Caring for the Tree On the way home. Once you've purchased your tree, protect it while transporting it home. Lift and carry it from underneath the root ball or container, not by the trunk. If the tree is being transported in the open air, wrap its top in burlap or a similar material. This protects the plant from wind that can shred and dehydrate the leaves. Follow-up care. Keep the soil moist, not soaked, around a newly planted tree. The root ball could dry out in a day or two, especially in hot summer weather. Once established, a tree needs about 1 inch of water a week through the growing season, whether from rainfall or irrigation. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch at the base of the tree, keeping it away from the trunk. Mulch conserves moisture, protects against soil temperature extremes and reduces competition from weeds. It also prevents lawnmower damage to the trunk. Stake the tree, but only if necessary. Studies show that a tree establishes more quickly and is stronger if it's not staked. Only a top-heavy tree or one in a windy site should be staked to prevent it from toppling over. If stakes must be used, choose plastic or nylon strapping to protect the bark. (The familiar wire sheathed with garden hose damages trees.) Also, allow trees a slight amount of flex, rather than holding them rigidly in place. Remove all staking materials after one year to prevent them from girdling the trunk. Take good care of your young tree, and it will pay you back many times over, and sooner than you think. In fact, money does grow on trees — the right tree, in the right place, planted the right way.
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