New Tree Care
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CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPOT TO PLANT YOUR TREE
Trees have specific requirements for sunlight, soil and climate. A tree that needs full sun will not thrive if you plant it in shade, while another that needs dry soil might die if you plant it in a wet spot.
“Full sun” means at least 6 hours each day of direct sunlight. “Partial shade” means an area receives dappled shade throughout the day, or two to four hours of direct sunlight. “Shade” means two or fewer hours of sun each day.
Make sure that your tree doesn’t cause problems as it grows. Plant trees so there is enough room for roots and branches to reach full size. Make sure that the tree won’t disrupt power lines, sidewalks and other infrastructure as it grows.
Select a site that is far enough from your neighbor’s property that the branches won’t extend into their yard. Or, talk to your neighbor about the benefits of sharing the shade from your tree as it grows.
PREPARE THE PLANTING SITE, AND PLANT THE TREE
Do not leave the tree in bright sunlight or hot temperatures before you plant it. Instead, leave it somewhere cool in the shade. Do not carry the tree by its trunk, as that can cause the trunk to snap off or can damage the root ball and kill the tree.
Remove grass and other plants in a several-foot radius from the planting hole. Grass can absorb water and nutrients that a young tree needs to thrive or encourages damage from lawn mowers and trimmers.
Dig a hole that’s no deeper than the tree’s root flare, and three to five times as wide as the size of its container in a bowl shape. This helps the roots spread out as they grow, making for a healthier tree. Locate the tree flare (the spot where the trunk transitions into the roots at the base of the tree) for proper depth. Remove all tags and any staking material from the tree that may be on it. These can cause damage later in life for the tree.
Container or Fabric Pot trees – Carefully remove the tree from the container or fabric pot. Trees that are kept in containers for too long often have roots that grow in a circling pattern. As these wrap-around roots grow, they can “girdle” or strangle a tree. Use your hands to loosen and tease apart the roots. You can also take a sharp knife and cut an X in the bottom of the root ball to help break up overly compacted roots. Gently place the tree in the center of the hole
Balled and Burlap-wrapped trees– Expose the top part of the ball to located root flare. Gently place the tree in the center of the hole. Correct any encircling roots by pruning them off to a future straight growing position. Remove at minimum 2/3 of the burlap and any wire basket.
Backfilling the planting Hole– Backfill the hole with the soil you dug out. When filling your hole with soil, don’t add soil to the top of the root ball and go any higher than the root flare —The flare should be exposed and slightly above ground. It’s always better to plant your tree too high than too low.
Click here for a basic planting video from USU extension.
Trees need more water when they’ve just been planted than when they’re established. For the first two weeks after planting, water the tree every day. For three to 12 weeks after planting, water every two or three days. After that, provide the tree plenty of water once a week until it’s established, which usually takes three years. About 10 gallons per caliper inch of the trunk per week. Each site within the landscape also may vary with soil, sun exposure or etc. so watering amounts and how often may need to be adjusted on a individual tree bases. There’s no need to water if there’s been adequate rainfall. Overall, you want the soil to be moist but not soggy.
Not all new trees need to be staked. Do stake if:
- Bare-root trees or trees with a small root ball.
- Trees planted in areas with lots of foot traffic, like a sidewalk or street.
- New trees that can’t stand on their own or those that begin to lean. Tall, top heavy trees.
- If you live in a very windy area.
Use two wooden stakes. Place your hand on the trunk and see where it needs to be steadied. That’s how tall your stakes should be.
Place the two stakes opposite each other into stable soil (not the root ball and away from the trunk).
Use a soft material, like canvas strapping or tree staking straps, to attach the stakes. Allow enough slack, so the tree can naturally sway. Don’t use rope or wire, which damages the trunk.
Generally, remove the stake the next growing season. If you add a stake in spring, remove in fall. If you stake in fall, remove in spring. Otherwise, the tree will depend on the stake and won’t stand on its own.
Stakes left on too long can cause branches and trunks severe damage later, reducing the life and health of the tree.
One of the most beneficial things you can do for your plants. But it can be disastrous if applied wrong.
Mulch is great to add after a tree is planted. It looks nice and, more importantly, it helps keep the soil moist and controls soil temperature. Apply mulch between 2 and 4 inches deep, (2”- 3” in clay soils) starting at least four inches from the root flare and working your way outwards. Click here for more detailed instructions from USU Forestry.
A common mistake is piling mulch against the trunk of the tree. Although you may have seen trees with thick applications of mulch against the truck and root flare — so-called “mulch volcanos” — this can kill a tree. If mulch touches the tree’s trunk or root flare it can invite pests, cause the trunk to rot, or cause the tree’s roots to grow up into the mulch and girdle the tree.
It’s important to trim away minor branch defects at the time of planting, but hold off on pruning young trees for at 3 years. Minor pruning should only be limited to choosing a central leader, dead or damaged branches. Begin to encourage proper branching structure beginning the 3rd year. Click here for video from USU extension.
Trimming a small tree with lightweight branches and a canopy at eye level is easy and manageable. Click here to learn where to make a proper pruning cut from USU extension. However, you should not attempt to prune a tree if you must climb a ladder to reach the branches, if it’s near a power line (very dangerous), or if it has large branches that are too heavy to handle. Large pruning jobs should absolutely be left to a professional arborist.