Homeowners who planted shade trees recently or plan to soon can take steps to greatly improve the growth of their trees.
If these steps are followed for three or four years, growth can be substantially increased.
Even though container-grown or balled and burlapped trees can be successfully planted at any time, the best time is the winter.
The first key step is preparation of the planting site. The soil should be thoroughly loosened over an area two to three times the width of the soil/root ball.
Digging a hole the same size as the container or root system will severely hinder movement of roots into the surrounding soil. The roots will be in a restricted area, and the plant is more likely to suffer water stress and nutrient deficiencies.
Also, the tree is not as stable and is vulnerable to dislodging by strong winds.
The effects of soil preparation are greater in heavy clay soils. If trees were grown in containers, the root ball should be broken, cut or disturbed so as to encourage movement of the root system from the original container.
The second key step is to mulch recently planted trees. The benefits include: cooler soil temperatures in the summer, which encourage root growth; more uniform moisture level (fewer periods of water stress); increased soil aeration because of less soil compaction; and a reduction in vegetation that competes for water and nutrients.
The mulch should be 2 to 3 inches thick.
Be sure to provide water during periods of drought.
The third key step is proper fertilization.
Spreading the fertilizer on top of the soil beneath and slightly beyond the spread of the branches is adequate. Most elements leach into the root zone after irrigation or rain.
It is better to make several applications of small amounts of fertilizer through the year rather than one application of a large quantity.
In the absence of a soil test, an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 analysis fertilizer should be sufficient at the rate of 2 to 3 tablespoons.
Fertilizing in February, May and September will result in more even feeding and improved growth.