Public Works and Environmental Services

Fairfax County, Virginia

CONTACT INFORMATION: Our office is open 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday - Friday

703-324-1770
TTY 711

12055 Government Center Parkway
Suite 518, Fairfax, Va 22035

Brian Keightley,
Division Director, Urban Forest Management

Tree Planting and Care

Trees are a great investment in your property and a source of pride and pleasure. Proper planting and maintenance are essential to protect your investment and make the most of the benefits of having trees.

Frequently Asked Questions

Tree Selection: Where can I get advice about what to consider when selecting a tree to plant? Tree buying guidance? Information on Native Plants?

Visit Tree Selection for information on what to consider when choosing a tree to get the right tree planted in the right place, buying guidance and information on native plants.

What is the proper way to plant a tree?

  • Place the tree in the prepared hole and ensure the tree is straight from all sides.Remember to remove all burlap, twine and the wire basket (if present) from the tree before planting.
  • Gently backfill the hole while keeping the tree level. Pack soil firmly to eliminate air pockets which can dry out roots. If the tree is in an area where wind is a concern, staking may be necessary.
  • Provide a 2"-4" layer of mulch around the base of the tree, taking care to avoid packing mulch against the trunk.
  • Water the tree at least weekly - more frequently in extremely hot temperatures.
  • Watch the tree for signs of stress such as browning or wilting leaves or; if the tree exhibits signs of stress, contact your retailer or a certified arborist.
  • For additional information on proper tree planting techniques, visit Virginia Department of Forestry, How to Plant A Tree or Virginia Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Tree Owners Manual.

How should I prune my trees?

Using proper pruning techniques is extremely important to the long-term health and viability of trees. Always use clean, sharp tools when making cuts. Pruning is best accomplished during the tree's dormant season before new growth begins. Pruning of young trees should be aimed at establishing a healthy growth pattern for the new tree. Pruning of mature trees is best limited to removal of dead or hazardous limbs. Topping a tree is NOT proper pruning, and is not conducive to the long-term health of the tree. See below for information on why topping is bad for a tree. For more information on how to properly prune a tree, you may also visit the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Why does the pruning practice of "topping" hurt trees?

topping trees creates hazards"Topping" of trees is perhaps the most harmful pruning practice known. By removing a large portion of the tree's upper leaves, new problems can be created. Topped trees are more likely to suffer from stress and become vulnerable to sun damage, insects, disease and storms. If you have a tree that has grown too large, there are ways to correctly prune to reduce the tree crown without damaging the health of the tree. The rapid re-growth of shoots on a topped tree is an indication of stress and a weakened state of health. For appropriate methods to reduce the height or spread of a tree, an arborist can determine the best approach to pruning to preserve the tree's natural beauty, health and safety for the surrounding environment.

Download Topping Trees Creates Hazards

How can I manage trees and turf and promote the continued health of both?

grass vs mulch root structure

Trees and grass are healthier when they are not forced to compete with each other. Both provide benefits to the environment, but when placed next to each other can result in problems to both species. Grass at the base of a tree is often weak and thin. The shade provided by the tree is not suitable for many types of grasses. In addition, the roots of the tree, which are closer to the surface, can disrupt the growth pattern of grasses. In return, grasses take away many nutrients and much needed moisture, causing trees to weaken and produce poor growth. Trees may also be damaged by lawn equipment, causing wounds that allow disease and insects a point of entry. The best approach is generally to allow a mulched area around the perimeter of the drip line of the tree. This keeps grass from competing with the tree for vital nutrients and moisture and reduces likelihood of damage to both species.

Download Tree vs. Lawn: Uneasy Coexistence by Gary Watson

Picture: Root profiles of sugar maples (Acer saccharum) growing in similar soils with grass competition and in a naturally mulched woodland area.

Why is proper mulching of trees important and what are the proper techniques?

Mulch volcanoes

Proper mulching helps maintain moisture in dry summer months, reduces weeds that draw away necessary nutrients, acts as an insulation against extreme heat and cold, and provides an aesthetically pleasing base for landscaping. Improper mulching, however, can be the cause of stress and decline in a tree. For instance, mulch that is too deep and piled high against the trunk of a tree may actually prevent the tree from receiving adequate amounts of oxygen and water, cause excessive moisture to be retained causing roots to rot, and may harbor insects and other pests. Mulch should generally be applied in a 2"-4" layer around the base of the tree, extending outward towards the dripline. Avoid mulching directly against the base of the tree; allow several inches between the base of the tree and the surrounding mulch. Whenever possible, use organic mulches to provide beneficial nutrients.

Download Tree vs. Lawn: Uneasy Coexistence by Gary Watson

'Volcano mulching' can harm the tree trunk, and may cover extra soil that has been piled around the trunk after planting. Mulch should be no more than 3-4 inches deep.

My tree looks stressed and strange; what's wrong with it?

A healthy tree has many built-in methods of resisting normal insect and disease invasions. A tree may become stressed from physical changes in the root zone or from other environmental factors that affect the basic requirements of the tree, including light, oxygen to the roots, water and the balance of essential nutrients. A stressed tree then becomes more vulnerable and unable to sustain the needed resistance to insect and disease invasion. Identifying causes of tree stress and mitigating them early can help a tree to resist or fight harmful agents. A certified tree professional can identify causes of stress and make recommendations to mitigate the stressful situation, and detail any treatments. For more information on identifying common insect and disease symptoms in trees visit the Virginia Department of Forestry.

What are the signs of a hazardous tree?

A hazardous tree is a tree, or a portion of a tree, that is in danger of falling and presents a threat to life or property. Find out more about the signs of a hazardous tree and information about pruning and removal at Tree Removal.

Where can I get information about Deer Management

Visit Fairfax County's Deer Management Program for information about how deer populations are being managed in Fairfax County and what you can do to humanely exclude or deter deer on your property. 

Urban Forestry Education Programs

The Urban Forest Management Division offers programs on the importance and benefits of trees; current threats posed by invasive forest pests and tree planting at your school.

Native Seedling Sale

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District's annual seedling sale makes low-cost bare-root native shrub and tree seedlings available to Northern Virginia residents. See Also Plant NOVA Natives Seedling Sales and Giveaways in Northern Virginia.

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