Tree Care

A close-up photo of a large tree trunk.

Planting Instructions

  1. Locate trees away from sidewalks, streets, driveways, buildings and utilities both above and below ground.
  2. Remove all string, wire, burlap and container materials from around the root ball, the tree's trunk and limbs after putting it in the planting hole.
  3. Prepare a planting site by spading or rototilling an area five times the diameter of the root ball. Mix organic soil into the entire planting site.
  4. The location where the roots are growing out of the trunk is the root crown. Plant the tree with the root crown at ground level or just above, to allow for settling.

Bare Root Tree Planting

Dig a hole to match the root depth and spread. 

Balled and Burlapped (B&B) Planting

Set root ball on solid soil. Till area 5x the root ball diameter and to a depth of 8 inches. Mix with organic soil if desired. Use the same soil from the hole as backfill around the root ball. Add a loose layer of mulch 3 inches deep; keep mulch 3 inches away from tree trunk. Create a soil watering ring if desired.

Containerized Tree and Shrub Planting

Split root ball four ways and set on solid soil. Till area 5x the root ball diameter. Use the same soil from the hole as backfill around the root ball. Add a thin layer of mulch; keep mulch 3 inches away from trunk.

Year-Round Watering Recommendations

Minimum Watering Amounts: Apply 10 gallons of water for each I-inch of trunk diameter. A 3-inch trunk diameter = 30 gallons of water.

How to Check Soil Moisture: Dig down in the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches at the drip line of the tree. Squeeze a clump of soil in your hand from that depth. If the soil holds together in a ball or it leaves moisture on your hand, then the soil is wet enough and no watering is needed. Or, if you can easily push a screwdriver into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, then the soil is probably wet enough. 

Minimum Watering Frequency: Check the soil moisture when temperatures are above 800 F and when dry or windy conditions exist. You may need to water once every 5 to 7 days. With lower temperatures or less wind, check soil moisture and water once every 7 to 14 days. Trees usually do well with an infrequent but longer duration watering schedule. 

Evergreens, such as pine, spruce, fir, and juniper, require water in the winter, at least once a month. Water on a warm day. Apply water to the ground around the tree, or use a deep root watering needle. All trees, shrubs, and grass need moist soil year-round to maintain live roots. Trees in lawn areas must compete with grass roots for water. Grass uses most surface applied water leaving little for the tree. Using a deep root watering needle attached to a garden hose is an important technique for a tree to thrive. Deep root water to a depth of 8 inches on both the inside and outside of the drip line.

Mulching Instructions

Use a coarse texture mulch; wood chips, bark chips or fist sized rocks. Porous landscape fabric is also a mulch.

One purpose of mulch is to reduce soil surface exposure to wind and sunlight, which allows longer retention of soil water. Another mulch benefit is to moderate soil temperature extremes, prolonging warmer soil temperatures into fall, which allows for extended root growth. Mulch also acts as a boundary between the fragile tree bark on young trees and lawn care equipment.

Large sized organic mulch can slowly decompose providing nutrients to the soil. Mulch reduces the compaction of soil around the tree. Compacted soil around tree roots causes root death and tree decline or death. Keep all types of mulch from touching the tree trunk. 

Lawn Care Equipment Damage

Mower and weed whip damage to the base of the trunk is one of the most common causes of young tree death. Do not allow mowers, weed whips, or any other type of equipment to touch the tree trunk. The bark is fragile on young trees. Any type of bark wound can allow an entry-way for disease, decay, and insect problems. 

Sometimes trees survive mower damage to the trunk, but tree wounds do not heal. Wounds may be sealed over by new growth, but the wound is still there, most likely providing a point of decay. 

Staking Instructions

Avoid staking Balled and Burlapped (B&B) trees if possible. Stake containerized and bare root trees for at least a year. Allow trunk movement when staking to benefit root and trunk development. The intent of staking should be to keep the tree from being blown over.

Use one or two stakes to secure string or wire to a canvas strap going around the trunk. Do not use wire, wire in a hose, or any thin or hard material around the tree trunk.  

Freeze Damage

Via Swingle, Inc.

In November 2014, Colorado experienced the third largest temperature drop ever recorded in Denver history. 

Outdoor plants depend on a gradual cooling through the fall – alerting plants to harden off for the winter months. During this time, plants increase the sugar content of their cells, allowing them to prepare for freezing temperature. Due to an unusually warm fall, many plants had not completed this process before the freeze hit. The result was quite severe – landscape damage when plant cells flash froze and burst. Experts know when the freeze occurred, many plants and trees still had foliage on their branches and had not fully hardened off for winter.

Initially, experts thought landscapes would not be negatively affected until the spring of 2015. Only a few weeks after the freeze hit, damage became evident. below are some damage indications experts identified due to the freeze.

Overall Damage Indications

  • Spruce and pine trees may turn a bleached, straw color.
  • Junipers may turn bronze.
  • Shrubs, fruit trees, and especially roses will show brown, shriveling twigs.
  • Brown leaves clinging to trees may also indicate damage.


