do not realize
for 3 to 5 years
Quick tree care tips
Trees come in many shapes and forms, the traditional definition of a standard tree is of approximately 10cm-12cm girth with a clear stem to about 1.2m to 1.5m metres with a sub-divided branch structure above this of about 3m in height. They are usually planted in streets or where an immediate presence is required. Whips are younger tree saplings of about 600mm in length and are planted in great numbers to achieve coverage of a large area.
Watering newly planted trees
- in spring and summer, water new trees as often as possible
- once in the ground it is almost impossible to over-water a tree
- a 2m (6ft) ‘standard’ needs at least 30 litres (about 6 gallons) a week
- water is heavy to carry; recycle your old 5 litre water bottles: they have handles and lids, and are not too heavy (5kg when full); this re-uses plastics that are difficult to recycle
- when possible avoid evaporation by watering early or late, not in the middle of the day
Weed and mulch new trees (any time)
- removing grass and weeds prevents them competing with the tree for water and nutrients
- mulch (woodchip, leaf mould, etc.) keeps the soil moist and prevents weeds
Check guards, stakes and ties (any time)
- guards protect trees from damage by dogs, cars, mowers, strimmers and vandalism
- stakes are important to support a tree until its anchor roots grow
- if a stake comes loose the tree may rock in the wind: this will prevent roots developing and can kill the tree
- tree ties secure the tree to the stake
- ties that come loose do nothing to prevent the tree rocking, however ties also need loosening as the tree grows
This guide is designed to give you the basic information you need to care for trees in your area
Young trees are dying
Many people do not realize that newly planted trees need watering for 3 to 5 years. The more aftercare a tree receives – particularly in its first two years – the more likely it is to survive and flourish.
Why water trees?
The bigger a tree is when it is planted, the more aftercare it will require. A ‘whip’ (less than 6cm in girth) may not need much watering because it will establish itself quickly.
However, most trees planted in parks or streets are ‘standards’ (2–3m tall and 10–18cm girth). These are grown in nurseries and therefore have unnaturally small root systems. Nurseries crop the roots to save space and aid transportation. So trees grown in nurseries do not have the extensive root systems that naturally seeded trees have. Consequently nursery trees need a lot of watering to help them establish more roots after planting.
Bare-rooted trees need more aftercare than container grown trees because many of their roots can be lost in lifting and transportation. It is the tiny fibrous roots which are most important because they absorb the water and nutrients. These very thin roots are easily damaged or lost completely. The bigger roots provide anchorage and connect the smaller roots to the tree.
A bare-rooted tree has to completely replace its feeder roots after planting.
What you can do
Like many things, trees that are looked after do well but once they start to decline they are much harder to bring back to health. Trees that suffer from drought have fewer, smaller leaves. This means they have less ability to photosynthesis and so less energy to grow more roots and leaves.
To break the circle of decline, a tree that is struggling has to be watered regularly so that it can gradually put out new leaves and replenish its resources. Obviously it is better to catch a tree before it begins to decline. For this reason the most important time to water is during the first growing season after planting.
Basic guide to planting a tree
Trees take a long time to mature and can get very large, so selecting the correct species is important.
- an oak tree may be suitable in a large park but a smaller tree, such as a cherry or birch, might be more suitable in a narrow road or garden
- some trees need more light (usually those with light coloured leaves) or water (e.g. poplars and willows)
- other trees are shade tolerant (often those with dark green leaves, e.g. yew and holly)
- if unsure, it is best to get specific advice
- always consider the size the tree will grow to when it is mature
- It may look small when you plant it, but remember that it cannot be moved once it has established
- look at a mature tree of the same species to get some idea of the space the tree will need
When to plant
- trees should generally be planted in the spring or fall
- trees in containers can be planted at other times but if so they will need more watering and may suffer from shock
How to plant
- dig a hole that is slightly wider and deeper than the roots of the tree; the extra space below and at the sides will be in-filled; but, having been loosened, it will help the roots to establish
- square holes are better than round holes because tree roots can go round in circles if unable to break out of a round hole (yes, seriously!)
- back-fill the hole a little so that the tree will be at exactly the same height in the ground as it was at the nursery; if a tree is planted too deep, the stem may rot; if too shallow, the roots above ground will die
- put the tree in the hole and replace the soil, firming it down all around the tree; it is essential that the tree is not loose in the ground: the roots need to be immobilised
- heel the soil firm (with the heel of your boot) as you back-fill, but do not compact the soil by hammering it down until it is like concrete
- compacted soil prevents water and air circulation, causing roots to die
- now water the tree and cover the soil with a good heap of mulch (e.g. 6-month-old woodchip)