Trees are a great investment, but there are a wide range of issues involved with their selection and care. The listed resources will provide you with information on choosing the right tree for your landscape, as well as how to care for your trees.

For information about caring for storm-damaged trees, please see our Storm Damage series below or view a video about pruning storm-damaged trees.

Storm Damage #1: Immediate Care for Storm-Damaged Trees
Storm Damage #2: How to Select an Arborist or Tree Service
Storm Damage #3: Pruning Storm-Damaged Trees
Storm Damage #4: Large Tree Pruning & Care
Storm Damage #5: Don't 'Top' Trees
Storm Damage #6: Recognizing & Correcting Tree Hazards
Storm Damage #7: Tree Selection & Placement
Storm Damage #8: Tree Planting
Storm Damage #9: Care of Newly Planted Trees
Storm Damage #10: Storm Damage Resources

Trees play an important role in making our communities better places to live, work and play. Learn about urban and community forestry.

Got Tree Questions?
Host a "Coffee with a Forester" Workshop

Give community members or customers an opportunity to talk with a forester to discuss proper tree care methods and to ask questions about their own trees or those in the community.

For more information or to host a workshop in your community, contact Rachel Allison, 302-696-6718 or rachel.allison@unl.edu.

Tree Care Workshops

Tree Care Workshops are held at various locations throughout the state, usually in late winter.

For more information, please see the Tree Care Workshop page.

Tree Identification

What is that tree with the beautiful white flowers? What is that tree with the wide spreading branches? Take a stroll around your town or a drive across the state and you may ask yourself these and other questions about the numerous types of trees you will see.

There are hundreds of tree species in Nebraska and across the United States. The following Web sites are guides to tree identification.

Tree Selection

When properly cared for, trees can, provide benefits for generations, so deciding which tree to plant takes careful consideration. When you begin thinking about planting a tree, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I planting the tree(s)?
  • What type of tree or shrub do I want to plant?
  • What are the characteristics of the planting site?
  • What is the condition of the soil in the planting site?
  • How much time am I willing to spend maintaining the tree(s)?

Answering these questions will guide you as you search for the right tree.

Factors such as the tree's function, form, size and location, as well as site characteristics, such as soil and environmental conditions, and pest and disease problems are all important.

Function

Will the tree be part of a windbreak or other conservation planting? Will it produce fruit, nuts or other useful products? Will it be an ornamental? Will it be planted to provide shade on sunny afternoons? Chances are, the tree will provide multiple functions.

Form & Size

Trees grow in seven basic forms: rounded, oval, pyramidal, spreading, ascending, weeping and columnar. Pay close attention to these when selecting a tree for your landscape. If a tree will be planted close to a building, a tree that grows in a columnar form will be more appropriate than one with a widely spreading canopy.

A tree's size is also an important consideration. Trees that grow to great heights should not be planted near the eaves of buildings or under power lines.

Location

Because trees grow both above and below ground, they need room for both their canopies and root systems. Always consider the tree's natural width and height and give it enough space from the start. Planting trees too close to sidewalks or buildings may damage the tree and the building or sidewalk. As the tree grows, its powerful roots may cause the sidewalk to buckle and crack. Trees planted too close to buildings may have restricted root growth due to foundations.

Site Characteristics

There are several site characteristics to consider when you are selecting a tree:

  • Soil quality has a major impact on tree health. Soil with poor drainage can submerge and suffocate roots. Dense, compacted soil will restrict root growth and limit the extent of the root system, often causing the tree to be susceptible to short droughts. Most Nebraska soils are quite fertile and do not require fertilization for trees, especially newly planted trees or those surrounded by fertilized lawn areas. If you suspect the soil in your area is poor quality, contact your local extension forester for more information about soil testing and steps that can be taken to improve soil quality.
  • Most trees require full sunlight for proper growth, but many species will grow in partial or even dense shade. Determine how much sun your planting site receives daily before selecting a particular tree species.
  • Wind can dry soil and cause erosion. High winds during storms can damage tree branches and even uproot newly planted trees. Newly planted trees should only be staked in areas where they are exposed to high winds and only until their root systems are established. Be sure to remove the staking after a year.
  • The term " hardiness " refers to a tree's ability to survive in a certain winter climate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has divided the United States into hardiness zones. When you select a tree, determine which hardiness zone you live in and choose a species that is adapted to that zone. Hardiness zone map.
Pest and Disease Problems

Trees are living organisms, each with particular disease or pest problems. The severity of pest and disease problems varies by species and location, so consult a certified arborist or your extension forester for information about common tree pest and disease problems in your area. Many insect or disease problems can be avoided by choosing resistant varieties or cultivars.


