Young Trees

A tree is not unlike a person – it needs lots of love and care to grow to its full potential. By providing the right amount of water, fertilizer, mulch, and some light pruning for the first two to five years, you will give your tree the start it needs.



Here are some things to keep an eye on as your tree grows:

  • Monitor your tree for problems such as disease, insect pests, broken or dead limbs, or inconsistent watering. Trees can adapt to change, but only with time. You will put less stress on your tree with small corrections when it needs them, rather than waiting and correcting several problems at once.
  • New trees need about one inch of water per week for two years to become well established. Supplement rainfall with hand watering when needed. Be sure to soak the entire mulched area. Well-spaced, slow watering is better than watering every day. Allow the area to dry out somewhat between watering. Dig down three or four inches with your hand, and if the soil is quite moist, wait a day or so to water again. Don’t drown the roots, since they need air to grow also.
  • Do not add fertilizer at planting time. Sprinkle a balanced fertilizer (one that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micro-nutrients) over your planting area the next spring, and then again two to three times throughout the growing season. Always follow the fertilizer’s label regarding how much to apply; too much will injure the trees. Trees and grass do not require the same fertilizer, and definitely not at the same rate. Seek professional assistance to determine the best amount. Remember that the decomposing mulch layer will make nutrients available to the tree as well.
  • At planting time, check and remove only dead or broken limbs, or limbs that are rubbing together. At this time, try for one main stem. Do not remove a lot of material; a good practice is to have two-thirds of the tree’s height in foliage. You will have several years to structure your tree. Consult a qualified arborist to learn more about pruning for proper form, removing narrow crotch angles, and caring for large trees.

Staking and Wrapping Young Trees

  • Place staking wires carefully, so that people won’t trip over them
  • Use wide-webbed material
  • Allow some play in the wires


Young nursery trees can lose anywhere between 70% – 95% of their root systems when transplanted. Such severe root loss limits their ability to take in water and nutrients as well as to anchor themselves properly. To help them grow straight and to keep from being blown over as they establish themselves, young transplanted trees can be staked for one to three years.

Staking should always be done with special care. Any wire that comes in contact with a tree branch could potentially girdle and kill it. Use a thick material (nylon straps or garden hose) in order to distribute the pressure over a greater surface area. It is important also to provide some play in the staking wires to allow young trees to develop strong root systems and be able to withstand some wind on their own. Trees naturally strive to grow straight and tall. They even develop “muscles” – areas of stronger wood – to compensate for windy site conditions. If a tree becomes too dependent on supports, its trunk will not develop adequate strength. Instead of helping, badly installed stakes, or stakes that have been left on for more than three years, can actually hurt a tree in the long run.


Wrapping is another procedure often used on younger trees. A long strip of burlap, paper or other material is wound around the trunk to provide some insulation in winter and protect against sun scald. (Sun scald occurs when living bark tissue dehydrates and dies from exposure to bright, intense winter sun; or when water in thawed bark cells refreezes and expands at night, destroying the cells.)

Only young trees or those with thin bark such as Maple, Linden and Honey Locust should be wrapped.

As a rule of thumb, wrapping should be put on in November and removed in May. Tree wrap left on during spring and summer restricts trunk growth and provides a perfect home for insects and disease.

Mature trees:

Continue to follow a good preventative care program, including regular maintenance, to promote your tree’s health and vigor and ensure its long life and continued value. Preventing a problem is much easier than dealing with one after it develops. Regularly inspect your trees for any problems.

The PHC Alternative 

Maintaining mature landscapes can be a complicated undertaking. If you prefer not to do it yourself, you may wish to consider a professional Plant Health Care (PHC) maintenance program which is available from many landscape care companies. PHC programs are designed to maintain plant vigor and should initially include inspections to detect and treat any existing problems which could be damaging or fatal. Thereafter, regular inspections and preventive maintenance will ensure plant health and beauty.