Followup Maintenance

• Watering - Up to 95% of a tree's roots are cut off during transplanting, greatly decreasing its ability to take up water. Water, therefore, is a tree's greatest need at planting time and for a year or two after transplanting until a good root system is established. Thoroughly water newly planted trees, applying the water with a hose or bucket to the entire planting area and letting it soak in well. Fill any holes that open due to soil settling but do not pack the wet soil.

Watering needs after planting depend on weather, drainage, planting season, and the species you have planted. Though water should be applied to the original planting area and root ball, it should also be applied to the soil surrounding the hole so roots can grow out. Apply water often enough so the soil near the tree at least several inches below the surface is moist and will form a ball when squeezed. If the soil crumbles it is too dry. Water will be needed every two to four days as the tree is getting established in its first summer. A soil probe or rod with a rounded tip can be used to indicate soil moisture. The rod will penetrate the soil with more resistance as the soil drys. Remember, it is possible to over-water a tree, especially in poorly drained soils. Do not water so often or so deeply that the tree's root system becomes waterlogged. Older, established trees can withstand some soil drying around their root systems, but all landscape trees should be watered regularly during periods of severe drought.

  • Fertilizing - No fertilizers of any kind should be used at planting time since they can decrease root growth and may cause the crown to outgrow the roots. No hormones, extracts, vitamins or other such formulas have been shown to stimulate root growth or help tree establishment. Fertilizing should only be done after the tree has recovered from transplanting, and then only if needed. This recovery can take two or three years; longer with larger trees.
  • Mulching - A bed of wood chips or other coarse organic mulch around a tree's base greatly increases root and tree health. Maintain a mulch bed around all newly planted and existing trees that extends several feet from the trunk; the farther the turf is away from the trunk the better. Mulch should be 3 to 4 inches deep and should be renewed as it breaks down. Keep the mulch a couple of inches away from the base of the trunk to avoid root or trunk decay and rodent burrowing and damage. Air tight plastic sheeting and rock beds should not be used around trees. Porous weed barriers of woven or matted plastic provide effective weed control but can be difficult to install and maintain and are not much more effective than an adequate organic mulch layer.
  • Staking - Stake newly planted trees only where wind is a problem. Guy loosely to allow some stem movement, using canvas strapping or similar materials around the tree to prevent trunk damage. Remove all staking materials after one or two years. In heavily used areas the presence of a couple of tall stakes helps to physically protect the tree even if no guying materials are used.

Staking varies with tree size. Use one stake for trees up to 2" in diameter (A), two stakes for trees 2-4" in diameter (B), and at least three stakes for trees over 4" in diameter (C). Wires can be used, but materials that contact the tree should be soft and flexible, like canvas webbing or rubber straps.

• Trunk Protection - Thin bark on lower trunks of young trees sometimes is damaged by "sunscald." This damage appears as small cracks or wounds on the bark, especially on the southwest side of the tree. Though the underlying cause is uncertain, sunscald appears to be caused by bark being warmed by the winter sun, becoming less cold-hardy, and then being damaged by freezing when the sun sets. Tree wrap made from corrugated paper or a similar material is often used to help prevent this. However, research has shown few if any benefits to wrapping most trees. In fact, tree wrap may improve conditions for insects and diseases that damage tree trunks, it decreases the young bark's ability to make food through photosynthesis, and it has been shown to increase rather than decrease bark temperature fluctuations.

Trunks of newly planted trees can be protected with special tree wrapping paper. The paper is wrapped in overlapping layers starting at the bottom and working up to the branches.

If you choose to wrap your new tree, wrap from the trunk base to one-half of the way up the trunk, overlapping as you go and using masking tape to hold the wrap at the top. Apply wrap in the fall after leaf drop and remove each spring, repeating for no more than two or three years after planting. Do not wrap trees with trunks that will be shaded in the winter. Damage from feeding of rabbits and mice can be prevented by wrapping wire mesh around lower stems of young trees. Remember to remove or reposition the mesh before it girdles the tree. Plastic tree shelter tubes have been shown to be of some benefit to growth and survival of young trees, but further research is needed to prove their worth and to improve the guidelines on how they are used. If they are used remove them after the first year.

  • Pruning - Little pruning should be done at planting time because the young tree needs all of the stored food (in the wood) and food making ability (in the leaves) it can get. Trees should not be "headed back" at planting time to "balance" the roots and crown. The tree will naturally lose branches or twigs if "balance" is needed. These branches will die, at which time they can be removed. Dead, diseased, damaged, or rubbing branches should be removed at planting time. Once the tree is established it becomes important to begin pruning to ensure good form later in life.
  • Weed Control - Weeds use water and mineral nutrients that would otherwise be available for your newly planted tree. Some grasses are especially heavy water users and should not be allowed to grow near young trees. Control weed competition by using a wide mulch bed several inches deep and by pulling weeds or using directed sprays of herbicides as needed. Herbicides or weed killers that are taken up by roots should not be used since they can harm the tree. Glyphosate (Roundup) is an effective weed killer that can be sprayed on leaves of weedy plants without affecting trees growing nearby. Keep all weed killers off of tree leaves, young bark, and sprouts coming from the tree base.

Weed whips or string trimmers should not be used around trees since they can easily damage trunks and roots. Plastic protective devices often are placed around lower trunks so mowers and string trimmers can be used close to trees, but these devices do not work.

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