By Jeff Ray

“I think that I shall never see A poem lovely as a tree” – Joyce Kilmer (1903)

As a child I committed to memory Joyce Kilmer’s anthropomorphization of trees in his often parodied poem. When I was seven I thought it a masterpiece of course; I was so found of climbing them my imagination had no problem giving them brains, names and personalities.

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My deep affection for trees as an adult came from camping in the Smokey Mountains through my college years at University of Tennessee (I transferred as a junior to University of Texas when I changed from Geology to Journalism). The ability to store carbon, create ecosystems, produce oxygen and their own fertilizer (leaves that fall to the ground below it) made me appreciate what an evolutionary miracle they are.

Their slow growth to epic size is inspiration for grit and steadiness. A piece of my youthful reverence for trees remains; while I can go out and see the world a tree can only watch parts of it walk by. They stand as a vigilant sentry to a local history that unfolds over generations of birds and mammals (including the bipedal ones).

When I was around 12 years old I helped my father take out an old fence row lined with Hackberry trees in front of the house he just started building. We planted a row of four-foot tall Magnolia trees on 15 foot centers which at the time I thought ridiculously far apart. They are all about 60 feet tall now and massive. It was a lesson in landscaping that lingers with me to this day. It takes a while for design and scale to come to full fruition.

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Just after trees start to drop their leaves this time of year it is time to pay them attention. Examine their growth, their shape and their wounds. When they go dormant is the time to prune or in a case of tragedy, even remove. I do recommend the hiring of an arborist to examine a tree in trouble. Sometimes they can be saved. Sometimes they have to be taken down.

It is tough to be judge, jury and executioner on something older than you; it is best to get an expert opinion.

This week’s story on some of the major things to look for as you examine your trees is just part one.

Next week I’ll again show a conversation with Brian Cox of the Davey Tree Expert Company on tree placement. Since it takes years to see if you planted a tree in the right place it is best to give serious thought before putting one in the ground.

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Putting the wrong plant in the wrong place is probably the most common mistake for novice gardeners like myself. People with decadal experience in landscaping see their work unfold, that is an instructive education you don’t get from a book and a near perfect example to explain the difference between wisdom and knowledge.