Care of Newly Planted Trees


Water routinely

Water is the single most important need of newly planted trees. Root development or regeneration cannot occur without adequate moisture. Be sure new trees are watered routinely for the first two years after planting. Apply enough water to keep the soil around the roots moist but not wet. Examine soil once a week during dry periods. Gravelly or sandy soils may need more frequent watering; silt or clay soils may require less.

Mulch every two years

Mulch conserves moisture, retards grass and weeds that compete with tree roots, stabilizes soil temperature, adds organic matter to improve soil and protects tree trunks from mowers and weed whips. Replace mulch every two years or so to maintain a 3-inch thick layer. Mulch rings may be widened as the tree grows.

Remove wires and ties

Remove any support wires or ties from a tree as soon as possible. If a tree has been staked, check to see if it can stand on its own about three months after planting. If not, check it again in another three months, and so on. Stakes without ties may be left in place to protect the trunk from bumps by mowers, cars or other equipment.


Prune conservatively

Pruning is normally not required the first two years after planting. Pruning can even be harmful to balled and burlapped trees because food-producing leaves are removed. Dead or broken branches should be removed immediately. Plan for removal of low forks or V-shaped crotches in the trunk to avoid future splitting. Generally, lower side branches can be removed from the trunk as the tree grows to promote a "shade tree" form. Always leave the branch collar intact when removing a branch from the trunk.

Diagram showing how to prune a tree

Fertilize sparingly

Fertilization is seldom required for trees, but may be used to increase growth rates. A simple, effective way to apply granular fertilizer is to broadcast it evenly around the base of the tree, much like applying fertilizer to turf. Cover a circle roughly the diameter of the branch spread. Apply two to three pounds of actual nitrogen (the first number in the three specified on a fertilizer bag, which is a percentage of the mixture) per thousand square feet evenly around the base of the trees. For example, a small tree with a 4-foot branch spread will require about 1/4 pound of 13-13-13 fertilizer. NOTE: Fertilizer is not a substitute or a remedy for poor growing conditions. Use sparingly for weak or distressed trees.

Monitor for pests

Insect and disease pests can cause considerable problems for transplanted trees. Any pest that destroys foliage during the spring and early summer or attacks the trunk of the tree is especially serious. Potentially serious insects include loopers or inchworms, bagworms, and other spring feeding caterpillars. Some diseases to watch for are anthracnose, leaf rusts, and fire blight.

Consult a garden center, arborist, forester, or Extension specialist to learn the correct control. If certain pests are a persistent problem, it may be best to replace the tree with one that has fewer problems.


Tree Maintenance Timetable

Years after planting Necessary Desirable Optional
0 – 3 years Watering
Pest Control Fertilizing
3 – 5 years Mulching
Pest Control
5 – 10 years Pruning Mulching
Pest Control
10+ years   Pruning Mulching
Pest Control
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