Tree Owner’s Manual
Written by: Certified Arborist, Jake Kubisiak
How exciting! You just moved into a new home with young trees or you’ve recently added new trees to your property. Time to invite over the in-laws for a party! Everyone wants to behold the new baby tree. Pictures with grandparents, parents and the new baby tree; of course. Well a new tree is sort of like having a new baby. I remember the way my wife and I felt as we left the hospital with our first child. Excited, but nervous. The nagging question and feeling of: Are these people sure we know what we’re doing? This article attempts to pass along some guidance of young tree care for the new ‘parents’.
Probably the most critical step in a successful tree life is proper planting. Assuming a certified arborist was involved in guiding the location, species and proper installation of your tree I can move on to on-going care. So, if you are adopting trees as a new home owner you may want an initial assessment by a pediatrician, I mean an ISA Certified Arborist to perform a check on the status of your tree(s).
Are you planting your own new tree? This is an entire article on its own. Proper installation involves finding the Root Collar or Root Flare or start of the roots at base of tree. These should be partially exposed at ground level. This often means excavation of the root ball to find the tops of the root system. Understanding what to look for and how deep or high to install your new tree is critical. If you have questions, we are here to help or perform this critical step for you.
The new tree is now properly installed. Proper care involves proper watering. Seems simple enough yet trees are often under or over watered and both can lead to issues. The best way to know what the moisture needs are for your tree is to get your fingers dirty and touch the soil in the root ball and around the outside of the root ball. The soil should be allowed to dry out a bit before more water is added, but not so much that the soil is hard or powdery to the touch. Frequency is often more important than the amount of water, at least in the first few days and weeks following installation.
Creating a mulched area around the new trees helps to retain soil moisture. Amending the soil in the planting hole with beneficial organic materials can help retain soil moisture as well. We often use a loose compost to amend the local soil in the planting hole, beyond moisture retention this helps to create an active biology in the soil which is conducive to root development. Continual additions of organic mulch is helpful as long as the mulch is applied up to, but not on to the trunk of the tree.
A big pet peeve of mine is hearing that plants need to be fed. This is fundamentally inaccurate. With a rare few exceptions, all plants create their own ‘food’ through photosynthesis. There are, however, certain nutrients that are beneficial to helping create photosynthesis and other processes important to growth and establishment of plants and trees. Each soil is different, even in different locations around your property. Testing the soil for not only nutrient content, but also physical characteristics can be very important. This testing can help an arborist decide what sort of soil amendments might be beneficial or even necessary to help with a young tree’s development. It may suggest a tree should not be used in certain locations. There are several resources available for soil nutrient testing. Far fewer options are available to test the physical characteristics of soil. Wachtel Tree Science has the capability and expertise to provide this type of soil test with our own soil scientist on staff to assess the soil sample(s) taken from your property.
Young trees can often use a bit of direction at the time of planting. Some minimal cutting to remove damaged branches, and possibly some corrective cuts to direct the future canopy shape and structure. If you are unsure of what should be cut it is likely better to leave branches in place. Pruning can always be done by a professional as the tree becomes established in the first 1-5 years. These small cuts can help avoid the difficult long-term issues associated with poor structure.
Insects and Diseases:
Occasionally trees come from the nursery with insects included. Proper tree selection and nursery development should help us find trees that are less susceptible to local insect or disease issues. However, some issues that can still find their way to our trees. I am often called to check trees with maladies. My best suggestion for when to contact us is to treat your arborist like you treat your veterinarian or dentist. If your teeth hurt or your dog is not well get ahold of the trained pro. We are a phone call away when something seems wrong with your tree, I don’t usually check pets or teeth. Sending a photo can sometimes be helpful. If an in-person visit is needed that can be set up as well.
So good luck. You’ve got this! We are here to help when needed. Enjoy the younger years as they go quickly. Next thing you know it’s a driver’s license, high school graduation and off into the world providing shade or beauty to your home or landscape.