Early, rapid freeze events can catch many plant species off guard. New growth on pine and spruce species may be brown or even dead. Spruce and pines rely heavily on the most recent three to five years of foliage. While many recover from freeze damage by putting on new growth, the previous foliage is often damaged or lost. 

Leafy Deciduous

Many deciduous leafy trees and shrubs may have leaves flash frozen before they had fallen off and retain them over winter. These brown, dry leaves typically drop during the growing season as trees put on new growth. Fruit trees may show individual twig dieback. 


Shrubs may show brown foliage and twig dieback. Most shrubs recover from these damages with minimal long-term effects. Meanwhile some shrubbery may have more extensive damage with individual canes and / or complete stem dieback. Most severely damaged shrubs may include roses, euonymus, grape holly, barberry and boxwood. 

Young Trees

Recent transplants may be completely dead, especially weaker plantings which may be severely damaged or even destroyed by the sudden cold. A skilled arborist can check the buds and tissue below the bark in young shoots to see if these plants are still viable. 

have your trees evaluated

After a freeze, it's an important time for homeowners and businesses to have their properties evaluated by a skilled arborist, i.e. your local Landscape Care Consultant.

Experts suggest, once a property has been evaluated, owners will need to continue watering trees and have dead twigs and branches removed. If trees or shrubs show significant damage, consult a professional to have them properly pruned.

Storm Damage

Via the Colorado State Forest Service

After a major storm, a community is instantly changed. Buildings may be damaged or destroyed, power lines down, and trees broken and torn. In the wake of this loss, neighborhoods and entire cities may experience a sense of devastation they have never known before.

“The experiences of many cities whose trees have suffered severe storm damage show us that the situation may not
be as bad as it first appears,” says John Rosenow, president of The Arbor Day Foundation, an organization that helps people plant and care for trees. “Trees are amazingly resilient and many recover with proper care and time. Despite the urge to do something immediately, people should try to be patient. As long as there isn’t an immediate physical risk from a damaged tree, my advice is simple: if you’re unsure about its condition, keep the tree for now.” Any damaged tree that is kept needs to be monitored for signs of weakness. You also should not assume that fertilizer will improve the tree’s situation. Again, the best advice is to be patient and see how the tree responds.

“Of course, safety is the first major concern,” Rosenow says. “Everyone should stay away from downed power lines and beware of broken tree limbs that may be ready to fall. Never use pruning equipment near utility lines.” Downed utility lines should be reported to utility companies or 911 operators.

He adds that citizens’ patience also allows city officials time to organize and respond properly to the situation. After a major storm, city officials, utility workers and private tree care firms must first focus on dealing with hazards to life and property. After that, a major task is removal of debris from the storm, including damaged branches and sometimes entire trees.

Remember, responsibility for streetside trees varies from city to city. The most complete information about street trees in your community, such as publicly owned trees and the city’s responsibilities, can be obtained from your city forester or other appropriate city agencies.

Using a Certified/Qualified Arborist or Tree Care Company

“If a tree is large and the work is off the ground, or if a chainsaw is needed, it’s best to contact a qualified arborist,” Rosenow adds. “They have the equipment and know how to safely remove broken or downed limbs and to help save and repair trees.” If you need
professional help, locate a qualified tree care specialist and check their references.

Three main tree industry groups accredit tree businesses and individuals, and can be consulted to find or confirm certification of a tree care provider in your area: American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA), International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).

Do not be pressured by people with chainsaws knocking on your door and offering to remove or “repair” your trees. Unfortunately, storms seem to produce such door-to-door callers, most of whom have no training and little interest in your trees beyond making a quick buck.

The following are some important tips to consider when hiring a tree contractor:

  1. Make sure they are part of an established business in the community with a listing in the phone book, usually under “Tree Service.”
  2. Ask to see current certificates of insurance showing that they are fully insured for property damage, personal liability and workers compensation.
  3. If possible, get more than one estimate to ensure that the price is competitive with that offered by others for the same services.
  4. In the case of tree removals, have a clear understanding about who removes the limbs and debris from the property, and whether the price includes stump removal and clean up. 

Can These Trees be Saved?

A storm can leave trees looking like there’s no tomorrow. Major limbs may be broken or damaged, foliage can be shredded or stripped, or the bark may be torn or gouged. But what at first glance may look like mortal wounds are not necessarily fatal to a tree. Trees have an amazing ability to recover from storm damage. 


Before writing off a damaged tree, homeowners should evaluate their trees by asking the following questions:

Other than storm damage, is the tree healthy and vigorous?
If the tree is basically healthy, is not creating a hazard, and did not suffer major structural damage, it generally will recover if first aid measures are applied immediately after the 

TIP: Monitor the tree before using fertilizer. In some situations, such as severe wind and hail storms, trees may lose all or a significant portion of their leaf area, but still be structurally sound. Do not assume that damaged trees will benefit from fertilizer or other nutrient applications, as in many cases they will not. Allow the tree to recover on its own or make a determination with the consultation of a professional arborist.

