Trees provide us with so many benefits that it’s well worth the time, money, and effort to plant them. Trees are a one of the most cost-effective means of helping to clean our air and water, reduce our energy usage, and improve the quality of our lives.
There are a few things to consider before any new tree goes in the ground. By making a handful of careful choices, your tree will be healthier and you’ll enjoy it more. Before you buy a tree, consider three things first: where to put it, what species is best, and how to select a healthy tree from the nursery.
Where do you need 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. To maximize summer shade, plant to the south or west of where you need it.
Do you want to block winds or create some privacy? A row of trees, especially evergreens, on the northwest side of a building will block winter winds 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? Like branches, roots need room to spread.
Are there any overhead electric lines or other utilities? Look down too – are there underground electric, water, or sewer lines?
Now that you’ve identified a place to plant a tree, you need to select the best species 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:
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. Also, the tree trunk, or stem, takes up less space than the crown and branches. Therefore, consider a species that will grow tall enough for the crown to be above your living space and out of your way. Remember to visualize the tree when it’s fully grown.
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 often preferable to non-native trees because they support more wildlife. 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 or sometimes a sour gum or a pepperidge tree, 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. Look for websites from extension agencies and universities or colleges for the most accurate information.
Here are some things to look for at the nursery when selecting a tree to buy:
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 fills the entire pot. And you should see some new growth – look for clean white tips on the ends of the roots. If roots are growing in circles around the inside of the pot, cut them off before planting the tree.
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. You may see some roots or you may not.
Avoid trees with leaves that are discolored, deformed, too small, or that do not look “normal”. Most healthy trees have a few weird leaves but most of the leaves should look normal.
Nearly all young trees have some wounds on the stem or trunk, but avoid trees with multiple wounds or damage to the bark that extends more than one quarter of the way around the stem. Do not buy trees with wounds that are weeping or leaking.
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 species 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.
It's actually more important to know when NOT to plant your tree. In Montgomery County, you should NOT plant trees in the summer from May through September.
Instead, plant trees in the fall, winter, or early spring.
Summer can be extremely hard on trees – the heat and dry weather often require more moisture in leaves than the roots can take up. The best way to help your new trees survive the summer months is to plant them in the fall.
It’s okay to plant in winter when the ground isn’t frozen or covered with snow and early spring before the leaves come out. The more time the newly planted trees have to grow roots and otherwise get acclimated before the heat of the summer, the better their chances of survival.
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.
A few more things to do for your new tree immediately after planting…
✔ Do water your tree. This initial watering is important because it removes air pockets and settles 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 third 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.
For more information on each of these actions, visit the Caring for Your Tree section below.
Get rid of them – keep the weeds out of the mulch around your trees. Weeds use a lot of water and nutrients that your trees need.
The best method for weed removal is hand pulling and disposing of the weeds in your yard waste pickup or compost bin. For poison ivy, check the recommendations below before starting.
Weeds are not the only plants that compete with your trees. Flowers, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and vines all use water and nutrients, prevent sunlight from reaching the trunk, and create a moist environment for bacteria and fungi that can harm the tree. The mulch around the tree should be at least 3 feet out from the trunk and be free of any other plants.
Vines are another common weed problem. They require special handling.
Don’t pull vines off trees. Instead, cut out a 6-inch chunk of the stems of vines. Let the vines die and gradually fall off the tree.
You can cut vines any time of year. If the vines are cut in the fall, the dying leaves are less noticeable.Don’t pull them off. Instead, cut out a chunk of the vine stem and let them die….they will gradually fall off.
While poison ivy is a hazard if it gets on our skin, it happens to be native, beneficial to birds, and not harmful to trees. If there is no risk of contact with people, then leave the poison ivy. If you choose to remove poison ivy, handle with great care year-round. The oil in the vine, roots, leaves, and berries is an allergen that can cause severe rashes, blisters, and itching. The oil can stay on clothing and gloves for a long time.
