Caring for trees in summer
Summer is finally here, and while some of us may be basking in the long hot days, the lack of rainfall can be disastrous for young saplings if they are left untended. Tree planting is a worthwhile and rewarding activity, a necessity to ensure our environment is a healthy, happy place for humans and wildlife alike. But planting is just the start of the care that a young tree needs until it is mature enough to fully rely on its own resources.
It is a distressing fact that many of our young trees do not reach maturity. In fact, evidence suggests that up to one in three planted trees die through a lack of adequate aftercare in their first five years. However, with a little care and attention, we can give these young trees a better chance of both surviving and thriving.
Young trees take time to establish an effective root support system - they cannot locate water themselves until they are around three years old, so it is vital to give them a helping hand during this time. Saplings need ongoing watering throughout the seasons, but in hot weather they can show signs of drought quickly, even if it has been raining.
Drought signals can vary between different species, but early signs include: wilting leaves during daylight hours but noticeably improving during the night, leaves changing colour to yellow or brown, curling to ends of leaves with brown markings, and withered looking leaves falling before they are ready. If the tree's canopy is becoming sparse with branches dying, and nearly all leaves brown and withered, this signals that the tree has been suffering drought stress for some time.
Summer tree care tips:
During warm weather, we recommend watering saplings with around 20 litres of water (two bucketfuls) between 1 and 3 times per week. You can increase from spring, and decrease after the peak heats of summer until autumn.
It's best to use a rose on your watering can which will help the water soak through the ground slower, and be sure to water underneath the tree canopy, not just around the base. Be careful not to water in small frequent increments as this will only wet the ground's surface and might encourage the roots to grow upwards, searching for surface water.
Other plants can quickly spring up around the base of the tree, overwhelming the sapling whilst competing for light, nutrients and water. It is advisable not to trim back vegetation, as this will just encourage more growth. Instead, try hand weeding or tramping down the plants over the space of around half a metre radius, whilst taking care not to damage the tree's roots. Using chemical weedkillers is again not advisable as these can harm the tree.
Mulching around the base of the tree (whilst being careful to keep it from actually touching the tree stem in case of rotting) can be a really good way of keeping weeds down and the area around it cool and damp. If you are going to mulch, then weed the area first to clear it. You can obtain proper mulching mats, or alternatively create your own out of materials such as: leaf litter, well rotted lawn clippings, woodchips and forest bark, and even old carpets or polythene sheeting.
ADJUSTING TIES AND GUARDS
Tree guards are useful for stopping animals damaging or stripping the tree, but it is important to check these to ensure that they are still needed and doing their job. If not, consider adapting or changing the guard or removing it so that it does not risk injuring the tree over time.
If your tree was 1.5 metres or over when planted, then it is very likely that a stake was used for support. Check that the tie, preferably something stretchy and pliable, is not constricting the tree, and if the tree in fact does still need it. You can shorten the stake if necessary. Ensure the stem can still move with the wind, which will encourage its growth.
Happy summer tree care!
These tips were researched and written by Sam Hurrell