1. Give them the best start!
Often the best thing we can do for our trees is to give them the best start possible. Aside from planting with the proper technique, carefully consider where you want to plant your tree and what you ultimately want from your tree before purchasing and planting it.
For example, some questions to ask yourself include: are you looking for a tree to provide shade? Do you want aromatic flowers? Are you looking to prevent erosion on your site, or perhaps attract wildlife? Are you looking to create a privacy screen? Considering the answers to these questions will determine which type of tree to pick.
Where you want to plant your tree also plays a role in which tree to select. Consider the height of your tree when it is fully grown. It will need to have ample room to grow both vertically and horizontally, not conflict with overhead wires, overhanging buildings, or other trees.
The same goes for root growth. The proximity of your tree to concrete or nearby buildings will impact its roots and where they can grow. Before doing any digging, make sure to request underground utility locates to check for buried cables and wires on your property.
The soil’s texture and level of compaction may also limit the variety of trees that can thrive, as it determines the area’s drainage and how well the ground will retain moisture. Use a hand trowel or small shovel to check if the soil texture is sandy or clay-based. The selection of your tree needs to correspond to the level of drainage on your site; from drought-tolerant pines and oaks to water-loving maples and willows. If your soil is heavily polluted or compacted, you may want to consider amending the soil beforehand, and/or planting on a berm (i.e. raised soil bed).
Planting the right tree in the right place will give your tree the best chance at a long and healthy life!
2. Give them a layer of protection
Grasses that compete for water, foot traffic pounding roots, drought, and often nutrient poor soils are some of the challenges that our trees face.
Boost your new or established tree’s health by placing a mulch ring around it. Applying mulch provides benefits such as reduced compaction (when the soil becomes hard and dense, impeding good roots), conserving moisture, preventing weeds, introducing nutrients and preventing soil erosion.
When applying mulch, look to place about 2-3 inches under as much of the tree canopy as possible. Be sure to avoid piling mulch right up to the tree’s trunk (no mulch ‘volcanoes’!), as this may cause the tree to rot. Only the roots are meant to be underground! Also avoid mulches with colour, especially black, as they can absorb sunlight and become hot, drying out the roots. Rubber, rock, or other types of mulch may help against compaction and weeds but are not recommended.
3. Give them a drink
Trees are photosynthesize to get energy from water (H2O), gas (CO2), and light energy. Water is therefore essential to ensure plant survival. Water intake is even more important for young trees because they are more vulnerable to water stress and drought. Mature trees have a developed root system, enabling them to draw water deeply from the ground and to tolerate prolonged stress conditions.
However, it is important to control the water intake depending on trees’ preferences. Watering those trees excessively which do not tolerate humid soil can bring about several issues, including creating favourable conditions for root rot. It is therefore not recommended to water trees too much when weather conditions don’t require it (i.e. during rainy periods). Conversely, you should water them during droughts.
That’s why when planting saplings, it is even more important to choose a planting site which is appropriate for the species, because some sites will tend to accumulate water naturally, while others will have a tendency to drain rapidly and will therefore not be able to capture water and make it available for trees.
4. Give them regular care
Trees are living beings that grow and change over the years, as much as we do, and will exhibit symptoms of changes in their condition. Check in regularly with your trees and notice and observe how it can change.
For example, scan the entire tree and note its:
1. Bark: Is it firm? Does it cover the entire stem? Are there wounds or areas of discoloration?
2. Leaves: Are they generally consistent in shape and colour? Are they the correct colour for the season?
3. Branches: Are they dead, damaged, or rubbing against other branches?
4. Canopy/Crown: Is the crown cover full and even? Can you see through it?
Once you are familiar with the usual form of your tree, it will be more obvious when its condition changes as you track them over time.
Signs of declining health, for example, include dead and broken branches, new branches sprouting near the base of the tree, leaves changing colour unseasonably, loss of bark or new wounds on the stem, or a thinning or increasingly see-through canopy.
Contact a certified professional arborist to provide an on-site inspections and recommendations when needed.
5. Give them the freedom to grow
Sometimes the best way to care for a tree as it ages is to leave it alone to grow in its space. The ground around the base of a tree might look strong enough to serve as a barrier between the air and the tree roots, but it’s important not to stack heavy things, have high foot traffic, use a lawnmower too close, or use anything but a thin layer of mulch around the tree trunk. The roots are living as much as the branches are, so take care to leave this area open as the tree grows.
Also, as tempting as it is to use trees or their branches for tree swings or tree houses, they can cause harm. If the swinger’s weight is too high, it can put a lot of strain on the attachment of that branch. Try to only attach temporary structures, such as clothes lines and swings, to trees and be sure to remove or move them every year to prevent choking or damaging the tree.
If you ever need a branch cut down, call a certified professional arborist who can do the job skilfully and with minimal harm.