Tree Planting Basics

I ran into a friend a few weeks ago while checking out the assortment of goodies on the shelves at a local store and right after our “hellos” he told me I needed to write about how to plant a tree and how some folks “are just doing it wrong”.  I always welcome topic ideas, so here you go Norm!

A few things to consider before actually planting the tree is location, season and type of tree.

Choose a tree that will fit your landscape and that will grow well in the type of soil that you have.  A tree planted in the heat of the summer will be stressed much more than one planted in the spring or fall.  And as I’m sure you all know, some trees can be a bit dirtier than others with their falling nuts and spent blooms. Consider how much work you want to put into cleaning up after what you plant.

Lay out a sheet of plastic or canvas or have a wheelbarrow nearby to throw dirt into.  Dig the hole two times as big around as the root spread.  Only dig as deep as the height of the root ball.  You will want solid, undisturbed soil under your tree so that it does not settle after the tree is planted.

I recently planted several 10-12 foot, containerized trees. The roots were rather dense so I loosened them by making several vertical cuts around the root ball and then gently pulled some of the roots away from the ball. According to the University of Missouri Extension website, recent studies have shown that trees root much more slowly in high-density soil than in loosened soil and in most soils, 90 percent of the actively absorbing root tips are located in the upper 12 inches of the root ball.  Taking this information into account, I tapered the sides of my hole to give the upper root system some loose soil to grow into.

Mix the top and subsoil together, and if it is a light, droughty soil, mix in one-part peat moss to two-parts soil.  Backfill the hole to within one half to three quarters full and fill with water.  I mix a root stimulator product that I bought at a local nursery, with my water.  Once that has drained, finish filling with the remaining soil.  Water again and do not tamp the soil.  Finish with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch, keeping it away from the trunk of the tree.  Do not create a sloping mound of mulch around the trunk as this will lead to a slow death for your tree.  To keep weeds from growing through the mulch, lay down multiple layers of newspaper.   Mulching will also help keep the roots cooler in the summer and it will help retain moisture.  Depending on how much rainfall is had, you may need to water regularly during the first couple of years.

As always, Happy Gardening!

More information about tree planting and gardening subjects is available online.  The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service

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