How Newly-Planted Trees Can Recover from Weather Whiplash


From tornadoes to massive temperature swings, this seems like the year winter might never end. Last year at the same time, we were basking in the perfect spring weather– sunny and 80 degrees.

Because the warm weather is taking its time arriving this year, your growing season may start more than a month later than usual. But even if the schedule’s compacted, Ted Sonnier, district manager for The Davey Tree Expert Company’s South Houston office, says there is still time to get trees to get on track.

“Newly-planted trees are particularly vulnerable because they’re still getting used to their new home,” explains Sonnier. “Spring is the perfect time to give all trees the extra TLC they need to make it through the rest of the year.”

Protect both newly-planted and established trees by following these steps.

Check where the flare is
“The mistake I see most often is trees that were planted too deep. When buried too deeply, tree roots decline in health and condition,” says Sonnier. That can mean reduced tree growth, decreased cold hardiness and increased disease/insect susceptibility. Some trees may let you know right away, but usually, symptoms lay dormant for years. On all your trees, make sure the root flare, where the trunk starts to bulge out at the bottom, or slightly above ground level.

Water often
Because the roots of a newly-planted tree are often incredibly dry, deeply water young trees every day for the first two weeks. After that, water a new tree once a week for the first year, while it still has its leaves. Sonnier says that by providing the tree with enough water, you’re helping grow strong, substantial roots while also promoting stem and leaf growth. Water established trees about once or twice a month. Take rainfall into account before watering.

Lock in moisture 
Adding shredded compost is one of the best things you can do for trees. It increases the growth rate, reduces weeds and improves soil. Plus, says Sonnier, “shredded compost reduces water evaporation and keeps the tree roots at an ideal temperature, which is perfect given our recent weather.” Spread 2 to 4 inches of shredded compost around the base of your tree. Keep the shredded compost 1 to 2 inches from the trunk.

Proper pruning.
On new trees, cut off minor branch defects, but that should be the extent of your pruning in the early years. In two or three years, you can begin to train your tree to improve your tree’s overall structure. Before storm season, have a certified arborist see if any of your established trees need pruning. Thinning the tree canopy allows wind to blow through it instead of against it as though it was a sail. Pruning also removes potentially hazardous, dead or weak branches.

Pest check.
“I’ve seen more pests come out earlier than usual. Because of that, I encourage you to inspect all your trees for signs of a pest infestation,” says Sonnier. Look for chewed or discolored leaves, holes in the bark, premature leaf drop or dieback in the canopy. If you see anything, have an expert out to diagnose it.

 To stake or not to stake. 

Most trees don’t need to be staked. Staking a tree can cause the tree to grow fewer roots and develop a weak base.

By thinking ahead, developing effective solutions, and taking a strategic approach to landscape maintenance, you will achieve top results–no matter the weather

Ted Sonnier is the district manager of The Davey Tree Expert Company’s South Houston Office. Ted has worked at the company for 20 years and is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist®. To connect with Ted, call 866-968-2184.


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