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Stumped on Tree Care?
May 11, 2022

Stumped on Tree Care?

As the old proverb goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now! Trees improve air quality, add aesthetic appeal to your yard, valuable shade on hot days, and so much more! Read on for some tips and tricks to start planting.

The tree planting process will depend on whether your tree is containerized, balled & burlapped, or has bare roots. Choose a location away from building foundations and powerlines that will allow the tree roots and branches to grow freely. Smaller trees which reach up to 30 feet tall should have a 10-foot distance whereas taller trees should have a 15-foot distance. Keeping water lines in mind is also a good idea to avoid future issues. Avoid planting saplings in the summer months as the heat and process of transplanting is a stressor to the plant during its more active growing season.

Planting Containerized Trees:

  1. Dig a hole with sloping sides as deep as the root ball and three to four times wider than the container.
  2. Remove the tree from the container, taking care not to yank it and separate the tree from the roots. Cut the sides of the container if need be.
  3. Check to make sure the tree isn’t root-bound, with roots growing out of the soil and into the container and/or circling around the root mass. If not taken care of, the roots might continue to circle the tree. 
  4. If your tree is root-bound, make four to eight evenly spaced-out vertical cuts around the root mass. The cuts should be deep enough to disrupt any circling roots. Finally, make two cuts to form an “X” at the bottom of the root mass. This may seem ruthless, but the root ends left over will be able to grow healthier and stronger once the excess is removed.
  5. Place the tree in the middle of the hole, making sure it’s no deeper than the depth of the root ball. Keep the tree in a straight position as you fill and pack the soil back into the hole. Backfill until the soil is just below the root collar (the base of the tree). You can gently tamp the soil around the tree to remove any air pockets as well.

Planting Balled and Burlapped Trees:

  1. As before, dig a hole three to four times wider than the root ball but no deeper.
  2. Lift the tree by the root ball (never the trunk) and place it in the hole.
  3. Once your tree is positioned properly, backfill just enough to support the tree as you use wire cutters to make vertical cuts up the side of the wire basket. Remove the wire, rope, twine, and nails from the ball. A few regular burlap scraps under the ball can stay, but vinyl or treated burlap must be removed as it will not degrade.
  4. Inspect the root ball and loosen any tightly wrapped or coiling roots.
  5. Making sure the tree remains straight, pack the rest of the soil back around the root ball and continue packing until the soil line is just below the root collar.

Planting Bare Root Trees:

  1. Carefully untangle the roots of your tree once it has been unpacked and soak the roots in a bucket of water in a cool location three to six hours, making sure the roots do not dry out.
  2. Trim off any dead or damaged roots
  3. Dig a hole as deep as the roots so the root collar will be level with the ground. The hole should be wide enough to give the roots room to spread out as they grow. The roots should not bend or overcrowd and should be spread out evenly.
  4. Have another person hold the tree up vertically as you work the soil around the roots
  5. A bare root tree is more likely to need support for the first year to remain upright. If so, place two stakes opposite each other about 1.5 feet away from the trunk. The stakes should be about 1/3 the height of the tree. Instead of string or wire which can damage the trunk, use a softer material such as canvas strapping to attach the stakes. Allow enough slack for the tree to sway naturally and remove the stakes the following growing season.

Planting On an Incline:

When planting a tree on a slope or hillside, it is important to make sure your tree has been planted and grows vertically, which can be helped with tree stakes. Creating a berm by placing excess dirt on the downhill side of the planting hole will also help your tree by catching water as it goes down the slope.

Watering & Mulch:

Once your tree has been planted, any extra soil can be placed along the edge of the planting hole to create a watering basin known as a berm. Water the tree thoroughly and spread a layer of protective mulch once it has soaked in. The mulch should be about 2 inches deep surrounding the base of the tree in a 3-foot diameter, but not quite touching the trunk.

Watering is especially important in the first one to three years as your tree establishes itself. The soil and mulch should be moist but not soggy. In drier weather, water generously every 7-10 days.

Adding Fertilizer:

Fertilizer provides added nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to plants. Because trees in your backyard don’t receive nutrients from decaying plant matter the way that trees in the forest do, your tree might not be receiving all the nutrients it needs to thrive. An unhealthy tree is more susceptible to disease and insect attacks. Once you’ve begun using fertilizer, you can expect to see improvement in the growth and health of your tree within four to six weeks. Wait until your new tree’s second growing season to begin using fertilizer or chemicals so the roots have a chance to establish themselves first.
Make sure to use the correct type and amount of fertilizer for your tree and water it regularly to aid absorption of nutrients. Available in convenient spikes that deliver nutrients directly to the root, some great tree fertilizer options are:

Shop all your Landscaping & Garden Care needs at Shipton's Big R this growing season!