How to Care for Trees

Newly planted trees – those planted within the past three years – require regular water and care to thrive. Failing to do so can result in your tree not reaching its full potential size, as well as making it vulnerable to pests and disease or death.

Follow these simple, time-saving steps to properly care for your tree:

Water, Mulch and Protect

Ensure your tree receives 25 gallons of water per week, equal to 1.5 inches of rainfall.

  • Prevent wasteful runoff by:

    • Turning on a hose on low for a half hour at the base of the tree.
    • Place a 5-gallon bucket with holes in the bottom at the base of the tree. Fill the bucket up five days a week.
    • Add a 25-gallon slow-release watering bag. Fill it up just once a week.

Here are some tips for moving water to trees this summer.

Transporting water:

  • Use a hose. If you have one of these connected to a water supply you’re in great shape. Conquer any distance by attaching hoses together.
  • Get creative. Use old buckets or water cooler jugs to transport and pour water.
  • Carry water in a wheelbarrow or wagon. Hand-propelled vehicles lighten any load.
  • Use teamwork. If you work together, you can accomplish a lot more. Bring your friends or your family along to help you water trees.

Delivering the water to the tree:

  • Install a slow-release watering bag (such as an Ooze Tube). Use bags that hold the recommended 25 gallons of water. Watering bags can be purchased at most home improvement, garden and nursery stores.
  • Use a funnel. Funnels effectively pour water into watering bags and reduce waste from spilling.
  • Turn a hose on a low trickle for half an hour. If you don’t have a slow-release watering bag, set up your hose to run on a low setting. You can stick around or walk away, but remember to turn the water off after you are finished so that you don’t waste water or over-water the tree.
  • Make your own slow-release watering device. Add holes to the bottom of a bucket and place at the base of a tree. You can fill it up and then walk away.

Remember to take care when watering trees, especially young ones. They will need 25 gallons of water per week on average, delivered slowly and carefully. Street trees in your neighborhood may also need water as they tend to not have much permeable ground nearby to gather water for their roots. It is the responsibility of residents to take care of watering street trees near their property.

Mulch each season to keep the soil moist and to control weeds naturally.

  • When mulching:

    • Use shredded bark or leaf compost.
    • Apply using the 3-3-3 rule: 3 inches of mulch in a 3-foot ring with a 3-inch space around the tree trunk.
    • Avoid volcano mulching.

Keep weed whackers, lawn mowers and wildlife clear from trees.

  • Install a trunk guard at the base of the tree to keep its nutrient and water system from being cut. Trunk guards also protect trees from rodents and other small animals.
  • Install deer fencing if necessary.

Pruning Tips


  • Use clean, sharp tools.
  • Sanitize your tools in between pruning different trees.


  • Always cut to a bud, lateral branch, or main trunk.
  • Do not leave stubs.
  • Use the three-cut method for large limbs which are more than two inches in diameter.
  • When pruning back to a main stem or another branch, do not make a flush cut. Instead make a cut outside the raised branch collar. The collar contains chemicals that are a barrier against pathogens and help the tree form woundwood.
  • Do not remove more than one-quarter of the living crown of a tree at one time. If it is necessary to remove more, do it over successive years.

Common myths

  • Dress the wound. For most species, dressings can damage the formation of woundwood. The only benefit of wound dressings is to prevent introduction of pathogens in the specific cases of Dutch elm disease and oak wilt.
  • When removing a branch from a tree, the final cut should be flush with the stem to optimize healing. First of all, trees don’t “heal,” they seal by compartmentalizing wounds and generating woundwood over the wounded area. Flush cutting removes the “branch collar,” creating a larger wound than if the branch were removed outside the collar. The spread of decay inside the tree is greater with flush cuts.
  • Tree topping is the proper way to prune a tree. No. Tree topping is the most detrimental form of pruning. Topping a tree creates large wounds that allow rot and fungal decay to enter the tree. Topped trees are more likely to break apart in storms than trees that retain their natural shape.


  • Anytime is the best time to remove broken, diseased, or damaged wood.
  • Structural pruning is best done in the dormant season (roughly December to mid-March). When leaves are down from deciduous trees, you can see and evaluate the tree’s structure.
  • For some trees that flower in early spring, pruning is best after flowering; while other flowering species should be pruned in the dormant season to reduce the chance of transmitting disease. Check with your local arborist.

Hire a certified arborist when work cannot be performed with hand tools or poses a serious safety risk.

Instructional Videos

How to Water a Tree

How to Prune: Basic Pruning

More video instruction.