How to Care for Young Trees
November 13, 2019
Ever plant a new tree only to struggle to keep it alive? You’re not alone. Caring for young trees, newly planted, requires a little extra time and attention. If you’re ready to plant new trees on your property, or need to replace trees damaged in storms, follow our tree care tips:
First things first: Planting
Many trees are planted improperly, which sets them up for failure down the road. Trees should be planted at the soil level they are currently growing. When you plant trees too deeply, burying the root flares, root suffocation, disease, and decay can set in. Make sure to remove any cages, wires, rope, and burlap and don’t add excess soil over the root flare – all of which cause girdling.
See how we prepare a planting site here
How to Water
Once the tree has been planted properly, a good watering regimen is the key to its long term success. But watering is often the least understood aspect of caring for your new tree. Trees take much more water than you probably think is necessary to get established.
Basic watering plan:
- Water 2-3 times/week for the first month, then weekly until the 6-month mark
- During months 6-12, water every other week
- In year two, water 2 times per month
- In year three, water once per month
Deep watering is key because it encourages proper root growth. Shallow watering will create shallow root systems which can lead to tree failure. Of course, you should always check soil for moisture before applying supplemental water. In periods of prolonged drought, you may need to water more frequently. During periods of heavy rainfall, you may not need to water.
Irrigation systems alone will not supply enough water.
All new trees should be mulched after planting. Mulch helps to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperatures. An application of mulch also serves as a buffer from lawn mowers and weed eaters that can get too close to tree trunks, causing damage.
To mulch properly, spread natural mulch (your preferred hardwood, softwood, or pecan shells) in a 2-4” layer under the tree canopy, starting 3-inches away from the main trunk. Do not pile mulch against the base of the tree - the root flare should always be visible. Too much mulch (or ‘mulch volcanoes’) causes moisture to build up against the tree trunk, which leads to insects and diseases, suffocation, and trunk rot.
Bonus: as mulch breaks down, it adds nutrients back in the soil.
New trees should not require pruning within the first year after planting, unless it is to correct storm damage, remove dead or diseased branches, or create a central leader. Too much pruning on young trees can cause stunting.
Instead, let your tree put its energy into establishing a strong root system. It may seem like there isn’t much happening within years 1 to 3 - but most of the new growth is happening underneath the soil in the root system. Once the tree has developed adequate new roots, you will begin to see visible top growth.
The rule of thumb is that it takes one year per 1” of caliper size for a tree to establish a root system that can begin to sustain the tree.
A note on staking: Most new trees don't need staking. But if your site is windy or your tree can’t stand upright on its own, you may need to stake temporarily. Make sure to check for girdling & remove promptly within the first two years.
Most newly planted trees will not require any fertilizer, unless you notice a specific nutritional issue, such as chlorosis. Synthetic fertilizers applied to new trees can also cause burning, especially if over-applied. You can, however, apply root stimulator monthly to new trees to help encourage healthy root growth. If you are on our SEASONS Bio-fertilization program, the soil building products we apply each season will also help your tree grow a stronger root system.
It may be beneficial to test your soil to see what nutrients you may need before applying any fertilizer. As always, creating a healthy soil environment through bio-fertilization is a natural way to create the most ideal growing conditions for your trees, landscape plants, and lawn.
Congratulations on your new tree! If you monitor conditions and give your tree a little extra TLC, your new young tree will be with you for years to come. If you need a little professional help getting your new tree established, or would like us to plant your new trees for you, get in touch here.