Keeping New Trees Healthy

Home Grown  by Keith Reed
Getting new trees off to a strong start is a critical key to a long lived, healthy plant. Since fall is generally the best time to plant, followed closely by spring, this is a good time to talk about a few common issues that are often neglected or overlooked.

Of course, it’s no surprise that the biggest one for most Oklahoma summers is usually water. As temperatures climb up to and beyond the nineties, a trees need for regular watering will increase. Keep your eye (and finger) on the soil to make sure the tree does not suffer from drought stress.

It’s hard to say exactly how much water to apply because that depends on a variety of factors including tree size, species, and soil conditions. The general idea is to make sure the soil under the mulch maintains some level of moisture. Make sure the regular watering includes the area just beyond the original planting hole. This prevents the original soil from drawing moisture away from the tree and it encourages lateral root growth into the surrounding soil.

If your tree has a protective wrapping on it, it should be removed right away. Wrapping is a valuable tool and planting and to help protect a plant through the fall (deer) and winter (sun scald). However, leaving it on during the growing season can encourage insects and disease.

If your tree is thin-barked (especially maples) or you live in an area subject to deer traffic, it is a good idea to replace the wrapping each fall for the first few years. It isn’t especially important that the wrap be the same type used originally as long as the trunk is protected from direct sun.

It may sound counter-intuitive to worry about sun damage in the winter instead of the summer. Sun scald damage occurs on very cold winter days when the bright winter sun hits the dormant bark and heats it too rapidly for the tree to compensate. Trees just do not have this issue in the summer time.

Make sure any stakes, tags, tape, or guy wires do not restrict the growth. Staking a tree so that a small amount of movement is possible is actually preferable to making it completely immobile. Think of this from a human perspective; our muscles only develop if we use them.

Finally, make it a priority to keep mowers and weed whackers from damaging the base of the tree. The best course of action is to make sure anyone using this equipment understands the need to protect the tree. If that’s not possible, consider using a non-selective herbicide containing glyphosate to keep grass and weeds away from the base of the tree. Glyphosate only affects plants when it is taken up by the leaves, so it is safe to use around the base of trees as long as there are no leaves down near the base of the plant. If there are leaves that low, they should be pruned off regularly so the tree can direct growth upward.

For more information of this or any other horticultural topic, you can contact Keith Reed, the Horticulturist in the Payne County Extension office. Keith can be reached via email at, phone at 405-747-8320, or in person at the Payne County Extension office, located at 315 W. 6th in Stillwater.

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