Trees and Shrubs: Maintenance

Gardens & Landscapes March 11, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

Trees and Shrubs | Selection | Planting | Maintenance | Problems


Links to external web pages are followed by the source's name in parentheses.


Newly planted trees and shrubs will need regular watering their first year, supplemental water for several years after planting, and even periodic watering during drought or dry spells.

See the following to learn more about watering woody plants:

Once trees have become established and seem like they can survive on their own, it is still important to water them during times of drought. The effects of drought on trees can be felt years after the initial occurrence.


Although shady is often equated with a cool and damp area, the soil under trees can become quite dry. Even with adequate rainfall, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers may not be getting enough water if they are planted under trees. Tree roots compete with the roots of any other plants, so it important to provide supplemental water to shade gardens.


Do trees and shrubs need to be fertilized in the home landscape? Find the answer by reviewing:

Although evergreens generally require less fertilizer than deciduous (those that lose their leaves in the fall) trees and shrubs, fertilizing evergreens can still be a helpful practice.


Some nutrients become unavailable to plants when the pH is too low or too high. In cases such as these, the pH may need to be modified to grow certain plants.


  • Modifying soil pH (Sustainable Urban Landscape Series (SULIS), University of Minnesota).

Mulching and Planting Under Trees

mulch incorrectly mounded up around tree trunks
Improperly mulched tree circles commonly occur in the landscape, so much so that they have been termed "mulch volcanoes." (Photo credit: Ann Marie VanDerZanden)

There are many benefits to mulching trees and shrubs, yet too much mulch can be a problem. In recent years, research has shown that trees often suffer from applying a thick layer of mulch too close to the trunk of the tree. An extreme example of too much mulch can be seen in the "mulch volcano" phenomenon, which is often associated with improperly mulched tree circles.


  • Mulching (Department of Forests Parks and Recreation, State of Vermont), a detailed article about types of mulch, why it is recommended for trees, how to use it properly, and what problems arise when mulch is improperly used.

What materials can be used to mulch trees and shrubs? Rocks, wood chips, shredded bark? What about using other plants as a living mulch? Two articles will help answer these last questions:

  • Mulching in the Home Landscape (Yard and Garden Line, University of Minnesota Extension). This article discusses mulches and how they are best used. A chart is included for comparing mulching materials side by side.


Ground cover planted under trees
If done correctly, planting under trees can be beneficial for tree health. (Photo credit: Mary Meyer)
  • Planting Under Trees (Sustainable Urban Landscape Series, University of Minnesota). Planting perennials, including wildflowers and groundcovers, under trees can add extra interest to the landscape, without providing excessive competition to trees for water and nutrients. Care is needed, though, when adding soil and planting underneath established trees.

Staking, Supporting, and Training

Tree trunk staked and protected by a white plastic collar around the lower trunk
Staking a newly planted tree. (Photo credit:Karen Jeannette)

Under certain conditions, staking can be a helpful to a tree as it establishes roots in the new landscape site. However, staking trees can actually delay the creation of a strong trunk and cause damage if not done correctly. The following resources can help you determine when staking is necessary and how to stake trees properly:

  • Staking and Guying (Forest Resources Extension, University of Minnesota) provides useful information with correct and incorrect examples of staking.
  • Trees: Staking Recent Transplants (North Carolina State University) is a concise article that provides useful information on staking trees that are sold as bare-root, container, and balled and burlapped (B&B).


Why should we prune? How do we prune? When should we prune? These are all common questions about pruning trees and shrubs.

It is especially important to prune trees correctly because of the long-lasting and often devastating effects brought about by poor pruning. Poor pruning provides opportunities for disease and insect problems to develop and can reduce the structural integrity of a tree. Therefore, the majority of information available about pruning is focused on trees. However, shrubs need pruning to maintain their health and aesthetic appeal, too.


Pruning Trees

Pruning trees correctly not only enhances the trees' visual appearance, but it can also ensure a they will become structurally strong, making them more resistant to stress brought about from disease, insects, or environmental extremes.

Numbered areas on a tree showing 5 different branches and why they are structurally weak
Improper pruning left this tree with too many (five) branches developing near the same spot, reducing the tree's structural integrity. Branch #1, 3, and 4 broke in a wind storm. Proper pruning of this tree when it was younger would likely have prolonged its lifespan. (Photo credit: Karen Jeannette).


  • Pruning Shade Trees in the Landscape (University of Florida Extension), part of Landscape Plants, a site developed and maintained by the University of Florida. The "Pruning Trees" section is applicable to pruning shade trees anywhere in the United States. This comprehensive site is an excellent way to learn the essentials of pruning trees.
- User hint: Within this site, focus most of your attention on the pruning techniques sections, such as: "Pruning cuts, Structural pruning, Thinning, Reducing, Raising, Cleaning, and Restoration." If you live in areas warm enough for growing palms, add the "Pruning Palms" section, too. Once you've read information about pruning techniques, apply your knowledge by using the "Practice Pruning" section.

When branches are hard to reach or the physical removal of branches seems like more than you'd like to handle, it's a good idea to call in an arborist. What should you look for in an arborist?


  • Hiring an Arborist (Yard and Garden Line, University of Minnesota Extension). Find helpful hints for finding the right professional.

Pruning Shrubs

Man pruning a shrub using loppers
Pruning shrubs. (Photo credit: Karen Jeannette)

When pruning shrubs, what is your objective? Are you trying to reduce size, remove old and unproductive wood, improve flowering? There are different ways to prune depending on your objective, and timing of the pruning is very important. Recommendations for the best time to prune are often based on when a shrub flowers or when it puts on its main flush of vegetative growth.

Review two different articles with the same name:

  • Pruning Shrubs (North Carolina State University). Broadleaf evergreens, narrowleaf evergreens, deciduous shrubs, and hedges are covered in this fact sheet. The videos below are an excellent supplement to this information.
  • Pruning Shrubs (University of Minnesota Extension) is a brief summary of pruning with specific examples of plants that benefit by each type of pruning.


Pruning Shrubs Video Clips

-User hint: Review the topics under the "Pruning Perennials and Shrubs" heading with RealPlayer. If you don't have it installed on your computer already, Hort Corner Video provides the link to download the software for you. These videos are an excellent way to reinforce what you have just read about pruning shrubs.


-Multi-Stemmed Summer-Blooming Shrubs (Renewal Method)
-Multi-Stemmed Spring-Blooming Shrubs (Renewal Method)
-Results of Renewal Pruning
-Pruning Few-Stemmed Shrubs (Part 1)
-Pruning Few-Stemmed Shrubs (Part 2)
-Pruning Tools
-Directional Pruning
-Pruning Red-Twig Dogwood


Connect with us

  • Facebook


This is where you can find research-based information from America's land-grant universities enabled by



This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.