Newly planted trees are among the biggest landscape investments but also among the most vulnerable, particularly in winter.
Establishing trees on your lot is an important step, both for aesthetic reasons and more practical ones, such as lowering your energy bills in summer and winter. You can keep trees strong and healthy through the winter and beyond by avoiding some common mistakes.
Lack of water is the biggest threat to young trees. It takes a new tree up to three years to develop roots to make up for those lost in the transplanting process. During that time, trees are especially vulnerable to drought, which leads to branch dieback and stem damage.
To get water directly to the roots, where it's needed the most, make a doughnutlike depression a few inches deep and 2-3 feet from the trunk so water will not run off. Not long ago, a dishlike depressing extending around the tree was considered ideal. But the doughnut works better because it prevents puddling around the trunk, where water could cause rot.
Failure to Protect
Wrapping and staking are sometimes required by nurseries if their tree guarantee is to be honored. Wrapping the lower trunk with tree wrap or heavy paper will prevent sun scald until the canopy of leaves grows thick enough to shade the trunk. Wrapping also helps insulate the tree from the cold.
Staking was, until recently, a rule without exception. New research, however, has shown that some flex and sway is necessary for trees to develop strength and resilience- although too much movement in the wind will keep the roots constantly under stress and prevent them from settling and spreading. So, use the minimum staking necessary, perhaps none for small transplants, and take out stakes once they're no longer needed.
Girdling can kill a tree quicker than any other type of injury because it can entirely cut off the flow of nutrients and water to the branches farther up the tree. To avoid girdling, remove anything that could bind around the trunk. Run guy wires through pieces of hose. When possible, tie branches with soft string or pieces of nylon hose that will stretch or break before they bind.
As winter progresses keep an eye on young trees. Don't let the harsh weather keep you from providing necessary care.