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When you plant a tree, you celebrate the earth by increasing its leafy canopy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people." Trees also add beauty, increase the value of your home, provide cooling shade and offer shelter for wildlife. Proper planting is critical to their survival and long-term success.
Planting too deep is the top reason that trees and shrubs die. Follow these simple steps to ensure the correct planting depth for both balled-and-burlapped (B&B) and potted trees.
The thinking on backfill has changed in recent years. Although it was once common to modify the backfill soil with amendments — such as compost, peat moss, aged manure and other ingredients — it is now considered best practice to leave the backfill unaltered or add minimal amendments. This encourages roots to spread out into the native soil, rather than staying within the confines of the planting hole.
We do recommend adding mycorrhizal fungi and bone meal to the backfill. Mycorrhizal fungi form associations with plant roots and help them extract and absorb minerals and water from the soil. Trees and shrubs with mycorrhizal-enhanced root systems adapt better and are more tolerant of stressful environments. Bone meal provides essential minerals that promote sturdy root systems and stimulate plant growth.
When moving your plant into the planting hole, disturb the rootball as little as possible. Lift B&B trees and shrubs by using the rope, burlap or wire cage on the rootball. Lift potted plants by grasping the container. Don't lift plants by the trunk, stems or branches. Don't allow the root system to dry out before or during planting.
Apply bark mulch or pine straw to a depth of 2–3" over the entire planting hole. Mulching helps conserve water and prevent weeds. Taper the mulch toward the base of the tree, but do not allow it to touch the tree trunk.
Staking at planting time is not always necessary. Consider the stability of the rootball, trunk size and strength, direction of prevailing winds, canopy size and density when determining whether or not to stake. If in doubt, ask a nursery professional.
We do not recommend fertilizing newly planted trees and shrubs during their first year of growth.
Proper moisture is critical to the survival of your young tree or shrub. The roots should never dry out completely, nor should they be waterlogged. The best way to check soil moisture? Use your finger. Dig down 2–4" just outside the root mass of the plant and water if the soil feels dry. Newly planted shrubs and trees should be checked and watered every other day for the first two weeks. After the first two weeks, limit watering to once a week if less than 1" of rain falls during the week. Thorough soakings that moisten the soil to the entire depth of the root mass are better than frequent light waterings.
Use the chart below as a guideline for the amount of water needed by newly planted trees and shrubs based upon plant size. Plant species have varying water requirements. Before watering according to the chart, use your finger to check actual soil moisture and get familiar with the moisture requirements of your plants.
Water measurements can be made using an old 1-gallon plastic milk container. When using a hose, turn on the water at a slow trickle and take note of the setting. Count the amount of time it takes to fill the 1-gallon container. Multiply that amount of time by the number of gallons you need for your plant. That total provides the amount of time you need to run the hose, based on the chart.
Last updated: 2/21/19
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