Caring For Young Trees

The first five years are critical for the long-term health of a tree. Proper watering, pruning, and other tree care will ensure a healthy, mature tree and reduce future maintenance costs.

Canopy’s Palo Alto Young Street Tree Care Tree Brochure.

Note: While Canopy recommends proper young tree pruning, please do not prune Palo Alto street trees, as the City ordinance does not permit residents to prune street trees. 

Watering Young Trees

Is your tree thirsty? Conserve water and preserve trees by following these “smart watering” guidelines.

  • Deep watering: Young trees require regular watering for good health and disease prevention. Deep watering (see watering techniques below) prevents weak surface roots from forming and encourages the growth of robust roots underground.
  • Check soil moisture once a week 4-6 inches below the surface. Soil should be moist but not wet.
  • Conserve water while preserving trees. Increase watering for trees during drought, while conserving water in other areas of your home and landscape.
  • Watch for signs of drought stress. Are leaves wilting, yellowing, curling or browning at the edges?
  • Use mulch to help conserve moisture. Cover the soil with a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch starting a few inches from the base of the trunk and extending 1–2 feet from the tree in all directions (creating a circle around the tree).
  • Lawn irrigation does not provide adequate irrigation for trees. Lawn irrigation or light sprinkling for 5 or 10 minutes waters only a few inches of soil and encourages weak surface roots.

Watering techniques:

  • When: during the summer, water once a week. Weekly watering costs less than $1/mo. During the winter, water once a  month. 
  • How much: use 10–15 gallons per young tree. For more mature trees, use 10-15 gallons per inch of trunk diameter. 
  • Where: saturate the soil to a depth of 12 inches below the soil surface from the base of the tree out to its dripline (the outer-most branches and leaves).
  • How: use a method like one of the following to give your tree the deep watering that it needs.
    • Watering basin: build a soil berm around the tree to hold 10–15 gallons; fill the basin each week (a medium pressure hose fills a 10 gallon basin in 5 minutes).
    • Soaker hoses: install soaker hoses around the tree in coils out to the dripline; cover with mulch and run on low for 1–3 hours.
    • Garden hose: place a hose end at the base of the tree; turn water on low pressure for 30 minutes or trickle for 2–3 hours.
    • Five gallon buckets (use 2 or 3): drill 3–5 holes in the bottom of the buckets and place them around the tree. Fill the buckets with water and leave to drain.

Weeding Young Trees

Plants and weeds compete with the tree for water and nutrients. Keep the base of the tree free of other living plants such as weeds or grass.

Protecting Young Trees

  • Protect trees from lawn equipment like weed whackers and mowers. Cuts in the tree bark interrupt transport of water and nutrients and expose the tree to infection by pests and diseases.
  • Protect young trees from chemicals. Pesticides and herbicides can burn or damage a young tree’s roots and leaves.
  • Place mulch around young trees to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, and protect roots from drying out.
  • Prune young trees with great care. Poor pruning early in a tree’s life leads to costly maintenance later. Learn how to properly prune your young trees so they grow into healthy, mature trees.

Learn more about different tree species and their growing requirements in Canopy’s Tree Library.

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