Choosing and Caring for Your Tree
Picking the right tree and its location is crucial to a healthy tree canopy. Learn about what types of trees to plant, how to plant and maintain them as well as more benefits about trees.
Benefits of trees
Native trees in our community can promote environmental and ecological benefits that will also help you save money and property. According to the American Forestry Association, a single tree provides $73 worth of air conditioning savings, $75 worth of erosion control, $75 worth of wildlife shelter and $50 worth of air pollution reduction each year.
With atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) a leading cause of global warming, a typical healthy tree can remove up to 48 pounds of CO2 from the air every year. Trees planted in groups also provide more atmospheric cooling and protect against high winds from hurricanes than the same number of evenly spaced, isolated trees.
Trees planted in combination with appropriate shrubs and groundcovers create a sustainable ecosystem for native species to thrive.
Other benefits include:
- Increase the value of a home and lot
- Reduce storm water runoff
- Filter groundwater
- Protect against land erosion
Choosing the right tree
Follow these tips to choose the right tree for your environment so you can expect less maintenance and a long life for your tree. You can also visit the Florida-friendly Plant Database to help you select the right tree for the right place.
Go native. Native trees adapt to our South Florida environment without the help of fertilizers. Less chemicals means a safer environment for you and your loved ones, including your pets.
Trees with muscle. Florida is frequently in the path of hurricanes. Choose trees known for their sturdiness in high winds to ensure they weather the storm.
Beware of non-native trees. Some exotic, or non-native, species can escape cultivation and invade natural areas in their adopted land. Non-native trees can do more harm than good.
Miami-Dade County has made certain types of plants illegal to "sell, propagate or plant." Check the Miami-Dade code list of Prohibited Plant Species and Controlled Species before you buy your tree.
Strategic landscaping will help you to conserve energy costs – like air conditioning – and reduce your workload.
The ideal landscape includes a mosaic of trees, shrubs, groundcovers, native grasses and wildflowers. Monocultures, large expanses of the same plant species, are prone to disease and insect infestation and are not as sustainable as a diverse plant community.
Planting a tree
Proper planting is crucial to the survival of your new tree.
Smaller trees can be planted about 10 to 16 feet away from a home, while medium to large trees can be planted 16 to 22 feet away.
Plant deciduous (trees that seasonally shed leaves) shade trees on the south, east and west sides of a house to cast shade in summer and allow warming in winter. In the summer, winds typically originate in the south, so to allow breezes to cool outdoor living spaces in the warm months, keep tall barriers away from the southern edge of your landscape.
It is important to keep in mind all underground utility lines, cables or pipes that may run through your property. For a free underground utility check of your property, call Sunshine State One at 1-800-432-4770. Determine how large your tree will grow before you plant close to an overhead utility line.
- Trees that will grow to a maximum height of less than 20 feet can be planted below or very close to overhead utility lines
- Trees that can grow to a maximum of 30 feet need to be planted at least 20 feet from all surrounding utility lines
- Trees larger than 30 feet should be planted at least 30 feet from all surrounding utility lines
How to plant
- Always carry your tree by the container, never the tree trunk or stems
- Remove it carefully from the container; the roots and soil should not separate too much
- Dig a hole two to three times wider than the container with the same depth as the top of the soil in the container
- Position the plant so the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface. Planting too deep could cause your tree to die
- Once your tree is in position, fill the hole with soil until it is half full
- Slowly soak the soil to remove air pockets that can kill the tree. Fill the hole with the remainder of the soil and soak again
- Add a three-inch thick ring of soil around the outer edge of the planting area to keep water from running off and help encourage your new tree to grow
- Place a healthy amount of organic mulch such as wood chips, leaves, pine needles or pine bark around the entire planting area without coming in direct contact with the trunk.
- Water the mulch
- Only stake the tree if it is necessary. The stake should be removed after one year
- Wait at least one year after planting before pruning a tree
- Wait at least six months after planting a tree to add fertilizer. However, it is often not needed, especially with native trees
Pruning a tree
Pruning controls growth, promotes health and enhances the appearance of your tree. It should not be delayed until the landscape is overgrown as it can be more difficult and time consuming. It is important to never attempt pruning near electrical and utility wires. Instead, call Florida Power & Light at 305-442-8770.
Routine pruning of dead or diseased limbs keeps branches strong and vigorous as well as protects them and you from storm damage and further decay. There are two main functions of pruning: heading back and thinning.
Before you start pruning, look at the tree from a few angles and decide what you'd like to accomplish. That could be to change the shape, control the size or to remove dead branches. Whatever goals you set, select the best spaced and positioned branches and remove or shorten the others. Permanent branches should be between six to 24 inches apart on the trunk at maturity. All steps followed from here will aid in thinning your tree.
With younger trees, your goal in pruning is to help it develop a true leader, which is a main stem growing straight up that defines the tree's vertical structure.
- Your task is to define the strongest, most vertical of the branches and head back, or cut short, any others that threaten to extract the leader's food and energy.
- On main branches other than the leader branch, you'll also want to define the strongest of growths and head back the smaller branches growing off those. There should be no narrow forks or branches leaving the trunk at an acute angle. Branches stemming from a 45- to 90-degree angle are less likely to split.
- Prune lower branches back to about 8 inches from the trunk: do not remove them entirely. Keeping these will allow the tree to grow faster, develop a thicker trunk and be protected from sunburn and vandalism.
- Remove smaller decayed branches along with dead leaves first. They can hinder the tree's growth. Cuts should be close but not too close to a bud (little lump in the branch) since new growth comes from the buds. Make your cuts at a slight angle.
- When removing larger branches (branches too heavy to be held with your hand) it requires three separate cuts to prevent trunk bark stripping.
- The first should be about 15 inches away from the trunk, and should be cut about halfway through the branch from the bottom up.
- The second cut should be a little further out than the first cut, about halfway through from the top (these two cuts cause the limb to be split cleanly, so its weight doesn't tear the bark). The remaining stump should be easily supported with one hand.
- The third cut should begin on the outside of the branch bark ridge and end just outside the branch collar on the lower side of the branch. This should be done at a slight angle, so the bark collar remains intact. Be sure not to cut into the trunk or cut it flush to the trunk. This can cause extensive trunk decay.
- See also: The Do's and Don'ts of Tree Pruning
If residents follow these easy tips, the impact from tree damage during a storm can be reduced. Remember: it is very important for residents not to over-prune trees. This ultimately weakens the new growth and creates a potentially more dangerous condition. It is a violation of Chapter 24 of the Miami-Dade County Code to excessively prune trees.
Removing a tree
A permit is required prior to removing or relocating trees. Many municipalities have additional regulations. Residents can obtain more information by calling 311 or 305-372-6574.
- A Miami-Dade Tree Removal or Relocation Permit is required prior to removing or relocating any size tree from public lands, multifamily, businesses, commercial, agricultural and swale properties.
- A Miami-Dade Tree Removal or Relocation Permit is required prior to removing or relocating specimen size trees from the yards of single-family homes. A specimen size tree is one with a trunk diameter of 18 inches or circumference of 56.5 inches when measured at 4 and a half feet above the ground. If more than one branch is present at 4 and a half feet, all branches must be measured and added together to determine if the tree is specimen size.
- A permit is not required to trim a tree. However, trees must be trimmed in accordance with ANSI-A300 standards. Not more than 25 percent of leaves may be removed from each tree branch.
- Miami-Dade County enforces the Tree Preservation Code and Landscape Code.
Report trees growing into power lines
Florida Power & light
Report illegal tree removal or destruction