Why Maintenance Matters: Stewarding Our Urban Forests

Caitlin Dixon

Manager, Urban Programs

Urban trees and shrubs provide numerous benefits to our towns and cities. Lining our streets and filling our parks and green spaces, they provide crucial habitat, shelter, and food sources for wildlife, from insects and birds to squirrels and larger mammals. Trees support our overall health and well-being by reducing our stress and anxiety levels, boosting our immune systems, and offering recreation and physical activity space. Urban trees improve air quality, mitigate flooding and stormwater runoff, cool surface temperatures, and beautify our neighbourhoods.

Urban trees of all sizes work hard! That’s why tree care professionals and trained volunteers work diligently to not only plant, but also actively steward and maintain urban forests ensuring that our community canopies continue to grow and thrive.

Newly planted trees and shrubs require special attention and care during their establishment periods: watering, mulching, pruning, weeding and removing invasive species are all essential to keeping trees healthy. For more established plants, regular monitoring helps to identify and prevent potential issues such as disease, decline, and pest infestations before they become problematic.

Watering and Mulching: Essential Maintenance Practices

Trees, especially newly planted ones, are thirsty. Consistent watering at key intervals and increasing volumes help tree and shrub root systems to grow and spread underground. Generally, trees and shrubs should be watered at the time of planting, then daily for the first two weeks, every couple of days for the next three to twelve weeks, and finally weekly for the next two years until their roots are established. Established trees and shrubs won’t need much additional watering except during long periods of drought. Watering in the mornings or evenings will also avoid significant water loss from evaporation, especially during long, hot summer days.

Providing trees and shrubs with a base of organic materials, like wood chips or compost, is another way to support tree growth and root health. Woody mulch keeps the soil nutrient-rich and temperature-regulated, supports moisture retention, reduces competition from grass and weeds, and protects the trees’ trunks and roots from mowers and trimmers. Adding two to four inches of wood mulch in a raised ring around a tree’s trunk at the time of planting and every year will maintain a healthy environment.


Pruning: Maintaining Structure and Health

Once a tree has recovered from being transplanted, pruning plays a crucial role in maintaining its health. This practice involves removing dead, diseased, or damaged branches to promote strong structures and evenly spaced limbs in young trees. It’s also beneficial for encouraging good branch formation in young shrubs. However, pruning established trees is best handled by tree care professionals. They can undertake tasks such as crown thinning, raising, reduction, or cleaning to safeguard both people and property.


Battling Weeds and Invasive Species

Weeds and grass compete with trees and shrubs for nutrients, water and sunlight. Limiting and preventing their spread is vital for maintaining a healthy urban forest. While mulching suppresses their growth, manually pulling out a weed’s entire root system with trowels or weeders will prevent regrowth. It may be labour-intensive, but trees will appreciate the sweat equity you put in!

Invasive species are plants, shrubs and trees that are often detrimental to a region’s natural ecosystem as they overtake and replace native species. Removal efforts vary depending on the size of the invasive plant or shrub. For instance, volunteers may handle removal tasks for smaller plants like garlic mustard, while licensed professionals are typically required to extract larger invasive trees like European buckthorn.

Engaging in Stewardship: Tree Care Beyond Planting

Ongoing maintenance is a critical part of the urban tree planting lifecycle. So, the next time your organization participates in one of Tree Canada’s Partners in Planting events during the spring or fall, or if you volunteer at one of our National Tree Day events taking place across Canada in September, you might find yourself taking part in some of these vital stewardship efforts in addition to planting trees.


References & Related Readings

How Does Wildlife Benefit from Urban Forests? – Tree Canada

Connecting with Nature: 5 Reasons to Cherish Urban Trees this Summer – Tree Canada

Immerse Yourself In A Forest For Better Health – New York State, Department of Environmental Conservation

How Street Trees Can Save Our Cities – The University of British Columbia

Watering newly planted trees and shrubs – University of Minnesota Extension

How Much Water Does My Tree Need Weekly? – The Davey Tree Expert Company

Should I Mulch Around Trees Or Not? Yes, And Here’s Why – The Davey Tree Expert Company

Mulching is Important for Tree Health – Utah State University, Forestry Extension

What is Pruning? The Importance, Benefits and Methods of Pruning – The Davey Tree Expert Company

Pruning trees and shrubs – University of Minnesota Extension

Newly planted trees need care in order to thrive – The Tree Council

Invasive species removal – Ottawa South Eco-Action Network

Invasive Plants VS Weeds – Soil Advocates


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