How to Care for Your Trees


steve novick wateringphoto: Heather Buley

Trees need to be watered regularly during the first three summers after planting to survive. Water newly planted trees with 10-15 gallons of water once a week throughout the summer and during other dry spells. A dry spell can be characterized by two to three weeks without significant rainfall in the summer or winter.

Water slowly so it soaks deeply into the soil and doesn't run off the root zone. Mulching is a great way to hold water in the soil for your new trees. Our videos offer quick tips on how to use an ooze tube or a five-gallon drilled bucket to water your trees more effectively. Friends of Trees sells ooze tube watering bags at our office for $18 each. Please call in advance to check availability.


Mulch reduces evaporation, delivers organic nutrients, and helps prevent the growth of weeds. It is very important to mulch your new trees. Mulching prevents lawn mowers and string trimmers from getting close to the tree and damaging the trunk, which is the number two cause of tree failure. Mulching is second to watering in importance to the health of newly planted trees.

But be sure to pull the mulch away from the bark of the tree in a three-inch radius to prevent fungus growth or infection. Remember the 3-3-3 Rule: 3 inches away from the trunk of the tree, 3 inches deep, in about a 2-3 foot radius. Do not "Volcano Mulch" your tree by piling mulch up against the bark.

Weeds and Grass

Weeds and grass absorb water and nutrients that should be reaching the trees' roots. They also encourage the lawnmower and string trimmers to visit, and can greatly stress your new trees by creating a tougher establishment zone.Keep an 2-3 ft radius of weed-free, mulched area between the trunk and other plants. Be sure to gently pull the intruders up by hand.


We do not recommend inorganic fertilizer for your new trees. We do recommend organic compost or mulch, to be applied atop the root zone and left to slowly seep nutrients into the soil as it decomposes. Fertilizers can cause the tree to explode with new growth before its root system is fully ready to support the rapid growth. If you are interested in fertilizing your tree, please consult a certified arborist.



During the first year after planting, only broken or dead branches should be pruned. Sucker growth, young shoots growing from the base of the tree, should be removed at ALL times. Furthermore, pruning instigates shoot growth, and removes food producing leaves, which redirect a tree's energy away from root development.

In the second year or third year, if the tree is growing well, structural pruning can be considered and is recommended. Street trees in the cities of Portland and Vancouver require a permit through Urban Forestry to prune.

There are several important keys to properly pruning young trees. Remember, you can always hire a certified arborist, and be sure to take a minute to check out these two great resources before you start pruning: Arbor Day Foundation's Animated Pruning Guide and Ed Gilman's Developing a Preventative Pruning Program: Young Trees. With proper structural pruning, your tree will truly become an asset, and living legacy, to the rest of the city.

Never Top a Tree

Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known; yet, topping trees still remains a common practice.

Not only does topping result in tree stress, decay, hazard and sunburn, but it's ugly and expensive. Once you top a tree, you will forever be put on a maintenance treadmill as your tree rapidly declines.

Insects & Disease

Friends of Trees chooses trees based on their insect and disease resistance, but if you think you've run across a problem, there are many options.

With proper diagnosis, maintenance and—in some cases—treatment of your new tree, we all can live long healthy lives in harmony. You can take a leaf or insect sample to your local nursery, call your local extension service, or hire an International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist to take a look at the tree.

You can find a list of certified arborists who support Friends of Trees on our arborist page. Friends of Trees does have certified arborists on staff, but unfortunately we do not have the capacity to properly diagnose and treat, insects and diseases since we are a small nonprofit.

Stakes & Ties

Stakes and ties should be removed one year after planting. It is very important to loosen ties if they become tight around the trunk or begin to chafe away the bark. This can cut off the nutrient and water flow to the tree.