Tree Planting Tips

By Paige Marchant

When learning how best to plant a new tree or shrub, both ornamentals and fruit varieties, first thing’s first: the purchase of your new plant. Make sure you choose a plant that will thrive in your location by matching the plant’s hardiness zone to your area. You can grow from seed or cuttings, but we wouldn’t recommend these options. Trees and shrubs take years to get to a size that is of use in the landscape or an age that is going to bear fruit. If you want to enjoy your tree or shrub, it’s best to purchase one that has already had years of growth and could possibly bear fruit in the first year after planting. Your new tree or shrub will come in either a plastic of a fibre pot. You must remove the plant from the plastic pot before planting, whereas you can plant the fibre pot, as it will break down over time. If you are going to plant the fibre pot, make three or or cuts through the pot to aid in its breakdown and to allow the roots easy access to the surrounding soil.

Dig your planting hole about the same depth as the tree or shrub is in its pot. If you have poor soil (rocky, sandy, compacted) and are going to amend it, make the hole wider than the plant, but not deeper. If you make your hole deeper, the ground below the roots will be soft and prone to sinkage. Trees grown in nurseries are grafted to a root stock; the graft is a notch-like knob at the base of the stem. That graft needs to stay above ground, so you want firm soil below the plant.

Once your hole is dug, fill it with water and let the water percolate out. This does two beneficial things: 1) it lets you assess the drainage where you’ll plant your tree/shrub; 2) it makes sure the surrounding soil is wet. If the drainage is poor, you will likely run into issues with plant health; you’ll need to amend the soil or choose another location. If the drainage is good, you can proceed. You want your root ball to be wet and planted into wet soil. Dry soil will wick moisture away from a wet root ball, leaving the root dry and in a state of thirst.

Many trees and shrubs are root bound when you get them. In order for the plant to make new roots that will stretch out into the soil you will have to loosen some of the outer roots. It’s not a bad thing if some get torn; this will just promote new root growth, which is what you want.

Put your plant in the hole so that it is vertical – if it is crooked in the pot that doesn’t mean it needs to be crooked when you plant it. If you’re planning on mulching around the plant, leave the root ball up the depth the mulch is going to be; typically three to four inches is good for weed suppression. Doing this will make your stem flush with the surface of the mulch and thus at the correct depth.

Backfillthe hole using at least 30-50 per cent of the soil you removed. If you areamending, don’t replace all the soil. The tree can recognize the native soil.If you completely replace it, when the roots grow out and hit the morecompacted native soil, they will be reluctant to work their way into it overthe nicely amended soil. The roots will start to circle the hole and what essentially happens is the hole acts like a pot. In a few year’s time, the plant will be rootbound and potentially start having health issues. Do not put soil or mulch up the stems, this will girdle your shrub and kill it. Tamp the soil down so that it is not loose, but you don’t want to completely compact it.

New trees benefit from being staked for the first year or two. When staking, you should not stake it so tightly the tree can’t move. A little bit of sway room ensures that the tree puts out good supporting roots that will hold it up in the wind. If they don’t put out those roots, the first big wind after you remove the stakes will knock it down. Proper tree straps are the best option for going around the tree so as not to cause damage to the trunk, but if those are not available a pair of nylons is a good substitute. They don’t dig in and they break down in a year or two, so if you leave them longer than intended, they aren’t causing undue damage.

Once your new tree or shrub is planted, give it a good, deep drink with a drip hose or sprinkler. If you only water the surface the deeper roots will be parched, and you will see signs that the tree is in drought-like conditions. For the first growing season you should water deeply and regularly while the plant gets established.

Lastly, let’s touch on when to plant your new tree or shrub. Early spring, when the ground is workable, and fall are the best times to plant. The plant is dormant or going dormant, so the act of planting is less stressful. You can, however, plant during the season; you just have to choose your time strategically. If you are planting during the growing season, pick a mauzy day that is not too hot, or in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler. Don’t plant in the heat of the day when the plant is trying to respirate and keep cool. You don’t want to add any more stress to it.

Happy planting!

Paige Marchant has a science degree from the University of Guelph, loves nature and has been a beekeeper for 25 years. This is her 14th season working at The Greenhouse in Little Rapids.

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