How to Care For Your Trees

“And the boy loved the tree very much. And the tree was happy.” – The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

Follow these basics and be your tree’s friend forever. Trees need maintenance throughout their lives, but it is particularly important right after planting while the tree is establishing.  During this period, it is all about watering, mulching and pruning:

Children help during community-wide planting in West Louisville, Kentucky. © Devan King / TNC

Red spruce tree saplings. © Patrick Cavan Brown

  • The Right Tree for the Right Place: An important step before maintenance begins is choosing the right tree for the right place.  This will reduce later maintenance needs and increase the benefits the tree provides to you!  Think about how large the tree will grow over its lifetime and if the space you are considering has the right sunlight, space and soil conditions for the tree to survive and thrive.

  • Watering:  Proper watering is essential for the survivorship and health of transplanted trees. In the first two years after planting, it is important to keep the roots at the base of the tree – known as the root ball - moist but not over-watered. The soil around these roots are the major source of water for the tree until the broader root system redevelops.

    • During the summer months, water your tree twice each week with approximately 10 to 15 gallons of water.

    • Pro Tip: Plant your tree in the Fall in the Pacific Northwest so that it can start establishing over our wet winter months!  This increases the chances your tree will survive.

  • Mulching:  Mulch new plantings to reduce competition of aggressive lawn grasses and weeds for soil moisture and nutrients. New organic mulch must be added periodically as the older mulch decomposes.

    • Give your newly planted tree some breathing room when adding mulch – about an inch around the base of the tree should be sufficient.

    • Pro Tip: In addition to mulch, woody shrubs, groundcover and perennials can reduce weeds and add to the landscape appearance.

  • Pruning:  Pruning from the start can help you ensure the proper branch structure as the tree grows.  Focus on supporting a strong central leader and reducing the length of large lateral branches. 

    • Choosing the right tree for the right space will minimize the need to prune for size later in later – whether to clear buildings or walkways.

Sources: City of Tacoma and The Morton Arboretum

Interested in learning more about selecting the right tree for you — and caring for it? Check out these resources: 

City of Seattle

Tree Planting

City of Bellingham

Tree Planting Guide

International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)

Tree Health