By David Salman, High Country Gardens Chief Horticulturists
Trees and shrubs are long-lived and permanent parts of our landscapes, and they benefit greatly from good care when youngsters.
Essential Steps For Successful Transplanting, Care, and Maintenance of Small Trees & Shrubs
1. Dig a Generous Planting Hole and Amend the Soil
- Our woody plants are from 24 to 36 months old (depending on the variety) and are excellent starter plants.
- They should not be up-potted into larger containers for future planting, but put directly out into the garden where they can begin putting down deep roots into their new home soil.
- Make sure the planting hole is generously sized. A 1 ft. deep x 15”-18” wide hole enriched with Yum Yum Mix® and high quality (non-manure) based compost.
- Inoculating the roots with Plant Success® Mycorrhizal fungi is essential, as most all woody plants grow best with these symbiotic fungi attached to their roots.
2. Water Regularly
- Whether watering by hand or with drip irrigation, be sure to apply enough water so the soil is damp to at least a foot down.
- Be generous but not wasteful (don’t overwater) when irrigating young trees and shrubs. They’ll respond with vigorous growth.
3. Fertilize In The Fall
- Regular use of Yum Yum Mix (or similar natural soil food formulation) applied to the soil in mid- to late fall is essential for long-term soil health and consequently, the long-term health of the trees and shrubs growing in it.
4. Mulch Well
- Make a wide saucer around the plants to hold irrigation water and fill it with at least a 1” deep layer of composted bark, shredded wood, and bark or composted leaves.
- Apply as needed in late spring and again in fall to keep it an inch deep. Mulch conserves soil moisture, moderate soil temperatures, and provides long-term enrichment to the soil.
5. Protect From Browsing Animals
- Most trees and shrubs can withstand some browsing damage from animals when they reach their mature size, but young plants can be eaten to the ground and killed.
- Where browsing animals are a hazard, an inconspicuous cylinder of wire or netting should be used for a few years until the plant are significantly larger.
- A rotating mix of different brands of deer and rabbit repellents are helpful, but must be used regularly, especially over the winter and early spring months.
6. Weed Out Grass In A Generous Circle Around Trees & Shrubs
- When planting into a field or meadow or wilder edges of your property, keep all grasses weeded in a generous circle around them. Grasses are very competitive and will take water and nutrients from trees and shrubs, stunting their growth.
7. Don’t Shear Shrubs
- A minimum of pruning is needed on young shrubs.
- You can winter prune out crossed branching or a shoot that has become too long in relation to the rest of the plant.
- But big or small, don’t shear native shrubs. It ruins the beauty of their natural form and branching, can remove flowering/ fruiting wood and becomes a “forever job”.
8. Protect Young Trees From Winter Injury
- In the sunny Western US, the winter sun can sunburn the bark of young shade, flowering, and fruiting trees. This is called Southwest Winter Injury and happens when the soil is frozen and the sun heats up the southwest side of the tree's trunk, causing sunburn of the thin, immature bark.
- This is easily prevented by wrapping the trunks of your young trees with a trunk diameter (caliper) of less than 3 to 4 inches. Using tree wrap, cover the bottom 4 to 5 feet of the trunk in late November and remove it in April.