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 trees helps reduce the stress of urban life and makes trees healthier. Between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, water your trees weekly (unless it rains).
The answer is: Slow and Steady
Tree roots require a slow drip watering. This allows the water to seep below the surface and grass to the tree roots where it is needed. Do not water with a spray nozzle or sprinkler – this gets water to the surface but 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. The best option is a soaker hose. It’s a specially designed hose that allows water to slowly seep out all along the hose.
Check the hose to make sure the water is dripping out rather than flowing or running out. If necessary, turn the water pressure lower. For newly planted trees, place the hose on top of the root ball trunk; for larger trees, place the hose under the branches and at least four feet from the trunk. Also, you can leave a soaker hose in place during the summer for easy watering. You can even cover the hose with mulch to hide it and conserve more water.
For recently planted trees, leave the water running on for about a half hour; for older trees, leave the water running for about one hour. Timers that will automatically shut the water off on your outdoor faucets are available at lawn and garden shops.
Use your regular garden hose. Turn on the water, then turn the pressure to nearly off so that the water only drips out. The water should not flow out but only drip out of the hose. If necessary, turn the water pressure lower.
For recently planted trees, leave the water running on for about an hour; for older trees, leave the water running for about one hour on one side and then an hour on the other side of the tree. Timers for your outdoor faucets are available at lawn and garden shops.
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. Young trees should receive about 25 gallons of water per week so fill the bucket several times. 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. Check to make sure the water empties in several hours. Young trees should receive about 25 gallons of water per week so fill the bag several times. Remove these bags. If left on between waterings, these bags may harbor bacteria that could attack your tree, or rodents, snakes, or insects could nest in them and damage your trees.
In Montgomery County, most newly planted trees must be protected from deer. White-tailed deer damage young trees in two different ways:
Both browsing and rubbing by deer kills trees. Therefore, protecting your trees is important.
One of the easiest way is to protect a newly planted trees from browsing is to plant trees that are taller than 6 feet. Deer may still eat some lower branches but they will not be able to reach the top of the tree allowing the tree to continue to grow.
For smaller trees, install chicken wire or deer netting around each tree or groups of trees. The wire or netting should be at least 5 feet tall.
There are several ways to stop bucks from rubbing the trunks. The best protection is to install a cage around the tree trunk. The best material is a heavy-duty plastic mesh. Chicken wire will also work. The mesh or wire should be at least 4-feet tall. It should be anchored to the ground so the deer cannot push it out of the way. Another way is to install two pieces of 4-foot rebar on opposite sides of the stem, or trunk, and as close to the trunk as possible.
The best, cheapest, and easiest way to fertilize a tree is to mulch it properly. Mixing leaves into the mulch each fall adds a lot of nutrients. If your trees are healthy, use the leaves from your lawn that have been chopped into small pieces with the mower. If the leaves appear to be unhealthy or moldy, then don’t mix them in your mulch.
Often people spread the fertilizer over the grass around the tree, but the result is better grass and weeds rather than improved tree growth. Getting fertilizer below the grass to the roots of trees is important and not difficult. Many licensed tree care companies offer this service, but it can also be done on your own – follow the steps below.
Test your soil before fertilizing to determine what nutrients are needed, how much to apply and when.
Choose one of the following 3 methods of application:
Fertilizer stakes: Push fertilizer stakes into the ground below the roots of the grass. You will need gloves and a mallet to hammer the stakes about 10 inches into the ground.
Granular fertilizer: Dig or drill 10-inch deep holes into the soil. Anything that can be used to plant flower bulbs will work well to dig the holes. Some home and garden stores rent or sell small augers. Place the granular fertilizer into the holes.
Liquid fertilizer: Inject liquid fertilizer 8-10 inches below the surface into the soil with a probe. This is the preferred method of the pros, but unrealistic for most homeowners without the special tools.
