Environment Magazine

Thinking About Planting Trees? Read This First

By Gfl

If you’re planning to plant a tree or two, read on to learn about some of the more common mistakes and also to find out some tips to help your planting become a success.

Dig a big-enough hole

This might seem like a no-brainer, but a common error is to dig a hole that is either not deep enough, or is too deep and too narrow. If the hole is too deep, the roots won’t be able to get enough oxygen and if it’s too narrow, the roots can’t spread out enough to anchor and feed the tree enough.

Your tree shouldn’t be planted any deeper in its new soil than it was in its old setting and the width of the hole should be at least three times as wide as the rootball; or the spread of the roots if it’s a bare-root tree. It’s important that these newly-transplanted roots have enough broken-up soil to work their way through.

Avoid glazing your hole

A problem with clay soil that’s poor-draining is so-called glazing, when the bottom and sides of the hole become smooth and compressed. This forms a barrier that can make it hard for water to get through so you should break up this glazing with the tines of a fork. You can also make a dome in the bottom of the hole to prevent water pooling under the roots, which can lead to rot.

If you have a balled and burlapped tree

These trees should be planted as soon as possible, but they can be stored for a short while, if the rootball is kept moist and the tree is somewhere shady. Once it comes to planting, you should only ever lift the tree by the rootball, not the trunk and you should cut away the burlap and remove any twine.

Once the tree is in the hole, you should backfill it with the appropriate mixture – if you buy your trees from The Tree Center they’ll be able to advise you on this. Make sure the soil only comes up to the level of the rootball or lower and be careful not to compress this backfill soil.

Planting a container tree

Planting a container tree is similar to planting a balled and burlapped tree. You remove the rootball from the container and check it over. If the roots are quite compressed, use your fingers or a blunt instrument to tease out the ball. This is very important, as it encourages the roots to spread out into the surrounding ground rather than “girdling”, which will eventually kill the tree.

Once the tree’s in its hole, backfill as you would with a balled tree, remembering not to compress the soil.

If you have a bare-rooted tree

This is a bit different, because you can’t store the tree for long before planting it. You must make sure that there are lots of fine hair-roots and that they are moist. If there are any damaged or broken roots, prune them off, but try to preserve as many as you can.

When it comes to planting, you need to make a cone of soil in the bottom of the hole to arrange the roots around. Once the tree is on the cone, its crown, where the roots and the trunk meet, should be around two inches above soil level to accommodate any natural settling.


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