Dehydration is the most common reason for the poor growth or death of
young trees, so it is essential to keep your tree well watered during
dry spells from spring to fall for the first two to three years after
planting. Give each tree at least 13 gallons (50 liters) of water per
week; this equates to about seven or eight full watering cans. A length
of drainpipe sunk vertically into the soil at the edge of the planting
hole can act as a useful watering aid, taking the water directly to
lower soil levels, but it will tend to fill up with soil and mulch
unless it stands so far out of the ground that it looks rather
To reduce competition for water and nutrients from grass, other plants,
and weeds, keep clear an area of 1 sq yd (1 sq m) around the tree and
mulch it every fall, keeping the mulch away from the trunk. Young trees
also benefit from an annual application, in spring, of a general
fertilizer, such as blood, fish, and bone. Before you mulch, or after
you have pulled back an existing mulch, scatter the fertilizer around
the base of the tree at a rate of 2 oz per sq yd (70 g per sq m), fork
it into the soil, then water. Once the tree is well established, you can
let the grass grow around the trunk, or plant some bulbs or
shade-loving ground cover underneath, without slowing the tree’s growth.
Pruning Young Trees
Conifers and other evergreens, such as hollies, seldom need pruning
after planting, and some deciduous trees, including birches and
amelanchiers, are best left alone to develop their naturally beautiful
shapes. But other deciduous trees should be pruned every year for the
first few years.
Inspect your young trees in late summer or late winter, and remove dead,
damaged, and diseased wood. Weak or crossing branches are also best cut
out. At the same time, loosen ties, and remove any weeds growing over
the root area. While you’re at it, check for any suckers shooting from
below the graft union and cut them out too.
More extensive pruning depends on what kind of tree you want. Most trees
sold at garden centers are lollipop-shaped, technically known as
“standards.” These have been pruned by the nursery, and you merely need
to continue keeping the trunk clear, and pruning back wayward stems.
Younger trees, known as “whips,” are also available. These usually have a single leading stem, and buds that will develop into side stems. They are less expensive, and often easier to establish than older trees, and they can be pruned and shaped as you wish. For example, if you want a tree with several stems, cut the stem to near ground level, or plant a few whips close together, or even in the same hole. Water your tree thoroughly after planting, and then weekly during dry spells for the first two growing seasons—trees are most vulnerable to dehydration when young.