Tree Planting Tips

This tree planting advice comes from the National Arbor Day Foundation and is what we follow, too, for container trees.  Additional information on planting can be found at

Monthly Tree Care Guide

Follow this monthly guide for growing healthy trees in your yard!

JANUARY - Pruning

Dead, diseased, and damaged branches can be pruned off at any time, but for routine pruning, wait until winter when the tree is dormant.  Pruning too early in the fall can force new growth, which can be damaged or killed by cold before the shoots have time to harden off.  And when you do prune branches, be sure to make your cut outside the branch collar.

FEBRUARY - Celebrating

The third Friday in February is Arbor Day in Georgia, so celebrate by planting a tree.  But plant the right one.  It is important to do your homework in selecting a tree.  What is the mature size of the tree expected to be, and will my space accommodate it?  Is my spot sunny or shady, wet or dry?  Do I want flowers, fall color, or shade?  Is the tree going to be near a power line?  There are many resources that can guide you in making the right decision, including books, the internet, the local Cooperative Extension office, or your city arborist.

MARCH - Mulching

For long-term health, mulch trees annually with a 2 to 4 inch even layer of good quality, organic mulch.  Spread the mulch out around the tree and to the edges of the canopy, but keep 6 inches away from the trunk.  Aged wood chips, the tree’s own leaves, and pine straw make great mulch.  Avoid pea gravel and lava rocks, as well as rubber mulch.  These mulches do not decompose (and do not enrich the soil) and they can absorb sunlight and heat up, which can kill the roots.

APRIL - Watering

As a rule of thumb, newly planted trees need watering at time of planting, and throughout their first 3 growing seasons.  Apply 1 gallon of water per foot of tree height per week from April through September unless rainfall is adequate (1 inch per week). 

Established trees typically do not need supplemental watering unless we have had a month or so of drought.  Then they need about 15 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter per week, preferably through slow drip. 

Water timers are available that can be hooked to the soaker hose, and that will shut off when the hose has delivered the set amount of water.  Remember that at full pressure, a standard garden hose delivers about 5 gallons of water per minute.

MAY - Insect Control

Bugs are good.  Less than 10% are “bad bugs” and when we try to eradicate all insects, we are also killing the beneficial ones.  So be judicious in how you use insect killing chemicals.  Planting natives helps control bad insects by attracting and supporting the good bugs, birds, and other bad bug predators that are indigenous to our area.  Systemic insecticides can be used on individual ornamental trees without affecting the entire area.  Decide how much bug damage or nuisance you can tolerate and investigate the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques that are available to you.

JUNE - Inspecting Trees

Summer storms bring news stories about damage done by falling trees.  But the tree is the real victim that in turn creates victims.  So pay attention to what your tree is telling you. Does it have an abnormal lean with heaving soil around the roots?  Does it have prior limb loss or a lot of deadwood in the crown?  Are the blooms and leave the right color and size?  Is there something that would be harmed if the tree falls or drops large limbs?  Get to know your trees and you will know when there is something wrong.  Sometimes there are remedies for tree problems, and sometimes it is time to say good-bye and plant a new one.  And get professional help in making the decision so that trees are not cut down needlessly.

JULY - Trees and Lightning

Mom was right when she said not to stand under a tall tree during a thunderstorm.  These guys can be a target for lightning and you don’t want to be there!  There are lightning protection systems that can be installed in historically or environmentally significant trees, but they are not usually practical for the average homeowner since they are expensive and require ongoing routine inspections.  If your tree is hit, it most likely will not make it long term.  If there is no “target” should the tree fail, leave it for the birds and other wildlife.  If there is a target present, go ahead and remove it but be sure to replant.

AUGUST - Tree Stress

Trees are living organisms so, if we are “wilting” in the August heat, our trees most likely are as well.  In an established tree, wilting can be a survival mechanism that allows the tree to “close up” in order to preserve its precious water reserves.  If your tree is wilting in the afternoon but seems to be back to normal the next morning, then it is most likely okay.  Long periods of drought (3-4 weeks) or noticeable wilt in the morning may indicate the need for supplemental watering.  Pay attention to the wilt so that trees do not reach the “permanent wilt point” where no amount of watering will bring them back to health.

SEPTEMBER - Before you Dig!

Whether you are digging to plant a tree or digging around an existing tree there are actions to take before you put that shovel in the dirt.  For new tree planting, call 811 and ask for a utility locate.  And in addition to looking down at the markings, be sure to look up to assess the distance from the planting to overhead lines.  If you are digging around existing trees, remember that those important roots are within 12 inches of the surface, and that even a shovel severing roots can lead to the death of established trees.  And NEVER trench near a tree or the tree will likely die within 3-5 years.

OCTOBER - Protecting Trees

The relationship between humans and trees is a long term one.  If we want them to take care of us, we have to take care of them.  Create large mulch rings around your trees to suffocate weeds and grass.  That way trimmers and mowers will not have the opportunity to damage trees, and the root zone will not be damaged by the weight of mowers.  Never park your car or allow other heavy equipment under your trees.  Large mulch rings also discourage heavy foot traffic under the trees, which can save the trees from soil compaction problems and other human created damage.

NOVEMBER - Tree Shopping

Know what quality trees should look like when you visit the nursery.  Whether purchasing balled and burlapped trees or container stock, there are certain things to look for.  Most trees are supposed to have one central leader, not a fork at the top.  The trunks should be free of injury and you should see no circling roots around the rootball.  The tree should be free of any signs of insect damage or disease.  Branches should be healthy and well spaced around the trunk.  Always buy from reputable nurseries, and develop a good relationship with your local nursery staff.

DECEMBER - Planting Trees

The most important thing you can do to insure the survivability of a tree is to plant it correctly.  The rootball should be even with (or slightly above) ground level and the planting hole should be 2 to 3 times wider than the rootball.  Do not fertilize or amend the soil in the planting hole.   Water well and mulch.