A Guide for Healthy Trees 

 

Beverly/Morgan Park is known for the tree-lined streets that create a distinctively beautiful backdrop for our historic homes, parks, and institutions. Most people use words like sturdy, strong, magnificent, invincible to describe trees, but in reality, many times the trees that look the strongest are the most vulnerable.  

More than 400 of the beautiful mature trees in Beverly/Morgan Park have been lost in the past year, many of them to disease and age. It is vital for all of our neighbors to help protect our remaining trees, and for property owners who have lost trees to work with BAPA, Openlands, and the City of Chicago to replace lost trees with healthy new trees of diverse species that grow well in our climate and in urban areas.  

Following is information from tree experts to guide you in helping your trees thrive and taking action to protect and restore our local tree canopy.  

Openlands in Beverly/Morgan Park  

Founded in 1963, Openlands (openlands.org) protects regional natural and open spaces to ensure cleaner air and water, and to safeguard natural habitats and wildlife.   

According to the Openlands website, “Trees are one of the best nature-based solutions for the Chicago region to tackle climate change – reducing local heat island effects, controlling stormwater, and improving air quality for all residents.”  

Chicago’s 3.5 million trees help to keep our are clean, prevent soil from eroding, decrease flooding, and keep home cooler in the summer. Openlands adds that “mature trees offer exponentially greater benefits than small trees.” That is a compelling reason for the need to advocate for protecting our old growth trees from being cut down, and encouraging tree trimming and pruning that may eliminate the need for removal.  

A focus of Openlands’ work is planting trees and protecting the tree canopy in Chicago and the surrounding region. Openlands TreeKeepers are trained to care for and advocate for trees, and it’s through that program that BAPA has been able to plant more than 200 trees in Beverly/Morgan Park over the past five years.   

On Sat., Oct. 8, nearly 50 more trees will be planted on neighborhood parkways through an Openlands grant, and hundreds more are scheduled to be planted by the City of Chicago before the start of winter. To learn more and volunteer, email bapa@bapa.org 

Special Care for Newly Planted Trees 

This fall, BAPA, Openlands, the 19th Ward Office, and the City of Chicago are partnering to plant hundreds of parkway trees. Property owners need to do their part to ensure that the trees will survive and thrive.  

Trees.com, founded in 1997 as a blog devoted to tree planting, explains that when trees are planted, they experience “transplant shock,” which may cause them to look wilted. New trees need a lot of water to overcome shock and to start developing a strong root system.  

Water: For at least a week after a tree is planted, water it every day, then continue watering every three days until the tree has made a full recovery, at least three months.  

Prune: Once your new tree is planted and watered, use a pruning tool to remove branches that are dead, damaged, or crossing other branches. That helps the healthiest limbs grow for a strong tree.  

Feed: There is debate about whether to fertilize newly planted trees, but fertilizing after the first few growing seasons is beneficial. After the initial pruning, fertilize your tree when prune (see the pruning section for when to prune), or fertilize later in the season after the tree enters winter dormancy. Choose a fertilizer that is well suited to your tree species.   

 

Protecting New Trees Starts at Their Roots  

Mulching helps to insulate the soil from the heat and the cold, retain moisture, reduce weeds, keep the soil looser, and reduce the potential for trees to be damaged by lawn mowers.  

The Arbor Day Foundation recommends preparing to apply mulch by removing grass and plants from the area around the tree, at least 3 feet around for small trees and up to 10 feet around for larger trees. Fill the bare area with natural mulch such as wood chips or bark pieces, 2 to 4 inches deep, but keep the mulch a few inches away from the tree trunk. Never mound up mulch against the tree. 

 

 

Watering is Key to Tree Health  

In the first few seasons after your tree has been planted, it will need a lot of water to ensure that roots are well established. Water frequently to make sure roots are moist all the way down.  

Regularly water trees in spring, summer, and fall to keep them healthy. Frequent watering is essential for trees of all ages during extreme heat or drought. 

