Mulching: Adding mulch around the base of the plant is a very important part of plant care that is often overlooked. By mulching plants, a more favorable environment is provided for the tree roots. Mulch allows better infiltration of water, holds soil moisture, limits weed growth and discourages injury from lawnmowers and weed whackers. A 3-6 inch layer of mulch, spread to form a 3-6 foot diameter circle around the plant, should be applied. Keep the mulch material from direct contact with the tree trunk. Wood and bark chips are good mulching materials. A porous landscape fabric that allows gas and water exchange can be used as a broadleaved weed barrier underneath the chips. Plastic under mulch can cause roots to suffocate and is not recommended.
Staking: Most newly planted trees will do better without staking. Young trees standing alone with their tops free to move will develop stronger, more resilient trunks than those staked for several years. Trunk movement is required to develop strong, tapered trunks. If however, a tree is unstable in a strong wind or is pushed over, then staking is required. A common problem with staking trees is the girdling effect that the ties can have on the tree. Soft nylon webbing or carpet strips attached by grommets to a stake can reduce this damage. Often, wire is too tight around the trunk and will effectively girdle and kill the tree. Whatever material is used, be sure to allow for some movement, and remove the stakes and ties once the tree is established—usually after one year.
Watering: Too much or too little water after transplanting is a major cause of tree loss. The site should be thoroughly watered immediately after planting. Thereafter, the soil must be regularly monitored to prevent drying out. If rainfall is inadequate, the soil around the plant’s roots should be deeply watered approximately every 10-14 days. If you are not sure if the soil is drying, dig down 3 to 4 inches next to the plant. Wet soil at that depth verifies watering is not needed at that time. A slow trickle of the garden hose at the base of the plant for several hours or until the soil is thoroughly soaked is the best method. Short, frequent watering should be avoided as this does not promote deep root growth but rather, the development of a shallow root system that is vulnerable to several environmental stresses.
Winter Care: Winter care begins in the summer with proper watering. Watering can be decreased in early fall and increased in late fall to provide water needed to withstand the drying winds of winter. Plants need to go dormant; don’t encourage late growth by heavy watering and nitrogen fertilization in early fall. Plants should be thoroughly watered in late fall just prior to the soil freezing.
Sunscald, characterized by sunken, dried, or cracked bark, is caused by the heating effect of the winter sun in cold weather. It usually occurs on the south or southwest side of the tree. In the fall, wrap young and thin-barked trees with commercial tree wrap from the bottom up to the first major branch. Remove the wrap in spring. Thin-barked species such as maples and honey locusts may require protection for several years.
Winter browning, or windburn, of evergreens is normally caused by the combined effects of wind and sun. Trees lose water from the leaves (needles) while roots are in frozen soil. To protect evergreens, place a screen of burlap or similar material on the south, west and windward side of the tree to block wind and sun. Antidesiccant sprays are not very effective in offsetting the drying effects. Water evergreens well throughout the growing season, lightly in September, and then thoroughly again before the soil freezes.