References

Tree Planting

There are several steps involved with planting a tree. If followed properly, these steps greatly increase your tree's chances of thriving. Remember, before you dig call your local utility company. Diggers Hotline of Nebraska

Tree Planting Tips video with NFS Community Forester Eric Berg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

Fall Tree Planting video, with NFS Community Forester Eric Berg, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

Planting a Tree

  1. Dig an adequate-sized planting hole. The hole you plant the tree in should be broad and shallow. Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and three times as wide as the root ball. The hole is wider than it is deep because the tree's root system will establish itself by growing outward, rather than down. Avoid mechanical augers, especially in clay soils, because they create smooth "planes" in the hole. These planes restrict root growth and may also restrict drainage.
     
  2. Prepare the tree. Trees are typically sold either "balled and burlapped" or bare root. If the tree is balled and burlapped (with the roots and soil wrapped in burlap), remove the burlap and metal cage from around the top two-thirds of the root ball so the roots are not restricted. If necessary, remove enough soil so the trunk flare is visible. The trunk flare is the area at the base of the tree where the roots begin spreading. It's also important to locate the topmost roots in the root ball.
     
  3. Place the tree in the planting hole at the proper depth. The trunk flare should sit just above ground level, and the topmost roots should sit one or two inches below ground level. Also make sure the tree sits straight in the planting hole.
     
  4. Begin filling the planting hole with soil. When the hole is approximately one-third full, gently pack the soil around the root ball. Continue filling the planting hole, stopping every few inches to settle the soil with water.
     
  5. Stake the tree, if necessary. Newly planted trees may need to be staked to prevent damage or uprooting. Use two stakes anchored outside the planting hole to prevent root injury. The material used to tie the tree to the stakes should be flexible to prevent it from damaging the trunk. Stakes and tying material must be removed after approximately one year.
     
  6. Place a 2- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch, such as bark or wood chips, around the base of the tree. Mulch holds moisture in the soil and moderate soil temperature. It also reduces grass and weed competition and adds nutrient-rich organic matter to the soil.
     
  7. Provide follow-up care. Keep the soil around your newly planted tree moist, but not saturated. If you overwater, the tree's roots will rot and die back from lack of oxygen. The tree's leaves may also turn yellow or fall off. Typically, it's sufficient to water once a week, possibly more often under hot, dry conditions.

For more information on how to plant a tree, consult the publications below or contact your local extension forester or arborist.

References

Tree Watering

Water is critical to the success of any tree or shrub planting. Tree roots, especially the small, water-absorbing roots, are easily damaged during transplanting.

Watering Newly Planted Trees

For sufficient water uptake to occur, the root ball of a newly planted tree must be kept moist, but not saturated. Monitor the moisture in the root ball daily, and water as needed so that the root ball does not dry out. The area outside of the root ball also should be watered to encourage root growth into the surrounding soil. Avoid overwatering, which is a major cause of tree failure in many Nebraska communities. Heavy clay soils that have been compacted during construction activities severely restrict the movement of water and commonly lead to saturated conditions.

In areas with fine-textured soils, such as those containing high levels of clay or silt, newly planted trees should receive no more than 1 inch of surface water per week during the growing season. Supplemental watering is not necessary during periods of adequate rainfall. Water no more than two or three times per week for a total of 1 inch. Operating automatic lawn irrigation systems for 20 to 30 minutes per day often results in continuously saturated soil, which may cause severe root damage and tree death.

In sandy soils, water drains more easily, and up to 2 inches of water per week may be necessary to keep the soil moist. Carefully monitor the moisture level in the root ball of balled-and-burlapped trees planted in sandy soils. Water from the fine-textured soil of the root ball does not drain easily into the surrounding sandy soil, so the root ball may become saturated.

For more information, contact: Nebraska Forest Service: 402-472-2944.

