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Sparks tree guy wants to help residents ‘springify’ their yards
by Michelle Zewin
Mar 19, 2008 | 1148 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href=>Tribune/Nathan Orme</a> Sparks Urban Forester Mike Kelley held a workshop Saturday to help residents ready their yards for spring.
Tribune/Nathan Orme Sparks Urban Forester Mike Kelley held a workshop Saturday to help residents ready their yards for spring.
Spring is in the air — at least it’s supposed to be — and that means it’s time to ‘springify’ lawns again.

From pruning to fertilizing and sprinkler systems, Sparks Urban Forester Mike Kelley on Saturday went through the ins and outs of how to get yards ready for spring again.

“Spring is coming,” Kelley said, then glanced out the window at the snowfall. “It doesn’t look like it when you look outside but I swear it’s going to happen.”

Kelley spoke to about 15 people at the Larry D. Johnson Community Center. With two trees, a makeshift sprinkler setup and bags of everything you would ever need for your lawn, Kelley went through them one by one showing how to care for or use them properly. Also on display were several posters demonstrating proper tree and lawn care.

“This is my favorite one,” Kelley said, pointing at a poster that read, ‘How to kill a tree.’ “It lists everything you could possibly do wrong.”

“Oh, I know those,” a man called out.

The room laughed but it’s likely he wasn’t joking. And that’s exactly why Kelley held the workshop. When buying a tree, Kelley said to always remove the stakes and straps holding it up before leaving the nursery to see if the tree falls down. He said the straps are sometimes so tight that the trees become weak and completely dependent on them.

“You want the trees staked but you want them to be able to move,” Kelley said. “It’s got to be able to develop taper.”

If the tree still stands once the stakes are removed, planting it becomes the next issue. When planting, Kelley said to be sure not to bury the tree too low.

“About 90 percent of the calls I get about dying trees are because they’re buried too low,” Kelley said. “People just don’t know any better.”

Kelley said not to bury the tree above the flare, where the roots spread at the base of the tree.

With young trees, Kelley said to cut off any crossover branches because these will make the tree weaker later. The branches should be cut at a 45 degree angle at the bud.

While it is important to prune trees for health, to stimulate fruit production, size control or other reasons, it is important that it is done correctly. Kelley said that pruning a tree is wounding it.

“Every time you go in there you’re introducing new infections,” Kelley said. “Trees do not heal, they seal. Once you make that cut the damage is done.”

Don’t paint wounds, Kelley said, because doing so seals in pathogens that the tree would otherwise expel.

When cutting a branch, Kelley said to be sure not to disturb the branch collar, usually a swelling at the base of the branch, and avoid tearing. But try not to take off more than 25 percent of a tree’s foliage within an annual growing season, he said.

“Trees need their leaves for photosynthesis,” Kelley explained

Kelley then went through a slideshow of trees in the area that have been botched in some way to give examples like the ones listed on his favorite poster.

“This is an alien creature,” Kelley said about a photo of something slightly resembling what once could have been a tree. “If this is your house, I’m sorry.”

This particular “tree” had been topped, where everything above a certain height is removed. The result is several stubs where branches used to be.

“I don’t recommend topping,” Kelley said. “As the tree gets bigger and bigger the branches get weaker and weaker and start falling off.”

Aside from tree care, Kelley talked about grass and fertilizer. He said that the value of a fertilizer depends on the amount of nutrients in it. The first number represents the nitrogen content, the second is phosphorus and the third represents potassium. Kelley said a Triple 16 fertilizer is a good choice for starting in the spring.

When it comes to mowing, Kelley offered a few tips: Mow every five to seven days and keep the blade sharp; don’t mow when it’s wet; change the mowing pattern weekly; and keep bluegrass, ryegrass and tall fescue at 2 1/2 inches in height.

Kelley also touched on sprinkler systems. All valves should have been turned to 45 degrees when winter came so the pipes don’t freeze over, he said. Using a mock sprinkler system, Kelley demonstrated how to turn the valves back on.

“Then make sure you don’t have Old Faithful happening somewhere,” Kelley said.

If you have any questions on taking care of your yard, Mike Kelley can be contacted at or 353-7822.
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