Trees are one of the best additions you can make to your home. They not only add beauty and value, but they also provide shade, temperature regulation, air filtering, wildlife refuge, and a sense of character and history.

Just like any other living creature, however, they need proper care. Knowing when and how to plant, prune, and water them is mandatory if you want your trees to live a long and healthy life. It can also help you to avoid any safety hazards.

We’ve put together this guide to help you get a head start in learning about planting, pruning, and moving trees.

Planting

Planting techniques

  • Remove all containers, twine, and wire from the root ball.
  • Be extremely careful not to break the roots.
  • Prune damaged roots with a sharp knife.

Bare Root Stock

  • Build a small heap of soil in the centre of the hole, and let the roots drape naturally over it,
  • Fill about 3/4 of the hole, and tamp the soil to make sure there are no air pockets,
  • Water thoroughly, and
  • Create a soil embankment surrounding the tree when its already planted. Monitor it during rainfall, in case it gets flooded.

Potted Stock

  • Remove the containers by tapping the sides and bottom,
  • Whatever you do, do not force the tree out of the pot. If it's not coming out easily, cut the sides of the pot rather than trying to force it out, and
  • You can score the root ball by doing vertical cuts down the root ball.

Balled and Burlap Stock

  • Remove all wires, twine, and fabric before planting,
  • Place the tree in the centre of the hole, and fill around the bottom third of the root ball,
  • Water gently but thoroughly, and
  • Do not plant them too deep, the root flare should be just below the surface.

Location of the tree

Have in mind the size of the full grown tree before you choose a place to plant it, as later on it can not be moved. So be mindful of how big the tree you’ve selected will be.

When to plant

It is better to plant in the dormant season, which is usually during or at the end of winter.

Staking

Why is staking important?

Staking helps to stabilise trees and allows them have an easier, straighter growth pattern. When trees are young, their roots sometimes need extra support until they grow sufficiently to anchor properly.

Staking tips

  • Stakes must be really firm, to prevent movement of the root-ball.
  • Stakes should be placed between the tree and the direction of the wind, so the tree actually pulls away from the stake rather than pushing against it
  • It’s best to stake trees close to the ground.
  • Always use two stakes.
  • Make sure the trunk and branches can move freely between the stakes, while still remaining firm.
  • The ties should be firm, but the material needs to be soft so it doesn't cut into the plant.
  • Stakes can be removed 6 months after being placed.

guards

Guards can help keep the tree safe from kids, dogs, or wild animals. They come in different forms and materials, with thin wire mesh being one example.

mulching

Why is mulching important?

  • It keeps the soil moist at all times and helps to moderate its temperature,
  • It can lower the chances of weeds growing,
  • It increases the effectivity of fertilisers, and
  • It saves water by helping to retain moisture.

Types of mulch

organic

Organic mulches break down and adds organic matter to the soil, encouraging soil microbial activity. Some of types of organic mulch include:

  • Straw based mulches, such as pea straw. Pea straw is easy to use and is affordable,
  • Cane type mulches,
  • Cube mulches, which form a softer material as soon as it gets wet, helping to condition the soil, and
  • Bark based mulches, which take longer to break down meaning less frequent applications. Try to always go for the medium grade mulch, as they don’t absorb much water.

inOrganic

Inorganic mulches don’t break down and they can be extremely effective, especially for pot plants. Some inorganic choices of mulch are:

  • Scoria,
  • Gravel, and
  • Stone river pebbles

How to apply mulch

  • Never cover the area immediately surrounding the stem. Instead, apply it at 5 cm distance.
  • Remove weeds from the area before applying.
  • Spread the mulch up to a 50 cm radius of the tree.
  • The layer should be around 7 cm deep.

Tips for mulching

  • If using bark based mulch, apply when it's about 6 months old, so the decomposing phase has already started. This will avoid mixing nitrogen into the soil.
  • Another way to avoid nitrogen drawdown is by applying a balanced organic fertiliser before mulching.
  • If birds decide to flick the mulch away, try using small plants as a barrier, such as low hedges or perennials.
  • If your tree is planted in a hot area, try to avoid stone type mulches as they can absorb excessive heat.

watering

Proper watering is one of the most important factors when caring for a tree. A drought-stressed tree is more likely to get pests, diseases, transplant shock, and can eventually die.

Tips on watering

  • As we reviewed above, water the tree regularly for at least the first year of its life.
  • After the tree is two years old, you can then water them once a week unless the weather is extremely hot, in which case they’ll need a little more water.
  • Try to water your trees in the early morning.

