Being owners of a landscaping business and tree aficionados, one of the most common things we hear from clients, friends, and family is that they always kill their plants! There’s an impression out there that keeping a tree or plant alive requires a “green thumb,” some sort of magic touch that can’t be explained. While we appreciate that, and know it keeps us employed, we’re here to humbly admit that it’s just not that case. As with most things in life, it comes down to science. So here we’ll share three things to keep in mind if you want to keep your new greenery alive.
Location, Location, Location.
Are your trees not living? Not fruiting? Simply not thriving. You may have them in the wrong location. Some trees can’t handle full sun while others can’t handle full shade. It’s important to place a tree in the correct location, allowing for the proper amount of light and shade. Before planting anything, do some research on the light requirements for the tree you are interested in. (If you simply don’t have time for this, contact us – it’s part of our service!)
Once you understand light requirements, measure the daily light pattern for the area you plan to plant your tree. This can be done by placing markers (rocks, stakes, spray paint) at the earliest and latest edge of direct sun that covers the area intended for planting. Don’t forget to account for the angle of the sun that will happen during both summer and winter months.
Measuring during mid-spring and/or mid-fall will give the best average of light.
The hole will affect the goal
Much like building a home, or raising a great kid, a lot comes down to foundation. If you get the foundation wrong, it affects everything you build upon it. The whole you dig is your tree or plant’s foundation. Digging the correct sized hole for the surrounding soil type, and the placing the ball of the tree at the correct depth can drastically affect the tree’s air and water supply. For the best possible outcome, a new tree’s hole should be dug 2-3 times wider and 1.5 times deeper than the tree’s root ball. This provides non-compact/loose soil on all sides of the root ball and will allow the roots to breath, drink, and grow at the highest rate possible.
When the soil around the tree’s roots are too compact, air and water are not able to filter through the soil at the proper rates, and the tree basically suffers one of two causes of asphyxiation, choking or drowning. The air reaching the roots of your tree is just as important as breathing is to you and me. The roots of the tree take in carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients – all essential to healthy growth. These essentials can only be processed sufficiently with proper aeration and irrigation. The root ball should also be placed even to the surrounding soil level. Placing below may result in root/trunk rot due to excess moisture.
Water not, want not
Nothing is more painful for a landscape installer than planting a beautiful array of trees and plants, only to see them crumble and die in the first few weeks due to lack of watering. Even harder are the phone calls and texts from clients who don’t understand what happened. Nine times out of ten, this happens because the client failed to follow important instructions around initial watering.
Remember, trees are living things. On top of this, a new tree is a living thing which has recently been shocked into a new environment and new circumstances. During this shock period (the first 30 to 45 days), watering is everything.
After planting a new tree, the soil must be kept sufficiently moist with once-a-day watering for generally the first 30 to 45 days. Once the first settling period has passed, then watering can be reduced to every other day for the next 30-45 days. And subsequently, once the second adjustment period has passed then the watering schedule can be brought down to a couple times per week. The quantity of water applied during each watering depends on the water retention in the soil. The longer it takes for the water to drain through the soil, the less water is needed for each watering.
Mulching around the base of the tree, while not covering the trunk of the tree, will reduce evaporation and will keep the soil/roots moist for longer periods of time. Watering should be reduced and adjusted accordingly during periods of heavy rains. Many trees will eventually become established to the point that regular irrigation may be unnecessary. This may take anywhere from six months to a few years and highly depends on the tree variety. Take precaution when adjusting watering schedules and amounts as over/under watering is the number one killer of new trees.
It’s a hard task to go out and hand water every day, so I always recommend that clients ensure proper irrigation is installed prior to planting a tree. This is not always possible, but when it’s not, hand watering is required the same way its required to feed a child, dog, or new fish.
We hope you find value in these three tips. If you need help figuring out any of this, give us a call or contact us online. Keeping a new tree alive does not require a green thumb, but it does require some diligence we’re happy to help with if it doesn’t fit your schedule or life.