If you think planting a tree is as simple as digging a hole and throwing it in there, you’re wrong. That’s called “throwing a tree in a hole”, not “proper planting”. Doing it the right way versus the wrong way will greatly affect the life, health, and appearance of your tree in years to come.
If you plant a tree incorrectly, you can cause it to die prematurely, have stunted growth, have poor color, have greater likelihood of being damaged by insects, and even create a hazardous tree. Planting a tree the proper way reduces the chances for these adverse conditions. Here’s how you plant a tree the right way:
1. Prepare the Root Ball: Take your tree and remove the burlap and wire cage on just the top of the tree (remove potted trees pots completely). Remove excess soil at the top of the root ball to expose the root flare at the bottom of the trunk. Trees should show a flare on their trunks when planted, not look like a telephone pole going into the ground. Stand up the tree and measure how many inches it is from the bottom of the ball to the top. Your measurement should leave the root flare around 1″ above grade. Error on the side of it being planted too high, rather than too low. Too low means bad news for tree health.
2. Dig the Hole Correctly: This means don’t just dig a hole big enough to fit the root ball in. As the young tree grows, its roots will need to expand into loose soil, not rock-hard soil. Dig the hole horizontally approximately 3x the width you will need. Only dig deep enough to accommodate the root ball. Digging deeper and then back-filling will make the tree settle down, which you don’t want. Roots will expand outward, not downward. When possible, taper the outside walls of the hole.
3. Prepare the Tree for Planting: Gently lower/slide the tree into the hole. Remove as much wire basket and burlap as possible. Examine the top of the root ball for girdling roots and remove as needed. In the case of a ball and burlap tree, don’t disturb the rest of the root ball. In the case of a potted tree, make sure to pull loose the roots, especially if it is evident that the tree has been in the pot for a long time by excessive root growth. Spin the tree to have it facing the right way. Use a partner to make sure the tree is standing up straight, and not leaning. Use a small amount of soil to pack against the bottom of the ball so you can stand back at multiple angles to insure it’s standing up straight.
4. Fill the Hole Correctly: Use the existing soil you removed when digging the hole. In most cases, you will not want to amend the soil, because the tree should be encouraged to acclimate itself to the existing soil it will be maturing into. Try to chop up large clods of soil when back filling, tamping the fill a few times throughout the back-filling process.
5. Stake Only in Extreme Conditions: Staking a new tree should be avoided as much as possible. The only cases that will demand staking would be if the soil surrounding the tree is too loose, and/or if it is a high-wind area. If you do stake these trees, make sure to remove them after 1 year after planting. Trees actually will grow stronger to withstand wind if they do it naturally. If it’s staked, a tree won’t grow naturally to withstand this wind, leaving it vulnerable when it gets much longer and stakes can’t even help it anymore.
6. Mulch the Tree Correctly: Only apply 2″-2.5″ of mulch over the planting area. In the 12″ surrounding the trunk, go as thin as you can with mulch, approximately only 1″ of mulch. Excessive mulch will encourage girdling roots, which will cause problems for your new tree.
7. Water the Tree: Water trees immediately after planting. The best method would be using a slow soaking method to water this tree for 2-3 hours. Be sure to keep providing adequate moisture for your newly planted tree for at least the first year of it’s life, as well as during future drought conditions.
Planting a tree the Right Way will help promote a longer life, better health, and added beauty for your trees. Follow these guidelines and you’ll be successful. If you chose a professional landscape company to plant trees for you, make sure you ask them how they plant trees, and hold them to this standard.