Watering methods

There are two ways you can water your trees:

  • Slow-drip irrigation:This method is effective when you have a tree with large and expansive roots. All you need to do is leave the water trickling out of the hose for a few hours to ensure the deep soil gets enough moisture.
  • HoseSimply soak the trees with a hose once a week, or more depending on the age of the tree and the season.

pruning

Why is pruning important?

Pruning is essential to keep trees healthy by removing diseased or storm-damaged limbs. It can also be done to reduce the height of a tree, remove lower, obstructing branches, and shape the tree to a certain design.

How to prune

First of all, it’s important that we familiarise ourselves with the different branches and parts of a tree in order to prune it correctly:

  • 1The key is to prune the unwanted branches while protecting the stem or main trunk of wood to the tree.
  • 2All pruning cuts should be made on the branch side of the stem collar (swollen area of truck tissue at the base of a branch). This will allow the tree to heal effectively after the prune.
  • 3To avoid tearing bark, use the three-cut technique. First, make small wedge shaped cut on the branch you wish to prune. Then, further along the branch, cut all the way through the branch. To finish, make a last cut close to the stem collar and reduce the length of the stub as much as possible.
  • 4The best cut is made at a 45 to 60 degree angle.
  • 5Don’t coat pruning cuts with tree paint or wound dressing, as they don’t really promote wound closure. Hotwever, if you wish to protect your tree from a certain disease, using moderate wound dressing can be effective.
  • 6Any broken or dead branches should be removed immediately.
  • 6When removing a branch, the final cut has to be made just outside the branch collar.
  • 7To reduce the length of a branch, the cut has to be made at a lateral branch large enough to have apical dominance.

Tips on pruning

  • After planting, pruning torn branches is a good idea to help the new tree stabilise itself.
  • Always sterilise tools between pruning trees to prevent infections from spreading. You can use alcohol to do this.
  • Remove stem sprouts as they appear.
  • Do not remove more than one third of a branch at a time.
  • Allow evergreen trees to grow in their natural form.
  • Be conscious of the branch you’re trying to remove. Try to remove only branches if their diameter is less than 10 cm.
  • Only trim branches that have grown from a V shaped angle, and leave the U shaped ones.

When to prune

  • Late winter is the best time to prune, also known as dormant season, as it minimises infection and stress to the tree. In deciduous trees, it’ll also be easier as you’ll be able to see the desired shape you’d like to give the tree.
  • Pruning of conifers should be done after the buds have broken, in the middle of spring.
  • Avoid pruning evergreens in late summer and early autumn, as it can stimulate new growth that will not be old enough to stand the winter cold temperatures.

How much to prune

It is always advisable to prune as little as you can. All prunings are a stress to the tree, even if beneficial in the long run. Always ensure that living branches are 2/3 of the height of the tree.

Tools to help you with pruning

  • Rope saws,
  • Pole pruner and lopper,
  • Folding pruner, and
  • Portable buck saws.

Pruning techniques

Crown thinning

  • Keep lateral branches as evenly spaced as possible,
  • Prune branches that get in the way of other branches, and
  • Don’t prune more than 1/4 of a living crown at once.

Crown raising

  • You can raise a tree’s crown by pruning it, but be careful not to remove too many branches near the bottom half.

Crown reduction

  • Reduce the crown only if its really necessary.
  • Prune lateral branches that are at least 1/3 of the diameter of the stem that needs to be removed.

Monitoring and
Maintenance

Monitoring and maintaining your trees is important, as they cannot tell you what’s wrong with them. All you need to do is pay consistent attention and make sure they have everything they need to grow properly.

In the tree’s first year

  • The soil should be moist at all times, especially during summer months.
  • Be careful to not overwater the tree.
  • Try to keep watering to a schedule. Every two days, for example.
  • At the same time, be sure to water the tree with an averaged out 30L of water per day (depending on the species). This is especially important during the summer months.
  • If it rains a lot, however, then watering can be reduced.
  • Know the symptoms of drought; small and/or few leaves, yellow or brown leaves, and blistered or cracked bark. When you see these signs, water immediately.
  • Be sure that the tree doesn’t rub in their guard or stake.

When and how to use fertilisers

  • During the first year only fertilise the plant lightly, as doing otherwise can cause damage to the tree.
  • There is no need to fertilise when planting the tree.
  • The first fertiliser application should ideally be at the beginning of the second growing season.

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