Part 2: Caring for first year saplings
If you planted tree seeds last Fall or this Spring, or picked up first or second year trees at the nursery or by mail order this summer, you hopefully have a few tree seedlings or saplings to care for.
Congratulations- That's so exciting!
If you have just ordered your tree seeds or have them in hand already and are keen to learn what to do next, you need to check out Part 1 of our guide to fall tree seed planting - How to Plant or Store Tree Seeds.
In Part 1, we provide the support you need to plant tree seeds this Fall or store them inside properly until Spring. We go over warm and cold stratification, soaking, and scarification; how growing trees is different from growing veggies; and hopefully answer your questions about how to properly care for those tiny yet potent kernels of life.
In Part 2, we hope to take the guesswork out of what comes next, and help you properly care for your saplings so that they thrive through this Winter and well into the future.
Protect young trees from wildlife
Just as tree seeds need protection from wildlife - wildlife who will do almost anything to get to such a tasty protein source - young trees are also vulnerable to hungry critters.
Bark is a highly attractive Winter food source for deer, mice, voles, and rabbits, especially as other foods become scarce in Winter and early Spring.
You want to protect your saplings from wildlife, as bark damage can interfere with a tree’s ability to take in water and nutrients and affect its health significantly.
Minor bark damage can expose a tree to unfriendly fungi and insects the following Spring. Major bark damage, such as Girdling - when a rodent eats away a ring of bark all the way around the trunk - severly weaking and kill a tree.
Did you know that a tree’s circulatory system -like our veins and arteries- is just under the bark? Cambium bark, is the yearly fresh growth found between the outer bark and the wood. Water and nutrients move about the tree in the cambium bark, that is why bark damage can be so devastating to a tree. When you study rings on a tree stump, it is the yearly growth of the cambium bark that forms the rings. Neat!
Tree guards are a great way to protect a your trees from wildlife. Remember, when it comes to bark protection, it is imperative to secure your tree guard with stakes or rebar to prevent it from rubbing or leaning against the tree. Wind blowing a tree guard against the trunk can damage the bark and create the exact situation you are trying to prevent.
Here are a few tree guard methods for you to use at home:
Breathable Tree Wraps
One method to protect saplings from wildlife damage is to wrap them with breathable tree guards. Breathable tree guards protect the tree trunk without impeding water, light, or air circulation. There are a few different kinds available - expandable polyethylene, plastic tubes, rigid mesh, and various breathable tree wraps.
Expandable polyethylene tree wraps (usually white with small holes) are only effective for the first year. As a tree grows, the tree wrap inevitably tightens on the trunk, rendering it ineffective for future years. Earwigs love this sheltered space between the trunk and tree wrap and will gnaw away at tree bark during the Summer months. In the spirit of eliminating single-use plastics and keeping your trees healthy longterm, we do not recommend this kind of protection!
DIY wire mesh tree wraps
You can also make your own tree guard by wrapping ¼ inch wire mesh into a cylinder shape around the trunk. This DIY version is inexpensive, reusable, and will last for years.
To protect against burrowing rodents, you will need to dig a trench and bury the mesh below the soil line. Secure the guard with stakes or rebar to prevent it from rubbing or leaning against the tree. Make sure to leave space between the cylinder and the trunk to allow for growth and check in Spring to make sure the tree hasn’t outgrown the guard.
Heavy duty tree wraps
Another option to protect saplings from larger or more determined wildlife is to use Big-O corrugated drainage pipe. You can use either perforated or solid - both are very effective, long lasting, and inexpensive. Cut a slit down one side, then pry the pipe open to slip around your sapling. We have found Big-O pipe to be an excellent Porcupine defence.
Use mulch to protect and nourish young trees
Mulching your saplings in Fall is a great way to nurture your baby trees through Winter. Mulching mimics natural autumn leaf drop in the forest. Spreading a few inches of mulch - bark mulch, leaves, rinsed seaweed, or compost - has many benefits for a young tree. Mulching can:
- Insulate the roots, regulating temperature through freeze and thaw cycles.
- Provide nutrients to the soil
- Retain water, keeping the roots moist
- Prevents soil compaction and root damage
- Suppress plant growth so that your sapling won’t have to compete for resources - sunlight, soil nutrients, and water.
Just take care to not spread your mulch too thickly, as rodents may be enticed to make a home in your mulch and nibble away at the bark.
Plant or transplant tree saplings in Fall
The energy of Fall is inward and downward, or contractive. Trees drop their leaves and bring their energy, and sap, down into the ground to their roots. Roots continue to grow in the Fall until the ground freezes!
Did you know that branch and leaf growth the following year match the root growth from the previous Fall?
Autumn is the ideal time to plant or transplant young saplings. If you have saplings waiting in pots or ready to move out of nursery beds, or young trees you need to relocate for any reason - NOW is the time to replant them in the ground.
Check out this great guide to Autumn Transplanting from Old World Garden Farms. Old World Garden Farms is based in Ohio and their fantastic garden blog is full of homesteading inspiration!
To prune or not to prune
The good news is that first year trees do not need any pruning!This gives you some time to learn more about proper pruning techniques for future years ;). Second and third year trees should be pruned in late winter or early Spring, before the tree buds out.
Pruning young trees will NOT make young trees set fruit faster. Your trees will fruit when they are ready!
May your trees send their roots down into the earth and settle in, snug for the cold winter season ahead of us, to delight you in Spring with their blossoms full of promise! xo
If you have more questions or don’t find the information you need on our blog, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line! If you have a question, you likely aren’t alone, and it could inspire future Incredible Seed blog posts.
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