Sometimes, in trying to take the very best care of our yards, we can do unintended damage.
For example, mowers and string trimmers that use a monofilament line for cutting down weeds and grass can be very damaging to young trees, which have relatively thin bark. If the line just barely hits the trunk, some bark will be removed. You might even remove an entire ring of bark all the way around the trunk, girdling the tree.
Mowers pushed hard or dragged around the base of young trees can be almost as damaging.
The part of a tree’s circulatory system that carries food manufactured by the leaves to the roots (which can make no food for themselves) lies just under the bark.
When mowers or string trimmers remove patches of bark, it interferes with the tree’s ability to send food to its roots. Deprived of food, the roots become stunted and function poorly, and that can lead to a stunted, unhealthy tree. Remove a complete ring of bark and you may cut off food to the roots altogether, causing the plant to die.
In addition to interfering with food movement, the open wounds created by mowers and trimmers can provide entry points for disease organisms that can cause decay.
To prevent these problems, do not allow grass to grow within a foot of the base of young trees for the first three to five years after planting. Spread mulch two or three inches thick evenly over the area, but pulled back slightly from the trunk. Any stray weeds can be pulled or killed with a quick spray of glyphosate, if necessary.
Shrubs are generally planted in beds, so they are less at risk. But I have seen this problem occasionally when ground covers, such as Asiatic jasmine, are trimmed away from the base of the shrubs with string trimmers. Whether you maintain your landscape yourself or pay someone to do it for you, don’t let this kind of needless damage happen to your tree and shrubs.
Trees are also vulnerable to root damage from construction and/or filling. If you plan on doing construction, whether building a new home, adding to an existing one or even putting in a patio or repairing driveways or sidewalks, tree roots will likely be an issue.
Tree roots extend well beyond the reach of the branches, and the majority of the feeder roots (those that absorb the water and minerals from the soil) are located in the upper 8 to 12 inches of the soil. This makes them much more vulnerable to damage than most people think. Tree roots are not expendable. They are the only way a tree can drink the water it needs, and they hold trees up during the high winds of hurricanes.
Another way gardeners damage landscape plants is by the improper use of pesticides and fertilizers. These products are useful and sometimes necessary to maintaining a healthy attractive landscape, but if misused they can do more harm than good.
You can avoid damaging plants with pesticides, such as insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, by carefully reading and following label directions. I know the print can be very fine, but do like me and get out the magnifying glass. Read the label completely right at the nursery before you purchase the product. This will give you a chance to ask any questions you might have about using the product.
Many people also damage plants with fertilizers or plant food. Gardeners often think if a little is good, more is even better. But fertilizers should never be applied stronger than label recommendations. You may apply less than is recommended, but mixing fertilizer stronger or applying more than is recommended on the label can lead to serious damage to your plant.