If needed, tree support can be provided by staking, which stabilizes the root ball and supports the tree until it can stand alone. Over time, stakes and ties should be progressively reduced in height to a point where the trunk does not bend when unsupported. This adjustment should occur after the tree is in full foliage (bare trees may appear sturdier without the weight of foliage). Bare root trees, which are grown in nursery fields rather than in containers, may not require staking. With a few exceptions, most trees will be properly developed within two seasons and able to stand without staking. Often, short stakes (18″ – 24″) without ties are left or placed around the tree to protect against mechanical damage from mowers and string trimmers.
Pruning and Training
Proper pruning is essential to ensure a structurally strong, attractive, and mature tree. Pruning needs vary by species and not all trees should be pruned in the same manner. Generally speaking, creation of a main stem or leader is desirable, with the scaffold branches spaced vertically and radially on the trunk. This spacing also varies by species: medium sized trees should have 6″ – 8″ between permanent limbs, while large trees should have at least 18″ of vertical separation. When removing a branch, the pruning cut should be in branch tissue just beyond the bark ridge and the collar. Normally, limbs being removed will be smaller in diameter than the main trunk or parent branch to which they are attached.
If your new tree is planted in a lawn, keep turf cleared at least two feet from the trunk. Regular lawn irrigation may supply enough water for young trees, however check the tree in between waterings to make sure it’s not wilting. If it is wilting, water deeply once a week in addition for the first few months. Use caution not to over-water or over-saturate the soil, as this may cause root rot.
Watering is generally not necessary during wet winter months. In spring, wait to begin watering until 3-4 weeks after new growth begins. This will encourage deep root growth by avoiding the over-saturation of surface soil. As the weather warms, water weekly for two months and then every two weeks for the rest of the dry season. Irrigating once every 2-3 weeks the second and subsequent years should be adequate. Remember to increase the amount of water, while watering on a less frequent schedule as the root system develops.
- Eliminate competitive grasses, weeds, and ground cover within 12″ of the trunk.
- Maintain 3-4″ of mulch around the base of the tree, but not against the trunk where rot can occur.
- DO NOT use string trimmers near trees/trunks — it can be lethal.
- Remove or shorten vigorous shoots along the trunk, but maintain small branches to strengthen the trunk and protect it from sunburn and vandalism.
- Inspect regularly for insects and disease.
- Ensure your tree is still properly staked.
- Trees usually respond only to nitrogen (N); additional fertilizers are needed only if other deficiencies have been identified. Ammonium sulfate with 20% N generally will provide the necessary requirements when spread evenly above the root zone: 2nd year – 1/2 cup (*); 3rd year – 3/4 cup; 4th year – 1 cup. (*) or equivalent amount of nitrogen (N), e.g. 1/4 cup urea (40%N)
- Pull mulch back to fertilize. Replace after application.