Mill Creek Park in South Portland (Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)

Trees are an important part of many local properties, and there are a variety of things to keep in mind for summer tree care and providing for pollinators. Dana DiRenzo, a consulting arborist with The Davey Tree Expert Company, focuses on the South Portland and Cape Elizabeth area.

“It’s been a really challenging three years. The first two were really long periods of drought and this year has been a summer, a growing season, of rain, rain, rain,” DiRenzo said. “So those have their own challenges in and of themselves. This season in particular we have been seeing a lot of fungal issues. You know, a lot of trees, a lot of ornamentals, don’t look like they should. They don’t have the nice lush green foliage that they normally do. We’ve seen a lot of brown and dropping leaves prematurely, so you know, that’s raised a lot of concerns in the area … and generally, it’s easy to freak out and think your trees are dying and you’re going to lose everything, but generally that’s not the case. We just don’t like to see multiple years in a row of early defoliation.

“The biggest recommendation at this point is just to make sure your trees have the nutrients they need. Obviously they’ve been getting plenty of water. On drought years we recommend keeping an eye on it and watering as needed, but this year has been ridiculous.”

The company has gotten lots of questions on species that weren’t starting the year the way they were supposed to, DiRenzo said. Many ornamental cherry trees did not have leaves until a month into the growing season this year and hardly any flowered. DiRenzo explained that this was due to the abnormally cold weekend Maine experienced in February that challenged the plant hardiness zones of certain species. Additionally, a frost in May challenged some of the trees as well.

It’s been a challenging growing season, DiRenzo said, but that “a lot of these issues kind of resolve themselves. We didn’t have to cut many trees down. All in all, they kind of figure themselves out.”

To care for your trees, DiRenzo said to keep an eye on the weather. “If it’s really rainy, try to make sure your gardens, your beds, are not pooling water. Obviously you don’t need to water — we’re getting an inch plus of rain every week,” he said. “And on the contrary, if it’s been two or three weeks and you haven’t noticed a good rain event then it’s probably time to break out the water hose. There’s a lot of issues that can be solved just by watering.


“Especially when you go ahead and plant a new tree or new ornamental, that first year is very important, just making sure it has everything it needs. And obviously kind of moving forward, the more you pay attention to it, probably the better it will do. But they kind of need less and less attention over time.”

DiRenzo explained a few common mistakes they see with planting.

“You want to really understand the tree or ornamental that you’re purchasing or planting, you want to understand what its capabilities are and how big it’s going to get,” he said. “You don’t want to go planting something that’s going to be 30 feet tall under the power lines. Or something that’s going to get a very vast spready root system, you don’t want to plant it on top of the gas line or the water system or next to your septic or leach field or any of that.”

DiRenzo said some plants come from the nursery with burlap on the root system and a metal cage outside of that. Sometimes people and companies will plant the tree in the ground just as it is without first removing the burlap and metal cage.

“That is a big no-no. We never recommend planting anything with burlap or the metal cage on in there,” DiRenzo said.

Another common mistake DiRenzo sees is volcano mulching. “People like that nice fresh mulch to start off the growing season, really pulls the look together,” he said. “But some people go too far and pile that too high on the trunk. You don’t need any more than two to three inches of mulch on the root system. We like to see that tapered right down to almost nothing right close to the trunk of the tree, and sometimes we’ll see it where people will pile that mulch a foot high on the trunk and it’s terrible, one of the worst things you can do for your trees is pile that mulch up that high.”


Trees play an important role in the habitat for their relation with pollinators such as birds, bees, moths, flies, beetles, bats and more. Pollinators are crucial for plants and play a vital role in a healthy ecosystem. These plants stabilize soil, clean air, supply oxygen, support wildlife, and drive food production, according to the National Park Service.

DiRenzo recommended a number of trees that grow well in the area and provide and work well for pollinators, including native oak trees. The species all grow well locally and are relatively low maintenance.

“Magnolias are an ornamental, they typically get anywhere between 5 and 20 feet tall. They are some of the first of the year to flower. They flower before they even have leaves. So that’s unique in and of itself, but it’s pretty important to the pollinators, because as they start doing their thing their options are limited.” David Leaming photo/Morning Sentinel

“Out in this area, in South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, we’re blessed. We have lots and lots of oak trees,” saidd DiRenzo. “You know, white oak and red oak and that’s what’s native to this area. They both do quite well, they’re both very valuable to the pollinators. They’re very hardy trees, they’re very trustworthy. They don’t typically fail. As trees go in the area, they are some of the strongest and most reliable. One of my favorites.”

DiRenzo also recommended any of their trees encompassed by the term Southern Magnolia, such as Merrill magnolias, star magnolias, and more. Local nurseries have multiple different cultivars to choose from. “Magnolias are an ornamental, they typically get anywhere between 5 and 20 feet tall,” he said. “They are some of the first of the year to flower. They flower before they even have leaves. So that’s unique in and of itself, but it’s pretty important to the pollinators, because as they start doing their thing their options are limited.”

The Eastern Redbud is another tree DiRenzo recommended. These are valuable to pollinators but are more of a risk as in Maine they are on the edge of their hardiness zone, he explained.  DiRenzo also recommended black gum trees and the ornamental species Shadbush, or more officially known as Amelanchier.

While not a tree, blueberry bushes were another recommendation from DiRenzo. He mentioned that blueberry bushes are often included in yards by their customers. “It’s good to have a diverse selection,” he said. “You don’t want to go all in on any one of these. It’s good to have a mix.”

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