Planting and maintaining your tree is easier than you might have imagined! There are four key components to tree planting and care:
Where should I plant my tree?
The right tree, in the right place!
- Shading your home can result in energy savings of 20-30%! Numerous studies have proven that shading your home with trees provides positive impacts on both your cooling and heating costs.
- Planting location is crucial. If you’re trying to ensure optimal energy efficiency, plant your trees within 15′ of your home, and on the West, East, or South facing sides.
- Deciduous trees (lose leaves seasonally) should be placed on the south face of the home. This allows for the best of both worlds – cooling shade in the summer, yet the warming sun can still come through in the winter.
- Know the mature size of the tree, and place accordingly. Many desert trees are naturally smaller, but some species can reach up to 30′ high and 30′ wide! Make sure the tree has plenty of room to reach its growth potential.
- Remember to always look above, below, and around when identifying a location to plant your tree. Trees should always be planted at a safe distance from overhead lines and underground utilities to avoid power outages, busted pipes, or other costly damages. Also be aware of nearby sidewalks and driveways.
- We recommend that participants call Blue Stake (811) to locate underground utilities before planting. The Blue Stake service is fast, easy, and free!
How should I plant my tree?
It’s easier than you think!
- Before you plant, check for proper drainage. Desert adapted trees will drown if planted in an area that retains too much water! Dig the planting hole, fill it with water, and check back in a few hours to see if the water has drained. If it has, you are good to go! If not, you may need to move your hole or create a drainage chimney.
- Dig the planting hole no deeper than the root ball, and 2-3x as wide. One of the most common mistakes is planting too deep. This prevents the gas and nutrient exchange that takes place at the base of the trunk and could cause the tree to fail. Be careful to not make this mistake! Also, slope the edges of the hole to allow for easier penetration by growing roots.
- Gently remove the tree from its planting container and place in the hole. If you find your tree to be root-bound, loosen the roots gently with your hands, or use a pocket knife to slice along one side of the root-ball to allow the roots to begin growing outwards.
- Position the tree however necessary to ensure it grows straight. Staking is typically not necessary, especially with 5 gal. trees. Allowing the trunk to sway and bend in the elements builds trunk strength, ensuring your tree is prepared for enduring a lifetime of monsoons!
- Special amendments to the soil are not necessary, and not recommended! The best soil for your desert tree is going to be the desert soil it is already adapted to thrive in. Back fill the planting hole using the soil you just removed. Only add mulch over the top of the soil to cool growing tree roots and help retain moisture.
- Using some of the left over soil, build a small berm on the down slope side of the tree. This will help to retail rainfall, letting water be absorbed where the tree most needs it.
- Give your new tree plenty of water – getting a new home can make for a stressful day!! Be sure to water every 3-4 days for the first two years, especially during the summer months.
How should I water my tree?
Even desert trees need water!
- Newly planted trees will need regular water for the first two years. After two years, native and desert adapted trees will continue to grow without additional irrigation, although a little extra water in the hottest summer months always helps!
- Never water your tree at the base of the trunk! Trees should be watered along the edge of the canopy, or the drip line. The roots are primarily responsible for water intake, and often reach as wide as or even wider than the edge of the leaf canopy. Getting the water to the root tips is imperative, as this is where all the action happens!
- Water deeply and infrequently. Giving enough water to soak the top 2′-3′ of the soil once or twice a week is preferable to shallow waterings several times a week. Deep watering allows the roots to absorb the water, but most of the water from a shallow watering will evaporate before the tree can use it.
- Build a basin to help catch and hold the water where you (and the tree) need it most. Build the berm slightly beyond the drip line of the tree, and continue to move it outwards as the tree grows. Make sure the highest point of the berm is on the downslope side of the tree. You may even want to leave an opening on the upslope side to allow water running down from higher elevations to be caught by the berm.
- Drip irrigation is an excellent strategy for water efficiency, and can result in significant savings. If you are using drip irrigation for your tree, be sure the emitters are placed in a circle around the tree, at or slightly beyond the drip line.
Don’t forget to think about passive rainwater harvesting on your site to keep your trees happy and healthy! Berms and basins are easy to build and maintain, and will help conserve water as well as save you money! Visit Brad Lancaster’s Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond site for more information or contact Watershed Management Group for a consultation.
How should I prune my tree?
A well-pruned tree is a work of art!
- Pruning is NOT recommended for the first two years! Although your new tree may be starting to look a little “wild”, it is still using those small branches to protect and strengthen the trunk as it grows. After two years, you can begin to safely prune and shape your tree.
- Always remember to take a step back and look at the natural form of the tree. For best results, try to prune in concert with the natural growth of the tree.
- Never, ever, “top” or “tip” a tree! Nothing will destroy the beauty and benefits of a tree faster.
- Always cut at the base of the branch which needs pruned, just above the “branch collar”. This allows the tree to heal quickly and correctly, and doesn’t leave unsightly “stubs” which will not heal properly. For large branches, be sure to use the overcut, undercut, remove method. This prevents the branch from breaking while you prune, either creating a dangerous situation for you or causing further damage to the tree.
- Focus on crossed branches, overcrowded branches, or broken branches. Remove suckers which may be growing from the base of the tree or straight up from branches (this happens often following our rainy seasons!). If there are any “stubs” leftover from previous prunings, remove those also.
- Be careful of overpruning. Never remove more than 20-30% of the tree in any one session.
- The best time of year to prune depends on what results you want to see. Pruning during the spring and late winter encourages growth because of quick healing. Pruning during the summer can help reduce size. Pruning in the fall not recommended because the tree will have a difficult time healing while preparing to go dormant for the winter.