Spring Care Tips for New Trees

The first two to three years are the most vital for newly planted trees. It’s in this time that new trees become established, striking and anchoring roots into soil for years to come. Every right tree-care decision you make during your tree’s early years reduces transplant stress and creates conditions that favor strong growth.

Use our spring checklist to give your new trees top-notch care as they awaken from winter dormancy.

Water

For newly planted trees, water is the key to successful growth. Roots can’t grow without it, and healthy root development makes or breaks a tree’s transition from nursery to landscape. What should you know about watering new trees?

  • Trees need regular deep watering during the first two to three years of growth. Aim to provide consistent soil moisture, without creating a swamp (and overwatering).
  • Water when the root mass or root ball is dry – not when surrounding soil is dry. If roots haven’t struck into surrounding soil, basing irrigation frequency on that soil won’t necessarily meet the tree’s needs.
  • Check soil moisture by digging gently or using a soil probe.
  • Apply water directly to the root mass or root ball of the new tree by placing a slow-trickling hose alongside the trunk.
  • Automated lawn sprinkler systems may not provide enough moisture for a tree. Check soil moisture before relying on lawn systems for tree irrigation.

Mulch

Mulch helps young trees in many ways: moderating soil temperatures, retaining soil moisture and suppressing weeds. It also helps prevent grass from growing directly against the trunk, which is not ideal for the tree.

  • Maintain a 3-inch-thick mulch layer around young trees. Replenish mulch as needed in spring.
  • Keep mulch at least 6 inches away from the tree trunk. Mulch piled against the trunk holds moisture and heat, providing habitat for insects, rodents, and diseases such as canker.

Staking

Most new trees don’t need staking. But if your site is windy or your tree is top-heavy, you may need to stake. Stake in a way that the trunk is able to move and sway. This favors healthy root development. Use strong, wide pieces of rubber, canvas or other material to attach tree to stakes. Remove stakes as soon as possible. They’re most often removed after one full growing season.

Trunk Protection

As soon as weather warms, remove any winter trunk wrappings. If you added plastic guards, keep those in place to prevent string trimmer or mower damage.

Pruning

In spring, as the end buds on branches expand, they release a hormone that triggers root growth. Cutting branch tips can delay spring root growth. Only prune diseased or damaged branches.

Pests & Diseases

New trees need every leaf to generate internal food supplies. As new leaves appear, inspect trees regularly for insects that might damage foliage. Check with your local extension office or garden center to help identify pests or problems and discover tree care solutions.

Fertilizer

Fertilize newly planted trees lightly. Check with your local extension service for recommendations related to your region and soil type to ensure you apply the right type of fertilizer at the correct rate.