The first 2-3 years are the most vital for newly-planted trees. It's in this time that new trees become established, striking and anchoring roots into soil for years to come. Every right tree care decision you make during your tree's early years reduces transplant stress and creates conditions that favor strong growth.
Use these tips to give top-notch tree care to your new trees after planting.
For newly-planted trees, water is the key to successful growth and tree care. Roots can't grow without it, and healthy root development makes or breaks a tree's transition from nursery to landscape. What should you know about watering new trees?
- Trees need regular deep watering, at least during the first 2-3 years of growth. (In dry summer areas, they may need supplemental water their entire lives). Aim to provide consistent soil moisture, without creating a swamp (and overwatering).
- Using raised dirt to form rings, construct double, concentric watering basins. The first should be just outside the rootball; the second about 2’ beyond that. Fill the inner basin with water to wet the rootball and use the outer one to wet the surrounding soil.
- Check soil moisture by digging gently or using a soil probe.
- Water when the root mass or root ball is dry – not when surrounding soil is dry. If roots haven't struck into surrounding soil, basing irrigation frequency on that soil won't necessarily meet the tree's needs.
- The inner circle will have to be filled with water once a week in normal weather and usually more than once a week in hot weather. The outer circle can be filled less often, with frequency dependent on the climate and soil, but often every two to three weeks.
- After the tree’s first year in the ground, the inner circle can be removed or broken down. When you water after that point, make sure the water penetrates the entire root area. This means filling a 6-8” high basin two or three times at each watering.
- Automated lawn sprinkler systems may not provide enough moisture for a tree. Check soil moisture before relying on lawn systems for tree irrigation. Instead place a slow-trickling hose alongside the trunk or install irrigation designed specifically for the tree.
Most new trees don't need staking. But if your site is windy or your tree can’t stand upright on its own, you need to stake. Here’s how:
- Remove any tightly attached stakes that came with the tree.
- Pound in two sturdy stakes on opposite sides of the trunk, but outside the rootball.
- Secure the trunk to each stake with strong, flexible pieces of rubber, canvas, cloth or other material. Your local nursery or garden center will have staking materials.
- The tree should not be tied overly-tight since you want it to be able to sway a bit in the wind and develop a stronger trunk and healthier roots.
- Remove the ties when the tree can stand on its own, usually after one year.
Mulch helps young trees in many ways: moderating soil temperatures, retaining soil moisture and suppressing weeds. It also helps prevent grass from growing directly against the trunk, which is not ideal for the tree.
- Maintain a 3-inch-thick mulch layer around young trees. Replenish mulch as needed in spring.
- Keep mulch at least 6 inches away from the tree trunk. Mulch piled against the trunk holds moisture and heat, providing habitat for insects, rodents, and diseases such as Canker.
As soon as weather warms, remove any winter trunk wrappings. Create a ring of mulch to give trunks a buffer, as well as keep grass and weeds away. If you added plastic trunk guards, keep those in place. The trunks of young trees are often damaged by car doors, lawn mowers and weed eaters.
In most cases newly-planted trees should be pruned as little as possible, if at all.
- Pruning can slow establishment and invite insect pests. Only prune diseased or damaged branches or those that are in the way.
- Pruning to establish strong structure and shape is best delayed until the first dormant season.
- Avoid pruning in spring. As the end buds on branches expand, they release a hormone that triggers root growth. Cutting branch tips can delay spring root growth.
Pests And Diseases
The planting process can stress young trees, increasing their chances of being attacked by insects or diseases. New trees need every leaf to generate internal food supplies and speed establishment. As new leaves appear, inspect trees regularly for insects that might damage foliage. Ask a nursery specialist or consult your local Cooperative Extension System office to help identify pests or problems and discover tree care solutions.
Fertilize newly-planted trees lightly. If the tree grows poorly – yellowing foliage and no new growth – apply a complete fertilizer following the instructions on the label. If your tree grows well – and most will with your attention and love, sit back and enjoy it. You’ve added something of beauty to your landscape and also for future generations to enjoy.