How to Plant A Tree
1. Make sure you get the hole right. __S.3__ Research has shown that a well-sized hole can significantly increase the tree’s growth rate after it is planted.
The hole should be three times larger than the tree’s root ball, and should look like a saucer. This will allow for root growth and development. The majority of tree roots extend into the soil’s top foot, where oxygen levels are high.
The hole should be at least the same depth as your root ball. Because it reduces oxygen to the roots, trees don’t like being planted too deep. Trees settle lower once they are planted.
If using an auger to create the planting hole, slightly scrape the edges of the hole to break up the “glazing” that augers create, which can limit water movement and root penetration.
This photo shows a hole too small for the tree. It is too small and too deep. The tree has grown well in this hole, but its growth rate is slower than those of nearby trees that were planted in bigger holes.
2. 2. __S.19__ Trees are often equipped with a layer of soil or mulch covering the top of their root balls. This can reduce the oxygen supply to the roots, especially after they are planted.
The material used to protect the tree roots will determine how you plant it. If you have wooden boxes, place your tree in the hole with the box still inside, then remove the sides from the box. As it serves as a strong base for the tree, the bottom of the box shouldn’t be removed. This will allow root growth to continue outward.
Burlap, burlap, or any other natural covering can be used to cover your root ball. Before you remove the covering, place the root ball in the hole. The burlap can be used to cover the bottom, but it is okay to remove the covering. All synthetic coverings must be removed.
Once the tree is ready, place it in the middle of the hole. Before you place the tree, measure the root ball and hole. Once the tree is in the hole, its root flare (where the large roots flare out from the trunk) should be at the top of the tree.
You can plant trees in plastic nursery containers by removing the container. This is best done by first laying the tree sideways on the ground and cutting away the bottom of the container with hand pruners or a utility knife. The hole will allow you to place the tree and then cut along the sides of your container in two places. You should not pull a tree from its container as it can cause damage to its roots.
It doesn’t matter what container the tree was in, it is important to inspect the roots after they are placed in the hole. There may be problems with girdling in the future if the roots are growing around the root ball. Using a pruning saw, remove the outer inch of soil all the way around. This will allow the roots to break down and grow outward.
3. 3. Fill the hole. __S.45__ Backfill the hole around the tree by adding backfill, making sure to remove any large pieces. Once the hole is filled, make a berm to surround it. This will allow water to permeate the entire area around the tree. To help settle the soil and eliminate air pockets, water immediately after planting.
Planting amendments are not necessary and should be discouraged. Numerous studies have shown that tree growth can be deterred by adding any other soil to the mix. Trees planted with amended soil tend not to grow outwards from their original holes, which can hinder their growth. Trees planted in amended soil are more likely to retain too much water, and to have undue settlement as organic amendments lose volume and decompose over time.
4. Mulch and water. __S.59__ Many homeowners overwater their trees, which can cause the leaves to turn yellow and eventually fall off. Your region’s watering frequency will vary, so it is best to consult your local cooperative extension office and the nursery where your tree was purchased for recommendations.
You can add a layer of mulch (compost, wood chips, shredded bark) to the area around your tree. To prevent fungal diseases and insects, keep the mulch at least 6 inches from the trunk. Mulch can help maintain soil moisture, moderate soil temperatures and keep weeds down. Mulch also improves soil’s quality as it breaks down.
For the first year, you should not add fertilizer to your tree. Fertilizer can cause tree roots to become too small and may even lead to excess leaf growth.