“Poems are made by fools like me,
but only God can make a tree.” – Joyce Kilmer

This past weekend we held a Nature Talk on Trees and Their Care. David Wallace, a local arborist who has tended to many of Winkler’s trees, shared his fascination with trees and explained how we can better care for them.

As Wallace spoke, his contagious passion for trees was obvious. Throughout his talk he emphasized the way trees have worked their way, often more than we realize, into our culture and hearts. He opened with a reading of Joyce Kilmer’s poem ‘Trees’, reminded us we even bring them into our homes for Christmas, and are prominent in our art.

The characteristics of trees are surprisingly varied and not always straight-forward. For example, the Larch is a needled coniferous tree that reproduces using cones, but it is also deciduous in that it loses its needles in the fall. In general though, trees are woody plants that are, by an arborist’s definition, taller than three meters. They grow through photosynthesis as they take carbon out of the air. Structurally, they can either have one stem or trunk or multiple stems that support branches. They reproduce through cones, seeds, or suckers. Roots anchor them into the ground and can reach as far as the height of a tree plus a third more from the main trunk.

Fascinatingly, we still do not fully understand how trees function. Wallace demonstrated this by sharing a video exploring the question of how trees can transport water so high up. The answer to which is surprisingly complex.

In terms of they way they contribute to ecosystems and communities, trees help cool areas and also improve air quality and quantity. They provide shelter to other plants, animals and insects. A 2015 study by the University of Toronto show that having 10 more trees on a block can increase the well-being of its residents equal to a $10,000 raise or being seven years younger.

Caring for trees is not always an easy task. Some scenarios can be tricky to discern. Also, tree work can be dangerous due to the heights, sharp tools, and possibility for weak branches. Therefore, it can often be helpful to hire an arborist. It is safest to prune trees from the ground or a ladder. If climbing the tree is necessary, it is best to use a harness. However, for those wanting to try their hand at caring for their trees, pruning is essential for ensuring a healthy, safe, beautiful tree.

First of all, it is usually best to prune trees when they are dormant in winter. It is less energy-depleting for them this way and it doesn’t interrupt important processes such as growing or producing flowers. Furthermore, a pruning cut opens up the tree to threats from disease and insects and the cold weather reduces the threat of both of these.

One of the goals of pruning is to increase airflow through the tree. To thin the branches, prioritize dead branches and branches that cause rubbing.

Single-stemmed trees should be pruned in such a way to maintain a single stem, which it is more secure. Often between 3-6 feet in growth a single-stemmed tree will try to split and grow two leaders. In these situations prune one of the two leaders.

When making a cut, do so just past a bud or as close to the trunk or branch as possible. Make cuts at 45 degree angles. To prevent damage while removing larger branches, it is good to make a smaller cut underneath the branch and then a main cut from the top just past this cut. This prevents the bark from tearing down the tree. To finish, cut off the stub as close to the trunk as possible, cutting from the ridge to the collar.

Different types of shrubs will respond differently to pruning, so research your shrub before making any cuts. Some shrubs can be pruned after flowering to encourage more flowering. Others should be pruned while dormant. Most should be limited to 7-10 stems and the biggest ones should be prioritized for removal. For some shrubs it is helpful to cut the entire plant to about an inch from the ground to encourage regeneration.

This was the second of our Nature Talks for this season. The topic of the next Nature Talk will be ‘Of Things Unseen’. Elmer Joy, part of the A Rocha team in Winnipeg, will help us recognize the overlooked and invisible parts of creation. This will help us develop greater appreciation and wonder for God and creation. The talk will take place on January 23rd from 7:30pm-9:30pm at Covenant Mennonite Church in Winkler.