As temperatures cool in the month of September, planting and pruning season for trees returns. Whether working with a landscaper or doing it yourself, knowing some basics about trees is important. Randy Elstrott, a licensed and certified arborist with Bayou Tree, which provides maintenance, planting, beautification and removal, offers the following advice.

First, he recommends having trees over 35 feet tall looked at every few years by an arborist.

“People go to the doctor for a checkup and it’s not a bad idea to put your trees on a schedule,” said Elstrott. “In the Deep South, we have a lot of diseases and insects that plague our trees and some of our species are in trouble now.”

According to Elstrott some of the area’s beautiful century old palms have fallen prey to “lethal bronzing”, which causes fronds to prematurely droop and fall. Cercospora attacks crepe myrtles and ligustrum, turning their leaves red, yellow and blotchy in August, and anthracnose affects live and water oaks, causing discoloring, deforming and early dropping of leaves in late August and early September. Formosan termites, recognizable by the mud trails they leave up and down the trunk of a tree and treated with Termador, are another problem affecting area oaks. 

Other signs of distress include light, bleached-looking bark, a thinning canopy, undersized and faded leaves, and a marred trunk, which is often the result of injury from lawn mowers and weed eaters.

Inspecting trees is also important for both function and aesthetics. Elstrott advises assessing whether a tree is interfering with or disrupting anything – dropping leaves in a gutter, scraping a roof, or blocking a walkway, for example, and taking how you want a tree to look (size, canopy shape and so on) into account.

While pruning can be disruptive to trees in the growing season (“you’re taking away something that has value to the tree,” said Elstrott), systems slow down and go dormant in cooler weather and that makes it the optimum time to prune. Likewise, Elstrott says it’s a good time to plant because newly planted trees require a lot of water in the first few years and cooler weather requires less water. A 20-foot tree needs 11 gallons a day; a tree half that size needs half that. 

Finally, when planting trees in fall, he recommends knowing the particulars of the two types of trees that can be used. Balled and burlapped trees are grown on farms, then dug up and wrapped for shipping to customers. They lose part of their root system in the process and grow slowly in the first few years. Container trees are grown in containers which are removed before planting. They tend to do a little better in the first few years and are preferable if planting in warm weather.

  1. Consider how large the tree will grow when choosing its location. “One of the biggest mistakes is planting a tree where it will outgrow its space such as under powerlines,” said Elstrott.
  2. Consider what the tree is going to produce – i.e. flowers, leaves etc. Crepe myrtles drop their flowers creating a blanket that’s beautiful but is not desirable over a pool or walkway, for example.
  3. What are the light and water needs of the tree? Trees require a lot of water in the first few years. Does your hose or watering system reach the tree? Is it shaded or in direct sun?

About the Designer

A love of drawing and design led Metairie native Randy Elstrott first into the landscaping business, then to a 25-plus year career as an arborist.  He is licensed by the state of Louisiana and certified by the International Society of Arboriculture.