Tree Planting Tips

By Shaun Moser, Conservation Garden Park

As we approach fall and its cooler temperatures, it’s the perfect time to be outside in our landscapes. It’s also a great time to plant a tree—the summer heat that makes it hard for new trees to thrive is behind us, but there’s still enough time for the roots of new trees to acclimate before winter arrives. An added bonus to fall planting? There are usually closeout prices on all types of plants as nurseries prepare for the change of seasons.

Here are some tips to help with the success of your new trees:

Smaller is better

When picking out a new tree, smaller is better. It can be tempting to pick out the largest tree that you can afford, but the large trees will have a harder time establishing than a smaller tree. Typically, a small tree in a pot it will catch up to a larger, balled and burlapped tree in just a few years. This is because the smaller plant goes through less stress during planting and will get roots growing much faster than more mature tree. Trees, like people, are more resilient while young.

Too high is better than too low

When setting the tree in the ground, make sure the tree isn’t too low. Locate the trunk flare at the base of the tree where the first big roots start to form. You don’t want to cover the trunk flare with soil or mulch. If the trunk flare is covered it can lead to rot and disease. Remember, it is better to plant too high than too low.

Break up the root ball

Don’t be afraid to break up the root ball. Many times, trees in pots have roots that circle around the edge of the root ball. It’s not good to leave these roots in this condition. They need to broken up so they can spread into the surrounding landscape. They will have a hard time doing that if they are left alone. It is best to use a knife, pruners, or your hands to cut the roots around the edge of the ball to loosen them so they can grow correctly. Think of this way: instead of the roots circling around, work them until they splay out so they can spread outward.

Don’t amend the soil

It is not necessary to amend the backfill soil when planting the tree. The soil that was removed to make the hole should be the same soil that goes back into the ground. If you amend the soil, then you are essentially planting the tree in a new larger pot. The tree will do much better if the new roots are forced to go directly into the native soil immediately.

Water properly

Water immediately after planting. This will give the tree its first drink that it will need to get started. Your new tree will need water more often than your established plants, so don’t count on your sprinklers to water it sufficiently. Plan on watering every other day for the first week and then start tapering off from there. A new tree will need months, or even a year in some cases, to establish a good root system in your landscape.

For more fall planting and maintenance tips, join our upcoming class “Turning Over the Garden: Fall Time Yard and Garden Care” on September 30.

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