Don't forget about newly planted trees and shrubs

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

Buying and planting new trees and shrubs is an exciting and time-honored rite of spring. But it’s important to remember your trees and shrubs AFTER you’ve gotten them in the ground. The first two years after planting are critical to the long-term survival of most woody ornaments, especially the first year. New trees and shrubs, whether container-grown or balled-in-burlap, need time for their roots to grow into surrounding soil in order to survive the transpiration water loss associated with summer temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s.

Proper watering

When planting trees in the spring, remember to give them a good watering immediately after planting, and then once a week for the first two months. For the rest of the summer, watering once every two weeks should be adequate unless we get into an especially hot and dry spell. There has been recent discussion that shallow, frequent watering may be better for trees than the standard recommendation of infrequent deeper watering, but I’ve yet to be convinced. Visit the Garden Professors website for further discussion.

Mulching and new plantings

Mulching is another key to improving survival and early growth on newly planted trees and shrubs. As we’ve noted before, mulching provides multiple benefits for plants; conserving soil moisture by reducing surface evaporation and reducing weeds are highest on the list. Our research on mulch at the MSU Horticulture Teaching and Research Center suggests that almost all organic mulches (wood chips, ground or shredded bark) can fulfill these functions. As always, I stand by my preference of red pine bark as my mulch of choice for its function, natural appearance and it’s a local, renewable product.

Stake it right

Staking is another oft-debated topic when planting trees. Many trees need staking, especially in exposed areas. This includes balled and burlapped trees. Even though a heavy root ball may make a tree seem secure when planted, trees can pivot on the ball during a heavy wind. The biggest issue with staking is failure to remove staking materials, which results in girdling of the trunk. Make sure that all staking materials are removed by the second-growing season.

Dr. Cregg's work is funded in part by MSU's AgBioResearch.

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