until it’s too late and we see the symptoms, loss of limbs, leaves, etc.

Check on your trees before it is too late.

Improve tree health by watering during drought with 1 inch of water once a week (not every day!).

Do not drive over or dig around their roots.

Do not run into them with weed eaters or mowers. Consider killing the grass over their roots and replace with a 3-inch mulch.

In most cases, it is better to choose grass or trees in an area. A wise person once told me that you cant properly have both.

If you want a tree, use its leaves to mulch around it and keep grass roots from competing with tree roots. For more information on understanding trees and other plants, contact the Bryan County Extension Service. E-mail us at or call 912-653-2231.

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