Tree Care Through the Seasons

Proper planting and the right seasonal care is needed to keep your trees and shrubs looking their best.

"He who plants a tree plants a hope," says poet Lucy Larcom and no quote about trees could be truer. To plant a tree is to believe in the future and to plant a tree well is to increase your enjoyment of the tree while decreasing the work of maintaining it. In an interview for Mother Earth News, Ohio State University researcher and entomologist Dan Herms suggests that when a tree is planted in a site that provides the right light, soil pH and space, fewer fertilizers, pesticides and less pruning and watering and less general tree care is needed. 

Along with proper planting, the right seasonal care is needed to keep your trees and shrubs looking their best.

Unwrap any trees that required winter wrapping and perform light pruning if needed, but don't prune trees or shrubs that bloom until after they've flowered. Spring is a great time for adding fertilizer and for spraying with dormant oil scale to abate insects that overwintered in your trees. Weed around your trees and add mulch to conserve water. Remember to keep mulch approximately six inches away from tree and shrub trunks to discourage rodents from setting up house.

Prune the new growth on shrubs and evergreens in the early summer and prune as needed for shaping throughout the summer. Watering trees is essential during hot summer months; slow watering at the drip line with a sprinkler or drip hose is more effective than flooding the tree's trunk. Remember that new plantings require about one inch of water per week so if Mother Nature isn't doing her job you'll need to help out. In early- to mid-summer (no later than July) you can still fertilize trees and shrubs.


In early fall you can perform light pruning to shape and clean up trees and shrubs, but save the heavier work until later when these plants are dormant. Many homeowners are surprised to learn that early fall is an ideal time to plant new trees. The weather is cool without wild extremes and gives the tree a chance to get established before winter sets in. Give evergreens extra moisture this time of year to prepare them for winter. If you live in a climate with extreme winter temperatures, wrap tree trunks, especially saplings and fruit trees, during the fall to protect them from freezing. Fertilizing trees in late fall is safe if they have not yet gone dormant.

Before heavy snow falls it's time to prune shade and ornamental trees, but be careful about touching trees or shrubs that are covered in ice; ice-covered branches break easily and you could cause damage. Wait until February, just before buds are forming, to prune fruit trees. Tree pruning is both an art and a science, if you don't know how to prune trees consult with a landscape expert or arborist before starting. Improper pruning can affect the health and productivity of a tree. If you use de-icing salt during the winter be sure to keep it away from trees and other planting beds.

Dividing up tree care chores through the seasons not only makes it easier to keep up with the maintenance, but gives you an opportunity to inspect your plantings frequently and address small problems before they threaten the health of your trees and shrubs.

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