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Plant and Care for Trees

Trees provide us with so many benefits, which makes planting trees always worth the time and effort. Trees are a cost-effective means of cleaning our air and water, reducing our need for energy, and making us feel better. 


Interested in Planting a Tree? 

There are a few things to consider before the tree goes in the ground. By making a handful of careful choices your tree will be healthier and you’ll enjoy it more. You need to think about three things first: where to put it, what species is best and how to select the right tree from the nursery.


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1. Where to Plant Your New Tree

The right tree in the right place will give a lot back for many decades.  In the right place, trees save energy by protecting buildings from winter winds or hot sun. Select a place to plant and visualize how much room there is for a tree to grow. Here are some things to consider:

  • Where do you want to shade? On your driveway, your air conditioning unit, a hot window, or a south- or west-facing wall? Shade from a tree will save on your energy bills and cut down on maintenance costs of asphalt, concrete, building materials, and air conditioning units.

  • Do you want to block winds or create some privacy? A row of trees, especially evergreens, will block the wind and save on your energy bills.

  • Do you have a wet spot in your yard? A big leafy tree could use all that water!

  • How much room do you have for a tree?

  • Look up – is there enough room for the branches to spread out?

  • Look down – is there enough room for the roots? The tree should be planted at least 10 to 15 feet from the foundation of the house and 5 feet from a driveway, patio, or sidewalk. Roots need more room to spread than the branches.

  • Are there any electric lines or other utilities? Don’t plant large or medium sized trees within 20 feet of electric wires. Only plant small species of trees that will never grow tall enough to interfere with the electric lines. And look down; don’t plant trees within 10 feet of water or sewer lines.

Always call Miss-Utility at 1.800.257.7777 or submit a request online before you dig. It’s safe and it’s the law.


2. What Kind of Tree Do You Want?

Now that you’ve identified a place to plant a tree, you need to select the best tree for that place. Selecting the right tree in the right place  will help ensure your new tree will grow and thrive for a long time. Here are some things to consider when choosing a tree species: 

  • Do you want a deciduous tree or an evergreen?

    • Deciduous trees lose their leaves each winter. There are great for summer shade on the south and west side of your home.

    • Evergreen trees keep their leaves, usually needles, all year. They are great for privacy, and very hot areas. For wind breaks, plant them on the north and northwest side of your home.

  • What size tree will fit in the spot you’ve picked? For the most benefits, plant the biggest tree that will fit in your spot. Remember to visualize the tree when it’s fully grown.

    • Large trees, like most oaks, provide the most shade for two-story homes, driveways, and other buildings. While most large trees do not have flowers that are showy, they live much longer.

    • Medium trees, like most maples, shade roofs of single-story houses and walls and windows of two story houses. Consider the fall color and bark; and some have showy flowers.

    • Small trees, like dogwoods, shade walls and windows on the first floor. They can be planted under electric lines. Many small trees have very showy flowers and great fall color.

  • Is the soil dry or wet? Some species grow better in drier soils, others grow better in wetter soils. If you think the soils are compacted, choose a tree species adapted to wetter soils.

  • What species do you like? Native trees, or trees that are naturally found here in Montgomery County, are preferable to non-native trees because they are naturally resistant to pests and diseases. Also, they are better adapted for our weather and soils. Species approved for Montgomery County Streets are generally free of pests and require less maintenance. Learn more about buying native plants from the Maryland Native Plant Society.

  • Take the scientific name of the tree you want to the nursery. The scientific name will always be the same while common names may vary. For example, a black tupelo is often called a tupelo or black gum, and sometimes called a sour gum or pepperidge, but it is always a Nyssa sylvatica. It’s worth checking the tag to make sure you are buying the tree you want.

Did you know that you can search any tree for information and images? Just enter the name of a tree into your favorite search engine.


Select the Best Trees to Buy from a Nursery

Here are some things to look for at the nursery when selecting a tree to buy:

Image of Trees in Nursery
  • Are the pots or root balls protected from the sun and wind?

  • Have the trees been watered recently? Do they look wilted?

