• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Selecting the best trees for a yard

Choosing the right species of tree for a yard plays a huge role in whether or not a homeowner will get what they want – whether that’s a large shade tree or a smaller ornamental flowering tree, according to arborist Ross Raterman. He said knowing a tree’s ideal growing conditions will help ensure it can thrive.

“All different species of trees have different ideal conditions,” explained Raterman, president and co-owner of Dave Leonard Tree Specialist on Old Frankfort Pike. “Some trees will do okay in compacted harsh soil conditions – heavy clay… Some trees need nice well-aerated … soil to do well.”

Raterman said consulting with a certified arborist will go a long way toward helping a homeowner make a good selection when choosing a tree. He said online resources, including the International Society of Arboriculture (treesaregood.org), can provide a homeowner with reliable information on tree care issues.

Besides adding beauty to a yard, Raterman said a tree can increase property values while lowering heating and cooling costs if strategically placed in a yard.

However, several factors can limit a tree’s lifespan or cause it damage. For example, “a tree can actually strangle itself with its own root system,” explained Raterman.

He said girdling roots are a common occurrence with red maples if those trees are not planted correctly or if they are mulched too high.

“A lot of tree issues are environmental-related, which is why it’s very important to select the correct tree for the site,” said Raterman.

Because they grow here naturally, Raterman said, “We try to stick as closely to native trees as possible.” Those trees have adapted over the years to thrive in Central Kentucky’s soils and weather conditions, he added.

“So they’re going to deal with the highs and the lows, the wets and the dries of our climate better than the average tree that didn’t adapt to grow here,” explained Raterman. Examples of native Kentucky trees that thrive in this area include the bur oak and chinkapin oak, which “both grow larger in Central Kentucky than anywhere else in the world,” he said.

Smaller ornamental trees that thrive in the commonwealth include redbuds.

All of those trees love Kentucky’s lime-base soil.

Overall, Raterman said, “We always recommend (planting) a variety of species,” to reduce the chances of widespread disease.

The most common mistake when planting a tree involves digging a hole that’s too deep. A tree’s root flare should always remain visible at the surface, explained Raterman.

“If your tree looks like it’s going into the ground like a light pole,” he said, “that’s not right. You want to see that root flare at the soil surface.”

Pruning can improve the structure of a tree by removing defects such as dead branches. However, Raterman said incorrect pruning methods can also cause lasting harm to a tree.

Raterman cited topping a tree as the most well-known and obvious incorrect pruning method. “There’s never a good reason to top a tree,” he added. Also, topping can create a dangerous situation because of the tree damage caused by that method.

Disease provides another challenge to ensuring a tree’s health. Fungal diseases are more prevalent when weather conditions are right, according to Raterman.

He said those diseases often do not affect the long-term health of a tree. However, bacterial diseases – such as bacterial leaf scorch in pin oaks – are more problematic and eventually result in a tree’s removal.

The biggest threat to ash trees in this area remains the emerald ash borer – an invasive beetle that can cause a significant amount of canopy dieback in one year.

The latest treatment, which Raterman described as being similar to an IV for humans, injects medicine into a tree and offers protection from an infestation of the emerald ash borer for two years.

“It’s very successful if the tree is protected before it’s damaged by the borer,” said Raterman. He said treatments are typically successful as long as there’s less than 30 percent dieback in a tree’s canopy.

“It isn’t like maybe your tree’s going to be hit by emerald ash borer or maybe it’s not. If you have an ash tree it will be hit by emerald ash borer,” said Raterman.

He said blue ash trees are much less common and also less susceptible to emerald ash borer than white and green ash trees, but “we don’t recommend that ash trees be planted any more.”

There are many good alternatives to ash trees, said Raterman.

He described removing a tree or a limb as “dangerous work.”

“So it’s important for people to know what they should do and shouldn’t do,” he said.

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