Planting Trees Properly

Follow these planting tips to help you grow healthy trees in your yard for many years to come.
dogwood noted for white flowers in late spring

dogwood noted for white flowers in late spring

Trees provide us many benefits, including shade and beautiful growth habits, shapes and leaf colors. They may also provide historical associations and perspectives, such as a tree under which a treaty was signed many years ago or that tree that you used to climb when you were a child. In order to ensure their long-term presence in your yard, there are several considerations that must be made when planting a tree.

Proper Site Selection

When selecting a planting site, consider the plant's needs. Don't plant a sun-loving tree in the shade or vice-versa. Plan for the tree to be there for many years to come, so don't plant a tree that will get 80 feet tall four feet away from the house or in the path of power lines. Avoid planting near sidewalks and driveways.

Soil Considerations

Choose an area with well-drained soil. If you do plant in a damp spot, choose a tree that will tolerate wet soil, such as weeping willow (Salix), red maple (Acer rubrum), bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) or sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).

Planting the Tree

When planting a tree, dig a planting hole 2 to 3 feet wider than the root ball to allow plenty of room for the roots. Planting depth should be equal to the height of the root ball.

Nurserymen used to recommend adding soil amendments when planting trees, but research proves that it's better not to improve the soil. Why? Rich soil in the planting hole discourages roots from venturing into the leaner surrounding soil and becoming well anchored. Simply fill the hole in with the native soil, and pack it down lightly to get rid of air pockets.

When moving heavy trees, support the root ball with both hands. Ask a friend or neighbor to help you place the tree in the hole, and make sure the planting depth is correct. If the roots are wound tightly, loosen them with a knife or clippers. You don't have to prune the roots heavily, just enough to loosen them.

If you're planting a tree by yourself, it can be hard to keep the tree straight and fill in the soil at the same time. Prop the tree in place with a 4" by 4" piece of lumber and some string, then stand back and make sure the tree is straight. Fill in the hole with soil.

Tree Staking

If the tree is planted in a windy area, consider using stakes. Make sure not to pound stakes through the root ball. Leave the stakes in place for only a year or two. By that time the roots should be able to support the tree.

Watering and Mulching

Once the tree is planted, apply water and mulch around the base of the new tree. A 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch covering the planting hole will help prevent the soil from drying out. Leave a gap between the trunk and mulch to prevent rot. Keep the newly planted tree well watered, especially during the summer and periods of drought, until it has established the landscape.

Protecting the Trunk

Mice can be a problem in cold-winter areas, where they tunnel through the snow and eat the bark of young trees. If enough bark is removed, the tree may die. To protect young trees, purchase mouse guards, or create your own by removing the bottom from a nursery pot, slitting the side and using it to encircle the trunk. Add mulch outside the pot, and the base of the guard will be below the surface, preventing critters from reaching the bark.

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