7 tricks to care for young trees that will help them grow

June 23, 2015

It's important to care for the trees you already have growing in your yard, especially young ones that are vulnerable to disease and adverse weather. Here are seven proven tricks to help them grow big and strong.

7 tricks to care for young trees that will help them grow

1. Water attentively

Young trees need plenty of water until their roots are established. Remember, their network isn't fully developed so they draw water from a much smaller system of roots. It's akin to drawing water from a well using a glass versus a bucket.

  • When they mature, water trees deeply so that moisture soaks the roots.

When rainfall is low, use a soaker hose around the base of the tree or let water run very slowly out of the hose end for several hours.

  • If the soil or mulch is disturbed by the water flow, turn the pressure down to a trickle.
  • Allowing water to run for a longer period of times allows it to penetrate deep into the soil along the tree's tap root.

2. Add multipurpose mulch

Mulch not only retains moisture and suppresses weeds, but also keeps potentially damaging lawn-care equipment at a safe distance.

  • Use year-round organic material like shredded bark or wood chips, not fresh grass clippings or sawdust.
  • Spread it around the base of the tree, starting 15 centimetres from the trunk and keeping it only five to 10 centimetres deep; any deeper and the mulch could suffocate the roots.

3. Prevent sunscald

This condition can injure young, thin-barked trees — especially ashes, lindens, maples, oaks, willows and fruit trees. It occurs on warm winter days when the sun's rays activate dormant cells underneath the bark. When the temperature drops at night, it kills the cells and damages the tree.

  • To prevent sunscald, wrap young tree trunks with a couple of layers of aluminum foil during the winter or use protective tape sold for this purpose.

4. Protect trunks

Mice, rabbits and other animals often feed on the tender bark of young trees during winter but will do so year round given the opportunity.

  • A cheap and effective deterrent is to wrap the trunks with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil in late fall.
  • Be sure to remove it in the spring.
  • If nibbling on bark continues to be a problem in spring and summer, you can buy protective mesh to wrap around the tree's trunk that allows both water, air and sunlight through. This wrap provides a gap between the tree trunk and the mesh so tiny, sharp teeth can't reach the bark.

5. Watch out when trimming weeds

Weed trimmers can quickly do permanent damage to an otherwise healthy tree.

  • To avoid accidentally scarring the trunk of a young tree when you're whacking weeds, cut a cardboard mailing tube in half lengthwise and tie the two halves around the trunk while you work around the tree.
  • Slip it off afterwards and use it on another tree.
  • If you entrust weed trimming to others, use pieces of perforated plastic drainage pipe slit down the side and slipped over the base of the trunks to protect young trees.

6. Stake for stability

A newly transplanted tree usually needs support to help it stay straight until its roots can take hold. Heavy rain and winds can topple slender saplings.

  • Drive three stakes into the ground around the tree and attach the trunk to the stakes with guy wires.
  • Split a piece of old garden hose or use discarded inner tubes to cushion the bark from contact with the wires.

7. Feed trees regularly

Putting fertilizer in the planting hole can harm the roots of young trees, so give them a season to get established before you begin feeding them.

  • Fertilize adolescent trees with a balanced time-release tree and shrub fertilizer in spring.
  • Drilling holes in the soil and filling them with fertilizer is a good way to make sure the fertilizer goes to the tree and not to surrounding grass.

A tip for removing sap from skin

Tree sap is sticky stuff and often won't come off easily.

  • Don't worry – just rub butter on your hand and the gunky sap should wash right off with soap and water.
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