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Despite what many people think, trees need care and attention. That’s particularly true early on when plenty of water and protection from pests (and pets) can make all the difference. Below are some general rules of thumb to consider.

New Trees:
Locating. Assuming everything goes according to plan, the tree you plant will get bigger, much bigger. So it’s good to envision what kind of tree you want based on what that tree will become and the space you’d like to fill. A crab apple is very different from a maple.So, think “full grown tree” then look up to be sure there aren’t power lines, other trees or buildings in the way of your “future” tree. Make sure there aren’t buried cables or utilities nearby. Consider soil quality, water drainage and what you want the tree to accomplish. Flower and look pretty? Shade the house? Provide fruit? Then, based on your criteria, visit a local nursery and, with the help of nursery staff, choose your tree.Planting. Missoula is in Zone 4 for plant hardiness, so it’s generally best to plant trees in the fall after leaf drop or in early spring before bud-break — when temperatures are cool, moisture is up and the trees have some time to stabilize themselves before either the heat of summer or the cold of winter.

To plant, dig a hole that’s 2–3 times the width of the root ball but only as deep as the root ball (if you’re planting saplings you’ll only need to crease the ground with your spade to the depth of the roots). Remove the container or the wire around a burlap root ball (not the burlap); for container trees, gently loosen any circling roots or cut and remove them.

Place your new tree in its hole — make sure the trunk flare or where the trunk thickens at its base is at or just above the surrounding ground. (Most of a tree’s roots grow in the top foot of soil; roots of trees planted too deeply cannot get enough oxygen.)

Step back and make sure your new tree is standing straight and positioned correctly. Fill the hole with mulch and back fill; be careful to not build up the ground nearest to the trunk. Be gentle but firm, and tamp the ground down to eliminate any air holes because they dry out roots. If needed, stake your tree to help it stay straight and secure. Mulch the base, and water it thoroughly.

Watering. During the season following planting, trees need special attention. First, be sure to keep the ground around the tree moist. It should not be water logged, but it should never dry out either. Generally speaking, if you water deeply once a week, the tree will have what it needs, barring extreme heat or wind. As the tree matures, it will need less watering, but once a week is a good rule of thumb nonetheless. To make it easy, just set up a watering system on a timer or get an ooze bag or tube — a special tube that wraps around the base of the tree and slowly waters it — and keep it full.Protecting. Young trees also need mulch and protection. It’s best to mulch about 2–4 inches deep around the entire tree. Mulch is plant matter that adds protection as well as nutrients as it decomposes (shredded leaves, pine straw, peat moss or composted wood chips are all good mulches). Just be sure the mulch doesn’t come too far up the trunk of the tree (past the flare). You may also want to protect your tree with a stake, fence or other trunk wrap. Deer, rabbits and other wildlife love young tree bark and can quickly kill a tree by chewing on it. A fence will also keep household pets from urinating on young trees and “burning” the roots.Shaping. Pruning is also important to your young tree to remove dead and diseased branches, improve its shape or structure, and sometimes to keep branches from banging into the side of your house. The ideal time to prune is late fall or early spring in Montana. We recommend you seek guidance on pruning from your nursery or check out the links below for more details.

Mature Trees:
Inspect. While your beautiful, stable mature tree no longer needs your careful attention, it does need you to pay attention. Each spring or fall carefully inspect your tree, looking for diseased or dying branches, blight on leaves, unusual sapping, pest infestation, etc. If you suspect a problem, contact an arborist or nursery. Often you can simply snap a few photos of the problem and your local nursery can guide you to the right remedy.Feed. Mature trees require mulching and nutrients. This helps to retain moisture near the roots, ward off pests and disease, and keep the soil properly balanced. We highly recommend testing your soil for pH and adjusting accordingly. It will cost you some money for the test, but it’s well worth it when you consider the time and money you’ve already invested in your tree. A local nursery is a great place to start for testing.Prune. Big, old trees need pruning attention also — for both health and shape. Dead wood should be removed regularly. Take a yearly look around your tree, looking for dead branches, signs of disease or weakness, growth that’s too close to a power line or building structure, storm damage or other points that need attention. Pruning should be done in the early spring or late fall before budding or after dormancy, although for evergreens season is less of an issue.

We love these resources for more info on tree ownership and care:

Trees are good. This nonprofit offers a library of information on trees — planting, care and pruning, hazards and pests, what to do, and more.

Arbor Day Foundation. Whether you’re planting a sapling or a 15-foot maple, this site can guide you on getting your tree started right.

How to plant a tree, step by step. This YouTube video from the National Gardening Association is an excellent, step-by-step demonstration of proper planting. The association also offers more guidance on trees at

Tree People – How to plant a tree. Again, a good video of planting. Other resources from this nonprofit can be found at

How to prune a tree. In this YouTube video from GardenGirlTV a professional arborist demonstrates proper pruning techniques and approaches.

Pruning evergreen trees. This excellent video from offers solid rules of thumb for pruning evergreens. For additional tips, visit its website too.

We also highly recommend contacting a local arborist or nursery for assistance in choosing, planting and caring for trees.

Click here to search Missoula tree care services.

Click here to search Missoula nurseries.

P.O. Box 18280, Missoula, MT 59808 © 2018 Trees For Missoula. All rights reserved.

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