Caring for Young Trees

The first few years after planting a young tree are the most critical toward its long-term success. Follow these tips to ensuring their lasting presence in your garden.

The first couple of years after planting is a crucial time in a young tree's life. Supplemental watering with a garden or soaker hose is a necessity, particularly in the first year. It's also important to prune, stake and wrap a tree but only if necessary. Learn how to distinguish when a young tree needs your help or when it can be left alone.

When to Prune a Young Tree

Don't be overzealous when pruning a young tree. In fact, it may be best to leave a young tree alone within the first year after planting, except for removal of any dead or broken limbs. A good rule of thumb is to mentally divide a young tree into thirds. One-third is the roots, one-third is the trunk and the remaining third is the foliage section. If you remove so much foliage that you reduce the area to less than a third, the tree may never recover. Trees need a certain amount of foliage to photosynthesize and manufacture food, and removing too much causes stress. Wait for several years before you remove lower limbs to create clearance for the sidewalk or driveway.

Tree Wrapping

Trees are often planted on the northwest side of the property to block wind, but the wind may desiccate the trees. Trees are also planted on the southeast side of the property to provide shade for the home, but the bark of such trees may suffer from sun scald if not properly protected. Planting the proper type of tree for landscape conditions is one way to prevent injury. Maple and poplar, for example, are susceptible to sun scald and desiccation by wind; oaks usually aren't.

Use tree wrap to protect the trunks of young trees from sun scald. Tree wrap is perforated, and the rough side should be placed next to the bark. Wrap it tightly enough to stay in place but not so tightly that it blocks air circulation to the bark. Tree wrap also helps protect young trees from freezing. Never use burlap to wrap tree trunks, as it can trap moisture and cause fungal or bacterial problems. Remove the trunk wrap after a few years.

The Benefits of Mulch

A 3-inch layer of mulch will help to prevent weeds from growing around the base of young trees and robbing them of much-needed moisture and nutrients. Mulch also provides a protective barrier around trees from string trimmers, which could damage the bark.


Don't stake young trees unless they can't stand up on their own. If you must stake a tree, use a rubber collar made from old pieces of hose to protect the bark from the guide wire. The wire should be placed above a crotch so it won't slip down. When staking a tree, leave room for the tree to move in the wind; the roots will eventually take over the job of anchoring the plant. After one year, remove all staking materials.

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