Proper Tree and Shrub Care
Most homeowners don’t give the trees and small shrubs in their yards too much thought. They might trim back some branches occasionally – and curse the falling leaves in autumn – but for the most part, trees and shrubs are typically left to their own devices.
Although many trees are fine with an occasional trim, it is a good idea to check on your trees and shrubs regularly and give them a little TLC too. Neglected trees can easily become hazards: falling branches could damage your home or take down power lines and disease could kill the tree, making it susceptible to falling during a strong storm. Newer, less established trees and shrubs need extra special care in the first years to ensure that they grow healthy and strong.
If you aren’t sure what your trees and shrubs need, follow this handy guide to help them grow and continue to be beautiful additions to your yard.
New Trees and Shrubs
In the spring, garden centers are full of new trees and shrubs just waiting for the perfect place to be planted. If you choose to add some new trees to your property, know that they will need some extra support and attention for a while.
There are some key points for you to remember when planting your new trees or shrubs:
- Follow the planting instructions exactly. Planting trees to the proper depth ensures that the roots can take hold.
- Water well after planting.
- Use mulch around newly planted trees. Not only does a 2-3-inch layer of mulch help keep the soil moist, it also helps to protect the tree’s young bark from the lawn mower and string trimming, which can cause serious damage to the base of the tree.
- Stake if necessary. Some trees, especially those planted as bare roots, need a little extra support to stay upright for the first year or two. The stake should be as tall as the young tree. It’s important not to tie the stake too tightly to avoid damaging the bark and restricting the young tree growth.
- Add fertilizer if necessary. Young trees and shrubs need feeding in the first few years until they are established and capable of drawing enough nutrients from the soil. Trees and shrubs planted in poor soil will benefit from an all-purpose fertilizer or a fertilizer labeled as tree blend.
Caring for newly planted trees and shrubs in the winter requires a bit more work. In the fall, add a fresh layer of mulch around the roots if necessary and continue watering. If your tree is in a windy spot, consider staking it; otherwise, installing a windbreak can help prevent it from toppling over and will help keep the ground moist. Especially delicate trees may be susceptible to sunscald, in which the tree’s cells thaw in the sun during the day and then freeze rapidly at night, causing cracks in the trunk. Trees with thin bark, including maple, ash, linden, willow and most fruit trees are susceptible to this. Therefore, covering trees with tree wrap or burlap is a good idea for the first few winters to help prevent sunscald and ensure water reaches the entire tree.
Pruning back dead and diseased branches is also important for new trees (although it’s less likely to be necessary). It’s also a good idea to brush snow and ice off of young limbs to keep them from breaking during the cold months. Once the weather warms up, you can unwrap the trees and continue watering them as necessary.
Established Trees and Shrubs
Once your new trees and shrubs are well-established, after 2-3 years, the care required is minimal. Most of the tree care work is limited to ensuring the tree has adequate water and pruning when necessary to remove dead twigs and branches. In terms of small shrubs, most flowering shrubs, like hydrangeas, rose of Sharon, Lilac and butterfly bush, need an annual pruning in the fall or spring to help encourage growth and some fresh mulch to stay healthy.
Trees generally do not need a lot of watering, unless the landscape is under a drought situation. In areas that are especially dry or drought prone, a drip-irrigation system can ensure that your trees get adequate water. This method will also help your home conserve more water.
For most trees, the biggest issues are insect and disease threats. Inspect your trees once or twice a year to look for signs of trouble, including dead or broken branches, cracks, evidence of insect feeding damage, weeping fluid (not sap), fungus, mildew on the leaves and peeling bark. Any of these problems could ultimately cause the tree’s health to decline, which could lead to it falling and causing property damage or injury. It’s best to limit your pruning to the branches that are clearly dead or broken. If you notice these issues with your tree, it’s generally best to call a professional tree service to inspect the tree and determine the right course of action. Ask them for advice on how to trim trees to help keep your tree healthy and avoid future problems.
Soil issues can also affect a tree’s health. While mature trees don’t necessarily need to be fertilized regularly, it’s a good idea to test the soil around the tree to check the pH and nutrient content. Testing the soil will help you determine whether you need to add fertilizer. Adding a layer of bark mulch around the base of the tree can also help keep the moisture in and provide organic nutrients while preventing the soil from becoming compacted around the tree, which limits moisture.
Caring for your trees and shrubs is actually one of the easier gardening tasks you will have to tackle. Once they are mature, you only need to monitor your trees and shrubs for signs of trouble and ensure that they are getting enough sunlight. When you do, they will provide beauty, shade and yes, plenty of leaves to rake, for years to come.