One generation plants the tree, another gets the shade.
This old saying is meant to signify the long life and large amounts of care it takes to grow a tree long enough for generations to enjoy. But so many attempts at growing trees fall short of this goal, and many of them only live to be 10-15 years before catching deadly diseases. If you want the tree you planted to be loved long after you’re gone, pay attention to these steps.
1. Make sure you have enough clear space
This doesn’t just mean space for the tree above ground, but below it as well. The length of a tree’s roots can reach anywhere from 2-5 times the height of the mature tree. So make sure that below ground your yard is big enough for the root system, and make sure that anything such as wire baskets or twine is out of the planting hole.
Above ground, make sure that when the tree grows it doesn’t interfere with objects such as telephone poles or transformers.
2. Plant the tree right
Remove the tree from the container it comes in before planting, otherwise the roots will grow in abnormal shapes, resulting in bad root structure which can shorten a tree’s lifespan. Then dig a planting hole three times the size of the root ball, and till an area ten times its size. This will encourage the roots to spread and grow.
Bathe the root ball for at least two hours to remove all excess soil, prune excessively long roots while they are submerged in the water, and then plant it down into the hole. Then, just pack soil around the roots, and mulch the tilled soil with coarse organic mulch a few inches away from the new trunk.
3. When it’s young, mulch, prune, and water away
With the excess roots gone, you will need to water your tree well and often for the first year. If you have a high-quality tree, there will be no need to prune or fertilize it during this time. You can fertilize it after the first year, but don’t use anything with too much nitrogen early on, and use application rates based on rooting space rather than trunk size.
Also after year one, you may need to prune the young tree to ensure it grows into a healthy shape. Mulch the soil around the tree regularly to ensure that nothing tries to impede its growth.
4. As it gets older, it still needs care
If there’s plenty of rain during growing season there’s no need to water the tree, however during extended dry periods you should give its roots a good, long watering. You can mulch it, but there’s no need to prune it unless there’s a dead or diseased branch that should be removed.
If you followed step 1, height should not be an issue, and it’s important to never “top” your tree by removing branches from the crown. Doing so will stress the tree and shorten its life.
Peter Wendt is a freelance writer from Austin, Texas who recently planted a tree in his backyard. He contacted these export arborists to learn more about how to keep his tree living a long and happy life.