Tree Care Tips and Techniques

Mulching, pruning and watering trees keep them healthy and hydrated, paving the way for successful growth. Here's how you can care for your trees with basic maintenance techniques.

Water Well

Water Well

Water your tree thoroughly after planting, and then weekly during dry spells for the first two growing seasons. Trees are most vulnerable to dehydration when young.

Photo by: DK - Learn to Garden © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Learn to Garden , 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Water your tree thoroughly after planting, and then weekly during dry spells for the first two growing seasons. Trees are most vulnerable to dehydration when young.

Dehydration is the most common reason for the poor growth or death of young trees, so it is essential to keep your tree well watered during dry spells from spring to fall for the first two to three years after planting. Give each tree at least 13 gallons (50 liters) of water per week; this equates to about seven or eight full watering cans. A length of drainpipe sunk vertically into the soil at the edge of the planting hole can act as a useful watering aid, taking the water directly to lower soil levels, but it will tend to fill up with soil and mulch unless it stands so far out of the ground that it looks rather unsightly. 

Mulching 

To reduce competition for water and nutrients from grass, other plants, and weeds, keep clear an area of 1 sq yd (1 sq m) around the tree and mulch it every fall, keeping the mulch away from the trunk. Young trees also benefit from an annual application, in spring, of a general fertilizer, such as blood, fish, and bone. Before you mulch, or after you have pulled back an existing mulch, scatter the fertilizer around the base of the tree at a rate of 2 oz per sq yd (70 g per sq m), fork it into the soil, then water. Once the tree is well established, you can let the grass grow around the trunk, or plant some bulbs or shade-loving ground cover underneath, without slowing the tree’s growth. 

Pruning Young Trees 

Conifers and other evergreens, such as hollies, seldom need pruning after planting, and some deciduous trees, including birches and amelanchiers, are best left alone to develop their naturally beautiful shapes. But other deciduous trees should be pruned every year for the  first few years. 

Inspect your young trees in late summer or late winter, and remove dead, damaged, and diseased wood. Weak or crossing branches are also best cut out. At the same time, loosen ties, and remove any weeds growing over the root area. While you’re at it, check for any suckers shooting from below the graft union and cut them out too. 

More extensive pruning depends on what kind of tree you want. Most trees sold at garden centers are lollipop-shaped, technically known as “standards.” These have been pruned by the nursery, and you merely need to continue keeping the trunk clear, and pruning back wayward stems. 

Younger trees, known as “whips,” are also available. These usually have a single leading stem, and buds that will develop into side stems. They are less expensive, and often easier to establish than older trees, and they can be pruned and shaped as you wish. For example, if you want a tree with several stems, cut the stem to near ground level, or plant a few whips close together, or even in the same hole. Water your tree thoroughly after planting, and then weekly during dry spells for the first two growing seasons—trees are most vulnerable to dehydration when young.

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