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Do you have tips on planting trees and shrubs?

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Research shows that the better the treatment a tree receives at planting, the better its chances of living a long, healthy life. It is true that trees are tough and can survive a great deal of mistreatment. However, a poorly planted tree may survive a year or two or even longer, then slowly die as a result of poor planting practices. This may be hard for gardeners to believe, since many tend to think that if a tree has lived for a couple of weeks, the planting job must have been successful. Mike Kuhns, Utah State University Extension Forestry Specialist, has said, Why put a $100 tree in a $1 hole?" Consider these planting tips to maximize the financial and aesthetic value of your trees.

• Dig wide. The recommendation for planting is to dig the hole two to three times as wide as the root ball. For example, if the root ball is 24 inches wide, the hole should be 48 to 72 inches across. This guideline stems from the fact that most tree roots grow in the top 6 to 18 inches of soil. A wider hole gives the roots a larger area to grow into as well as more area for collecting water and nutrients.

• Don t dig too deep. Many years ago, people thought the deeper the hole, the better. Trees planted this way simply sunk into the soft soil and died a slow death. Tree roots grow where the water and nutrients are located, which is normally in the top layers of soil. Because of this, it is important to give the roots ample room to grow out, not down. Do not dig the hole deeper than the height of the root ball. This means once the tree is planted, the soil level should be where the roots begin to flare out of the trunk. The soil level should be the same as it was when in the pot or on the ball when burlapped.

• Be careful when placing the tree. Once the hole is dug, lower the tree into the hole. Carefully remove the pot or packing material, disrupting the roots as little as possible. Pack the soil around the ball of roots as the material is removed. After the tree is securely in the hole, water it thoroughly.

• Backfill with native soil. The roots will eventually need to grow into the native soil, so fill the hole with the soil that was removed when it was initially dug. Mix compost or other organic matter into the native soil before backfilling to help the roots get established. A good ratio is 70 percent native soil to 30 percent organic material.

• Do not over-water. One common problem with newly transplanted trees is over-watering. Remember that tree roots need oxygen as much as they need water. Build a moat around the tree where water can be applied. This will help keep water off the trunk. Water the tree only after the top three to five inches of soil has dried. Although it may seem reasonable to keep the soil wet all the time, this actually pushes oxygen away from the roots, killing the tree faster than if it had been under-watered.

• Plant now. Fall is a great time to plant a tree in the landscape. Cooler weather reduces the stress on a newly planted tree, allowing it time to get established before rain and snow comes this winter.

Posted on 11 Sep 2003

Jerry Goodspeed
County Director, Horticulture Agent, Weber County

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