Care for Newly Planted Trees
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
The first 2 or 3 years are the most important period in the establishment of newly planted trees. Good cultural practices during this period help reduce transplant stress and create a favorable environment for tree growth.
Newly planted trees should be watered when the root-ball or root-mass (not the surrounding soil) begins to dry out. Frequently check the moisture status of the root-ball or root-mass since it can dry out quickly. Apply water slowly to the base of the tree. The frequency of watering can be reduced and the watering area enlarged as the tree’s root system begins to grow into the surrounding soil. Small trees usually require watering for 1 or 2 growing seasons. It may be necessary to water large trees for 3 or 4 years.
To help conserve moisture, place 2 to 4 inches of mulch, such as wood chips or shredded bark, around trees. Mulches also help control weeds, moderate soil temperatures, and reduce the risk of mechanical damage to tree trunks from lawnmowers and string-trimmers.
When mulching trees, do not place mulch against the tree’s trunk. Keep the mulch at least 6 inches away from the tree. Mulch piled against the tree trunk may create favorable conditions for fungal cankers, root rots, insects, and rodents.
It is generally not necessary to fertilize newly planted trees during the first year. Most soils can supply sufficient amounts of nutrients during establishment. If the trees are growing poorly 2 to 3 years after planting, fertilization may be beneficial. Poorly growing trees often exhibit sparse foliage, yellow-green leaves, or short annual twig growth.
Trees utilize sugars and other carbohydrates manufactured by the foliage for plant growth. Therefore, avoid the temptation to severely prune newly planted trees. Severe pruning reduces the tree’s ability to manufacture food and actually slows plant growth. Newly planted trees require only corrective pruning. Remove structural defects, such as double leaders and dead, broken, or crossing branches. Retain most of the lower branches to help stabilize the tree. Gradually remove the lower limbs as the tree grows during the first 5 years.
Staking is not required for most newly planted trees. However, top-heavy trees and those planted in windy, exposed sites may require staking. To prevent damage to the trunk, use strong, wide strips of canvas or other materials to support the tree. Remove the stakes as soon as possible. Stakes can often be removed after one growing season.
Wrapping protective materials around the trunks of newly planted trees is not necessary. There appears to be little or no benefit to tree wraps.
Newly planted trees do require special care during establishment. The rewards for your efforts are healthy, attractive trees which will provide you with many years of enjoyment.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office