It is also important to continue watering trees through the fall to ensure there is enough moisture to keep them healthy over the winter.  

Pruning Helps Protect Trees 

The need for pruning trees changes with the reasons and the seasons.  

Prune any time to remove dead wood.  

To encourage vigorous new growth in the spring, prune in winter when trees are dormant, after the coldest part of winter has passed,.  

For trees that bloom in spring, prune when the flowers fade. 

Trees and shrubs that bloom in mid- to late-summer should be pruned in winter or early spring.  

Prune in summer to direct growth or remove branches you don’t want, but wait until after seasonal growth is complete.   

To avoid spreading fungi spores that cause decay, do not prune in the fall.  

Protect Trees Against Winter Damage 

Cold temperatures and freezing winds can damage trees. Tree.com recommends that if you are planting a new tree, try to choose a location that is sheltered from strong winds, and use stakes and tree wrap for additional protection. 

Water all trees regularly during the fall before the ground freezes. The moist soil will help to insulate the roots and tree.  

Rock salt is damaging to all trees. If your tree is on the parkway of a street that is heavily salted, try to provide a barrier that will prevent the salt from hitting the tree or melting into the soil.  

On your own property, use ice melt products that do not contain sodium chloride.  

5 Ways to Save Your Mature Trees 

Neighborhood resident and trained Treekeeper Mike Mulcahy is a fierce advocate for mature trees. He offers five ways to keep your trees healthy. 

  1. Water. The best thing you can do for mature trees is water them – especially parkway trees. Lack of water stresses trees and makes them vulnerable to pests and disease. You cannot overwater mature trees.
  2. Mulch. Mulch is for newly planted trees. The root systems of mature trees are spread out, far away from the base of the trunk. Piling mulch around the trunk is just for “show” and can be detrimental to trees when the piles are mounded up, trapping moisture that can cause rot.
  3. Planter Boxes. Do not pile up soil around the base of a tree to create planters or plant flowers in raised beds. These practices create an above grade environment for roots to grow up and wrap around the base of the trunk, girdling the tree which strangles the growth and introduces rot. If you use a landscape companies that builds up soil and mulch around your trees, ask them to stop. Morton Arboretum backs this up. 
  4. Trees vs. Grass. Mature trees send feeder roots all the way out to circumference of their canopies at a depth of about six inches. When you spread weedkiller over your lawn, you are effectively killing your trees. Weedkillers are for broadcast weeds, and trees are broadcast flora, susceptible to all sorts of weed killer. Forget having beautiful lawns; trees give you a much better return on your investment. 
  5. Compacting Root Systems. Vehicles belong on streets and driveways,  not in yards or on lawns.   When you drive and/park cars, trucks, and heavy construction vehicles over a tree’s feeder roots, it compacts them, causing damage that suffocates the whole feeding process of the tree, ultimately causing the tree to die. Often, when a tree gets blown down in a storm or dies from damage or disease, the vehicles used to remove it drive over the root systems of healthy trees nearby, creating a repeat of the process. Oak trees are especially vulnerable to this, and unless the practice of driving any vehicles onto lawns ends, we will keep losing trees in our community. 

Plant a Tree This Fall!  

Do you have a place for a new tree? The City of Chicago has hundreds of trees available to plant in the 19th Ward before the onset of winter. If you want free City of Chicago trees for your parkways, you can still submit a request to CHI 311 at 311.chicago.gov.  Select Service Request; then “park, trees, environment;” choose “trees” then choose “tree planting request.”  You do not have to have an account to request trees. 

Save the Trees!  

Do you have more tree questions? Edna White Community Garden director Kathy Figel is available to answer questions and provide reliable resources for tree care. Contact her at kathyfigel@icloud.com  

Do you want to be a better tree hugger?  We need you on BAPA’s Save the Trees committee! Email Mary Jo Viero, mjviero@bapa.org for information and the date of the next meeting.  

 

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