Tree Stewardship 101

We’re celebrating #NationalForestWeek with some tips about how to care for trees. We spoke with Paul Fischer, a King County forester whose job it is to steward county-owned forest land. He gave us some helpful tips for when to plant a tree, why mulching is important and how much to water a seedling.    

Why tree stewardship matters

Tree restoration at Fall City

Trees make our lives better by providing important ecological benefits such as providing habitat for wildlife and other plants. When there are healthy native trees on our landscapes, we have better ecological integrity of our region. Healthy Pacific Northwest forests are some of the best in the world at sequestering carbon, so we prioritize protecting and caring for them in our Strategic Climate Action Plan. Trees provide other benefits like acting as a natural air conditioner, cleaning the air and water and preventing flooding. There’s even research showing that trees provide economic benefits through increased property value in correlation with greater tree coverage. Therefore, a long-lasting commitment to tree stewardship matters. We value forests for many reasons, so are working with our partners to develop a 30-Year Forest Plan that captures a shared vision for all King County forests. You can start your tree conservation journey by taking the first steps in planting a tree, nurturing that tree, caring for older trees and learning about the importance of trees.   

When to plant

Placing dirt around a newly planted tree

When planting trees in the PNW, we want to plant starting in the fall and into the winter - ideally before March. Seedlings need a lot of water right away which is why we plant in the cold and rainy months. The idea is that by planting in the spring rather than the summer, the seedlings will have a couple months to develop their root system to be able to access as much soil water before the drier months set in. As much of the tree’s growth happens during the relatively wet and sunny spring months, it’s essential that the seedlings retain the moisture from the soil.   


A volunteer picking up mulch to lay down around newly planted trees.

Another thing that you can do to help care for your seedling is throwing down mulch around where you planted the seedling. As seedlings root systems aren’t fully developed, it’s hard for them to access water deep in the ground and mulch helps sponge up the moisture in the soil and keep it from evaporating through the top of the soil. The great thing about mulching is that you can throw it down anytime of the year. It is also helpful to throw some mulch down around more developed trees already in the ground because it can be stressful for trees to survive in the dry summer months. 


A volunteer watering a newly planted tree.

When you mulch and water a new tree, it helps the seedlings to survive during the dry months. By watering, you’re helping to give the tree resources it needs to generate energy and provide them with functional or physical services. A great option to water new trees is a slow-release tree watering bag. Fill up the bag once or twice a week and they will slowly give a few gallons of water per fill. Another option is to water one or more gallons of water per young tree a week, which can help them get through dry weather.  

Caring for older trees

If you’re looking to take care of an older tree already in the ground, it’s important to look for signs of stress. Some signs of stress include tree needles turning yellow or brown or tree needles or leaves that are beginning to wilt. Another sign that you can look for is splotches of colors on the leaves which can indicate that there is some sort of fungus or rust that is impacting the trees. If you notice signs of stress, you can get in contact with an arborist or a King County forester to help you identify what’s ailing your tree and how to help or fix it.   

Ultimately, it’s important that you don’t take your trees health for granted. Most trees will do fine throughout the years but watering, especially in the dry summer months, is something that you can do help your trees do well.   

Learn more about King County’s 1 Million Tree initiative.  

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