Brad Ross: Trees in your woods are crops, too


We all have preferences in life. I prefer working outdoors over sitting behind a desk. I prefer winter over summer, comedies over sci-fi, and dogs more than cats (no offense to cat lovers everywhere). And I know for a fact my parents prefer me over my younger brother. (Sorry, bro … Momma always did like me best!)

Many homeowners and woodlot owners might want to consider their tree preferences. What are preferred trees? Those are trees having the greatest potential to accomplish your objectives, such as beautification, wildlife habitat, fall color, timber production, maple syrup and more.

Preferred trees get special treatment to ensure continued good health and faster growth. Trees with crowns touching are competing with each other. For many trees the roots extend twice as wide as the crown and are located in the top 18 inches of the soil. The crowns compete for sunlight and roots compete for moisture and nutrients. Eliminating competition from other trees allows preferred trees to flourish. Vegetable gardeners recognize this technique – thinning plants so that those remaining have sufficient sunlight, moisture, and space to be productive and grace the dinner table. Foresters refer to this as crop tree release – the preferred trees are the “crop” in the woodlot.

Tree owners should start by identifying why they own their trees or woodlot. Do you like to hike? Watch or photograph wildlife? Hunt? Enjoy a hobby of woodworking? Want to produce an income? Once this is determined you can figure out which species fit your goal and take an inventory of the species and health of your trees. Favoring preferred trees is something that can be done with yard trees as well as woodlot trees. It is sometimes possible to have more than one objective; however, it is important to favor species that are best adapted to the site. The Delaware County soil survey, available from our office, has maps delineating soil boundaries along with tables on woodland management and productivity as well as suitability for windbreaks and environmental plantings. You can view the full manuscript at

Trees in direct competition with the preferred trees should be removed. If wildlife watching is your objective, you may wish to “girdle” an undesirable tree to kill it but not cut it down or remove it from the area. Girdling is simply the act of removing a band of bark about 6 to 12 inches wide from around the trunk of the tree. This will shut off the flow of water and nutrients from the roots to the crown and will kill the tree. Standing dead and dying trees can provide excellent food and shelter to many types of wildlife. Just be sure these trees will not cause damage when they fall. Trees felled to the ground provide food and shelter, too, as well as recycle nutrients to the soil. In some cases, the undesirable trees may have a market depending on the value, size and number.

For more detailed information, check out the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry at or Ohio Woodland Stewards at The National Arbor Day Foundation has a free “Backyard Woods” publication that can be downloaded at Landowners with larger forest acreage may wish to consider the assistance of a service forester or a consulting forester, information about which can be found at the Division of Forestry website.

Winter through early spring is a good time to take a walk and visit your trees. The trees haven’t leafed out yet so visibility is good. If you want to improve your ability to identify trees in the winter when there are no leaves, the ODNR’s Division of Forestry is hosting a walk in the woods to identify trees and shrubs. This workshop is being held on Saturday, Feb. 27, from 10 a.m. to noon at Blacklick Woods Metro Park. Go to for more details.

Brad Ross

Contributing columnist

Brad Ross is communications specialist at the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District. He can be reached at [email protected].

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