Tips for Tree Care

Here are eight tips that can help you take better care of your trees. Proper care will result in healthier and longer lasting trees.

Download the Project T.R.I.M. (Tree Raising Improvement Methods) PDF brochure and watch the video for more helpful information and detailed instructions on tree trimming.

Do not cut the top off your tree

Cartoon of badly trimmed tree

Cutting the top off your tree causes ugly, bushy, weak limbs to grow back even higher than the original branches. Proper pruning can remove excessive growth without the problems topping creates.

Also, many arborists say that topping is the worst thing you can do for the health of a tree because it starves the tree and makes it more susceptible to insects and disease.

Shape your tree correctly

Cartoon of nicely shaped tree
  • Never remove more than 1/3 of a tree's crown.
  • Where possible, encourage side branches to form angles that are 1/3 off vertical (10 o'clock or 2 o'clock positions).
  • For most species, the tree should have a single trunk.
  • Ideally, main side branches should be at least 1/3 as thick as the trunk.
  • If you have to cut off main branches, cut them back to the trunk to avoid leaving stubs.
  • For most deciduous (broadleaf) trees, don't prune up from the bottom any more than 1/3 of the tree's total height.

Use this method for pruning cuts

To Make a Pruning Cut

Large Limbs:

A: Make a partial cut under the branch.

B: Make a second cut on top of the branch several inches out and allow the limb to fall.

C: Complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch collar.

Pruning diagram

Small Branches:

Make a sharp clean cut, just beyond a lateral bud or other branch.

Diagram of various branch cuts

Mulch around your tree

Diagram of proper mulching around trees

Mulch insulates soil, retains moisture, keeps out weeds, prevents soil compaction, reduces lawnmower damage, and adds an aesthetic touch to a yard or street. Remove any grass within the mulch area, an area from 3 to 10 feet in diameter, depending on tree size. Pour wood chips or bark pieces 2 to 4 inches within the circle, but not touching the trunk.

Avoid damaging your tree's roots.

Understanding how and where roots grow can help you avoid damaging them during construction projects and when you dig holes.

  • Because roots need oxygen, they don't normally grow in the compacted, oxygen-poor soil under paved streets.
  • The framework of major roots usually lies less than 8 to 12 inches below the surface.
  • Roots often grow outward to a diameter one to two times the height of the tree.

Do not girdle your tree

Illustration of bark stripped from tree trunk - girdling

Girdling your tree will kill it.

Girdling is anything that injures the bark of a tree trunk around the trunk's circumference.

Girdling is often caused by lawnmowers and weed trimmers and destroys the tree's ability to move nutrients from one part to another.

Plant bare-root trees correctly

It is best to plant a bare-root tree immediately so the fragile roots don't dry out. If you can't plant because of weather or soil conditions, store the tree in a cool place and keep its roots moist.


Unpack tree and soak in water three to six hours. Do not plant with packing materials attached to roots, and do not allow roots to dry out.


Dig a wide hole, so the roots can spread without crowding. Remove any grass within a three-foot circular area. To aid root growth, turn soil in an area up to three feet in diameter.


Plant the tree with the first lateral root at the level of the surrounding grade. Partially fill the hole, firming the soil around the roots. Do not add soil amendments.


Shovel in the remaining soil. It should be firmly, but not tightly packed with your heel. Construct a water-holding basin around the tree. Give the tree plenty of water.


After the water has soaked in, place a two-inch deep protective mulch area three feet in diameter around the base of the tree.


Water the tree generously every week or ten days during the first year.

Plant potted trees correctly

Diagram of how to plant containerized trees

Ideally, dig or rototill an area one foot deep and about five times the diameter of the root ball. The prepared soil will help root growth and results in a healthier tree.

When transplanting, be sure to keep soil around the roots. Always handle your tree by the root ball, not the trunk or branches. Don't let the root ball dry out.

Look closely at the roots after removing the container. If a few roots are growing around the root ball, tease them out before backfilling. If there are many roots growing around the root ball, it is best to remove the entire exterior of the root ball by cutting down its sides before backfilling.

Place the tree in the planting hole with the first lateral root at the surrounding grade. You may have to remove the top portion of the root ball to find the first lateral root. After placing the tree, pack soil firmly but not tightly around the root ball. Water the soil and place a protective three-foot circle of mulch around the tree.