Zen and the Art of Tree Maintenance

 By Diane Tait

Image courtesy Pixabay
Poet Joyce Kilmer said it best. “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.”  Trees are without a doubt a source of joy and wonder.  They provide a home for songbirds, a source of shade, they help mitigate noise and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, plus they protect property from wind and weather.  A live oak can reach sixty feet in height and have a crown spread of one hundred feet or more.  Festooned with long beards of Spanish moss, live oaks are one of the majestic emblems of the deep south.  That being said, when hurricane season rears its ugly head, live oaks and other large shade trees can do a great deal of property damage should they topple over or shed a trunk-like limb.  To help you keep your chi in harmony with your trees, I thought I’d take the time to tell you ten things you need to consider when it comes to maintaining the trees that adorn your property.

  1. What do you need to do before you plant a tree in your yard?

If you’ve been thinking about planting a tree, there are a few things you need to know.  First of all, trees grow both up and down.  That means before you start digging a hole, you need to think ahead to imagine where spreading tree limbs and roots are going to be in ten or twenty years.  Plant a mighty oak too close to your home, a powerline, or a sidewalk and you could find yourself in a pickle when wind-whipped tree limbs knock out your power or strip the shingles off your roof.  With some trees, their roots can grow farther than their limbs spread.  This could someday buckle your sidewalk or undermine your home’s foundation.  While you might want trees to help shade your home during the long hot Florida summer, make sure you choose the kinds that can tolerate the kind of wind gusts that accompany a named storm.  Live oaks, crepe myrtles, and cypresses grow thick bark and strong roots that can withstand storm-force winds.

  1. You need to plan before you plant.

If the thought of a tree crashing down on your home keeps you up at night, consider planting trees in groups on your property.  A solitary tree is more likely to fall during a windstorm while trees planted in groups are much less likely to topple in high winds.  A grove of trees also protects your property better against wind, rain, and hail than does a lone tree.  Better still when it comes to wind and runoff mitigation are trees, shrubs, and groundcover planted together.  To maximize shade, plant shade trees on the south, west, and east sides of your home.  This way they’ll cast their shade on your home in the summer while allowing the sun to warm it in the winter.  If you already have other trees in your yard, make sure you don’t plant new trees too close to them.  Like people, tall trees need room to breathe.

Image courtesy Pixabay

  1. Getting to the root of the problem.

While a tree’s root system can extend far beyond the trunk, the bulk of them lie in the top two feet of soil where oxygen is readily available.  If they’re to grow, tree roots require the right conditions.  If they get cut or buried under new fill which can occur when planting a new tree nearby, one or both trees can suffer.  If the soil under which they lay is compacted by a vehicle parked atop them or heavy equipment transiting over them, the roots can suffocate.  If you’re planning on doing a yard makeover that necessitates the use of a tractor, front end loader, or a bobcat, make sure you speak with the contractor to make sure your existing trees aren’t harmed in the process.  If possible, erect a barrier just outside the existing trees’ drip lines to direct heavy equipment, construction supplies, and workers away from sensitive root systems. This is the outer circumference of the branches where excess moisture is shed when it rains.

  1. Water you supposed to do?

While well-established trees need little or no added moisture, newly planted ones require water two to three times a week during the spring and summer.  And I’m not talking about running a sprinkler and expecting a newly rooted tree to fend for itself.  I’m talking about hand watering. A tree with a 2-inch diameter trunk requires 4-6 gallons of water with each irrigation.  Once the tree is better established in a few months, you can cut back the watering to once a week. 

  1. When and why you need to prune your trees.

While it’s obvious that trees need pruning, especially of dead or dying branches when it comes to cutting back healthy ones it’s vital that a homeowner knows when and why it should be done.  As trees grow, they tend to follow the path of least resistance in order to get the most light.  This means a tree won’t necessarily grow symmetrically.  If a tree starts growing in a way that puts more weight on one side of a trunk than the other, it can cause an imbalance that could result in a tree toppling over.  This is one reason that tall shade trees should be pruned back every couple of years to balance their center of gravity.  The other reason to trim back perfectly healthy limbs is to keep them from coming into contact with your home.  The best time to trim trees is during the winter when the growing cycle is over.  Trimming trees and bushes during their dormant cycle allows them to heal faster and grow better during the spring and summer.

  1.   How close is too close?

Another thing that some homeowners fail to factor in is how far tree limbs can whip during high winds.  Depending on the type and height of a tree, it’s possible for limbs to whip as much as six feet.  That means what may appear is a safe distance for limbs to hang down over a roof could be way to close for comfort when hurricane season is upon us.

Image courtesy Pixabay

  1. When should you cut a tree down?

Just as you need to make sure tree limbs and roots aren’t too close to your home, sidewalk and backyard shed, you also need to make sure there aren’t any trees on your property that are sick, rotting, or leaning.  Sometimes it’s necessary to cut down a tree that’s likely to fall down at some point in the near future.  If you don’t, it’s possible that your insurance carrier won’t accept the responsibility for any damage caused by a neglected tree that falls on your property.  

  1. What should you do if a tree falls on your property?

Rather than calling a tree removal service, you should first call your insurance agent to file a claim and get an adjuster assigned to your case.  By all means, do what’s necessary to keep the rain out.  Document the damage by taking photos of the fallen tree or limb, as well as any damage.  Deal with the disaster in the proper order to make sure you get your claim approved. If a tree hits an insured structure on your property, your homeowner's policy covers the cost of tree removal minus the deductible.  However, if the tree that fell on your property didn't damage a covered structure, this usually means the cost of debris removal isn't covered unless it blocks entry to your home, falls across your driveway, or blocks a ramp designed to assist the handicapped.

  1. What should you do if a neighbor’s tree falls on your property?

While your homeowner’s insurance should pay for any damage done to your property by a neighboring tree (minus the deductible), there’s one more thing you need to know.  If the tree that did the damage was decrepit or diseased and you did nothing to express your concerns to your neighbor, your insurance company may deny the claim.  If, on the other hand, you expressed your concerns to your neighbor about the ill-fated tree in writing, and/or paid to have the sickly tree evaluated by a professional tree surgeon, this will put you in a better position to have your claim approved.

  1. What should you do if your tree falls on your neighbor’s property?

While any damage done to a neighboring property doesn’t make you liable, you should still take the time to document the damage and report it to your insurance company. Your neighbor may not be happy about it, but their homeowner’s insurance is there to cover the damage.  If your tree fell on their car, the comprehensive portion of their insurance policy should pay for the damage.  If your neighbor gives you a hard time, put them in touch with your insurance agent, who will be glad to explain how homeowner’s insurance works.

When it comes to the zen of tree maintenance, Joyce Kilmer summed it up like this: Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.

Diane Tait owns and operates A&B Insurance.  To find out more about how you can save money on boat insurance, go to her site.


  1. With hurricane season right around the corner, the time to assess the trees in your yard is sooner rather than later.

  2. Trees are wonderful things until one falls on your house. Maintaining your trees by annually trimming them is a must in Florida.


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