Trees are essential for life on Earth, and they make our lives and environment better. They clean the air, mitigate the effects of climate change, provide shade that can cool down entire neighborhoods, house pollinators, and ease the burden on storm water systems, just to name a few.
“They also contribute to human health,” says Sal Alvarez, tree care manager and International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)-certified arborist with Friends of the Urban Forest. Research shows trees reduce stress, speed up recovery for people in hospitals, and improve people’s performance at work and school. Plus, trees are gorgeous.
But in order to thrive, trees require TLC. From seedlings to steadfast stands older than the U.S. Constitution, here’s how to protect and care for the trees in your yard.
Get to know your tree.
If you’re planting a tree, choose wisely. “For homeowners who do not want to be overly involved in maintenance of their trees, [it’s] best to plant a native species,” says Margaret Lowman, executive director of TREE Foundation and author of The Arbornaut: A Life Discovering the Eighth Continent in the Trees Above Us. Other trees may be inappropriate for fire-prone areas. For example, eucalyptus trees burn as part of their reproductive strategy, and they shouldn’t be planted near homes in regions subject to fires, Lowman says.
Local nurseries, extension services, and urban forestry councils can help steer you toward appropriate species, and share insight on the best way to care for your trees, from watering needs to appropriate pruning.
Once you’ve chosen a tree, “plant it in a location that the tree can thrive,” says E.J. Cochrum, certified arborist and member of the Trees Matter board. Ask your local nursery about the conditions the tree needs, but also keep your space in mind. If your tree is surrounded by cement, it’s hard for water to make it to the roots, Lowman points out. “As a rule of thumb, tree roots extend as far out from the trunk as the canopy, so make sure you don’t starve your tree by surrounding it with a patio or driveway,” she says.
For trees already on your property, you can get information on their specific needs from the International Society of Arboriculture, the Arbor Day foundation, your local county extension, or your state forest services, Cochrum says.