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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Is Your Tree Healthy?

The Following Are Fun Facts Learned From the MSU Master Gardener's Class!
Many people believe that if their bushes and trees have plenty of leaves on them, that they are healthy.  While green leaves on any plant are always a good sign, it is possible to miss more subtle signs of slowed growth in a woody plant.  So how do you tell if your plant is growing each summer?  How much has it grown?

The answer can be discovered by closely examining a tree branch and "reading" it.  In order to do this, first you need to know the parts of the branch:

 The "terminal bud"  is the tip of the branch or stem.  It is the point from which the growth for the coming year will take place. In other words, the plant will either grow longer or branch off from this point.

The "node" is a point at which a leaf or stem can grow.

The "internode" is the distance between two nodes or points of growth.

The "lateral buds" are points on the side of the stem, usually in the leaf axil or point of attachment where either leaves,
             shoots or flowers will develop later.

The "terminal scar" is the point where the terminal bud was sometime in the past.  If the tree is more than a couple of years old, you should see multiple terminal scars.  Each represents the the place where the terminal but was at the beginning of a new growing year.

It follows, then, that the space between the terminal bud and the first terminal scar is the amount that the tree grew last year.

The distance between the first terminal scar and the second terminal scar is the amount that the tree grew the year before last, and so on.

By looking at the distances between the terminal scars, you can physically measure the growth of the branch each year!

A wider distance between terminal scars represents more growth.  This meant that the tree was "happy" that year.  It was getting enough water, sun, and nutrients to grow a great deal.

A shorter distance between terminal scars would represent less growth. That means that the tree was lacking something that it needed to grow that year.  Perhaps there was a drought.  Perhaps it was overcast most of the year.
 For Example: In the picture above, last year (summer 2014) was a good year for growth.  There are about 7 inches between the terminal bud and the first terminal scar. The distance between the first terminal scar and second terminal scar represents the growth from 2013.  That year, the tree only grew about 3 inches.  In 2014, the tree grew about 4 inches; a bit more than in 2013. As a whole, this plant is showing a good amount of growth each year, and is healthy.

If a tree is very old, and the distances between terminal scars are consistently short, and/or there are no terminal scars, and little branching, that means something more serious is wrong.  But what could it be?
Take a look at the following:
  • Try taking a branch and leaves to an expert at a garden center.  This way, you can find out if your plant has a disease.  
  • Check the base of the tree.  Has a creature been eating away at the bark? If so, you may have to deter or set a trap for the guilty muncher.
  • Location, location, location.  Is your wet-loving tree planted on a dry hilltop? Is your dry-loving tree planted in a wet low point in your yard?  Is your smaller tree over-shadowed by a larger tree?  You may need to move your plant, or trim back plants in the immediate area. 
  •  Is your soil good?  How you can tell: get a soil test!  You can do this by mailing a sample to your local extension office.   If you live in Michigan, you can find more information about this here: (If you live elsewhere, simply Google "soil test extension 'name of your state.'")  Once your soil has been tested, the information that is mailed back to you will make recommendations about what types of fertilizer to use in order to supplement the soil around the tree.  CAUTION: Remember to always read the instructions and the fertilizer and to use only the amount recommended.  Too much fertilizer is a poison and pollutant to the environment! Also, please consider using organic fertilizers and manures first.
I hope that you found this article helpful! 

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