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As you can tell by the headline, this week's entry encompasses issues I've noticed regarding tree care over the past month.
And if you listened to the GardenLine radio show last weekend, you'll note that it's also a re-visiting of a consultation I was called in on regarding the use of a weed-and-feed on a lawn immediately following a deep-root tree feeding. For the record, that's a no-no and an almost-certain death sentence for a tree. I don't recommend weed-and-feeds with atrazine for lawns in the first place, and this is a perfect example why.
I would never recommend to anyone, anywhere, at any time using anything related to a weed-and-feed immediately after deep-root feeding a tree. In the consultation I went on, a tree company was first blamed for killing some trees with a deep-root feeding. After I discovered that an atrazine-based weed-and-feed was used a day following the deep-root feeding, I had the homeowner read the bag of weed-and-feed, which warned "DO NOT APPLY ANYWHERE NEAR THE ROOT ZONE OF TREES OR SHRUBS."
After I went into detail on the subject during the radio show, a lot of other questions seemed to be generated. "When is the best time to deep-root feed trees?" "What do you feed them with?" "Is it too late to prune trees?" "Do tree companies still 'top' trees?" "What's the average price of a feeding ... and the average price of removals ... and stump-grindings?" And, the list goes on and on.
So, let's do some tree talk this week!
Below are questions I've received in email, on Facebook or on the air in the past few weeks. If your question isn't covered, feel free to email me beginning Friday, and I'll will try to address it either online or on the air this weekend.
Q: I've heard you say that January and February are the best months to prune trees, but I didn't get it done. Is it too late?
A: After the drought we've experienced over the past two years, many people have hesitated to prune. That's fine because it may actually help determine what parts actually are dead from drought damage. That also means that this March and April, for the first time in years, I'm recommending that anyone who needs major pruning should check out www.afftree.com. It's the company I recommend for such pruning, because they know how to avoid over-pruning or mis-pruning at this time of year.
Q: You were poking fun at a homeowner who had his trees "topped." I always thought that was a normal practice for tree companies?
A: Maybe 30-plus years ago. And I wasn't poking fun at the homeowner ... I was ridiculing the tree company for a practice that has long been considered one of the worst things to do to a tree. Any tree company in Houston that still recommends "topping" trees is nowhere near up to date on tree-care practices.
Q: My fruit tree doesn't seem to know what season it is. It's covered with fruit and blooms and growing like crazy. So, do I still prune in March?
A: Yes, you prune almost any fruit tree in March. This is especially true for citrus trees right now, even those still covered in fruit from last winter but producing new blooms like crazy. Remember, with almost all fruit trees - stone fruit and citrus especially - you only need 10-20 percent of blooms to realize a great crop.
Q: What's the average cost of deep-root feeding trees? I have big ones.
A: The bigger the tree, the harder to feed yourself. So I recommend that tree companies perform this process for you a couple times a year. The average cost for a 20-year-old oak is about $175. The more trees you have, the less it will cost per tree. For example, if you have about 10 mature pines or oaks, you can get the cost for a professional deep-root feeding down to as little as $75 per tree. A tree company doesn't want to come out to your place for a single tree. They'll usually recommend that you do it yourself. Also, if you have trees under 10 years old in your landscape, you should do those on your own, too.
Q: What do you actually recommend I use for deep-root feeding?
A: I've said this before and I'll say it again: As long as it's organic, I don't care what you use. What I don't recommend are those feeding spikes or stakes. If you want to read more about deep root feeding yourself, please CHECK THIS TIP SHEET.
Q: Is there a "best time" to deep-root feed trees?
A: Not really. There are better times than others, but when you get down to it, as long as you use anything organic, you can do it any time of year. This March, April and May could be the best window this year. Just remember that if you do it twice a year, do it again six months after the first one.
Q: You told a lady last weekend that if her trees were a certain size, she should do the pruning herself. In fact, you suggested she buy a chain saw. At what size ... or at what age ... do you think I need to be hiring this work out?
A: Trees younger than 10 years can likely be pruned or deep-root fed by a homeowner. But there's also the "Hug Test." Can you give your tree a hug and touch your hands together? Once you get to the point where you cannot hug a tree, like you're hugging a person, it's time to call in the professionals. And since a half-day's work by a tree company costs $350-$750, you can see why I recommended the purchase of a chain saw. By the way, the one place I recommend for chain saws is Saw House at 9860 Aldine-Westfield. Mention you heard about them on GardenLine.
Q: Why wouldn't I want to go with the cheapest tree-pruning bid? It doesn't seem like a big deal, and I could save money!
A: It actually is a big deal! If you've ever used a chain saw on a 12-inch log, you know how heavy it can be. The real question is why can some companies bid out a job for $250 while others might want $400 for the same tree? In almost all cases, you can bet that the lowest bidder does not have insurance, much less workman's comp insurance for their workers. So, let's say something happens to an uninsured worker on your property. You and your homeowner's insurance company are liable for the medical costs. And what if a limb went crashing into your neighbor's house, fence or car? Again, you're liable if you hired a tree company without insurance. So, at the very least make sure you see proof that they have insurance and workman's comp. If they can't or won't show proof of insurance, move on to the next bid.
Q: Did you say that hiring a stump-grinding service is better than trying to dissolve it on your own? I really don't want to pay for that!
A: If you want to plant something in that area anytime in the next year, you HAVE to have the stump ground out. A stump-grinding really isn't that expensive when you consider how much you'd spend on labor and chemicals to work it out yourself. A typical stump-grinding is about $150-$175 per tree, and can get it down to as little as $100-$125 each if you have three or more to be done. I've never heard of a stump-grinding on a 20- to 25-year-old tree costing more than $300. The cost can go up, though, based on travel and when stumps are of an extreme size.
You may know that I only endorse one tree company on the radio. That's Affordable Tree Service at 713-699-2663. They are quite good at getting GardenLine listeners better deals on pruning, feeding, spraying, stump grinding and even planting. But in all honesty, they are not the only good tree service out there, and with all the work available, I'm not telling you that this is the "only" tree company to call. They are the just one I trust to take care of GardenLine listeners in an affordable way. But, by all means call around and get at least three bids for any tree work you want done. Just make sure that Affordable Tree Service is one of those bids. What you'll find in almost every case is that they won't be the most expensive, and they won't be the cheapest, but they will be the most affordable bid considering all factors.
And one final question ...
Q: I need some big trees, like 100-gallon plus, but I don't think I can plant them myself. Or even with help from six of my best friends. What would you recommend?
A: I recommend a number of area tree farms. All have their own professional planting services, and they have the appropriate tools and tractors to get the job done right the first time. I can't count how many times I've received emails and phone calls from people who bought a 100-gallon tree because the deal was "too good to pass up" but ended up killing it through improper planting methods. It's such hard work, many end up taking disasterous short cuts. Do-it-yourselfers should stick to planting trees that are 60 gallons or smaller. Almost all of these tree farms or wholesale tree operations have "turnkey" service — you pick out the tree, and they deliver and professionally plant it ... as big as 100 or 200 gallons.
U.S. Trees of Texas - Cude Cemetery Road, Willis
Verdant Tree Farm - Barker-Cypress at Clay Road, Katy (They are serious with immediate-impact palms.)
National Tree & Shrub - Katy Freeway at Chimney Rock
Shades of Texas - Genoa Red Bluff, a mile east of Beltway 8
Groundworks, Texas (The Palm Station) - Interstate 45 at Spring-Stuebner (The actual farm is in Alvin)