Planting a new tree or shrub is a long-term investment; over time, these long-lived plants offer myriad benefits to your property. However, in those first few years, your latest additions need a little extra TLC to set them up for the long haul in your landscape. Keep reading to learn how to care for newly planted trees and shrubs.
Watering Your Newly Planted Tree or Shrub
Once your new tree or shrub is freshly planted, your first task is to give it a deep drink of water. Give the ground a good soak around the root ball; this will settle the soil, remove air pockets, and fully saturate the area. The root system will have plenty of water available for the next few days, which will encourage deep rooting and aid in recovery from the transplanting process. Repeat this deep watering process approximately every 5-7 days—more often if the weather is hot and dry, and less often if you have heavy clay soil or there’s been lots of rain.
How Much Water is Enough?
The rule of thumb is to use about 2 gallons of water for every inch of your tree’s trunk diameter. For shrubs, you can add together the diameters of the main stems, multiply that total by 1.5, and your result is the amount of water (in gallons) that your shrub needs.
Should You Fertilize a Newly Planted Tree or Shrub?
When learning how to care for most outdoor and indoor plants, we often expect to start a fertilizing schedule quite promptly—not so for newly planted trees and shrubs! In the early days of establishment, these large plants have little use for added fertilizers. As long as you’ve enriched the soil in your garden bed with plenty of organic matter, especially the soil you’ve used to backfill, your tree or shrub will do fine with just water for the first full year. In the second year after planting, you can start to apply appropriate fertilizers.
Pruning Your New Trees and Shrubs
Avoid pruning newly planted trees and shrubs during their first growing season unless absolutely necessary. A necessary situation might include trimming a damaged or diseased limb or any dead plant material. Further pruning while the plant is actively growing and establishing its root system can cause unnecessary stress to the plant. Added stress can interfere with normal growth and may make your tree or shrub more susceptible to disease and pest infestation.
In late fall or early spring of the plant’s second year, while it is still dormant, you can begin some light pruning to encourage a strong, healthy shape as it matures. If you’re not sure how to prune or worry about “hurting” your plant, don’t fret—it’s a normal part of tree and shrub care, even for newly planted specimens! Simply cut off limbs that are starting to cross over or grow at an awkward angle. Always use sharp, clean pruners or loppers. We also recommend speaking to the nursery where your tree or shrub was purchased for species-specific pruning tips.
Protecting New Trees and Shrubs
Newly planted trees and shrubs take a long time to mature, and part of learning how to care for them is learning how to protect them in their most vulnerable first years. Here are some important things to consider to help your plants through those early days!
- Mulch: After your first watering, apply a 2-inch layer of mulch around the root ball, without allowing the mulch to touch the trunk or main stems. The mulch will help to keep moisture in and heat out of the soil, leading to better water uptake. It also protects the soil from weed seeds that could compete with your new plant.
- Staking: If your newly planted tree is in a fairly exposed area, it may benefit from staking to prevent wind damage or uprooting. Stakes are usually only necessary for the first year until the roots have had a chance to “anchor in” the plant.
- Physical Barriers and Repellants: Rodents and deer are VERY fond of the tender wood of a newly planted tree or shrub. Protect your new plant with a physical barrier, like a tree guard or chicken wire, or an animal repellant such as Plantskydd.
- Wrapping: We don’t have to remind you that the winters here in Edmonton are extremely frigid! While your new planting is establishing, it can be helpful to keep those young limbs covered by wrapping them in burlap when the weather gets frosty. This will keep the plant insulated from weather extremes and help support the weight of wet, heavy snow.
What Does it Mean for a Tree or Shrub to Become ‘Established?’
The term ‘established’ means the root system has grown to about the same size as the above-ground canopy. (That should put in perspective how massive the root systems on those big, mature oaks and elms are!) Young trees generally become established within a year or two.
If your tree or shrub was planted as part of a Salisbury Landscaping project, you can also get in touch with us for specific questions or contact our warranty department if you have any concerns. We offer a robust warranty program to ensure your newest plantings remain healthy and beautiful long after their first year!