The best spot for your tree is a location in which it will have appropriate light, water, and space.
Every tree species is different so check the specific care requirements of your tree before you decide where it should go. Generally, larger stature trees should be reserved for areas far enough away from buildings that they will not cause future problems. Similarly, smaller stature trees are better suited for areas with more limited space.
Research has shown that trees planted less than 5 feet from sidewalks and driveways are not as healthy or long lived as trees that are given more space for their roots.
Furthermore, it is a violation of Austin’s City Code to allow trees and other vegetation to overgrow or obstruct the public right of way.
The first step in planting a tree is to remove the tree from the container making sure to remove any dirt that has been piled over the root flare, the bulge at the base of the trunk where the roots meet the trunk.
The root flare should always be exposed. Next, the root ball needs to be teased out so that major roots extend outward from the tree and no roots circling the container remain. Circling roots can quickly become girdling roots that can dramatically shorten the lifespan of your tree.
After the roots have been prepared, dig a hole 2-3 times as wide as the container the tree was in and the depth of the root ball. Make sure not to plant the tree too deep as a buried root flare will often lead to health declines and ultimately the death of your tree. The hole should have wide, sloping sides and a compacted base.
Plant the tree with the root flare 1-2 inches above ground level and backfill the hole with native soil. As you backfill, amend your soil with mature compost if necessary. The soil should be lightly tamped down but not compacted.
Finally, once the soil surface has been raked flat, place a 1-4 inch deep layer of mulch starting 6 inches out from the trunk and extending to the furthest branch tips, also known as the tree’s drip-line.
Make sure to consider how large a tree will get when planting multiple trees. Large shade trees, like a live oak or sycamore, will need at least 20 feet distance from other trees when measured trunk to trunk. Smaller trees and shrubs, like American beautyberry or desert willow, only need 10 feet of space between them.
In mixed plantings, the most important thing is to make sure you leave enough room that the trees will not be competing with one another.
The best time to plant a tree is when it is dormant. Trees in Central Texas typically go dormant in late fall and then break dormancy in late winter to early spring. Most trees in our area will lose their leaves when they reach dormancy, however, some will not. Fall and winter are the absolute best times to plant in Central Texas with early spring coming in a close second.
TreeFolks’ planting season runs from October 1 through March 31. Planting a tree in Texas’ summer heat is nearly always a death sentence without professional levels of aftercare, and even then the odds are stacked against the establishment.
Planting a tree from fall to early spring allows the tree to take root in its new home before our intense summer season.
Newly planted 5-gallon container trees need 15-20 gallons of water every 7-10 days unless it rains at least 1 inch. Large trees will need more. Leave a hose on a low stream for 15 minutes to apply 15-20 gallons around the roots year-round for at least 2 years.
Let the soil dry out completely between waterings, and do not water if the soil is still moist and soft. While it is difficult to accomplish in Central Texas, especially during our summers, overwatering is just as deadly as underwatering for most trees. If it rains more than an inch, you should delay watering by another week or until the soil is dry 1 inch below the surface. Check out this video on tree watering to learn more.
It is especially important to water a young tree during times of drought or intense heat, but please be sure to check the current City of Austin watering restrictions if you are an Austin resident.
Generally, pruning cuts made before the spring growth flush have the best chance of healing, but some trees can respond poorly to spring cuts. These few can actually “bleed to death” due to sap pressure from the roots, so make sure to learn the specific requirements for the tree you plan to prune. Most trees will not need much pruning in their lifespan, however, urban trees can be quite different.
Pruning is best done on young trees in order to establish an appropriate form. Early pruning in a trees life can minimize the need for pruning once it has matured, but it can be important to remove dead or dying branches or limbs that have grown too close to structures from a mature tree. It is important to understand tree biology and pruning responses before you get started as every cut has the potential to dramatically alter the tree’s growth.
When in doubt, the best course of action is to follow the ISA recommended pruning guidelines or hire an ISA-certified arborist to prune your trees for you. For Austin-area specific pruning guidelines to minimize the spread of oak-wilt click here.
Some tree illnesses can be treated appropriately with items that can be purchased from big box stores, other illnesses can be more involved. If you know what is ailing your tree, finding the correct treatment and treatment plan can be as simple as reading a label. If you are unsure of the problem, it might be time to call in the professionals. TreeFolks recommends having an ISA-certified arborist inspect your tree if you suspect it is declining in health for any reason.
If you’d like to learn more about trees please join us for one of our Tree ID Walks or register for and attend any of our other classes and workshops. TreeFolks offers an Urban Forest Stewardship Course and Urban Forest Stewardship Workshops along with other educational programs, all of which can be found on our Events Calendar and our Eventbrite Sign Up Page.
Grow Zone Restoration Technique – Invasive Tree Girdling
Invasive trees pose a big problem in natural areas. They reproduce rapidly and replace native species. Girdling, or scraping off a section of bark around the circumference of the tree, is a chemical-free and effective way to kill unwanted invasive trees. This technique can be a great addition to a riparian restoration land management plan.
International Society of Arboriculture – learn about trees and find a local ISA certified arborist
Tree Resource from the City of Austin – learn about urban tree selection, care, and maintenance for the Austin area
Tree Resources from Heritage Tree Care – links to valuable resources for Central Texans and their trees.