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Young Tree Care

Person watering a tree

The first five years are critical to the development of your young tree. Follow these guidelines to ensure a healthy tree and to minimize future costs and hazards.

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  • Water, water, water! Newly planted trees need water in the summer. During the hot, dry months of summer, you should be giving your young trees 15-20 gallons of water twice a week. Water should always be applied slowly. A watering bag (pictured above) or a garden hose set to a slow trickle and left for 30 minutes will do the trick. You can also take three 5-gallon buckets, use a hammer and nail to make some holes in the bottom, place the buckets at the base of the tree, and fill with water. To test proper watering, dig into the soil 2 inches below the surface. This soil should be damp, not dry and crumbling or saturated.
  • Prune young deciduous (drop their leaves in the winter) trees to create a strong structure and to remove dead, damaged, diseased, and branches that rub against each other. This will reduce pruning needs when your tree is mature. Poor pruning techniques, such as topping, can seriously damage your tree so consider hiring a certified arborist. If you plan to prune yourself, check out the resources below to learn how to prune properly. Groups such as UW's Center for Urban HorticulturePlant Amnesty, Seattle Tilth, and City Fruit provide tree pruning workshops. Pruning street tree branches larger than 2" in diameter requires a permit from SDOT.
  • Weed. Remove any competing plants, such as grass, within at least 2 feet of the tree's trunk. These plants compete with the tree for water and nutrients.
  • Mulch. Mulch is your tree's best friend. Mulch helps keep the weeds away, conserves water, and protects the trunk from lawnmower damage. Apply a 3-4" thick layer of wood chip mulch in a doughnut shape around the tree . Mulch should not be touching the tree truck, and should be kept a hands-distance away. In most cases, there is no need to fertilize trees. Check out this video for further mulching instructions.
  • Only stake a tree if necessary to hold it upright. Be sure stakes do not rub against the trunk or branches, causing wounds which can lead to infection and tree death. Remove stakes after 1-2 years. You can test if stakes are ready to be removed by grasping the tree at the bottom of the trunk and gently shaking it. If the soil around the tree does not move, the tree’s roots have moved into the surrounding soil, stabilizing the tree. The stakes can then be removed. DO NOT leave stakes on longer than necessary – if the trunk is larger than the stakes, the stakes should be removed!

Additional Resources


Staking your tree (if necessary)

Pruning young trees - Trees are Good