How to Plant a Tree for Life

Most of us are familiar with the saying, “The best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago…the second best time is now.”  Trees are so beneficial and beautiful, but how do you choose the right tree and how do you plant it properly to insure a lifetime of enjoyment?

I suppose the best place to start will be selection.  By determining your needs and wishes, you can narrow down your selection quite a bit.  Are you wanting a shade tree? Are you looking for gorgeous spring flowers, summer flowers, both shade and flowers? There are 5 main categories of trees: shade, flowering, ornamental, evergreen and fruiting.  Once you have chosen the type of trees to consider, take a “virtual tour” of the trees on our website.  I recently updated the tree section and the majority of our trees are now pictured!  We grow the majority of our own stock and only present a healthy and well-cared-for selection for you to choose from. Here are just a few of the many that we stock…they are from the shade, flowering and ornamental categories, or a combination of the three.

Other details to consider include placement, height, overhead obstructions, neighboring properties and water lines. As a tree grows it spreads roots out horizontally to anchor it to the earth and provide strength and support while also gathering nutrients, oxygen and water.Keeping this in mind, it is a good idea to know the maximum height of the tree you are choosing. Generally speaking, the spread of the tree’s roots (from the trunk out) will be

about half it’s height at maturity, possibly extending further after that. When deciding the location for your tree, choose one which will keep the tree a proper distance away from the foundation of your house and sewer/water pipes.  Don’t forget to look up, as well, to make sure there are not any overhead lines.  Once you have decided on a location, call 811 to notify your utilities you are planning to dig so they can mark your buried utility lines.  Once they have confirmed your selected installation spot, come on out and grab a golf cart!  Peruse through hundreds of trees and find just the right one!

Now that you have found your tree, it is time to install it…correctly.  Maybe you took the “easy” route and opted for us to plant it for you (we will even call 811 for you), but if not, here are the guidelines to follow:
When digging your hole, make sure it is twice as wide as it is deep.  Generally speaking, this will be about 1.5 times the width.  The depth needed should be measured from the bottom of the root ball to about two inches below the base of the tree (the flare denotes the base).  Occasionally, the soil in the ball has crept to hide the flare of the tree.  Be sure to inspect closely to insure the flare is left above soil level.
The root ball should rest on a firm surface (no loose soil).  If you must back-fill to adjust the depth of the hole, be sure to tamp it down well prior to installing your tree. A mixture of compost and topsoil combined with a root stimulator will be used to fill in around the root ball.  One suggestion is to try a product with mycorrhiza  bacteria, like Myke® Tree and Shrub.
Add layers of your mixture while using a stick or small trowel to gently distribute and also remove air pockets.  Gently remove about a third to one half of the burlap once you have filled around the base of the root ball.  The fill mixture will be slightly above your original soil line to allow for settling.  The flare of the tree (area where the trunk begins getting wider near the ground) will be about an inch or so above this fill soil level.  The flare of the tree should NEVER be under the soil level.  If you had to back fill the hole to adjust your depth prior to placing the tree in the hole, you will want the flare of the tree 2-3 inches above the soil line to allow for settling.  A light and even layer of mulch (about 2-3 inches) can then be applied.   Keep the mulch about 4 inches away from the trunk of the tree. The mulch should be the deepest (3-4 inches) over the area where the root ball and fill soil meet.
Finally, you will want to stake your tree.  When a tree is forming roots, they are initially very thin and delicate.  Excess rocking of your tree will tear these roots and increase the time it takes for your tree to establish itself.  Staking temporarily provides the “anchoring” effect that will eventually be replaced by the roots.  Drive at least two stakes (sometimes three) on either side of the tree (outside of the planting hole).  You will want to use a post driver to insure proper depth and optimum strength of the posts.  Place them at an angle leaning away from the tree and make sure the studs are facing away from the tree. There are various options to use for tethering the tree to the stakes.  We have a product called tree chain which is a rubberized “rope” which allows for necessary movement and slack.  The other option is using wire with a piece of garden hose to protect the tree’s surface.  If you have chosen wire, be sure to allow your tree to sway about an inch or two.  Providing this slack stimulates the tree to create a more extensive and strong root system.  If the tree is not allowed to move at all it will not be stimulated to create a strong anchor and will be extremely unstable when you remove the stakes.
Congratulations!!  You have now planted your tree….but WAIT!  Probably one of the most important steps is to water properly.  You might think you can’t mess this up, but in the case of planting a tree, it is extremely important to follow instructions.  More often than not, the root ball will be fairly dry when your tree arrives.  This is because water would

make it much heavier to work with.  Most of you have probably heard about laying a garden hose on top of the root ball and letting it run (slow stream) for quite a while.  This is probably the best way to go about watering your tree, provided you can move the hose around the tree periodically to insure a thorough soaking.   The root ball and surrounding soil will need to merge fairly quickly so the roots can begin growing outward. If the root ball dries out and shrinks, it will not bond with the surrounding soil.  Do NOT depend on a rain shower or even a heavy downpour to complete this task for you.  After this initial phase (about a couple of weeks of soaking twice a week or so), you can drop back to a thorough soaking once a week or so for a couple of months.  After that, simply water as needed (inspect regularly and do not let it go two weeks without a thorough soaking). These instructions apply to well draining (normal) soil conditions only. If your tree is planted in an area which collects water or does not drain well, monitor and adjust as necessary.

Inspect your tree closely for signs of stress or illness.  Check the staking periodically for loose stakes or ties.  Protect the bark from damaging sunscald in the winter by wrapping it to just below the lowest limbs.  For more information about this, visit our previous entry.  Give yourself a pat on the back, sit back and admire your handiwork!  Enjoy your beautiful tree!
The Garden that is Finished is Dead

2 thoughts on “How to Plant a Tree for Life

  1. Pingback: For the Love of Fall | The Suburban Garden Dirt

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