Misperceptions About Trees

Larry Figart, arboriculturist and Duval County Extension Urban Forestry Specialist, is a self-professed “myth buster.” He is known among his colleagues as “Larry the Tree Guy”, and he certainly lives up to that moniker. This program was all about dispelling myths common to the planting, growing and pruning of trees.

I heard Larry present his myth buster program during District IV’s Gardenfest last month, and instantly knew we had to invite him to share his arboreal knowledge with our garden club. Fortunately, he was available for our November meeting.

Here are some of the misperceptions he “busted”:

1) All trees have tap roots. No, most trees do not, but some in sandy soils do develop deeper roots in the upper 2’ of soil.

2) Roots grow only as far as the drip line. No, roots can be stretch as far as 2 - 3 times beyond the drip line.

3) Slicing the rootball will fix a root bound tree. No, slicing a container-grown tree is not enough. Cut all around the container, and then cut out the circular roots before planting.

4) Plant a containerized tree at the same depth it was growing in the container. No. Find the topmost root in the container and plant where that root is, or even better, plant above the soil surface. Plant it high and it won’t die!

5) A native tree does not need irrigation when it is planted. Not true. Watering after planting is critical. Turf irrigation does not provide enough water to most newly planted trees. Hand-water until established. See UF/IFAS website for proper irrigation schedule.

6) If a tree survives the first year after construction it will be fine. No, a tree can decline for 5 - 15 years before it succumbs. The contractor’s one-year warrantee is meaningless.

7) Topping trees is permissible. No. Don’t commit Crepe Myrtle Murder. There are 1200 varieties of Crepe Myrtles. Plant a dwarf variety in small spaces. “Pencil Prune” the branches, remove rubbing and crossing branches, and leave odd numbers of trunks.

8) Remove interior branches to improve wind resistance. False. “Lions-tailing” actually makes the tree more prone to wind damage. Don’t open up the center of a tree.

9) Seal pruning cuts with paint. No. This actually encourages decay. Always prune at the branch collar for rapid closure. The callused cut should be round, not oval.

10) Palms should be heavily pruned every year for hurricane resistance. No. This can result in “pencil pointing”, increased nutrient deficiencies and/or the onset of giant palm weevils. Don’t prune higher than 9 and 3 o’clock.

11) Fertilize trees using deep root injections. False. Feeder roots are within a few inches of the surface.

12) Spanish moss and lichens kill trees. No, but mistletoe is a parasite.

13) Tree companies are licensed in Florida. Not true. There is no licensing for arborists in Florida.

Who ya gonna call? Find an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Go to www.treesaregood.com to check for certification.