Spring is a time of year when tree planting comes to the forefront of many people’s minds. Arbor Day is April 28th and with that and other events in the Spring, come tree giveaways or discounted trees. If you are reading this before May 20th, 2023, come find our booth at Blooming Fest in West Chicago for a FREE tree! If after May 20th, thanks for stopping by our booth at Blooming Fest! Otherwise, if you are lucky enough to get a tree to plant in your landscape, you’ll want to follow the below guidelines on how to plant your tree and care for it to provide the best chance of survival, value and longevity.

In this article, we are going to focus on the actual planting of a bare root seedling and watering of your newly planted tree. Prior to planting, you will want to ensure you are selecting the correct location for your tree and ensuring you have the right tree for the conditions of the planting site. Finally, don’t forget about post planting care including mulching and pruning needs.

As with any living thing, trees need care to prosper and provide the benefits we are hopeful for. Typically, trees can navigate the hurdles of life, but when planted in our urban environment, they require a little more attention compared to those growing in our natural areas.

Guidelines Planting a Bare-Root Tree Seedling:

• Dig a hole that seems wider than needed for the size of the tree.  This will help allow the roots to grow outward.

• Place the tree in the hole while trying to keep the roots spread out.  The root furthest up the stem should be just level with the top of the hole.  

• Refill the hole with the soil that was originally removed.  Make sure the tree stem is vertical to ensure proper growth.

• Gently press down on the soil around the tree to tamp down any air pockets.

• Apply a 2”-3” layer of mulch around your tree

• Water your newly planted tree!

Watering Newly Planted Trees:

A very important factor, if not the most important factor, affecting the survival rate of newly planted trees is proper watering. Young trees need an appropriate amount of water to become established in it’s new environment. Dry conditions, relative to a tree’s specific watering requirements, can weaken and stress the tree, especially if they are young or newly planted. A watering schedule can be very helpful and assures your newly planted trees are receiving the accurate amount of moisture they need to thrive.

Being aware of a few simple watering standards will ensure your newly planted tree becomes established and proper health will be promoted. The soil around the tree should be kept consistently moist. So, you need to avoid allowing the soil to dry out, as well as becoming too soggy. You want to make sure your tree is receiving one inch of water per week. During the spring and fall months, our area in northern Illinois usually gets the one inch per week naturally during showers and storms. It is during the dry summer months where we need to be aware of how much rainfall we are receiving. You can easily monitor the amount of rainfall we get by placing a rain gauge near your newly planted tree. If we are getting less than one inch per week, we will need to be providing supplemental water to our trees. The frequency of watering will be dependent on factors such as daily temperature, soil drainage, and exposure to direct sunlight. The best way to determine when trees need water is to physically check the soil. Using a garden trowel, dig to a depth of five to six inches. If the soil is dry to the touch, water is needed. If the soil is wet, water is not needed at that time and should be checked the following day.

Trees prefer deep infrequent soakings, rather than short frequent watering cycles which is typical for watering our lawn areas and flower gardens.  A good way to provide a deep soaking is to use a garden house set to a slow trickle. Water where the roots are located. For newly planted trees, this is the root ball area. The root ball is located in the hole where the tree was planted. Let the garden hose run slowly for a while in one location and move it around the root ball occasionally until the entire root system has received water. If possible, try to avoid watering just at the base of the tree, although with smaller trees this may be your only option. Before the next watering, be sure to check the soil using a garden trowel, digging to a depth of five to six inches to determine if supplemental water is needed.

Be sure to monitor your soil moisture well into the Fall and provide water to your trees when it is needed. Newly planted trees need a sufficient amount of water in their root systems to prepare them for the winter season.  It is a good to keep checking the soil around your tree for proper moisture levels up until the ground freezes. 

If you ever have a question about your newly planted tree, it is always a good idea to contact your ISA certified arborist. They will be able to answer your questions as well as check to make sure your watering practices are being done correctly. With proper watering we are setting ourselves up for success with our newly planted trees. A proper watering schedule will help our tree root systems get established and promote proper health. Just remember, an inch of water per week keeps our trees at their peak!

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