  • If you choose a containerized tree (a tree grown in a pot rather than one with the roots wrapped in burlap), ask a nursery assistant to slide the root ball out of the container and take a good look at it. You should see a ball of roots that fill the entire pot. And you should see some new growth – look for clean white tips on the ends of the roots. The roots should not be growing in circles around the inside of the pot.

  • If you choose a tree wrapped in burlap with a wire basket, the soil should be held tightly in place by the burlap. The burlap should not be old or full of holes.

  • Avoid trees with undersized or discolored leaves that do not look “normal”.

  • Nearly all young trees have some wounds, but avoid trees with multiple wounds or damage to the bark that extends more than one quarter of the way around the stem.

  • Avoid trees that have been pruned heavily.

  • Make sure the tree is labeled with the scientific name. If the scientific name doesn’t match the one you’ve selected, it’s a different type of tree! 

Now that you have selected a high quality tree, the right species, and a great place to plant it, here’s how to put it in the ground and give it a good start. 

When to Plant Your New Tree

Is now the best time to plant? Trees planted in the fall and winter start growing roots and taking in nutrients from the soil right away. Trees planted in early spring also have a head start. They have more time to grow new roots and recover from being transplanted before putting out leaves and flowers in the spring. They are better able to survive the heat of August. Therefore it is best to plant trees in the fall and early spring. In Montgomery County, you should not plant trees between mid May and mid September. It is too hot and the leaves need more water than the disturbed roots can provide. 


How to Plant Your New Tree

Want to plant your own tree but don't know how? It’s well worth a few minutes to learn how to plant correctly. It’s not hard yet it makes a big difference in how long your tree survives. There are a lot of websites with great instructions on how to plant trees. Here are several that stand out.

  • Printable instructions: The following websites have printer friendly directions:

  • Video Instructions: Casey Trees has instructional videos for planting containerized and ball & burlap trees.



Always call Miss-Utility at 1.800.257.7777 or submit a request online before you dig. It’s safe and it’s the law.


A few more things to do for your new tree immediately after planting…

✔  Do water your tree. This initial watering is to remove air pockets and settle the soil around the roots. Additional water is generally not needed until the heat of summer.

✔  Do put mulch around the tree and replace it at least twice a year.

✔  Do protect the tree from deer browsing and buck rubbing.

✔  Do not fertilize a newly planted tree. During the second summer after you planted the tree AND if the surrounding grass is not growing well, test the soil. If the results indicated that fertilizer is needed, then apply it in late November.



Caring for Trees

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch, but not too much…

Put mulch around all of your trees, large and small ones, twice a year. Mulching does several important things:


Image of Mulch Ring


  • It keeps weeds and grass away from trees so they won’t use the water before it gets to the tree roots.
  • Mulch protects trees from mowers.

  • Mulch around your trees also conserves moisture in the soil, adds nutrients and organic matter, and keeps it cooler. 




How Do I Mulch My Tree?

Put a fresh layer of undyed natural mulch around all of your trees twice a year. The mulch depth should be maintained at 3 inches deep (but not more than four). It is important to maintain 3" of mulch, not add 3" every application, to avoid over mulching.

The ring of mulch should be about 3 feet wide around small trees and as large as possible around big trees, preferably out to the dripline. Mulch should never touch the stem of a tree – keep it about 3 inches away.

Why is too much mulch a bad thing? Mulch holds in moisture and warmth. This is generally good for a tree but too much mulch makes it too hot and moist. And this makes it a great place for bacteria and fungus that can harm your tree to grow. Therefore, it is important to never put more than 4 inches of mulch around your trees.

Check out our Mulch Meters for exactly how much mulch your tree needs and additional tips on mulch. Download a set of printable Mulch Meters! (PDF, 168K) 

Image of a tree with mulch and the drip line.

WEEDS! Get rid of them – keep the weeds out of the mulch around your trees. Weeds and grass use a lot of water and nutrients that your trees need.  However, don't use weed matting as it can prevent water from getting to your tree. The best method for weed removal is hand pulling and disposing of the weeds elsewhere.


