Tree Planting- Don’t Get Stumped!

You might find tree planting as simple as plopping a tree into the ground and watching it grow. Believe it or not, there is much more that goes into it than that. Think of it this way: trees are an investment. If you care for them properly and help them grow from the start, they might outlive you! Just like any investment, it’s good to do research and think long and hard before buying. Here are some words of advice for those looking to buy a tree:

  • Location: It might be easy to say where you would like the tree to go, but is the area sufficient enough to propagate tree growth? Check the area for indications of possible tree failure. This could include: too much competition in the soil, compacted soil, overhead wires, underground utilities, overhead structures, high erosion areas, or confided spaces. This list is certainly not limited, as there are many potential hazards to tree health and growth.
  • The Perfect Fit: Not all trees work in all places. Be sure to find the right tree that can grow in the spot that you determined to plant. There are many informational guides out there to help you with choosing the correct tree. Some things that you want to keep an eye out for:
    • Plant hardiness. Can this tree grow in our climate?
    • Evergreen vs. Deciduous. Are you looking for a tree that can keep its foliage?
    • Height and Width: What is the maximum height and width this tree can grow? Will it fit in the space that you determined?
    • Sun: How much sun does this plant need? Can it take periods of shade?
    • Water: How much water does this plant consume? If it likes moisture, for instance like a bog or swamp, it might not be a good fit for a dryer area.
    • Pests: Does this tree attract certain pests. Could it be susceptible to Asian Longhorns?

Once you have determined a tree for the location, it’s time to head to your local nursery! You will find that trees vary in size. Larger trees are typically balled and burlapped, while smaller trees are located inside containers. Be sure to check for a straight form, a single leader (if applicable) and possible blemishes.

Once the tree is on site, it’s time to begin the planting process!

Rick and Susan Walters house, Concord, MA, 2009

You first begin by digging the hole 2-3 times wider than the root ball, but only as deep as the root flare. Determining the root flare is key to a healthy tree. The root flare is the lower area on the tree right where the roots begin to curve away from the straight trunk. Always be sure to keep this area free from debris. If the root flare is covered by rocks, dirt, or mulch, the tree will suffocate or rot and will ultimately die.

Remove the container or wire cage so that the root ball can be covered with soil in the hole. It’s key to snip and remove as much burlp and cage as possible so that the tree can root out into the soil. A great gardening tip is to scrape up the edges of the root ball ever so slightly and gently so that some of the roots are exposed. This will promote the roots to spread into the existing soil. The next step is to ensure that the tree is straight on all sides. Make sure to walk around and inspect the tree up close and far away. Next: add soil.

Adding soil back in while watering is a great way to ensure that the soil becomes slightly firm around the tree. Shoveling in healthy soil that is compliant with the plant’s needs is key. A sprinkle of fertilizer to stimulate root growth is also not a bad idea when filling in the hole. Pack the soil around the base to prevent sinking and raise the soil to grade and root flare.

Next is more water before adding the mulch. Be sure to give your tree a good drink since you just opened up its roots for water. Once the soil has absorbed the water, it’s time to layer on some mulch. Mulch will help hold in moisture for the tree. Be sure to add a 2-3” layer of mulch (keep most of it away from the root flare). Do not make a mulch volcano or mound. We see this all the time and it’s not healthy for the trees! This is when there is mulch burring the root flare in the shape of a mound or volcano. This not only suffocates the root flare, but it sheds water away from the tree.

The last step is all about water. Water, water, water. Keep a good eye on the weather and be sure to give your tree enough of a drink so that it is not under stress!

For more details, check out this helpful article: