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Young Tree Care

watering bag

Proper water makes a world of difference to a young tree.

The first three years are critical to the development of your young tree. Follow these guidelines to ensure a healthy tree and to minimize future costs and hazards.

  • Water, water, water! Newly planted trees need water in the summer- about 5 gallons per week for every inch of trunk diameter. Water should always be applied slowly. A watering bag or a garden hose set to a slow trickle and left for 30 minutes will do the trick. You can also use a watering bag, such as in the picture to the right. Or take three 5-gallon buckets, use a hammer and nail to make some holes in the bottom, place the buckets at the base of the tree, and fill with water.

    To test proper watering, dig to soil 2 inches below the surface. This soil should be damp, not dry and crumbling or saturated.

  • Prune young deciduous (which drop their leaves in the winter) trees to create a strong structure and to remove dead, damaged, diseased, crossing, and rubbing branches. This will reduce pruning needs when your tree is mature. Poor pruning techniques, such as topping, can seriously damage your tree so consider hiring a certified arborist. If you plan to prune yourself, check out the resources below to learn how to prune properly. Groups such as Plant Amnesty, Seattle Tilth, and City Fruit provide tree pruning workshops.

  • Weed and Mulch. Remove any competing plants, such as grass, within at least 2 feet of the tree's trunk. These plants compete with the tree for water and nutrients. A 2-4" thick layer of mulch in a doughnut shape around the tree will protect the tree from harm by mowers and weedwackers, supprees weeds, help maintain water in the soil, and provide nutrients to the tree. Mulch should not be touching the tree truck, and should be kept a hands-distance away. In most cases, there is no need to fertilize trees.

    These stakes should have been removed long ago.

  • Only stake a tree if necessary to hold it upright. Be sure stakes do not rub against the trunk or branches, causing wounds which can lead to infection and tree death. Remove stakes after 1-2 years. You can test if stakes are ready to be removed by grasping the tree at the bottom of the trunk and gently shaking it. If the soil around the tree does not move, the tree’s roots have moved into the surrounding soil, stabilizing the tree. The stakes can then be removed. DO NOT leave stakes on longer than necessary – if the trunk is larger than the stakes, the stakes should be removed!

Further Resources

Watering newly planted trees

Pruning young trees - Trees are Good


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