A Word about Watering Trees 

Newly planted trees must have extra water during hot dry summer months. In fact, nearly all trees, even very large ones benefit from extra water in the heat of July and August. Watering big trees helps reduce the stress of urban life and makes trees healthier. Between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, water your trees each week that we don’t receive a good rainfall. 

How do you give your trees enough water, but also conserve water at the same time?

The answer is: Slow and Steady

Tree roots require a slow drip watering. This allows the water to seep below grass and down to the tree roots where it is needed. Do not water with a spray nozzle or sprinkle – this just waters the grass and very little gets to the tree roots. Here are several good methods that use less water and are more effective for trees.   

  • Use a soaker hose.  A soaker hose is a specially designed hose that allows water to seep out all along the hose.  Place the hose near the tree trunk.  Turn the water faucet on with very low pressure for one hour.  If possible, cover the hose with mulch to conserve more water.  You can leave it in place during the summer for easy watering.  

  • Use clean buckets or plastic milk jugs with tiny pin holes in the bottom that allow water to drip out (not flow out).  Place a full bucket near the tree trunk.  Put rocks in the bottom to keep it from blowing away or falling over.  Check to ensure that it empties in several hours.

  • Use gator bags, or specialized tree watering bags; they use the same slow-drip technique as soaker hoses or buckets.  Remove these bags from the tree once the water empties out.  If left on too long, bacteria could attack your tree or rodents could nest in them and eat your trees

  • Use your regular garden hose: turn on the water, then turn the faucet as near to completely off as possible but allow some water to slowly drip out. Place the hose near the base of your tree for 1 hour on one side of the tree, and then move to another side for an additional hour.

Young trees should receive about 25 gallons of water per week.  


Deer Protection 

Image of wire cage around tree



In Montgomery County, most newly planted trees must be protected from deer. White-tailed deer damage young trees in two different ways. They eat, or browse, the trees, especially the buds. And the males rub their antlers along the stem and scrape off the tree’s bark. To protect your trees, you must stop the deer from eating and rubbing. 

How do you prevent damage from deer browsing, or eating, the trees? The easiest way is to plant a tree that is taller than 6 feet. The deer will still eat some lower branches but they will not be able to reach enough to cause damage to your trees. Another way is to put a 5-foot tall welded-wire cage around your trees.

How do you prevent buck rubs? There are several ways to stop the rubbing. The easiest is to put long pieces of rebar on opposite sides of the stem, or trunk. Place the rebar as close to the stem as possible. Another way is to put a cage around the tree. The best material for a cage is 4-foot tall welded wire or 4-foot tall heavy-duty black plastic mesh sleeves.




Deep Root Fertilization

You may not hear them complaining, but your trees are hungry.  Trees growing in our yards and cities rarely receive the same nutrients they would if they were growing in a forest.  In order to increase your trees’ vigor, you should add nutrients into the soil.  Well-nourished trees are stronger and less susceptible to disease, insects, drought, and other stresses.

How do you fertilize a tree?

The best, cheapest, and easiest way to fertilize a tree is to mix leaves into the mulch. First, make sure you have a good mulch ring around each tree. Then each October, mix leaves into the mulch around each tree. Use leaves from your lawn, especially ones that have been chopped into smaller pieces with the mower. The decomposing mulch and leaves add nutrients and structure to the soil. These are essential for healthy trees. 


What about other fertilizers for your trees?

There are times when mixing leaves into the mulch is not enough. The best way to figure out when other fertilizers need to be added and what your soil needs is to test your soil. 

Once a soil test confirms that additional fertilizers are needed, it is essential to get the fertilizer to the tree’s roots. When tree fertilizers are spread over grass, like lawn fertilizers, the result is often better grass and weeds rather than improved tree growth. Getting fertilizer below the grass to the roots of trees is important and not overly complex. Many licensed tree care companies offer this service, but it can also be done on your own with the proper supplies including an auger or fertilizer probe, hose, and a measuring tape.


“How to” Tips for fertilizing your trees:

  • Test your soil before fertilizing to determine what nutrients you need and how to add them.

