How to plant a tree the right way can return years of happy returnsWith a little luck and good timing, sometimes simply sticking a tree in the ground and walking away can be enough for it to survive. But knowing how to plant a tree the right way, will ensure success every time.
Suffice it to say, I’ve learned these all-important mostly by trial and error. It’s always the best way to learn, especially when it comes to gardening.
Trees have been described as the lungs of the earth for good reason. Without them, there would be no life on this planet. That’s reason enough to plant as many as we can. But when you learn just how important they are for so many reasons, you begin to understand my passion for trees and why we need more.
So whether this is your first tree planting, or you’ve planted a forest by now, we’re always learning. Knowing how to plant a tree the right way — especially now, considering such unprecedented climate conditions — will ensure your efforts will not be in vain.
The Best Time to Plant a Tree
Trees (and shrubs) can be planted any time of the year that you can dig the proper planting hole. However, there are better times than others for multiple reasons.
Suffice it to say, the more time you can put between when you plant a tree, and the arrival of summer, the better. That makes fall the very best time of year to relocate trees and shrubs or plant new ones. Early spring is a popular time as well.
Prepare the proper planting hole. When preparing any hole for planting, make it three times wider than the current root mass but never deeper than the plant was growing in its previous environment.
An even better guide with trees is to look for the flare of the trunk near the soil level. Don’t place the tree in the planting hole so deep that any part of that flare is covered with soil. The truth is, even nurseries sometimes put plants in containers too deeply. There have been many times where I’ve actually had to pull away soil to find the base of the trunk flare and true surface roots. Make a habit of checking this.
Once the plant is out of its container, look at the roots. If they are densely bound in a circular pattern or have started growing in the shape of the container (even slightly), break up the pattern.
It’s vitally important to stop this pattern now. The biggest mistake you can make at this point is to place a rootbound plant into the ground as is. Unless you break up the pattern, you’ve likely sentenced the plant to a slow death. At a minimum, it will likely never establish or reach a fraction of its potential.
Contrary to traditional planting methods, contemporary research indicates that you should not amend the hole with additional organic material (unless you intend to amend the entire area where roots will eventually grow). Roots growing in amended soil rarely venture into harder native soil. The long-term affect is a smaller root system, reduced growth and a less hardy plant.
Instead, simply break up the clumps in existing soil, remove the rocks and backfill. Studies show plant roots growing in only the native soil actually did a better job at establishing and expanding beyond the original hole.
While you could lightly tamp or hand-pack the soil around the plant roots to ensure good soil-to-root contact, I prefer to add a stiff spray of water to the hole after backfilling half way. Not only does it provide needed moisture but the water also helps eliminate air pockets that could otherwise result in dead roots or worse (without compacting the soil too much). Finally, water again gently but thoroughly once all the soil is in place.
Starting about two inches from the trunk (leave this area exposed), place roughly two inches of organic matter such as shredded leaves, or ground bark or nuggets around the plant, at least out to the drip line.
Water Properly Until Established.