Are major limbs broken? 
If larger limbs are broken, it will be harder for the tree to recover from the damage. When large limbs are broken or hanging, or when high climbing or overhead chainsaw work is needed, it’s best to hire or consult with a professional arborist. Arborists have the necessary equipment and knowledge, and generally are listed in the telephone directory under “Tree Service.”  

TIP: Take safety precautions. Look up and look down. Be on the alert for downed power lines and dangerous hanging branches that look like they’re ready to fall. Stay away from any downed utility lines, low-voltage telephone or cable lines and fence wires. Don’t stand under broken limbs that are hanging or caught in other branches overhead. 

Has the main tree stem - i.e. leader - been lost?
In species where a leader is important for upward growth or desirable appearance, deciding whether to keep it may be a judgment call. The tree may live without its leader, but might be a stunted or deformed version of the original.

TIP: Don't top the trees. When trees are topped, all of their branches are cut back to stubs on the mistaken assumption that reducing the length of branches will help avoid breakage in future storms. While storm damage may not always allow for ideal pruning cuts, professional arborists say that topping is one of the worst things you can do to your trees. Topped trees tend to promote growth of weakly attached branches that are even more likely to break when a storm occurs. The tree will need all its resources to recover from the stress of storm damage. Topping reduces the amount of foliage the tree depends on for the food and nourishment needed for regrowth. 

Is at least 50 percent of the tree crown (branches and leaves) still intact?
This is a good rule of thumb when assessing tree survivability. A tree with less than half of its branches remaining may not be able to produce enough foliage to nourish the tree through another growing season.

TIP: Resist the urge to over prune. Don’t worry if the tree’s appearance isn’t perfect. Missing branches may cause your trees to look unbalanced or naked. You’ll be surprised at how fast the wounds will close, grow new foliage and return to their natural beauty.

How big are the tree wounds where branches have been broken or bark is damaged?
The larger the wound is in relation to the size of the limb, the less likely it is to heal, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and pests. A 2-3 inch wound on a 12-inch diameter limb will close over with new bark within a couple of years. 

TIP: Remove any broken branches still attached to the tree. Removing the jagged remains of smaller-sized broken limbs is one common repair that property owners can make after a storm. If done properly, it will minimize the risk of decay agents entering the wound. Smaller branches should be pruned at the point where they join larger ones. Large, broken branches should be cut back to the trunk or a main limb by an arborist. For smaller branches, follow the pruning guidelines shown in Figure 11 so that you make clean cuts in the right places, which will help the tree to recover faster.

Are there remaining branches that can form a new branch structure?
The remaining limbs will grow more vigorously as the tree tries to replace missing foliage. Look to see if remaining branches can eventually fill out the tree to resemble its original appearance. 

Is the tree desirable for its location?
If the tree is in the wrong location or an undesirable species for the property, it may be best to remove if it it has serious damage. 

Make the Decision

The above questions and suggestions will help you make informed decisions about your trees. In general, the answer regarding what to do about a particular tree will fall into one of three categories: 

1. It's a Keeper.
If damage is relatively minor, prune any broken branches, repair torn bark or rough edges around wounds, and let the tree begin the process of wound repair.  

2. Wait and See.
If a valuable tree appears to be a borderline case, resist the temptation to simply cut down the tree and be done with it. In such cases, it may be best to carefully prune broken branches and give the tree some time to recover. A final decision can be made later.  

3. Say Goodbye.
Some trees simply can’t be saved or are not worth saving. If the tree has already been weakened by disease, the trunk is split or more than 50 percent of the crown is gone, the tree has lost its survival edge. 

Important Tips When Cleaning up a Tree

Never top a tree.
Never cut the main branches of a tree back to stubs. Ugly, weakly attached limbs often will grow higher than the original branches and are more likely to break off in a future storm.

Clean up torn bark.
Smoothing the ragged edge of torn bark helps the wound close faster and eliminates hiding places for insects.

Use the three-step process.
The weight of a branch can tear loose during pruning, stripping the bark off the trunk and creating jagged edges that invite insects and disease. That won’t happen if you follow these steps:

  1. Make a partial cut from beneath, at a point several inches away from the trunk.
  2. Make a second cut from above, several inches out from the first cut, to allow the limb to fall safely.
  3. Complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch collar, the raised area that surrounds the branch where it joins the trunk. 

Reducing Tree Damage in Future Storms

When a major storm strikes, some trees seem to sustain only minor damage, while others suffer the loss of large limbs or sizable parts of their branching structure. In the worst cases, trees may be completely split in two or may have nothing left but a trunk. 

If a tree has been weakened by disease, often little can be done to prevent major breakage or loss when the stresses of a storm occur. However, home and property owners can take preventative measures to help strengthen their trees and resist storm damage.