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GARDENING

First-Year Care Crucial to Well-Grounded Trees

May 31, 1997|From Associated Press

By now, the last of your new trees is probably in the ground.

Hopefully, you planted each tree carefully, protecting the roots from the sun as you dug the hole, fanning out the roots in the planting hole, firming the soil against the roots and adjusting the planting depth so it is the same as it was in the nursery.

Don't walk away now and forget your young trees. This first year is crucial to their future well-being.

In this first year, water can spell the difference between a plant that makes lush growth, just barely survives or dies.

A good rule of (green) thumb is to apply the equivalent of an inch of rainfall once a week, unless, of course, it does rain. In simpler terms, this translates to about half a gallon per square-foot spread of roots or, for many trees, about 2 gallons of water per week per tree.

Do not heave a bucketful of water around each tree all at once, though. Besides washing away some soil, most of the water will run off along the surface without penetrating within reach of thirsty roots. Soils can absorb just so much water within a given time.

However, if you create a catch basin around each plant with a 2-foot-diameter lip built up from soil, it will contain the water until it is absorbed by the soil.

The luxuriant growth that will result from following this prescription of 2 gallons per week needs to be throttled toward the end of the growing season so that plants can toughen up to face winter's cold. Gradually cut down on watering beginning at the end of August to slow down growth and harden up the tissues.

Now let's turn to weeds. They cause problems with young trees mostly by stealing away water and nutrients.

A tall, aggressive pigweed can even shade out a small young tree.

Maintain a 2- or 3-foot-diameter weed-free circle around each young plant. Remember that a weed is any plant in the wrong place, making even lawn grass a weed if it is snuggled up against the stem of a newly planted tree. Only after a few years should you allow grass or some other ground cover to grow right up to a tree trunk.

The way to keep that circle around the base of any young tree weed-free is with weekly hosing or with mulch. Mulch has the added benefits of preventing the evaporation of water from the soil and of making it easier for water to percolate into the soil. Pile mulch up to but not right against a plant's stem or else the stem may rot.

Mechanical damage from any one of a number of garden tools is a third hazard in the life of young trees, and even older trees for that matter.

The thin bark of young trees can be injured by the whirling nylon line of a "weed whip" or by being bumped by a lawn mower.

That weed-free area around each tree will also help prevent mechanical damage. This buffer zone ensures that all but the most negligent lawn mower or weed whipper keep their distance.

Water, weed and avoid bark damage to your newly planted trees and 2 feet or more of new growth should have emerged by summer from buds on the seemingly lifeless "sticks" you planted.

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