After a blistering and scorching summer, many of us in Washington, DC area look forward to the long autumn months that slide gradually into winter. It can be easy to imagine that your trees also look forward to this break from the extreme heat, and in a sense they do. Think of your trees dealing with the weather and seasonal changes the same way you do: In the Spring, they sprout buds and leaves to protect them from the impending heat wave much same way that you will wear a hat, or bring an umbrella with you to the beach. This shielding of direct sunlight is as vital to trees as it is to you. Remember, leaves are the only sunscreen that trees have. When the autumn months come, and it is bearable to be outside again, you are less cautious, and so are your trees. They will shed their protective leaves. It is easy to view this as a dormant period for tree growth, care, and maintenance, but there is much work being done under the surface.
It is during the fall months that trees work to repair and strengthen their root system. Now that valuable moisture and nutrients aren’t needed to support the leaves that protect it from the sun, trees divert those vital resources to strengthening and expanding their foundation. During the fall months, the soil retains some of the warmth that has been baked in for months, while the branches thrive in the crisp night air. This combination makes fall an ideal time for tree care and planting.
Early September is a great time to wrap the trunks of young trees in our mid-Atlantic climate. This will discourage attention from wildlife, and serve to strengthen the tree before the dormant months of winter. As always, mulch should be applied copiously (2”-3” thick). This will allow for the retention of moisture and nutrients that have been gathered through the summer months. Pruning of dead or dying branches should also take place in the fall months. This helps to prevent the unnecessary distribution of resources to areas of the tree that are unsustainable.
As you can see, the autumn months may seem like a leisurely respite from the summer heat, but your trees are doing the work necessary to provide shade from next year’s scorcher. Help them out a bit if you can! We would love to hear your questions on fall tree care, leave us a comment! Enjoy this glorious fall weather. It’ll be here, we promise.