The first few years of a tree’s life are extremely important for its health and
longevity. These tips will help ensure that your tree matures into a healthy and
successful one for many decades. Consider this detailed Tree Care Guide from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for additional details.
Planting your tree.
Arguably the most important thing you can do for your tree is to plant it properly. Once you find a good spot to plant:
- Dig a hole at least twice the width of the nursery pot or root ball, and deep enough to fit the roots underground.
- Next, find the root flare. This is where the trunk of your tree meets the roots and begins to flare out. Plant the tree so that the root flare is just above the ground level. Do not bury the tree trunk or push dirt against the trunk!
- Gently loosen the root ball and direct the roots away from the trunk. Untangle or, as a last resort, prune any small roots that are tangled. These will cause problems for the tree later on if not removed early on.
Young trees need lots of water, especially after transplanting.
- On hot days with no rain, water the base of the tree with at least one gallon. If it rains, you may not have to water for a day or two. Gauge by looking at the surrounding soil – if it seems dry, water your tree.
- Leaves will scorch (turn brown at the tips) if they are not receiving enough water.
- After 2-3 years, your tree should have established strong roots and you will not have to water as much, unless a drought or strong heat wave occurs.
Young trees are a favorite for wildlife. They will eat the leaves and twigs, and may damage the bark. It is important to protect your tree while it is young. You must:
- Enclose your tree with a protective barrier like a 4-5′ tall steel or chicken wire fence.
- If possible, fence the tree in until the leaves are out of a deer’s reach. After that point, protect the trunk from buck rub by placing a bark-guard around it.
Mulching around your tree will:
- Prevent weeds from competing with your tree for nutrients and water.
- Prevent damage from weed trimmers and lawnmowers.
- Provide nutrients to the soil and tree as the mulch decomposes.
Use the 3-3-3 rule: leave 3 inches of free space around the root flare, spread the mulch in a donut shape at least 3 feet from the trunk in all directions, and pile the mulch 3 inches high to keep moisture in and weeds away.
If your tree needs some early support to prevent falling over, keep these tips in mind:
- Add two or three stakes at most. Firmly tie the support rope around the tree and stakes. The tree should be able to wobble slightly in the wind, which will encourage supporting root growth.
- Do not keep the stakes and ropes on your tree for more than 1 year. If left on indefinitely, the tree will learn to rely on these stakes for support, and will likely fall when the stakes are removed.