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Your young trees will need TLC and water this summer

As spring turns to summer, your trees could need some special TLC. Young, newly-planted trees require attention like newborn infants, but don’t overlook the needs of your mature trees either.

In many parts of the country, a summer drought is something gardeners and landscapers have come to expect, and even a mild drought can have a detrimental effect on young trees.

How much water does a young tree need? A good rule of thumb is the equivalent of about one inch of rainfall a week. If you don’t own a rain gage, local news sources often provide information about current rainfall conditions, and you can compensate for shortfalls simply by watering.

You might be surprised to know how much water you will need to provide. A brief sprinkle isn’t going to cut it!

Landscapers use the term “caliper” when describing the size of trees, particularly young ones. The caliper of your tree is the diameter of the trunk close to the base. If you have a tree with a one inch or two inch caliper, it will need approximately ten gallons of water per week. That amount of water comes as a surprise to many homeowners!

Dumping ten gallons of water around your tree all at once is definitely NOT the way to go. The water needs to be applied slowly, the way Nature would do it. I found an excellent tip online, provided by Jay Banks, the town arborist in Leesburg, VA. You can read the entire article on tree care at this Web site: http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/greenline/98v3/gl9807.03.html or go to my Web site www.landsteward.org and you can easily click on a live link when you find this column under The Plant Man heading.

Jay has this suggestion: Find a five-gallon bucket and punch a very small hole (1/8" or less) in the bottom. Put the bucket next to the tree. Fill the bucket with water and simply leave it for gravity to do its work. For the sake of safety, remember to cover the bucket if there is a risk that small children or animals might fall in. When the bucket is empty, you move it to the other side of the tree and repeat as necessary.

As with your shrubs and flowers, watering trees in the early morning or late evening will help reduce loss through evaporation.

Is it possible to over-water a young tree? The answer is certainly YES. You might see the leaves of your new tree begin to droop in the midday heat, but resist the urge to turn on the faucet. As the day cools down, the leaves should begin to perk up. If the tree has sufficient water resources the leaves should return to normal in the cool of the night.

Check the leaves in the evening, then again in the early morning. Only then, if the leaves still seem droopy and listless, should you re-water.

A good way to reduce evaporation and to protect the root system of young trees is to add a layer of mulch. You’ll find that cypress or hardwood mulch tends to last longer than pine mulch. Spread a layer about 3" deep around your new tree. Extend the mulch wide enough to cover the entire root system, but pull it back slightly from the base of the trunk to prevent the possibility of rot.

Which trees are best suited to your landscaping needs and your growing zone? If you e-mail some basic information to me about your specific situation, I’ll respond with some suggestions. You can reach me at steve@landsteward.org

The first summer is the most challenging for your new young tree. Apply some TLC in the next few months and you’ll enjoy it for years to come.

Mature trees have watering needs, too. In my next column, I’ll review some tips for keeping established trees lush and green.

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org