Based on the results of the soil test, head to your local home improvement store to buy the fertilizer. Tree fertilizer is not the same as fertilizer for grass. Look for “Deciduous Tree” or “Evergreen” and water insoluble nitrogen (WIN) on the label.
Use a slow-release fertilizer to protect the quality of water in our watersheds.
Always follow the directions on the label of the fertilizer.
Put fertilizer stakes or dig the holes for granular fertilizer 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, stay at least 4 feet away from the trunk of the tree and work out to the tips of the branches.
If you are interested in planting a tree, first determine if you are eligible for a FREE shade tree planting from the County's Tree Montgomery program. Tree Montgomery provides free shade trees for private properties. Once you complete the application, we’ll confirm that you are on our list. There is a huge interest in the program but the funding is on-going. We hope to reach out to all applicants within a year.
If you don't want to wait for a shade tree from the County, or you are not eligible for a Tree Montgomery shade tree, then consider one of the programs below. They include free tree planting programs, giveaways and coupons available to County residents and businesses.
Shades of Green, a program of the Montgomery County Planning Department, provides free trees and planting for qualifying property owners in urban areas of the County. Qualifying neighborhoods are listed on the website. A list of tree species and the sign-up form is also found on the website.
The City of Gaithersburg has a Rainscapes Rewards Program similar to Montgomery County and Rockville. The program aims to help most property owners improve stormwater runoff conditions on their property by installing natural drainage projects. Trees are included in this program through the Conservation Landscaping Rebates!
The City of Rockville has a RainScapes Rewards Program similar to Montgomery County and Gaithersburg. The program aims to help most property owners improve stormwater runoff conditions on their property by installing natural drainage projects. Trees are included in this program through the Tree Canopy Rebates!
The City of Rockville plants new trees as part of their street tree maintenance program. To request a new street tree near your home, fill out the Tree Service Request Form or call the Rockville Parks and Facilities Office at 240-314-8700.
Have other Rockville tree questions? Visit their general information webpage.
You can use simple landscaping techniques on your property to encourage rain to soak into the ground and reduce the amount of runoff. They include rain barrels, rain gardens, conservation landscapes, and trees. These RainScapes save money, reduce flooding, and decrease pollution in our local streams.
Most property owners are eligible for RainScapes Rewards Rebates to plant shade trees. Choose the RainScapes program based on your property location:
Residents can take advantage of the Marylanders Plant Trees program to plant more trees!
Download a coupon to receive $25 off the purchase of a native tree at participating nurseries across the State. On residential properties, the Maryland coupon can be combined with the Leaves for Neighborhoods coupon for additional savings. This program is sponsored by the Maryland Forest Service.
The Montgomery Planning Department sponsors the Leaves for Neighborhoods program to increase the County's tree canopy on residential properties.
Download a coupon to receive $40 off the purchase of a native tree with a retail value of at least $75 at participating nurseries. This coupon may be combined with the Marylanders Plant Trees coupon for additional savings.
The Backyard Buffers program provides trees and shrubs to homeowners to create streamside buffers. Property owners with a stream or other waterway on, or adjacent to, their property can receive a free "buffer in a bag". Each bag includes 20 to 30 native tree and shrub seedlings, each approximately 1 to 2 feet in height, and well adapted to streamside conditions. Once these trees and shrubs are established, they will provide benefits to both you and the stream.
The popular TREE-Mendous Maryland program helps volunteers restore tree cover on public land and community open space in Maryland, including parks, streets trees and schools. Trees are provided at low prices. Technical assistance to plant and maintain the trees is also available.
Additional funding to support planting projects on public land and open spaces is available through the MUCFC Grants Program.
The Maryland Urban and Community Forestry Committee (MUCFC) Grants program helps community groups to enhance their urban forests by providing funds to plant trees and carry out education projects. Community tree projects must be located on public lands in parks, cities or towns.
Trees and technical assistance for these projects are available through TREE-Mendous Maryland.