Some tree myths you need to remember to forget

Staking trees is not typically necessary, except for those with large canopies in windy conditions. If you do need to stake a tree, using wide, flexible straps will not damage the bark.

I rarely leave a room once.

There's always something I forget. I walk three steps and forget where I'm going. I have to retrace my steps and re-enact what I was doing to get back on track.

When I was a kid, I memorized phone numbers, video games and chess openings. I knew the words to songs on the radio. Now, I carry a pen and a piece of paper in my back pocket just so I can remember to take out the garbage. But it works. It's like having my memory back.

There are many horticultural practices that would best be forgotten when it comes to trees.

Or at least better understood. Some practices that have been long disproved are still being applied today.

Wound paint

A branch is correctly pruned slightly off the trunk, outside the swollen collar, and will naturally seal the wound with callus tissue.

Wound paint does nothing to aid this process. In fact, there are some indications it may actually slow the process down.

Wound paint, or pruning paint, is a waste of time and money for the sake of caring for the tree. If you just like the way it looks, latex paint works just fine.


Most trees do not need to be staked. The exceptions are trees with large canopies that may be susceptible to blowing over.

Unstaked trees actually develop a more extensive root system and stronger trunk than staked trees.

Staking material is flexible, flat and breathable. Wire or rope can damage bark.

Staking should not be in place longer than a year or the material can become imbedded and girdle the trunk.

For fast-growing trees, staking may need to be removed earlier than a year.

Trunk wrap

Sunscald occurs on the trunks of newly planted trees, particularly thin-barked trees such as maples.

Tree wrap is a lightweight material intended to protect the trunk from temperature fluctuations on the south side of the tree.

However, research indicates tree wrap does very little to prevent this and has been shown to be ineffective against preventing insect damage.

Proper planting techniques, plant selection and adequate water are the best methods to prevent sunscald.

Compensation pruning

Tree canopies do not need to be pruned to compensate for root loss when planting.

Aside from removing damaged branches or cross-branching, the canopy should be left untouched to maximize photosynthetic production of carbohydrates.

As a result, root systems will become established more quickly.

Topped trees

Randomly chopping back a tree, often referred to as "topping," encourages growths called water sprouts.

Besides destroying the tree form, water sprouts are weak branches that form on the outer layers of the cambial tissue and are more susceptible to breaking than a true branch.

Properly pruning back to another branch encourages sturdy branch development.

Bleeding prune cuts

Pruning in spring can result in open wounds that weep watery sap.

This is especially true with certain trees such as river birch or maples, especially in the spring when sap is readily flowing.

While it looks like it hurts, trees are not damaged by oozing pruning wounds.

Fall and winter are ideal pruning times of the year because foliage has fallen from branches and structure is easier to judge.

And you'll avoid the unsightly bleeding.

Fertilizer spikes

The majority of tree roots are in the upper 12 inches to 24 inches of soil. Fertilizer spikes are concentrated sticks of nutrients that can burn feeder roots with a high concentration of salts.

Spikes also don't get nutrients to the majority of roots that are outside that small area.

A complete fertilizer can be applied as a slow-release granular, such as Osmocote, by spreading it over the soil surface beneath the mulch in May or June.

For more tree myths, look up the works of Alex Shigo ( Fortunately, I've been able to remember these myths. One of these days, I'll have to write them down.

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at