Planting and care make healthy trees

By Eric Barrett

OSU Ext. educator


Trees are an amazing part of our landscape and our natural areas. In our own landscape, trees can be a great foundation to provide shade and add to the beauty and value of our homes. In our urban landscapes, trees make our downtowns and retail areas more natural and esthetically pleasing.

Before planting trees in an urban area, much care should be given to the site to be planted, the type of tree to be planted and the future uses of the area. Unfortunately, many urban trees were planted incorrectly or the wrong type of tree was planted.

As long as the tree is still healthy, we can continue to care for it. But some trees need to be replaced. Here are some helpful hints to use in selecting, planting and caring for urban trees:

Choosing the right tree. Size at maturity, ability to live in our climate and current health conditions are important aspects. Trees purchased for planting should have a main stem that appears healthy and should not have any damage from handling.

Follow proper planting procedures. The hole should be at least twice as wide as the root ball but only as deep as the root ball. Planting too deep is a common mistake. Tree roots will not get enough oxygen to grow properly and the bark of the trunk will be exposed to constant moisture and insect problems below the soil surface. The trunk should have a flare at the base where the roots are beginning to spread out into the ground. In clay soils that retain moisture, trees should be planted a little higher than usual for better drainage. The wire and burlap should all be removed if you can. Some tree roots will lose the soil holding them together when you do this; so in this case, try to at least remove the wire and the top 1/3 of the burlap. Any circling roots should be separated and spread out.

Mulching. Mulching should be done under most of the drip line – which is how far out from the base the furthest limbs are located. Avoid a “volcano” of mulch around the base – which will take water away from the root ball. Also, avoid plastic or extra-thick landscape fabric over top of the root system. This can repel water and more importantly reduce oxygen available to the root system.

Avoid bark and stem injuries. You can do this by following accepted pruning practices – not tearing of small branches. Keep weedeaters and lawnmowers away from tree trunks – they are the culprits in many tree deaths by injuring the bark and living tissue of trees. Tree guards may be a good idea to prevent damage to the trunk from animals or equipment.

To learn more about selecting urban trees and the right tree for your site, visit

Plan to attend our Urban Tree Program, part of our Naturalist Series July 11 at Fellows Riverside Gardens. Learn more about the program at

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