Green leaf tree canopy. Baxter Garden's newly planted tree and shrub care guide.

Tree & Shrub Care Guide

A flourishing landscape begins with proper care upon planting. Here’s your guide to caring for your newly planted trees and shrubs.

Watering Newly Planted Trees

A tree can take 2 or more years to establish. Proper watering techniques will help to achieve the favorable conditions required for a healthy tree.

We recommend following these guidelines for watering:

1st Month – Water every day for 4 to 5 days and then gradually reduce the frequency of watering to every 5 days.

2nd & 3rd Month – Water every 7 to 14 days during dry weather.

Until the Ground Freezes – Once a month.

The recommended way to water:

Apply water to the root-ball and surrounding soil. You can do this by slowly running a garden hose at the base of the tree for 15 to 20 minutes.

  • The tree’s root-ball must be kept moist for several weeks after planting.
  • Trees may require more water if we are experiencing drought conditions or less water if we have regular, weekly rains of 1″ or more.
  • DO NOT rely on lawn sprinklers to water newly planted trees unless you have drip lines to the trees.

Watering Newly Planted Shrubs

Weeks 1 to 2 – Daily.

Weeks 3 to 12 – Every 2 to 3 days.

Week 12 to Establishment – Weekly

Once Established – Additional water is seldom necessary except when under drought conditions.

  • The amount of water needed for shrubs is around 1/3 of the volume of the container the shrub was purchased in.

Overwatering

Yes, it is possible to overwater your trees and shrubs. Roots need oxygen to survive, and when the soil is over-watered and saturated, the roots can become damaged. This damage makes the water unavailable to them and causes the plant to wilt.

When this occurs, it becomes very tempting to give the plant additional water, which will only cause the plant more stress. This is why it is always important to check the soil to see if it is wet or dry when you are uncertain.

The best way to achieve this is to dig down a couple of inches to check the moisture level. You can also invest in a moisture meter which will tell you if your soil is wet or dry.

Fertilizing

Trees and shrubs should be fertilized in the late fall after the plant is dormant or in early spring. Plants should NOT be fertilized from mid-summer to early fall as this could stimulate growth too late in the season and increase the risk of winter injury.

There are many types of formulations of fertilizer. When in doubt, use a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10. Always follow the directions on the package for application rates and recommended ways to apply. As tempting as it may be to give the plant an extra dose of fertilizer to help it out — more isn’t better. Too much fertilizer can damage the plant, making it susceptible to insects or could even kill your plant.

Mulching

Adding mulch around your plant is far more than just aesthetics. A 3″ layer of mulch can:

  • Limit evaporation and keep the soil and roots moist.
  • Protect the roots from extreme temperatures by keeping the soils cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
  • Create an attractive appearance.
  • Keep lawn equipment at a safe distance from the base of the plants.
  • Helps to keep down weeds.
  • Helps improve soil health as the organic mulch breaks down.

Watering Newly Installed Sod

Newly installed sod should be watered 1 or 2 times a day for the first 7 to 10 days.

Place a sprinkler to water approximately 15 to 20 minutes, or enough to moisten the sod and water the upper 1″ of soil. With consistent watering, the sod will take an average of 10 days to root into the soil. You can reduce, but not eliminate, watering at this time.

  • If you have a sprinkler system, allow it to water through its regular cycle during the evening but supplement additional water with a sprinkler later in the day.

How to Plant a Tree or Shrub

1. Prepare the planting hole. Dig your planting hole 2 to 3 times wider than the current root mass. Use your spade to measure the depth of the root mass and dig no deeper than that depth. Disturbing the soil deeper may cause the soil to settle and the tree to sink.

  • Trees: The best way to check the depth is to find the root flare. The root flare is the area at the base of the trunk where the roots and trunk meet. This area is often found under the burlap on balled & burlapped trees. This area on the tree needs to be kept above your planting hole and should not be covered by any soil. when covered, the tree will decline and will eventually die. On average, when placed in the planting hole, the top 1/3 of the rootball should be above the surrounding soil.

2. Inspect the root system. When planting containerized trees and shrubs, be sure to inspect the root system. Often the roots will grow in a circular pattern, and it is important to stop this pattern, so it doesn’t continue after planting. To do this, break up the pattern by using your hands to rough up the sides. In more severe cases, slice the roots with a knife or pruning saw and cut the bottom inch off.

The burlap and wire basket that surrounds the rootball should be left in place until you place it in the planting hole. At that time, cut off the rope and cut off the burlap to the edge of the ball, exposing the top. The top of the basket can either be folded back or cut off.

3. Soil Amendments. Compost adds nutrients and aids in drainage. Adding compost is recommended if you intend on amending the entire area that a plant’s roots will grow.

However, research has shown that when planting an individual tree or shrub, you should not emend the hole with organic matter. Roots growing in amended soil will often stay within that hole and not grow into the existing, native soil. This will create a smaller root system that can reduce the plant’s growth and create an unstable tree as the tree grows, making it susceptible to wind and storms.

When backfilling the hole, break up clumps of existing soil and remove any rock or debris. Because the top of your tree’s root mass is above ground, taper the soil up to cover all the roots.

4. Eliminate Air Pockets. To guarantee good soil-to-root contact, backfill halfway and add water to the hole. Water in completely once you’ve backfilled your planting hole and have added mulch around the base.

5. Don’t prune or cut back any branches after planting except those that are rubbing or damaged.

Leaf buds release a hormone that encourages root growth. If the branches and, by default, leaf buds are removed, fewer roots will be formed.

For mature plants, you can find more specific information on pruning times here:

6. Stake Only if Necessary. Trees establish more quickly and grow faster when not staked. Movement is necessary for the trunk to become strong. However, some trees may need to be staked if in a windy location.

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