Spring is a popular time to plant trees in Loudoun County and the surrounding region, and conditions have been favorable for the most part so far this year. Adding trees to the landscape or replacing old ones that died last year can have an instant impact on your property’s appearance and value. It’s critical, however, to care for new trees properly from the moment they leave the nursery to ensure that their positive impacts last and grow.
Young Tree Care: Day One
Pick the right tree for your planting space. Research the tree’s light and moisture needs and consider the existing soil conditions. It’s probably not a good idea to plant an understory tree like a dogwood in the middle of a large yard with no shade. It’s an even worse idea to plant an oak with an eventual height and spread of 50 feet in a six foot wide bed between your house and sidewalk.
- Don’t pick the tree up by the stem unless you’re planting a bare root tree.
- Dig the hole at least twice the size of the root ball but never deeper than the root ball.
- Plant at a depth where the root flare is visible, not covered by soil or mulch.
- Remove twine and burlap from around the tree trunk and several inches down the root ball. Remove the wire basket if possible, but if this is not possible remove at least the top horizontal round of wire.
- Mulch the tree at least to the drip line and water in thoroughly.
Young Tree Care: The First Two Years
- Your tree will likely need supplemental watering at times during at least the first two years. Water from frequently used lawn sprinklers can actually harm trees; less frequent deep waterings are better for trees.
- Young trees tolerate pruning better than mature trees, and it’s easier to prune a small tree than a big one, so prune to eliminate competing leaders while the tree is young.
- Do not assume that the tree needs supplemental fertilization. Trees planted in lawns often get the fertilizer they need – or even too much of it – from lawn applications. Perform a soil test to determine your tree’s fertilization needs.
- Monitor for insects and diseases, but if they are found, don’t rely solely on chemical treatments. Pest problems occur most commonly in stressed trees, and the stressor is often found below the soil surface. Your soil test can tell you if the soil is deficient in organic matter. Or perhaps the soil is too dry or too wet, stressing the tree and making it susceptible to attacks.
Tree Care: Years 3-5
By this time the tree’s branch canopy has expanded, and the root zone is even larger – often as much as 3x the size of the branch spread. Expand the mulch ring as much as is practical. This benefits the tree in several ways:
- Mulch breaks down over time, adding organic matter to the soil surrounding tree roots. Shredded hardwood mulch is attractive and beneficial, and leaf mulch or wood chips are even better. Many arborists recommend mulching with wood chips in and effort to simulate the forest floor and local municipalities and associations including the County of Loudoun and the Reston Association are increasingly using wood chip mulch.
- Expanded mulch areas reduce the need for mowers to run over the tree’s root system, minimizing compaction and the chance of mechanical damage. Most tree roots are in the top few inches of soil and can be damaged by even minor soil disturbances.
- Mulch also helps with water retention, and expanding your mulch bed will help reduce competition from turf for the water and nutrients your tree needs to grow strong and healthy and to continue to enhance your property’s appearance and value!