Newly planted trees, five or six feet tall, sometimes make little - or no growth for three or four years, or they die before they have been in the new location a year or two. Very often it is because they are not watered adequately.
These trees need to be watered regularly the first three or four summers when there is less than an inch of rainfall during the week. It may take that long for the tree to establish a root system sufficient to carry it through a period of dry weather.
Even though dug carefully with a ball of soil around the roots, many of the roots were left behind. It takes time for new roots to develop. Research has shown over and over again that it may take three or four years for the tree to become well established in the new location.
It is easy to forget the tree needs this kind of attention for so long a time. Studies have shown that it is critical, particularly when the tree is planted on a lawn where its roots must compete with those of the grass for moisture.
To grow and increase in length, the tree roots must invade soil already occupied by grass roots. There is competition for space, moisture and nutrients. The grass roots are well developed and for a year or two are able to hold their own.
During hot, dry summer weather, the newly planted tree should be given preference when it comes to watering. Give it a good soaking every week or 10 days when there has been little or no rainfall.
When the soil has dried out to a depth of six to eight inches, a light watering is a waste of water. If watering is done hose-in-hand, it is unlikely that enough will be applied because it takes two or three hours to do a good job.
It is possible to overwater. Plant roots require oxygen as well as moisture and if drainage is poor, too much water may result in a water-logged condition.
Adding soluble fertilizer to the water once a month is a most inexpensive way to promote vigorous growth, according to specialists. It should be diluted to one-half the manufacturer's recommendations as a precaution against over-fertilizing. Do not fertilize during September and October because it may prevent new growth from hardening before winter.
Mulching also is important for the newly planted tree. A mulch is a layer of pine bark, straw or some other organic material applied to the surface of the soil.
It keeps weeds from getting started. It lessens moisture evaporation from the soil. It checks erosion. It modifies soil temperatures. It makes possible the absorption of more moisture by the soil, water which otherwise would be lost by runoff.
Weeds cannot grow in the dark. Pull up all the weeds and apply a mulch deep enough to shut off light from the soil surface. Weed seeds may germinate under the mulch but the weeds will die before they can push through the mulch and lift their heads into the light.
A good practice with a newly planted tree is to prepare a saucer to hold water. Do not mound up the soil around the base of the tree because rain or irrigation water will run off instead of soaking into the soil.
The saucer consists of a hole or shallow trench around the tree, extending out four or five feet in all directions, about a foot deep. Fill it with wood chips or some other granular material. It not only makes watering easy but conserves soil moisture by preventing surface evaporation.