7 steps for faster tree growth

Nearly everyone desires and appreciates “rapid growth” when they go about selecting new trees for planting.

However, just because rapid growth is desired, it is not necessary to resort to so-called fast-growing, often brittle and short-lived species just to attain that goal.

Slow growth in newly planted trees can usually be attributed to improper planting or maintenance. It is easy to increase growth rate 50 percent to 100 percent or more by making a few changes in your planting or maintenance program.

This is true with oaks, hard maples and other species commonly considered “slow-growing” as well as any other tree species.

Following are seven steps to improving your tree’s growth rate. Each is important and can in itself be a limiting factor in tree growth.

— Plant at the proper depth. Planting a tree too deeply is a common practice that results in stagnated growth.

A tree should be planted no deeper than it was growing in the field or in the container. An inch of soil over the ball on a balled and burlapped tree is about right.

If your soil is heavy clay or compacted, plant the tree shallow leaving 1/3 to 1/2 of the soil ball out of the ground then berm the tree with a lighter soil or wood chip mulch.

— Retain low limbs. Do not prune off low limbs! Such limbs are temporary on shade-type trees, but they need to be retained for several years following planting.

Low limbs will increase growth rate, increase trunk taper and help prevent mower injury to the trunk.

After the establishment period of four to five years, low limbs can be gradually removed a few at a time over a period of years until the desired clearance is reached.

Basal suckers or “watersprouts” should be removed, however, as soon as they are observed.

— Mulch. Mulches of wood chips, bark or other coarse organic materials will conserve moisture, eliminate most weed/grass growth, prevent erosion and reduce soil temperature extremes-all resulting in improved tree growth and health.

Avoid using grass clippings, sawdust or any fine materials for mulch.

— Irrigate. Adequate moisture throughout the growing season rarely occurs without irrigation.

Do not allow your tree to become stressed by lack of moisture or by too much moisture as a result of over watering. One is as bad as the other!

Plan to irrigate your tree every seven to 10 days throughout the growing season (during the 4- to 5-year establishment period) when adequate rainfall does not occur. Irrigate slowly, allowing the water to soak into the soil. A water berm will help retain water allowing it to soak in.

— Control weeds and grass. Maintain a vegetation-free circle of 3 to 4 feet in diameter around your tree throughout the life of the tree.

This can be accomplished by using a contact herbicide or by using mulches within the circle.

Young trees do not compete well with weeds and grass, especially brome or bermuda grass. These plants left unchecked will stagnate tree growth.

Vegetation-free circles also will prevent damage by mowers and line-trimmers.

— Fertilize. Growth in young trees can be stimulated by fertilizer, especially nitrogen. Low-analysis or slow-release granular or liquid fertilizers are ideal.

Plan to fertilize throughout the establishment period as a minimum, except for the first year of planting. It is easy to burn roots on newly planted trees, so you may want to avoid fertilizing the first year.

Your tree will likely respond to fertilization even beyond the establishment period if you want to continue to push growth.

— Prevent line-trimmer and mower injury. Line trimmers and mowers probably kill more young trees than any other single cause. Do not touch your trees trunk with either machine.

Young bark is very easily bruised or killed, resulting in stress and reduced tree growth that is often followed by borers or disease that further weakens or kills your tree.

This information comes through the Kansas Urban Forestry Council.

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