Experts stress eco-friendly approaches to tree, lawn care this spring

Mar. 11—NOBLESVILLE — During his years in the tree trimming business, Michael Johnson has seen his share of trees that have had their potential as environmental assets blunted or even eliminated by homeowners not paying proper attention to their upkeep.

"Doing the proper pruning techniques is important for the longevity of the tree's life, the wildlife that also inhabits the trees, and just overall safety," said Johnson, who started an Anderson-based recyclable tree company in 2022. "If you start topping trees and doing improper cuts on trees, it slowly but surely kills off the tree, and it creates room for insects and other unfriendly pests to invade the species."

The earth's estimated 3 trillion trees are an invaluable part of the planet's ecosystem, working almost as filters to improve air and water quality, moderate temperatures and reduce noise pollution, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

As spring approaches and property owners ramp up their plans for lawn and garden care over the next several months, experts are stressing that keeping properties beautiful without damaging the environment is easier than many might think.

"You can have a nice yard, but there are environmentally sustainable ways to do that — or at least infinitely more friendly," said Melanie Lucroy, president of the Madison County Master Gardener Association.

When trees begin to emerge from the rigors of winter, some homeowners may see overgrown branches and limbs protruding in unsightly patterns and be tempted to over-trim them, according to Johnson. He said the practice of topping — drastically cutting back large branches in mature trees — does far more harm than good in the long term.

"That's the absolute worst thing you can do in terms of safety for the tree," he said. "It creates these cuts where the tree is just in survival mode its whole life after that."

Johnson noted that improper cuts can also open the door for insects and other unfriendly wildlife to begin to siphon important nutrients from a tree.

He said that as city and regional planners consider layouts for potential new subdivisions, trees need to be part of the conversation.

"A lot of their issues I see is their placement of trees," Johnson said. "Sometimes they'll only worry about the trees that are across from the sidewalk to the road in that small area. Those trees don't have that much room to grow. It always, almost surely causes problems to the concrete that's right next to them."

Experts also caution that, depending on the species, it can take decades for a sapling to mature to a point where it can host birds, squirrels and other animals that contribute to the overall well-being of an ecosystem.

Trees, Lucroy said, can also have a significant bearing on other yard projects aimed at improving the environment. Their placement, she noted, can dictate where gardens are placed and, by extension, what items are planted in those gardens. She said many layouts can accommodate what she calls "edible landscapes" — herbs and vegetables that, while being nourished, put healthy byproducts back into the soil and the air around them.

"If you plant oregano and sage in your yard, those are perennials," she said. "They'll come back every year, and then you've got herbs in your front yard."

Another often overlooked habit that is more detrimental than helpful to overall yard health, according to Lucroy, is the rush to get rid of dandelions that begin to dot many lawns in late March and early April.

"Dandelions are the most maligned plant in North America, I think," Lucroy said. "Nobody wants dandelions."

However, she said, the bright yellow buds which many people consider to be flowers are actually herbs that act as important food sources for bees and other insects — which in turn play vital roles in air and soil quality in residential areas.

"When the bees wake up when it gets warm enough in April, nothing's blooming but the dandelions in your yard," she said. "They're wonderful food sources, and people just blast them away, and the issues just snowball from there."

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