Tree Pruning

Trees may need pruning to maintain a particular shape, remove diseased or dead branches or prevent them from touching power lines or rooftops. Pruning is also essential to promote fruit production and increase the value of timber. In fact, pruning is the most common tree care activity for landscape trees, but it should be done with caution. Improper pruning can damage a tree damage or even kill it. When done properly, however, pruning can promote healthy tree growth and prevent tree hazards, such as falling branches.

Photosynthesis is the process by which trees manufacture energy for growth and maintenance. This process occurs in foliage, so pruning should be done carefully. Overpruning may inhibit a tree's ability to perform photosynthesis, thus limiting its ability to create food and grow.

Video on pruning storm-damaged trees, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

For more information on how to prune trees properly, consult the publications below or contact your local extension forester or arborist.

References

Tree Fertilizing

Fertile Nebraska soils will usually support healthy tree and shrub growth without additional fertilization. If trees and shrubs display poor growth or reduced vigor, fertilization may be necessary, particularly in sandy soils or soils with a high pH.

Unnecessary or excessive fertilization can damage trees and shrubs, so have the soil tested to determine if fertilizer is needed and, if so, the necessary composition and amount of fertilizer to apply.

For more information on fertilizing trees or shrubs, contact your local extension forester or arborist or consult the publications below.

References

Tree Pests

Insects and diseases are leading causes of damage, low vigor and death in trees. To maintain the health of your trees, it's important to know about some of the most common diseases and insect pests and how to avoid or control them.

If you suspect you have a tree or shrub that's affected by a disease or insects, contact your local extension forester or arborist. The Web sites listed below provide general information about common insect pests and diseases that affect trees.

Resources

Tree Hazards

While trees beautify our landscapes and provide innumerable environmental benefits, they have the potential to be hazards. Damage due to neglect, insects, disease or weather can result in weakened trunks, branches or roots. If the tree topples or tree branches fall, they could injure people or damage property.

To reduce tree hazards, inspect trees regularly. Look for dead branches, branches hanging in the tree, cracks in the trunk, cavities, rotted wood, cankers or evidence of root damage.

The following Web sites will provide general information on tree hazards. For more information on tree hazards, contact your local extension forester or a certified arborist.

Resources

Hiring an Arborist

When hiring an arborist, give careful consideration to their qualifications. A qualified arborist will perform basic tree care work properly and carefully, while hiring an unqualified arborist can result in tree damage. Unqualified persons also may not have proper insurance, leaving a liability burden to the customer that could run into the thousands of dollars.

Hiring an Arborist

  • Here are important points to consider when hiring an arborist:
  1. Be cautious of any arborist or tree care service that advises "topping" trees. "Topping" is the indiscriminate cutting of large branches back to long stubs. It removes a major portion of a tree's leaves, which are needed to produce food, and can lead to an irreversible decline in the tree. Topping is never recommended by anyone with a good understanding of trees.
     
  2. Ask arborists if they are certified by the Nebraska Arborists Association (NAA) or the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). While arborists are not required to be certified, certification indicates a high degree of tree care knowledge.
     
  3. Ask arborists for certificates of insurance, including proof of liability for personal and property damage and workers' compensation. You may wish to contact the arborist's insurance company to be sure the policies are current. In some instances, you may be held financially liable if an uninsured worker is hurt on your property or damages a neighbor's property.
     
  4. Ask for local references and take time to examine some of the arborist's work.
     
  5. Be wary of arborists who come to your home and tell you a tree on your property will "die without immediate attention." Most reputable tree care companies do not need to solicit business.
     
  6. Get more than one estimate.
     
  7. Conscientious arborists will not use climbing spikes unless they are removing a tree. Spikes create wounds in the tree that can lead to disease and decay.
     
  8. A good arborist will not be inexpensive, but the quality of the work will be worth the expense.
     

If you live in Nebraska, visit the Nebraska Arborists Association's Web site or the Nebraska Forest Service's Web site to find a certified arborist in your area. If you live outside Nebraska, visit the International Society of Arboriculture's Web site to find a certified arborist in your area.

Tree Resources

Fertilizing

Hazard Trees

Planting

Pruning

Tree Pests

Tree Selection

  • Broadleaf Trees for Nebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Publication EC74-1737.
  • Tree Planting Guide, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Publication EC82-1738.
  • The Right Tree Handbook, Minnesota Power.
  • Tree Selection, International Society of Arboriculture's "Trees are Good."
  • Tree Selection, (1991) International Society of Arboriculture pamphlet.
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