The first two years after planting a tree are vital. More trees die during those critical two years than during any other part of their lifetime, mostly due to lack of proper care.
In this article, we go over what you should do (and not do), what you should look for, and our top tree care tips to help your newly-planted tree thrive.
Ensure the tree is planted correctly
Even if your tree was originally planted correctly, the ground may have shifted around the tree since then. The first thing to look for is the top of the trunk flare. The trunk flare is where the trunk expands at the base of the tree. If you can’t see it, your tree might be planted too deep or has settled since it was planted.
Ensure that the trunk flare is exposed. If you can’t see it, remove the dirt from around the trunk until the flare is visible. If the tree is planted much too deep, you may need to replant it.
Keep in mind that the planting hole should be 2 to 3 times wider than the root ball (to allow space for the roots to branch out), but no deeper than the root ball.
Water, water, water
Newly planted trees need to be watered, unlike established trees. Watering them slowly and deeply is the goal, which means placing a soaker hose or a garden hose at the base of the tree (where the edge of the root ball is, not near the trunk) and releasing a slow trickle of water for two hours.
Water this way from June through October every 7 to 10 days. If the ground is wet from a recent rainfall, skip watering until the ground is dry.
If it snows soon after you planted your tree, water when/if the snow melts and the temperature rises above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Add organic mulch if possible (see more on mulch below). Learn more about the importance of winter watering here. We can even water in the winter for you!
Over the next two years, gradually widen the circle of where you water to encourage the roots to spread. The roots will grow to at least the edge of the tree’s canopy, so place the hose there.
Roots will grow more in the first two years than the “above ground” part of the tree, so be patient! Once the roots are well taken care of, you’ll start to see more branches and leaves develop.
- Water the trunk – you want to encourage the roots to branch out, not wrap around the tree trunk
- Use a sprinkler – a sprinkler reaches the leaves, which don’t absorb water. Only the roots do.
- Water a little bit every day (this – watering shallowly and quickly – is the opposite of what trees need)
- Water if the ground is already saturated
- Be inconsistent with watering. This is the most common reason young trees don’t survive.
Mulch can be your friend (if it keeps its distance)
Depending on your neighborhood’s fire mitigation restrictions, you may want to consider a layer of organic mulch to regulate the ground temperature around your tree and to hold in moisture.
If mulch is possible, place a 2 to 4-inch layer in a circle around your tree, out to the edge of the canopy. Keep the mulch at least 3 inches away from the trunk of the tree or it may cause rot and fungal problems. Avoid “mulch volcanoes” by spreading the mulch in an even layer. Replace and/or widen the circle of mulch as needed or as the tree grows.
Things your newly-planted tree doesn’t need
If your tree was staked, remove the stake after one year. Trees gain strength from bending in the wind and keeping it attached to a stake too long can harm the tree.
Additionally, refrain from pruning your tree for the first year, two years if possible.
Fertilization is not necessary, as the roots aren’t developed enough to be able to take in the nutrients.
Don’t use string trimmers or mowers near the trunk of your tree or you may damage it, giving insects an access point the interior of your tree. Same with using pesticides – if they get too close to your tree it will take in the chemicals and it could kill it.
Visit your tree often until it’s established
Whenever you can, check on your young tree. Here are some things to examine:
- Check how dry the ground is to determine if it needs supplemental watering.
- Look for any signs of disease or distress.
- Watch for broken branches, extreme leaning, or discolored leaves or needles.
If you notice any of these things, contact us at LAM Tree to schedule a consultation.
While every tree will need a little extra TLC during the first few years, the point at which you can stop babying it will vary. Smaller trees are considered “established” after two or three years and will only need some routine maintenance (like pruning and pest or disease inspections) to ensure they stay healthy. If you’ve planted a larger tree, it will take longer to fully establish; the bigger the tree, the longer you’ll need to keep an eye on it.
In Summary …
We’re excited that you’ve added a tree (or trees) to your property and know that it will prove to be a valuable resource for you and for your family for years to come. Give us a call if you have any questions about getting your tree off to a great start – we’re always happy to help trees live a long and healthy life.