E. Caring for Trees

Caring for trees and shrubs is the last step in the transplanting process. Ongoing care helps protect your investment, and allows your stock to thrive in its new home.

Watering trees and shrubs

How much water will your stock need to establish in its new home? This will depend on what you are planting, and the condition of the soil you are planting in.

The water needs to soak deep into the soil for the root system, which is one of the reasons we build a berm around the base. Fill the berm with water and let it soak into the ground. When all the water has drained into the soil, fill it again.

You will eventually reach a point of where the water in the berm will no longer drain into the saturated soil. This is how we initially water a newly transplanted tree.

Clay soil holds moisture well, but it takes a long time to soak in. Sandy soil drains quickly, and usually has to be watered more frequently.

If you want to know if your stock needs water, dig down a few inches into the soil. If the soil is moist, then it doesn't need any water.

Watering schedules do not keep you in tune to a plants requirements. Schedules don't account for rain, drought, wind, or soil conditions. Many plants have different requirements for water, and should be given what they need based on these conditions.

Check with you nursery on specific watering requirements for your variety. A general rule of thumb is that most trees should be watered about once a week.

Staking Trees

After landscaping for many years and studying countless articles on how and why to stake a tree, I have come up with the best analogy I can. Think of tree staking as training wheels for your tree. If it doesn't need them, don't put them on.

Have you ever seen training wheels touching the ground on both sides? The wheels are always set slightly off the ground. They are only there for a guide giving riders the chance to compensate before falling.

Some children have a natural strength and balance and never require training wheels. The same goes for trees. If your tree is in a well protected area from wind and it is not top heavy then don't stake the tree. It will develop a strong root system earlier on its own.

If you feel the tree is top heavy, tall, has loose soil, or may be exposed to strong winds, then you should stake the tree.

There are different ways to stake a tree, and also different products available for staking. Most landscape centers, seasonal departments, or garden sections will sell tree staking kits. They should always come with directions.

Like all products, some are better than others. Some products actually don't touch the tree, but rather stabilize the root ball itself.

If you do decide to stake your tree, use at least 2 stakes. If the tree is is less than six feet tall than it is acceptable to use only one stake. Guying heavier trees should be done with 3 stakes. We have more information below on guying.

Have one stake on the side of your prevailing winds. (The direction wind most often comes from.) Drive your stakes into the ground away from the root ball, so you don't damage any roots.

Make sure the stakes are set lower than, or away from branches. This will prevent them from rubbing against each other on windy days.

Drive the stakes in the ground and tie off the tree loosely with soft fabric straps, or wire through a rubber hose. This will give it a bit of room to sway before the supports stop it from moving. Studies have shown this slight movement will help strengthen the roots.

If the tree is rather large, or will be exposed to strong winds, you can stake the tree with the three stake method. (Guying) Drive the stakes into the ground at an inward angle, and not into the root ball. two of the stakes can be placed so the prevailing winds split their placement down the middle.

This ensures that you won't have excessive rubbing at one particular spot, as prevailing winds can vary. Place the third stake balanced with these two on the opposite side. These stakes should be set lower than vertical stakes.

Some people will drive the stakes in first to avoid possible damage to the roots. If you do this, be careful to leave enough room for the root ball, and don't trip on the stakes when placing it.

This diagram to the left shows how a tree is staked using the "Guying" method.

After you have staked the tree, don't just leave it on its own. Check the tree, and stakes frequently. Make sure there are no signs of excessive rubbing, or cutting into the trunk. Make sure that the stakes have not worked themselves loose.

Check trees and stakes frequently, especially after windy day. You invested time and money into your tree, so take good care of it.

Make sure you remove the stakes after the first growing season. The sooner you can remove the stakes, the better off the tree will be. Not all trees will be ready to have their stakes removed the first year. You will have to test the tree to ensure it is ready to support itself.

Gently rock the tree back and forth, and if you see a lot of movement in the root ball, it may need another season of staking. If you are looking for more information on tree staking, check out our module on tree staking.

Fertilizing trees and shrubs

It is not recommended to fertilize newly planted trees. Contrary to those who love to sell their products, it may not even need it. If you do, talk to your experienced nursery provider about the products they use, sell, and what they would recommend. After all, they are the ones providing the warranty.

You can also ask your nursery about purchasing a root feeder for fertilizing your stock. They feed deep into the root system in liquid form. This is the best method to fertilize a tree. It also helps aerate the soil in the process.

Be careful that you don't use turf fertilizers close to newly planted trees. If you use a slow release fertilizer make sure it is applied on the outside of the root ball. (A completely soluble solution is recommended.)

Most deciduous trees should be fertilized every few years, after the leaves fall, and before the spring. Don't fertilize after mid summer, you don't want to encourage any new growth after this time.

Evergreens require even less frequent fertilizer, if any at all. They should be fertilized in the spring. If the tree is growing in a non-cultured environment (not mowed) then it may never need fertilizer. It will get its nutrients from the decomposing vegetation around it.


We covered pruning in the planting segment by saying only prune what is necessary. (Damaged, encircling roots, dead, or damaged branches.)

We want to cover when to prune shrubs one more time.

The exception is if you are planting or transplanting a shrub.

A shrub can be further pruned if you have cut a significant amount of the root ball when you dug it up.

If you removed 1/3 of the root system, then you should remove 1/3 off the top to compensate. Most plants require a balance of the root system in the soil, to the growth above.

If you save the whole root ball then it may not be necessary to prune the plant. (The root system is all in tact, balanced, and should be able to support the shrub.)

Normal pruning for trees can take place after the stock has become established. This may take a year or two depending on how well it's adapting to its new home.

We hope you found this information useful. If you did please feel free to tell us about it. If there is anything you feel we can improve on please let us know that as well. We can only improve with your feedback. Don't forget to pass this site on to your family, friends, and neighbors.


Other suggested videos on planting and transplanting.

Planting America Video: How to plant a tree.

Planting Container Grown Plants: Natorp's Nursery


Suggested sites with related information to this module.

North Dakota State University (Trees and Shrubs)

Trees are Good


Table of Contents: Transplanting Trees

Introduction: Transplanting Trees

A. Tree Planting

B. Planning Tree Planting

C. Tree Planting Tools

D. Digging and Planting Trees

E. Caring for Newly Planted Trees



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