Tree Care

Tree Care and Maintenance


Whether it’s a tree that you’ve previously planted and now want to move to the perfect location or a tree that you want to dig from a ditch, the process is the same.

The best time to transplant is either in the early spring prior to bud break or in the fall after leaf drop.

  • When transplanting a tree or shrub, dig a trench around the plant about 30 cm wider than the spread of the limbs or branches. Be sure to guide the shovel blade straight down to minimize the disturbance to the roots.
  • Next, lift the loosened mass of roots still embedded in the soil. Place the root ball on a plastic sheet or in a plastic bag and tie it securely, as this will help to keep the moisture in the root ball during transport.
  • Please fill in the remaining hole to prevent possible incidents to humans, wildlife, livestock, and maintenance equipment. It’s advised to transport your plant in the trunk of a car or in a covered truck to prevent wind damage.
  • To plant the transplant in the ground dig a hole at least twice the width of the root ball and the depth of the root ball height. Place the transplant into the hole ensuring the root ball in level with the ground.
  • Backfill the planting hole two-thirds with the parent soil. Lightly pack the soil and water. Backfill the remaining hole with soil and water thoroughly.
  • Make sure you water trees or shrubs when dry. Do not fertilize your newly planted tree or shrub during its first year.


Adequate watering may be the single most important factor that will influence the survival of planted and transplanted trees. A tree suffering from drought is more vulnerable to transplant shock, pests and diseases.

  • Water the tree regularly for the first two years after planting. Some trees may need watering for three to four years to become established.
  • Water trees at least once a week. Increase frequency during dry periods and decrease during wet periods.
  • Conifers may require more water than deciduous trees.
    Irrigation is not adequate if the trees have wilted foliage or show slow, stunted growth.
  • Ideally, trees should be watered in the early morning.
  • Watering should taper off a few weeks before the first frost.


Trees do not necessarily need fertilizer. Fertilizers are not a cure for an unhealthy tree but will enhance growth that is already occurring. Fertilizers should be handled with care, as over-fertilizing can do more harm than good.

  • Never fertilize at the time of planting.
  • First fertilizer application should be at the beginning of the second growing season.
  • Be sure to follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for application and rate.
  • Never fertilize trees in August or later – it is too late in the growing season.

Staking and Guying

Staking and guying provides support for newly planted trees, however it is not always necessary. In fact, staking and guying can have detrimental effects on the development of a tree.

Staking and guying is only necessary when a newly planted tree cannot stand upright without additional support. Bare root trees, trees grown in small containers with loose potting mix and large conifers may require support while they establish their root systems, especially in windy areas.

Generally, one or two stakes may be used to provide additional support to a newly planted tree. If one stake is used, it should be placed on the side of the tree that is upwind. Do not drive the stake into the root ball as it could damage the roots. When attaching the stake(s) to the tree, use materials that are broad, smooth and somewhat elastic. The tree should be tied with a figure-8 loop to allow for flexibility. If the tree is tied too tightly to the stake, the tree will develop a less sturdy trunk and root system, and maybe susceptible to girdling or breakage about the tie. When two support stakes are used, a single flexible tie can be used to attach the stem to the top of the stakes for sufficient support. The stakes should be high enough to keep the tree upright without the tree top bending above the tie point.

Guying is a method used to add support to newly planted trees that have a diameter greater than 4 inches. Trees are generally guyed with 3 or 4 wires anchored in the ground. A common technique for guying a tree involves passing the guy wires through a section of garden hose to protect the tree. The wires and hose are looped around the tree at a branch crotch and the wires are twisted to secure. Caution is needed with this method, because the tree can still be partially girdled even with protection of the hose.

Staking and guying systems should be checked within one year to be sure there is no damage to the tree. Support stakes or guy wires should generally be removed after one growing season. If these support systems remain on the tree longer than two years, it can reduce the tree’s ability to stand alone and increase the chance of girdling injury.

Winter Protection

  • Trees require adequate water before winter.
  • Decrease frequency of watering in fall to correspond to lower temperatures.
  • Water before ground freezes.
  • Burlap can be used to protect evergreens from winter drying. The fabric should be attached to wooden stakes and placed so the burlap does not make contact with the foliage.
  • To protect fruit trees and young hardwoods from rabbits and other rodents, place protective chicken wire around the stem, but not touching the tree.


Pruning should be a common tree maintenance procedure. Pruning is often a common practice to remove dead branches, improve tree structure, and enhance tree growth, in addition to safety and aesthetics. Pruning should be done after mid-October and before the end of April. Pruning during this dormant period is less stressful on the tree and the absence of leaves makes the tree structure more visible. Insects and disease are minimal at this time as well.

There are some exceptions to pruning during the dormant period, including:

  • Dead branches – prune any time
  • Elm trees – NO pruning between April 1st to August 1st
  • Maple and Birch – prune August to September
  • Pines must be sheared while candling (new growth) in July
  • Lilacs – prune after flowering

No heavy pruning should be done before the second growing season.

