Maintenance, care essential to healthy trees

GOSHEN COUNTY – A late winter storm that moved across portions of eastern Wyoming two weeks ago left a plethora of downed trees and branches in its wake.
In Cheyenne, for example, Mark Hughes, community forestry coordinator for the Wyoming State Forestry Division, said local street crews are still faced with the daunting task of picking up after that storm.
“There’s a month of cleanup the streets crews are still doing from branches down all over the city,” Hughes said. “If people had had their trees pruned, it could have prevented a lot of that damage.”
But spring is probably the worst time for routine pruning of trees, Hughes said. Except in cases of emergency, where obviously dead branches threaten property or the safety of people walking beneath, trees are best pruned during their dormant period in the cooler months of the year.
“Minor pruning can be done any time of the year,” he said. “But, during the active (growth) season, pruning creates temporary open wounds, opening an avenue for insects or disease to enter the tree.”
That doesn’t mean trees can be ignored in the spring. One Torrington homeowner had a crew working on Main Street north of downtown this week, removing what could be one of the oldest trees in the city.
As the work continued Monday, it became obvious the tree was dying, making it a potential damaging threat to the home sitting below its branches. Keeping an eye on trees, along with some regular care, can go a long way to preventing a similar situation elsewhere.
“The most important thing is, if they have larger, older trees, the trees could be declining,” Hughes said. “Just like any other plant, trees don’t live forever. It depends on the species of tree, too.”
Maintaining a healthy home arboriculture starts with selecting the right tree, said Caleb Carter, extension educator with the University of Wyoming-Goshen County Extension Service in Torrington. Making sure tree varieties are hardy and resistant to area-specific pests and diseases can go a long way toward property owners enjoying their trees for years to come.
“The number one thing is picking a tree that’s going to do well in our area, as well as in the specific site,” Carter said. “There’s a lot of concern about a six-inch tall tree turning into and 80-foot tall tree. People need to plan for down the road how big the tree is going to be.”
As with pruning, planting should ideally be done during the cooler months of the year to avoid stress shock to the tree. And making sure the tree has sufficient water is equally important, Carter said.
Lack of water is near the top of his list of things that stress trees, making them susceptible to a host of pests and diseases. And testing to see if the tree is getting sufficient water is simple.
“Get a rod or a long screwdriver, poke it into the ground, and see how far you can push it in,” Carter said. “If the soil is moist, you can push it into the soil. It will stop when it hits the dry layer.”
If the dry layer stops the probe after only six or so inches, the tree is not receiving sufficient water. For larger trees, the soil should be moist to a depth of at least 15 to 18 inches. That promotes deep root growth, which will help the tree find its own water further down in the soil, making it more likely the tree can survive the dryer weather of the summer months.
Also, trees should receive a good watering three times during the summer. Turning on a garden hose to a stream about the diameter of a pencil and letting it run for several hours, moving it around the tree periodically, will go a long way toward avoiding moisture stress.
“Most of the time, when I look at trees, the issues come back to some kind of stress,” Carter said. “Typically the tree is not getting enough water.
“A lot of pest and disease issues in trees come in because a tree is already stressed by a lack of water,” he said. “Watering deeper into the soil profile encourages the tree to root deeper, which means more soil profile to pull
water from.”
One of the easiest things homeowners can do on a daily basis is look at their trees, particularly the upper reaches of the canopy, as they leave the home in the morning or return at night. There are a few visible indicators the layperson can use to identify if a tree on their property is in trouble, Hughes said.
Signs of obviously dead branches, leaves or branches dying back and holes indicating voids in the tree are all signs there could be something wrong. If potential problems are noted, Hughes recommends contacting an arborist to examine the tree in question. Periodic checks by professionals are a good idea at any time, particularly as trees age.
“The frequency of checks depends on the species, the age and the location” he said. “I would say, periodically, you should have trees checked by a
certified arborist.
“The main thing is, if you have a big tree out in the field where nobody goes, that’s not such a big issue,” Hughes said. “If it’s along the Platte River, that’s not as big an issue as if it’s next to someone’s home.”
The International Society of Arboriculture hosts a fact-filled website with information on tree selection, maintenance and more. For more information, visit

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