Gardening: Trees need maintenance to thrive

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Kay Sicheneder, a consulting arborist for Owen Tree Service (, is one of my go-to professionals when I have questions about trees and tree care. She has more than 25 years working in the industry and she’s passionate about the care of trees.   

Beech and maple trees make a golden Michigan forest. In periods of drought, a sudden thunderstorm may dump what seems like a large amount of water on the landscape, but when the soil is bone dry, much of it ends up in runoff and fails to permeate the soil.

Choosing the right tree for the right place is, of course, key. And proper planting and mulching is also important. But also, a critically important maintenance activity is trimming for structural integrity, which homeowners rarely do.

Take a maple tree, explains Sicheneder. They naturally form branches directly opposite each other, however the trees that grow in the forest, eventually shed their lower limbs, which are crowded out and shaded as the canopy grows in height.

However, when standing alone in the landscape lower limbs can become very large, as they are able to stretch horizontally to reach the light. This added weight creates greater stresses where limbs attach to the trunk than maples are built to withstand.

 According to Sicheneder, pruning to eliminate limb crowding on the trunk and shorting horizontal limbs can add decades to the life of a mature maple tree. 

She recommends young trees be pruned for structural integrity a few years after planting and then 3 times at 10 to 15 year intervals. Sicheneder says such maintenance has the potential to extend mature shade tree life by 50 years or more.  

The newest problem and a serious landscape issue that is becoming epidemic and killing trees, is the use of herbicides touted for long lasting, residual weed control warns Kay Sicheneder. Those containing the chemical Imazapyr have the potential to damage and kill landscape trees and shrubs. Ortho Ground Clear is a combination of Imazapyr and glyphosate. The label recommends its use for weed control on driveways and patios Imazapyr can travel with water to any plant roots that may grow under or around treated areas. Professionals have seen large trees and shrubs killed by such weed control used on gravel drives and paver bricks.

If you use a landscape service get a list of the products they use along with the active ingredients.

Roundup, once a proprietary brand name used by Monsanto to sell the herbicide glyphosate is now used to market a variety of lawn and garden products sold by Scotts Miracle-Gro and that can be confusing.  Be sure to read the labels carefully for use and content before buying or using any of these products.  

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at