GoodSeed Farm > Trees – Managing Volunteers

Trees – Managing Volunteers

There are young trees all around you every day. Some of them are in distress and need help; many are already going, wrong just like juvenile delinquent children, and need some “tough love” to help them grow up healthy and strong. Many trees go wrong and meet a bad end simply because no one looks after them when they’re young and need guidance. Did you ever think of adopting one? 

Whether it’s a “volunteer” on your property or you find it at a local nursery, it can be very rewarding to “adopt” a young tree. You can personally take it under your wing and make sure it grows ideally, reaches adulthood without mishap, and make sure it will live to a ripe old age while enriching everyone around it.

The first and most important gift you can give a young tree is to make sure it has a healthy, straight, strong “growth leader”, and only one. The growth leader is the main trunk, pointed straight and true at the heavens, with a healthy young sprout on the tip of it every year. It the tree has two or more trunks starting at the ground, or a “wishbone” low on the tree, it needs you to select the straightest, strongest, healthiest growth leader and heartlessly cut off the others.

The next step is to gradually “limb up” the tree just a little bit each year, cutting off the lowest limbs before they get too big. By definition, a shade tree is one you can walk under, so once it’s full grown there should be no limbs lower than seven feet up the trunk. This means that each year you should visit your tree and cut off a few more limbs, until there are no limbs lower than you can reach.  If any new sprouts emerge from the base of the tree or along the bare trunk, they should be cut off as well. 

If the tree is out in an open area it is likely to be selected by a male deer and “buck-rubbed”, breaking branches and scraping holes in the tender bark. You can protect it by loosely wrapping the trunk with wire fencing, which you’ll remove once the trunk is four or more inches thick and young bucks lose interest.

You can double the speed of growth of your tree by simply spraying the ground under it with Roundup. Roundup only kills if it’s on foliage, so it won’t hurt your tree. Killing weeds and grass in the tree root zone eliminates competition for water and food. Adding a few inches of mulch is an extra kindness you can do, helping the tree by keeping the roots moist.

Over the years we’ve “adopted” hundreds of trees on our farm and other places. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing my adoptees thrive and grow into huge, healthy, straight and shapely shade trees. It’s easy, and it’s rewarding. Look around you. There’s a young tree close by that just needs a little nudge from you.