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How to Plant a Balled-and-Burlapped Tree or Shrub

B & B (balled-and-burlapped) trees and shrubs often adapt better to transplanting than their containerized counterparts. Here's how to plant them.

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Step 1: Prepare the Tree or Shrub for Planting

The ideal planting time of balled-and-burlapped, or B & B, trees or shrubs is during the dormant season, such as in fall or spring, when the soil is workable and not frozen. Plants will have time to establish their roots before the new top growth comes on in spring. However, provided that newly planted trees or shrubs will be properly watered and maintained, they can be planted anytime; take extra care to minimize root damage during the planting process. Place the B

Step 2: Determine the Planting Location

One of the most common mistakes homeowners make when planting is spacing trees and shrubs too close to buildings, structures and power lines or to other woody plants. Always keep in mind the plant's mature size and cultural requirements and site it accordingly.

Tip: Prior to planting, have underground utilities professionally located to ensure unforeseen problems don't occur when digging.

Step 3: Dig the Hole

The planting hole should be about the same depth as the root ball and about twice as wide. Avoid digging the planting hole too deep. In such a case, the soil settles after planting, and the plant sinks deeper into the ground. If the trunk flare (the swollen area where the trunk meets the root ball) of the plant is buried, it will be more susceptible to fungal rot. Score the sides of the hole to loosen the soil.

Step 4: Remove the Burlap and Place the Root Ball in the Hole

Carefully unwrap the burlap and lift the plant's root ball gently into the planting hole. If the root ball is crumbly, lift the plant using the burlap. If the burlap is made from jute, a natural fiber, you can leave it in place in the planting hole, as it will eventually rot. Tuck it down around the sides of the root ball or cut the excess away with scissors so the roots can grow freely. Synthetic burlap must be removed at planting time because it doesn't rot and would prevent the free growth of the roots. Remove any extraneous string or wire.

Tip: In areas with windy conditions, it may be necessary to stake a tree or shrub. This helps the plant to stay upright in the ground until the roots have a chance to establish. Check back periodically to keep the secure string from choking the plant. Ultimately when the plant has established its roots, the stake supports can be removed.

lift plant into hole using burlap

Step 5: Replace Soil in the Hole and Water

Firmly press the soil in place around the root ball; this removes any air pockets. Make sure the trunk flare is even with the soil surface, not covered in soil. Water evenly around the entire root ball. If the soil settles and uncovers the root ball, add more soil to cover the root ball and water.

Tip: It isn't necessary to add compost or other soil amendments in place of the existing soil that you're adding back to the planting hole. In fact, the rich nutrients may encourage the roots to grow within the basin of rich soil amendments but not penetrate the existing soil outside the basin. The roots may begin to circle the planting hole and choke the tree or shrub at its base.

Step 6: Apply Mulch and Water

Apply a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around the base of the tree or shrub. The mulch will help the new plant retain moisture at its roots and suppress weeds from growing. It also creates a barrier around the plant so string trimmers and mowers won't damage the trunk flare and bark. Keep the plant evenly moist, but not too wet, throughout the growing season; water about once a week, adjusting accordingly to periods of drought and rain.

Tip: When watering a newly planted tree or shrub, make sure to water not only the root ball but also the undisturbed soil immediately surrounding it. This keeps the soil moist at the root level, making it more inviting for the roots to penetrate.

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