By Rick Castro
88 degrees in May? After living in Seattle for several decades, I know that’s unheard of. Usually, it’s in the mid-sixties this time of year! But earlier this year, in January, we also saw unseasonably warm temperatures as the thermometer climbed to 56 degrees.
We’ve had a lot of record-breaking temperatures this year. Plus, the summer of 2017 was the hottest and driest ever recorded. While we may be reveling in the warmer temperatures, the unusual weather has confused our trees–especially because the warmth is sporadic. One day, it’s hot. The next, it’s cool again.
Newly-planted trees are particularly vulnerable because they’re still getting used to their new home. But spring is the perfect time to give all trees the extra TLC they need to make it through the rest of the year.
Protect both newly-planted and established trees by following these steps.
Check where the flare is. The mistake I see most often is trees that were planted too deep! When buried too deeply, tree roots decline in health and condition. That can mean reduced tree growth, decreased cold hardiness and increased disease/insect susceptibility. Some trees may let you know right away, but usually, symptoms lay dormant for years
On all your trees, make sure the root flare, where the trunk starts to bulge out at the bottom, is at or slightly above the ground level. Also, think back and recall if the hole the tree sits in was two to three times wider than the root ball. If that isn’t the case, it may be best to replant your new tree. For established trees, have a certified arborist excavate its root collar.
Water often. Because the roots of a newly planted tree are often incredibly dry, deeply water young trees every day for the first two weeks. After that, water a new tree once a week for the first year, while it still has its leaves. By providing the tree with enough water, you’re helping grow strong, substantial roots while also promoting stem and leaf growth.
You should water established trees about once or twice a month. Be sure to take rainfall into account before watering, too.
Lock in moisture. After planting a new tree, adding mulch is one of the best things you can do! It increases the growth rate of the trees, reduces weeds and improves your tree’s soil. Plus, mulch reduces water evaporation and keeps the tree roots at an ideal temperature, which is perfect given our recent weather.
For both new and mature trees, spread 2 to 4 inches of mulch around the base of your tree. Keep the mulch 1 to 2 inches from the trunk.
Proper pruning. On new trees, cut off minor branch defects, but that should be the extent of your pruning for a bit. In two or three years, you can begin to train your tree to improve your tree’s overall structure.
Before storm season, have a certified arborist see if any of your established trees need pruning. Thinning the tree canopy allows wind to blow through it instead of against it as though it was a sail. Pruning also removes potentially hazardous, dead or weak branches.
To stake or not to stake. Most trees don’t need to be staked. Staking a tree unnecessarily can cause the tree to grow fewer roots and develop a weak base. Only stake your tree if it’s top-heavy, already leaning or in an area with lots of foot traffic or wind. Plan to remove the stake the next growing season. If you add a stake now, remove it in the fall.
By thinking ahead, developing effective solutions, and taking a strategic approach to landscape maintenance, you will achieve top results–no matter the weather!
Rick Castro is the district manager at The Davey Tree Expert Company’s Northwest and Southeast Seattle offices. Castro has worked at the company in the Seattle area for nearly 30 years and is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist®. To connect with Rick, call 425 462-8829 or visit Davey.com/Seattle.