Because each cut has the potential to change the growth of a tree, no branch should be removed without a reason. Reasons for pruning may include:

  • training the tree
    • remove problematic branches
  • maintaining tree health
    • remove diseased/damaged branches
    • remove criss-crossing branches
    • allow more sunlight and air movement
  • restricting growth
    • maintain or reduce the size

Do not remove more than 25% of a healthy tree canopy, as removing foliage reduces the tree’s overall photosynthetic capacity and may reduce overall growth which can create a dwarfing effect.

Since each pruning cut has the potential to change the growth of that tree, each cut should be made carefully, at the correct location, and leave a smooth cut surface with no jagged edges or torn bark.

All pruning cuts can be classified into two major categories: thinning out or heading back. Thinning out is referred to pruning out an entire branch at its junction with a side branch, or with the trunk. Heading back refers to the removal of only a portion of the branch.

When thinning out an entire branch, make the cut near the junction of the branch and stem. To find the proper place to cut a branch look for the branch collar (it looks like a swollen area below a branch) that grows on the underside of the branch. On the upper surface, there is usually a branch bark ridge (it looks like a ridge or raised area where the bark from the stem and the branch meet). A proper pruning cut is made just on the outside of these tissues, as not to damage either the branch bark ridge nor the branch collar. Pruning here most closely simulates where branches are shed naturally. It’s important not to damage the branch collar or the branch bark ridge as the tissues in these areas help to seal the tree from insects and disease.

When only partially pruning the branch (heading back), prune towards an outward facing bud so that new growth is directed away from the neighbouring branch. Cut back the branch to just ¼ inch above a healthy side bud at a 45 degree angle. This will stimulate the tree to sprout a new branch that will grow out and away from its neighbouring branch. It is best to avoid large cuts of this type as the tree has more difficulty closing and sealing larger wounds.

When removing large or heavy limbs three cuts should be made.

  1. The first cut is made on the underside of the branch (undercut) about 1 to 2 feet from the parent branch or trunk, approximately 1/3 of the way into the branch. A properly made undercut eliminates the chance of the branch tearing bark as it is removed.
  2. The second cut is a top cut all the way through to remove the branch. Make the top cut slightly further out on the branch than the undercut. When using a chainsaw on large limbs, make the top cut directly above the undercut to avoid the saw getting stuck.
  3. The third cut to remove the stub is made just outside the branch collar.

Wound dressings such as wound sealants and paints were once thought to accelerate wound closure and reduce decay. This isn’t true, do not use them.

It is important to begin any pruning job by removing any dead, damaged or diseased branches. Dead wood will be brittle, often with bark falling away. Diseased wood is often a different colour than the other branches. You can prune dead and injured wood at any time of the year.

Pruning of Young Trees

Proper pruning is important in developing a tree with strong structure and good form. Trees that receive this pruning while they are young will require little pruning as they grow.

  • Remove broken, criss-crossing and diseased branches
  • Leave the central leader, which is usually the strongest vertical stem
  • Select strong, well spaced branches with good branch angles (to keep)
  • Remove branch stubs
  • Remove rubbing branches
  • Remove suckers at the base of the tree
  • Remove closely spaced branches
  • Remove branches with weak narrow branch crotches (areas with small angles between stem and branch less than 45 degrees)

Pruning of Older, Established Tree

There are three proper methods of pruning for established trees: crown thinning, crown raising and crown reduction.

Crown thinning involves the selective removal of branches throughout the crown in a manner that the overall shape of the crown is maintained. Crown thinning increases light penetration and air circulation throughout the crown.

  • Remove branches with poor angles (less than 45 degrees)
  • Remove dead, dying and diseased branches
  • Remove criss-crossing branches

Crown raising involves the removal of lower branches in the crown. This is typically done for better clearance for people, vehicles or machinery, or sometimes to allow more light to pass beneath the crown.

Crown reduction is the overall reduction in the size of the crown by shortening branches. Crown reduction is typically used when a tree has grown too large for its space. This is preferred to top pruning because it results in a more natural appearance and minimizes stress. If the tree height must be reduced all cuts should be made to strong lateral (secondary) branches or to the parent branch. Do not cut climbs back to stubs.

Topping is not a recommended method and is very harmful to trees. Topping involves cutting limbs back to a stub, bud or lateral branch smaller than the limb removed. This severe topping causes branch dieback, decay and sprout production from the cut ends. It is unsightly, costly and causes weak limbs and possible tree death.

It is always best to use the right pruning tool for the job. Tools should always be sharp to ensure clean cuts without jagged edges. It is always good practice to sterilize pruning tools between each cut. The goal is to minimize the chance of spreading any diseases between trees and even within a tree.

To sterilize pruning tools prepare a solution of 1 part bleach and 3 parts water (or pure methyl hydrate or rubbing alcohol). Dip or spray all pruning tools between cuts. Ensure you clean and thoroughly dry your pruning tools before storing them as this will help to maintain their longevity.

When pruning is done correctly the benefits are:

  • increased life span of the tree
  • increased property value
  • cost savings in the long run

When it comes to pruning, the most important thing is your safety. Please leave big pruning jobs to the professionals and contact a certified arborist.

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