Yard and Garden: Care of Newly Planted Trees

After planting, care is critical to the survival of newly planted trees

May 29, 2020, 2:56 pm | Richard Jauron

AMES, Iowa – The key to watering newly planted balled and burlapped and container-grown trees is to keep the plant’s root-ball moist for several weeks after planting. In this week’s yard and garden article, Richard Jauron, horticulture program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers some tips.

recently planted tree, by k_samurkas/adobestockWhen should I water?

Water newly planted trees every day for four to five days and then gradually reduce the frequency of watering. When watering, slowly apply water to the root-ball and the surrounding soil. A thorough watering every seven to 10 days (in dry weather) should be sufficient four to six weeks after planting.

Continue this watering schedule through summer and into fall. Watering of trees can be discontinued when the ground freezes in winter. Small trees usually require watering for one or two growing seasons. It may be necessary to periodically water large trees for two to three years.

When should I prune?

Trees utilize sugars and other carbohydrates manufactured by the foliage for plant growth. Pruning of newly planted trees should be limited to corrective pruning. (Severe pruning reduces the tree’s ability to manufacture food and slows plant growth.) Remove structural defects, such as double leaders and dead, broken, or crossing branches. Retain most of the lower branches to help stabilize the tree. The lower branches also provide food for the growing tree. Gradually remove the lower limbs as the tree grows during the first five to 10 years.

It is generally not necessary to fertilize newly planted trees. Most Iowa soils can supply enough amounts of nutrients during establishment. If the tree is growing poorly two or three years after planting, fertilization may be beneficial. Signs of poor health include sparse foliage, yellow-green leaves or short annual twig growth.

What about staking?

Staking is not required for most newly planted trees. However, top-heavy trees and those planted in windy, exposed sites may require staking. If staking is necessary, allow the trunk to move or sway for proper trunk and root development. To prevent damage to the trunk, use strong, wide strips of canvas, polypropylene, rubber, or other materials to support the tree. It is usually advisable to remove staking materials after one growing season.

It is usually not necessary to immediately wrap the trunks of newly planted trees. Protective materials can be placed around the trunks of young trees in fall to discourage rabbit browsing and sunscald in winter. These materials should be placed around the trunks of trees in fall and promptly removed in spring.

Photo credit:  k_samurkas/stock.adobe.com

About the Authors: