Tips for Tree Care in Nova Scotia (Planting, Pruning & More)

Nova Scotia is home to a diverse range of tree species. These trees not only beautify our landscapes but also provide important ecological benefits such as oxygen production, soil stability, and wildlife habitat.

It’s essential that we take care of these valuable natural resources to ensure their survival for future generations.

But beyond that, did you know that trees can increase the value of your property?

Proper tree care involves regular maintenance to promote healthy growth and prevent diseases.

In this Nova Scotia tree care guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about maintaining healthy trees in the province – from planting and best mulching practices to top tree care mistakes to avoid and everything in between.

Selecting & Planting a Tree

Choose a Tree & Location 

Things to consider before planting a tree:

  • Species selection
  • Space
  • Location
  • Hardiness zones (zones based on average annual temperatures relevant to plant growth)
  • Soil conditions (often acidic in Nova Scotia)
  • Exposure & drainage. 

When selecting a tree for your yard in Nova Scotia, consider native species well-adapted to the local climate and soil conditions. Native trees such as the Red Maple, Eastern Hemlock, and Red Spruce are excellent choices due to their ability to thrive in Nova Scotia’s climate.

Step by Step Planting Guide

  • Choose the Right Time: Plant during the dormant season, either fall after leaves drop or early spring before bud break.
  • Prepare and Choose the Site: Clear the area of weeds or grass. Choose the site at a safe distance from the house and utilities. 
Tree height at maturityDistance from building
Below 8 metresAt least 2-3 metres
8-12 metresAt least 4-6 metres
Over 12 metresAt least 6 metres
  • Inspect the Tree: Make sure the trunk flare (where the trunk expands at the base) is visible. If not, remove excess soil from the top of the root ball.
  • Dig the Hole: Create a shallow, broad hole that is 2-3 times wider than the root ball but only as deep.
  • Prepare the Tree: Remove any wrapping from the root ball and trunk. Cut away any circling roots and make sure the trunk flare is exposed.
  • Place the Tree: Set the tree in the hole at the correct height, ensuring it’s not too deep. The top of the root ball should be level with the ground or slightly above.
  • Straighten the Tree: Adjust the tree so it’s straight from all angles before backfilling the hole.
  • Backfill and Water: Fill the hole with soil and water the tree to help settle the soil.
  • Stake if Necessary: Use stakes for support if the tree is in a windy area or if it’s a bare root stock. Remove stakes after the first year.
  • Mulch: Apply a 2-4 inches (5-10 cm) layer of mulch (wood chips, bark or leaves) around the base of the tree, keeping it a few inches away from the trunk to prevent decay.
  • Water and Care: Keep the soil moist, watering at least once a week (every 4-5 days), more often in hot, windy weather. Continue this until mid-fall, reducing frequency as temperatures drop.
  • Follow-Up Care: Prune any branches damaged during planting. Avoid heavy pruning until after a full season of growth. Use biodegradable materials for trunk wrapping if necessary.

Fertilizing

  • If you use quality composted mulch, fertilizing might not be necessary. 
  • To determine if the soil has enough nutrients, you can get a soil test. After the test, you’ll know exactly what your lawn soil is lacking so you can choose the right fertilizer accordingly.
  • Don’t fertilize newly planted trees during the first year.
  • Organic, slow-release fertilizer is a better choice compared to chemical fertilizers. 

Watering 

  • One of the main factors to adequate tree care in Nova Scotia is providing sufficient water to your trees.  
  • Given Nova Scotia’s varied climate, adjust watering based on rainfall patterns and soil conditions. 
  • Make sure to provide enough water during the annual growing season, between late spring and autumn and especially during long periods of drought. 
  • Do: Water trees when you plant them.
  • Do: Water trees more frequently during the first two weeks after planting.
  • Do: Water newly planted trees at the root zone (typically corresponds to the mulch area around the tree)
  • Do: Adjust water quantity by tree size (roughly 1 gallon of water per centimeter of trunk diameter) and conditions (trees in shaded areas may require less water)
  • Do: Water plants in the early morning to reduce evaporation loss.

  • Don’t: Water the tree’s trunk (it can lead to rot).
  • Don’t: Water the tree if the soil around it is soggy.
  • Don’t: Water the tree when it’s dormant (in winter).
  • Don’t: Water established trees unless necessary (f.e. during droughts or if the tree shows signs of stress)
  • Don’t: Water too quickly. Ideally, water trees slowly over an hour with a sprinkler system rather than dumping a bucket of water. This may disturb the mulch and cause water drainage.

Mulching

Mulching has multiple benefits. It holds moisture, moderates soil temperature extremes, and reduces grass and weed competition.

A good mulch consists of organic materials like leaves, bark, needles and wood chips. It should envelop the tree base but not touch the trunk. 

Maintain the mulch level with no more than 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) – the wider, the better. Too much mulch can cause problems with oxygen and excessive moisture.

Pruning

When it comes to pruning a newly planted tree, only prune dead or broken branches. It may be best to postpone pruning soon after planting to reduce transplanting shock. 

Year 1 – 3: Prune lightly and remove the dead branches or eliminate extra leaders in the tree’s first years of growth. The pruning objective is to create one main leader and establish a strong tree structure. 

Year 4 and after: Prune your tree for shape roughly every 2 – 3 years or on an as-needed basis. 

The best time to prune most trees in Nova Scotia is during the dormant season, from late fall to early spring.

Lowering the Risk of Storm Damage 

Pruning can effectively balance the structure of a tree and promote optimal air circulation.

When there is proper airflow throughout the tree canopy, it helps to disperse the force of strong winds and reduces the chances of structural damage.

Additionally, improved air circulation can prevent the buildup of moisture, which can weaken trees and make them more susceptible to diseases.

Factors that increase a tree’s chances of blowing over: 

  • Trees in proximity to the construction zone or lot clearing might have root damage.
  • Newly cleared area with scattered trees. The trees might not have adjusted yet to these new conditions and are more susceptible to high winds. 
  • Areas with loose, gravelly soil. 

Characteristics that increase a tree’s susceptibility to storm damage: 

  • Rot in the roots, stem or branches
  • Topped trees  
  • Weak tree structure
  • Mechanical damage and poor maintenance (soil compaction, damaged tree)
  • Smaller, discolored or damaged leaves
  • Excessive lean 
  • Missing bark
  • Cracked trunk
  • Broken or dead branches
  • Insect Infestation

Diseases and Pests 

A tree in good health is significantly more resilient to diseases and pest invasions compared to one that is under stress. 

Keep an eye out for pests and tree diseases prevalent in Nova Scotia, such as Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Dutch Elm disease, and more.

Try to plant pathogen-resistant tree varieties when available. 

Factors Contributing to Tree Stress

Environmental Stressors

  • Drought: Lack of water can lead to dehydration, making trees more susceptible to disease and death.
  • Extreme Temperatures: Both excessive heat and cold can damage trees, affecting their growth.
  • Wind: Strong winds can break branches, uproot trees, and cause physical damage.
  • Pollution: Air, water, and soil pollution can harm trees by damaging their leaves, affecting photosynthesis, or contaminating their water supply.
  • Soil Conditions: Poor soil conditions, such as soil compaction, lack of nutrients, or improper pH levels, can limit root growth and nutrient uptake.

Biological Stressors

  • Pests: Insects and mites can damage trees by feeding on leaves, stems, and roots.
  • Diseases: Fungal, bacterial, and viral diseases can weaken or kill trees.
  • Invasive Species: Non-native plants, animals, and pathogens can outcompete or directly harm trees

Human-Induced Stressors

  • Land Development: Construction and urban development can lead to root damage, soil compaction, and changes in water availability.
  • Improper Care: Over or under-watering, incorrect pruning practices and the use of harmful chemicals can all stress trees.
  • Deforestation: The removal of trees for agriculture, urban expansion, or logging disrupts ecosystems and can lead to increased stress on remaining trees.

Tree Care for Mature Trees

A mature, healthy tree increases in value with age, purifies the air and provides cooling shade from summer’s heat.

Regular tree pruning and maintenance promotes tree health and structural integrity and ensures a tree’s value will continue to grow.

Tree assessments can identify problems and correct them before they become more costly in the future. 

Tree Care Mistakes to Avoid

  • Topping trees or other poor pruning practices 
  • Choosing the wrong location to plant
  • Competing weeds & plants 
  • Under and over-watering 
  • Soil compaction (compacted soil ‘suffocates the tree,’ making it difficult for trees to access oxygen and nutrients)
  • Improper mulching
  • Invasive species threat 

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