Tree Replacement: Planning, Planting, and Establishment

Park Cultural Landscapes Program

Updated Cultural Landscapes

All trees have a finite lifespan and will eventually need to be removed. When tree removal is necessary in NPS cultural landscapes, the preservation objective is generally to replace contributing trees in order to preserve the historic character. These considerations will make your tree replacement project a success.

Part I: Planning

Evaluate historic trees at regular intervals and plan for tree replacement as trees begin to show signs of significant deterioration.

Method of Removal

Refer to the Cultural Landscape Inventory (CLI) or Cultural Landscape Report (CLR) to learn about the tree’s significance and the treatment plan for the landscape.

"Clippings" publication with article on Replacing Trees in Cultural Landscapes
Clippings publication: Replacing Trees in Cultural Landscapes

Evaluate the method for tree removal during the compliance process. The publication Clippings: Replacing Trees in Cultural Landscapes describes several methods for tree removal:

    • Promoting a stump to decay
    • Grinding a stump
    • Extracting a stump with a tree spade
    • Excavating a stump with a backhoe

Select a method on a case-by-case basis according to the presence of resources to be protected, operational limitations, and future plans.

Method of Planting

Verify the planting location based on the CLR treatment plan. Generally, it’s preferable to plant in the same location as the historic tree that is being removed. Sometimes this is not feasible, and a compatible compromise is made by replanting in a nearby location. The NPS video Replacing Trees in Historic Landscapes demonstrates techniques for replanting trees in the same location when archeological resources are present. The techniques are:

    • Mound planting
    • Stump planting

Both of these methods use smaller-sized trees (less than 2” caliper).

Tree Selection

Verify the species or variety to be planted. Preferably, the historic tree will be replaced in-kind. “In-kind” means with the same species or variety. If this is not possible, select a compatible species that has similar qualities, including:

    • Similar mature size
    • Similar canopy shape
    • Similar foliage
    • Similar function

Learn more about Selecting Nursery Stock.

Tree Size

While it’s tempting to invest in a large replacement tree, it’s best to avoid planting trees larger than 4” caliper. Smaller trees adapt better to their new environment than larger, older trees, and they will catch up in size quickly.

Part II: Planting

Review the considerations in the Clippings publication for planting trees. In most cultural landscapes, a “reduced tree pit” is most appropriate for planting, as it involves less soil disturbance. Dig the planting hole twice the width of the rootball and deep enough so that 2” of rootball extends above the surrounding grade.

  • Backfill the hole with topsoil and apply 2-3” of nutritional mulch to protect the roots from dehydration and stimulate soil fertility. Apply water and stake the tree immediately.
  • Double-stake along the windward-leeward axis and connect the trunk to the stakes by flexible padded ties that allow some swaying movement and do not cut into the tree bark.
  • Protect trees which are subject to animal browse by enclosing trunks in a tree guard, wrapping with vole tape, or surrounding the tree with a cage of 6-8’ tall hog wire and T-posts. When caging trees, allow “gate” access for pruning, mulching, and adjusting stake ties.
A tree is placed in a hole in the soil during planting, the hole is slightly larger than the rootball, which is level with the ground surface.
Planting a tree in soil

Missing fruit trees in the historic orchard at Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site are replaced (NPS).

Part III: Establishment

Most young trees have an establishment period of 2 to 3 years. During this time, they need extra care to ensure their survival.

  • During this period, apply 1” depth of irrigation water per week, in lieu of precipitation.
  • Increase the diameter of the mulch to match the growing canopy’s dripline. Hold mulch away from the tree trunk by 2” and maintain 2 – 3” depth.
  • Check tree stakes for stability and loosen ties to permit trunk movement. Remove the stakes as soon as the tree is firmly rooted.
  • Prune the tree in the dormant seasons to remove crossing branches and establish a structure of outward radiating branches.
  • Remove the cage when the majority of the canopy has grown above browse height.

Learn more about pruning basics in cultural landscapes: Preservation Horticulture Pruning Basics Learning Activity

Can’t find what you need?  Contact the Park Cultural Landscapes Program via email or the program lead in your region.

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