Planting Trees by Dave White
Fall is the best time to plant trees in the landscape. The cooler temperatures and increased moisture allow the tree to adapt to its new location and establish a healthy root system under less stressful heat and drought conditions.
Personally I prefer a container grown tree over a balled and burlap or bare root tree and will focus on this type in this article. With a container grown tree, I know all the tree roots are present and there is less stress in transplanting. I also choose 5 gallon container trees allowing the younger tree time to adapt to a new home. A 5 gallon tree is also easy to carry and transport. It will generally catch up in size to a larger 15 gallon tree within a 3 year period.
After selecting the planting location where you considered the full grown size of the tree, sun conditions, drainage, overhead wires, buried utilities and other obstructions, you are ready to begin digging. Dig the hole twice as wide in diameter of the tree ball. Wider is better. This loosens the compacted soil to enable the roots to begin growing. Make the hole no deeper than the root ball. Proper planting depth is important to ensure the top of the root ball is level with the soil or a little higher to allow for soil settling.
Remove the tree from its container. Inspect the tree roots and spread any coiled roots outward in the planting hole. If needed, cut the roots with a sharp knife from the bottom in three or four places on the side of the root ball to spread the roots. Inspect the tree for any girdling roots around the trunk that could strangle the tree as it grows. Remove these if necessary.
Begin backfilling the hole with the native soil. Research has determined that amending the soil with organic matter is not recommended. It impedes root growth and water movement between the two soil types. The amended soil tends to become more saturated in clay soils creating a “bathtub” effect.
Ensure the tree is straight in the hole. Partially back fill the hole and then flood the hole with water to help settle the soil and remove any air pockets from around the roots. Do not add fertilizer to the backfill mixture. Continue backfilling the hole to the proper level on the root crown ensuring the root ball is covered with soil.
A slightly raised berm can be made around the planted tree with any remaining soil. Top dress the planted tree with 3 – 6 inches of mulch to maintain even moisture levels and soil temperatures. Stake if necessary to support the tree in a windy location. Remove the stakes after one year.
Water the tree thoroughly when finished. If soil testing indicated fertilization was needed, apply a water soluble fertilizer according to directions with the final watering. Supplemental watering is very important during your tree’s first two years. Maintain a watering schedule throughout this time to ensure your tree has the needed moisture to grow and flourish in your landscape.