Purchasing a tree to plant in the yard of your home is a long-term investment that will provide rich dividends as it grows. Make sure your tree and investment in the future flourish to its fullest potential by choosing its growing location carefully. You'll also want to take care as you plant it to ensure that you give it the best start possible. With a little extra care and attention as the tree adapts to its permanent home, your investment will thrive and grow for many years.
Overview of Tree Planting
For best results, plant your tree during the dormant season, when plants are not actively growing. The dormant season starts in the autumn after the leaves fall and extends until the spring before buds form on the branches. This allows the new tree's roots to establish in the soil while the temperature remains cool and before seasonal precipitation begins in the spring. If you must plant during the active growing season, make sure you choose a strong and healthy tree and transport it carefully. If you live in a location where the growing season extends throughout the year, you can safely plant your new tree at any time. Always check for underground utilities prior to digging a hole to plant your tree.
Trees often go through an adjustment period after planting, known as "transplant shock." For balled or bare root trees, their root systems have been compacted by up to 95 percent prior to transplanting, which causes some trauma. Trees in containers will often experience some degree of transplant shock as well. You'll know transplant shock is happening if you notice slow growth of your tree after planting. You can reduce the likelihood of transplant shock by preparing the planting location adequately and giving the tree adequate care in the first weeks after planting.
Follow these Steps to Plant Your Tree
- Dig a wide and shallow hole that is about three times the diameter of the tree's root system. The hole should be the same depth as the root ball, no deeper. The width of the hole will allow the roots to spread out after planting. If the soil is compacted, take the time to loosen the soil around the hole to make it easier for the roots to establish.
- Find the trunk flare where the roots begin to spread out at the base of the tree. Position the tree in the hole so the trunk flare is partially visible above the soil line.
- Take the tree out of the container, if applicable. If you notice circling roots on the outside of the root ball, cut them to make it easier for the roots to begin spreading out.
- Position the tree in the hole so it's at the correct height with the trunk flare just above the soil line. Adjust the depth of the hole, if necessary by adding or removing soil. As you handle the tree, hold it by the root ball and never by the trunk to avoid damaging it.
- Make the tree straight in the hole before you begin adding soil. Ask a helper to view the tree from a couple of different directions to make sure it's straight.
- Add soil to the hole around the roots. Fill the hole about one-third of the way and pack it around the roots gently. Cut away any burlap or string that's been containing the roots at this time to free the roots. Add more soil to completely fill the hole, packing it gently to remove any air pockets. Try adding a few inches of soil and then moistening it with water to fill the hole completely. Don't add any fertilizer at this time.
- Staking the tree shouldn't be necessary as long as you've dug the hole at the correct depth and filled it completely. It's usually best to allow trees to establish themselves independently without staking. However, if you're planting the tree in a windy location or you're worried about other damage, you may need to stake it initially. Position two stakes on opposite sides of the tree and attach them to the tree trunk using flexible tie material. After the first year, remove the stakes.
- Add mulch around the base of the tree. This organic matter helps keep the soil moist, it protects against extreme soil temperature, and it keeps grass and weeds from encroaching around the tree trunk. Mulch materials might be shredded bark, peat moss, shredded leaves, pine straw, or composted wood chips. Make the mulch layer between two and four inches thick, but don't touch the trunk of the tree with the mulch. Keeping the mulch about two inches away from the trunk of the tree will avoid the development of decay.
- Maintain even moisture levels in the soil around the tree after planting. You should water the soil at least weekly, but more frequently if the weather is warm and dry. Continue supplemental irrigation throughout the entire first growing season until the temperature begins to fall the next autumn. If any branches are damaged during the planting process, trim them off. Otherwise, don't prune the new tree until the next spring before the growing season begins.
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