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Urban Tree Foundation

Trees can reduce energy usage, act as a windbreak, reduce noise, control erosion, clean the air, increase property values and make people feel good. Planting a tree is an investment in time, money, and the future. Here are a few tips to ensure that you get a good return on your investment.


Selecting quality trees: Planting quality trees begins by choosing vigorous, structurally sound trees from the nursery. Strong trees have straight roots, a thick trunk with taper, and a good branch structure appropriate for the species. Trees that become large at maturity are most durable when grown with one dominant trunk or leader to the top of the tree (right illustration). The root collar or root flare (the point where the uppermost roots emerge from the trunk) should be in the top two inches of the root ball. Click here for details on selecting quality trees from the nursery.


Digging the hole: A firm, flat-bottomed hole will prevent trees from sinking. Dig the hole only deep enough to position the root collar even with the landscape soil surface (left illustration). Use a rototiller or shovel to loosen soil in an area three times the size of the root ball. This loose soil promotes rapid root growth and quick establishment.


Installing the tree: Remove soil and roots from the top of the root ball to expose the root collar; cut away any roots that grow over the collar (right illustration). Also cut any roots that circle or mat along the sides and bottom of the root ball (illustration below left). The root collar should be even with the landscape soil after planting. Backfill with soil removed from the hole. Minimize air pockets by packing gently and applying water. Build a berm no more than four inches tall around the rootball to help force water through the root ball. Enlarge the berm as the tree establishes.


Staking: Staking holds trees erect and allows the root ball to anchor. Securethe trunk at the point where the tree stands straight. A second stake tied directly to the trunk made of bamboo may be required to straighten the upper trunk.


Mulching: A layer of organic mulch, such as leaf litter, shredded bark, or wood chips, helps protect tree roots from temperature extremes and conserves soil moisture. Mulch also helps prevent grass from competing with the tree for water and nutrients. The mulched area makes it easier to operate mowers and weed eaters without hitting the trunk and compacting soil. Apply mulch to a depth of three to four inches, slightly thinner on top of the root ball (right illustration).

Irrigating: Consistent irrigation is critical for establishment. 1. Apply about three gallons irrigation per inch of trunk diameter to the root ball two or three times a week for the first growing season. 2. Increase volume and decrease frequency as the tree becomes established. 3. Weekly irrigation the second year and bimonthly irrigation the third year should be sufficient for establishment. 4. Once established, irrigation requirements depend on species, climate and soil conditions. 5. Irrigation devices should be regularly checked for breaks and leaks.


Pruning: Training young trees to one dominant trunk promotes durable structure and overall tree health. Reduce the length of, or remove, codominant stems that grow upright because they compete with the leader (left illustration). Large-diameter branches should also be reduced in length with reduction cuts back to smaller lateral branches. Pruning codominant stems and large branches encourages growth in the leader chosen to be dominant. The leader may not grow correctly when several branches are clustered together at one point on the trunk. In these cases, remove some branches entirely back to the trunk so water and nutrients can reach theleader. This combination of reducing fast-growing branches and removing branches clustered together forces growth in one dominant trunk. Click here to see recommended pruning at planting.

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