  • Always follow the directions on the label of the fertilizer.

  • Never fertilize a newly planted tree. Replenish the mulch twice a year and mix leaves into the mulch each fall. If you still think your trees need additional fertilizer, test your soil to see what nutrients you need and how to add them.

  • Time it right: Fertilize in October or November to encourage root development and/or in March or April, just after the soil has thawed to encourage tip and leaf growth.

  • Choose a fertilizer for trees; it’s not the same as fertilizer for grass.  Look for “Deciduous Tree” or “Evergreen” and water insoluble nitrogen (WIN) on the label. Good fertilizers can be found at home & garden or hardware stores.

  • Use a slow-release fertilizer to protect the quality of water in our watersheds.

  • Choose your method of application:

    • fertilizer stakes are pushed into the ground below the grass,

    • granular fertilizer is placed into in holes you dig or drill in the soil (about 10 inches deep), or

  • Liquid fertilizer is injected 8-10 inches below the surface into the soil with a probe. 

Visualize your target, where to put the fertilizer?  

Fertilize under the branches of the tree in a grid formation, about every 2 ft.  Start at the outside, or the ends of the branches, and go in towards the stem of the tree. For all trees, put fertilizer in about 2/3 of the way from the tips of the branches in to the tree trunk. For very large trees, stay about 6-8 feet away from the stem of the tree and work out to the tips of the branches.


Financial Incentives for Planting Trees

Interested in planting a tree?  Consider the financial incentives below before purchasing your tree.


Logo of the RainScapes programThe RainScapes Rewards Rebates Program

The County offers technical and financial assistance (in the form of rebates) to encourage property owners to implement RainScapes techniques on their property, including planting trees to add to the tree canopy.

  • Residential properties are eligible for up to a $2,500 rebate

  • Commercial, multi-family or institutional properties are eligible for up to a $10,000 rebates.

To participate, your property must be located in Montgomery County, outside of the municipal limits of the City of Rockville, City of Takoma Park, or City of Gaithersburg. Projects are not eligible if they are associated with permit approval requirements for new building construction, additions, or renovations.

​The program is funded each fiscal year (The FY begins July 1 and ends June 30). Annual funds for the programs are limited, so rebates will be awarded on a first-come-first-served basis.


To qualify for a Tree Canopy Rebate:

Trees must be planted on private property. Rebates will not be awarded for trees planted in the public right-of-way (other programs exist for right-of-way trees). 

New trees must be:

  • In a #20 container (a container holding about 20 gallons of soil and the roots) or 16” diameter B&B root ball or larger

  • At least 8 feet tall

  • At least 1 caliper inch (the trunk is 1 inch thick measured 6” above the base of the tree in the pot)

  • Trees must be planted between September 15 and April 30

  • Surrounding area has enough soil volume to meet the Montgomery County tree law

  • Must eventually shade or cover impervious surface (rooftop, driveways, etc)

Pre-approval for the tree canopy rebate is required - please contact for more information. 

The RainScapes program also provides technical assistance to help with the installation of your tree.  They have a wealth of information, expertise and want to help!

Learn more on the RainScape Rewards Rebates webpage. 


Additional Financial Incentives

Tree Montgomery is a new program to plant shade trees for free. The Department of Environmental Protection is looking for places to plant new trees especially in yards of single family homes, parking lots, and multi-family communities. Follow the link to apply for a new tree on your property! 

TREE-Mendous Maryland is a program that provides high quality native trees at low cost to be planted on public lands including those owned by home owner associations. 


Plant a tree and save some green!

Two COUPONS are available for you to plant trees. It is a great time to plant green and save green!

Be counted towards the state’s goal of 50,000 trees by 2010 – and save $25 off your new tree!  Get your printable discount coupon .  After planting, register your trees. Let’s make Montgomery County one of the best contributors in the State! 

Montgomery Planning Department‘s program “Leaves for Neighborhoods” will save you green when you plant trees. Print the coupon to save $25 off a tree purchase of $75 or more. 

Look for nurseries participating in both programs and use both coupons together to save the most!