There’s an old saying, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.” While it makes a humorous point about how long it takes trees to grow, it’s not very practical advice. The other half of the saying is more inspiring: “The second best time to plant a tree is now.” But getting inspired is only the first step. Without some practical tree care knowledge, even well-loved trees can fall victim to incorrect care or accidental neglect.
Some studies estimate the average lifespan of a city tree is only 7 to 13 years. University of Iowa Extension lists the following as common causes of death in newly planted trees:
- Planting too deep—even by a matter of a few inches
- A planting hole that is too narrow for roots to easily spread
- Unhealthy tree stock
- Watering too little or too much—allow soil to dry between waterings
- Environmental factors such as extreme weather, or poor soil
Trees planted today also face stressors trees growing 50 years ago didn’t experience—such as new invasive pests, diseases, changing weather patterns, and increased construction activity. Once you decide to invest the time and energy into adding a new tree to your property, there are several things you can do to give it the best chance to thrive well into the future.
How To Plant a Tree That Will Thrive in Your Yard
Do some research to find the best species for your location.
Choose the proper placement.
- Allow room for future growth of the tree above and below ground. Be sure to factor in structures or other plants in your landscape that it may need to compete with.
- Consider future building, remodeling, or landscaping plans. Tree roots are shallow—digging near the root zone, such as to add plantings or a patio, will harm the tree.
Spring and fall are the best times of year to plant a new tree.
- Spring: once the ground has thawed.
- Fall: early in the fall before the ground freezes.
Follow proper planting instructions—being sure not to plant too deep!
- Inspect your new tree for girdling roots, or roots that are wrapping around the base of the tree. This often happens as trees are stored in pots or ball and burlap and roots encircle the stem because they lack space to grow outward. Removing girdling roots before planting prevents root issues once the tree grows larger.
- Dig a shallow, saucer-shaped hole that is just deep enough to expose the root flare at the ground’s surface. The root flare is the spot where the roots begin to extend sideways from the tree’s trunk.
Follow proper watering guidelines.
- Keep the tree well watered over the next five years. (It typically takes five years for a tree to become established.)
- Water low and slow, with a garden hose placed at the base of the tree keeping the bark dry. Don’t to use sprinklers to water trees as they encourage fungal diseases.
- Plan to water about once a week—more often if the weather is hot and dry; less often if it is wet and cool.
Did You Know?
- Some cities rely on residents to water city-owned boulevard trees.
- As a rule of thumb, water trees each week when there has been less than one inch of rainfall.