Homeowners are accustomed to doing whatever is necessary to maintain the value and integrity of their property, from replacing the roof to adding an additional bathroom. What they don’t often consider, however, is the necessary maintenance of trees and shrubs.

Cabot J. Cameron, consulting arborist and founder of Nashville’s Druid Tree Service Inc., works directly with homeowners to develop a stewardship plan to ensure the health and appearance of signature trees and shrubs over time. “It’s important because, just like any valuable asset, you have to plan to make sure it holds its value or even increases its value,” he says.

Fertility is a big part of caring for trees and bringing them back to full health and vigor.

Maintaining fertility of your trees and shrubs is key to ensuring that they thrive.

a stewardship plan to evaluate the fertility, pests and pathogens impacting the health and vigor of the ornamentals, shade trees and wood shrubs.

A stewardship plan is vital to evaluate the fertility, pests and pathogens impacting the health and vigor of the ornamentals, shade trees and woody shrubs on your property.

Perhaps the most significant sign that a tree is unhappy — what Cabot calls a “stress signal” — is a lack of green. The leaves may be yellow, or they could change colors too early in the late summer/early fall season. “It can be the result of a fertility problem, where the vascular column [of the tree] isn’t conducting sap,” Cabot says. “Or maybe the acidity of the soil isn’t right, so there’s a lack of breaking down of minerals to make chlorophyll.”

Certain insects present a more obvious concern. Bagworms can eat an entire tree in a matter of weeks according to Cabot, and the emerald ash borer, which is destructive to Ash trees underscores the importance of preventative treatments for the trees in a landscaped yard. Spider mites, on the other hand, don’t actually consume trees, they just suck out the chlorophyll, turning leaves or needles an opaque color.

The larger image shows the “bag” in which the bagworm lives. The inset image shows the damage bagworms can cause, in this instance, having destroyed half of this shrub. Images: bagworm, Purdue University; shrubs, University of Maryland Extension

As spring turns into summer, fungi can also be a threat — especially after a wet spring like the one Nashville has been experiencing. “Fungi can turn the leaves black,” Cabot explains. “They’ll consume the leaves, and the oxidation of the leaves makes them turn black, so you have black spots or tar spots.”

This issue is more prevalent when homeowners forget to turn off their sprinkler systems during a rainy period. “You could actually fill up the root system area of the tree and get wet roots to the point where the roots can’t breathe,” says Cabot. “Roots have to breathe just like the leaves. You can cause the roots not to breathe properly, and they can die.”

Ultimately, the best way to prevent these issues from occurring — and decimating the value of signature trees and shrubs — is to establish a stewardship plan. The idea may seem complicated, but Cabot assures us that it’s not. In a once-yearly visit he can quickly assess the current state of a tree or shrub and also make any necessary recommendations about what needs to be done and when.

“If someone wants me to monitor their property once per year, we make an appointment, and I go out and check for safety and fertility, and then for aesthetic contribution,” Cabot says.

This leaf shows a pattern created by the piercing-sucking of spider mites. Image: Scot Nelson/ Flickr CC via NCSU.edu

As an example, maintaining tree safety could involve removing large dead or dangerous limbs that hang over a sidewalk or roof. “There are two reasons things fall off trees; one of them is gravity,” says Cabot. “The other is wind load. If there’s wind, it will loosen a branch if it’s dead, or depending on the speed of the wind, it can tear a branch or cause a failure in the junction of the branch if it has too many leaves. That’s called wind load failure.”

In anticipating these potential events, Cabot typically recommends either adding cables to reinforce the branch structure, or removing some branches to thin the tree.

But while insects, fungi or oversized branches could be cause for concern, not all will necessitate immediate action. This is partly because some remedies are season-specific, like trees that are best pruned when the weather is coldest, versus those that should be pruned in late winter, just before spring. Likewise, some insects must be treated — by injecting a mild pesticide in the vascular column of a tree — before they have even emerged from their eggs. Then, once the newly hatched insect takes it first bite of the tree, it immediately dies.

Treatments may also be delayed simply because the problem isn’t serious enough yet. Cabot calls it a threshold of tolerance. “It’s okay to have some insects and some yellow leaves,” he says. “For instance, an oak tree supports about 50 different kinds of insects that birds eat, but it’s within the threshold of tolerance, so it won’t hurt the tree.”

Of course, the only way to determine whether your trees’ issues will resolve themselves over time is to seek out the help of a professional, who can help stave off potential threats before they even arise.

“Again, the priority [of your stewardship plan] should be safety, then the health of the trees, and then the aesthetic contribution,” says Cabot. “So if you keep that in mind, and you see something that looks odd or amiss, it’s a good time to call before it’s too late.”

Druid Tree Service, Inc., is fully licensed and bonded and offers stewardship plans for an estate, hazard risk assessment, tree illness diagnosis, ornamental pruning, pest and disease control and pre-construction site assessment. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more, visit their website, and to schedule an appointment, call (615) 373-4342 or email [email protected].

This article is sponsored by Druid Tree Service, Inc.