Yard and Garden: Planting and Caring for Trees

Millions of trees are planted in Iowa on both private and public lands. The ideal time to plant seedlings in Iowa is between late March and mid-May, depending on weather. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answer questions related to successful tree planting. To have additional questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.

How often should I water a newly planted tree? 

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. Water newly planted trees every day for six or seven 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. Small trees usually require watering for one or two growing seasons. It may be necessary to periodically water large trees for two or three years. 

Should I fertilize a newly planted tree? 

It igenerally is not necessary to fertilize newly planted trees. Most Iowa soils can supply sufficient amounts of nutrients during establishment. If the trees are growing poorly two or three years after planting, fertilization may be beneficial. Poorly growing trees typically exhibit sparse foliage, yellow-green leaves or short annual twig growth. 

Should a newly planted tree be pruned? 

Trees utilize sugars and other carbohydrates manufactured by the foliage for plant growth. Therefore, limit pruning of newly planted trees to corrective pruning. 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. 

Should a newly planted tree be staked? 

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, rubber or other materials to support the tree. Remove the stakes as soon as possible. In most cases, stakes can be removed after one growing season. 
 

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