Start Trees Right
First, if the site has no other trees already and no tree roots in the soil, rototill and subsoil tofracture and break up the soil and any impervious layers. Till an area at least five times as bigas the critical root area for the tree. This will help with tree root establishment and general soilhealth. A thin layer of organic mulch can be lightly placed over the critical root area and beyond. Prevent any mechanical damage to the tree, especially the stem base and the main branches. Use your hands to examine root quality by pulling or raking soil away from the outerone-quarter of the root ball radius. Consider cleanly cutting roots in girdling or circlingpositions. As trees develop and grow, the memories of the people who opened the soil and covered theroots grow, too. Tree planting is a life-affirming process. Assuming you have bought a great tree and have a site where few things will limit its growth,how do you plant it? Backfill with whatever soil came out of the hole. Tap, don’t tamp, the soil into the hole. Oncethe hole is filled, water it to settle the soil and establish water connections between the soil andthe tree. Always start watering over the top of the root ball. If tree roots are present, don’t till the site. Determine if soil changes are required. If you needthem, use core aeration, vertical mulching or radial or X trenches backfilled with coarse,noncompactable materials and organic matter. Better drainage and more oxygen are theprimary goals. Good root-growth pores are a secondary concern. You don’t need to stake a properly specified tree, although trees on steep hillsides and thecorners of big buildings may need temporary staking. If that’s the case, use two stakes andloose, flexible bands to lightly hold the tree. Don’t use wire, regardless of what it’s coveredwith. For all the joy and great expectations that go into planting a tree, though, there can also besome concerns. Many new trees never survive to their first planting-date anniversary. Othersbarely hang on for years, struggling to survive. Next, dig a shallow, saucer-shaped hole in the middle of the prepared area. Dig the saucerbottom only as deep as 90 percent of the root ball (10 percent is aboveground). Planning for biological success includes site and species selection, tree placement, soilpreparation, hole excavation, proper backfilling and conscientious ongoing care. Don’t prune the tree, and don’t apply a fast-release or medium- or high-nitrogen fertilizer forat least one full growing season. Remove wire, burlap, cloth, baskets, straps and strings. If the root ball is too large to lift, orthe soil will all fall away, put the tree in the saucer and lay the binding materials in thebottom. One of the best insurance policies for successful tree planting is planning. How much space isavailable, both above and below the soil surface, for a tree to grow into? What kind of soillimitations are there? Planting a tree is a great family or community activity. People getting together to start newtrees is an investment in future generations. Be sure your tree outlives you — plant it correctly. Many tree problems start at planting time. A little care up front will allow a tree to survive,grow and thrive.