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How to Plant a Tree

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How to Plant a Tree

Trees provide habitat for wildlife and shade in the heat of summer. They add green, leafy beauty to your garden or backyard. It is worth it to plant correctly.

Shade, leafy beauty and a home for native birds -- trees provide all that and so much more. Some live for centuries, so if you are thinking of installing trees, it pays to select carefully and do the planting right. You can purchase new trees in containers, but they are also available with bare roots and with the root ball wrapped in burlap. Each presentation has its advantages and requires a few specific planting steps of its own.
Things You'll Need
Measuring tape
Organic compost
Plastic tarp
Sharp knife
Step 1
Select a tree species appropriate for your environment: one that thrives in your hardiness zone, grows well in your soil type and acidity level, and prefers the sunshine exposure your land offers. Match the mature dimensions of the tree species to the planting site. Purchase a tree with roots that fill the container but do not circle the inside of the pot.
Step 2
Plant your tree in spring or fall to reduce its transplant stress. Before getting started, call to make sure there are no utility lines buried on or around the planting site.
Step 3
Measure out an area at the planting site about three times the width of the container tree's root ball, or 3 feet square. If grass covers the area, remove this sod layer first. Work the soil in this area to about 12 inches with a shovel. Layer 2 inches of organic compost over the area and work it in with a spade.
Step 4
Spread a tarp on the ground near the tree. Shovel out a saucer-shaped hole, placing the soil on the tarp for later use. The lowest point in the hole should be as deep as the root ball.
Step 5
Tap the outside of the container to loosen the root ball. Remove the container carefully from the tree, leaving the soil of the root ball intact. Inspect the roots. If they circle around the pot more than a few times, use a sharp knife to cut across the bottom of the root ball and through the roots vertically.
Step 6
Set the root ball in the low center of the hole on ground that has not been worked. This prevents the tree from sinking slightly or tipping as the worked soil settles. The top of the root ball should rise above the soil level 1 inch if the trunk diameter is 1 inch or less, 2 inches if the trunk diameter is 2 to 4 inches. Never cover the top of the root ball with excavated soil. Another way of gauging whether you have the tree at the right level is to make sure the root flare -- the place where the top root emerges from the trunk -- is above the soil level.
Step 7
Fill in the space on the sides of the root ball with some of the removed dirt until the tree stands up on its own. Adjust it until it is straight. Continue adding excavated soil and packing it firmly into the planting hole until the soil level rises to just below the root flare.
Step 8
Use leftover soil from the tarp to build a basin around the tree's trunk some 4 feet wide with the edge built up about 4 inches. Fill the basin with water and allow it to soak into the soil. Fill it again. Layer about 3 inches of organic mulch over the root area of the tree, keeping it away from the trunk itself. Your newly planted tree will need regular watering: Give the tree 2 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter every day for the first two weeks, then every second day for two months. After that, irrigate weekly at the same rate until the tree is established, or during its first year. Prune off dead or broken branches as you notice them, taking care to sterilize the pruners first by soaking in a solution of half water, half denatured alcohol.
Do not apply fertilizer to newly planted trees. They need to use their energy for establishing a root system, and fertilizer pushes foliage growth instead. No chemicals or potting soil either, please, as these can harm a new tree.
Bare Root Planting
Bare root trees are those sold without any soil attached to their roots. These trees are usually less expensive than container trees. Since their roots are not hedged in by a pot, bare-root trees are more vigorous initially than container trees. They overtake containerized trees in size in just a few years.
Bare root trees are usually sold dormant in late winter. Plant them in early spring after the last frost. Soak the roots for up to 6 hours in water before planting. Before you put the tree in the planting hole, shovel enough of the extracted soil back into it to create a mound for the bare root tree to sit on. Place it in carefully, spreading its roots around the mound. Position the roots as parallel as possible, or angled down. Toss in more soil on the roots to hold the tree in place while you check its level against the soil level and make sure it is straight. Then continue backfilling.
Ball and Burlap Planting
Some trees are grown in the field, then excavated with soil around the root ball, which is then wrapped in burlap. These are termed ball and burlap trees. Plant these trees like container trees, except you'll need to cut the wires holding on the burlap once the tree is sitting on the base of the planting hole. Remove all wires and threads, as well as treated or vinyl burlap. You can leave regular burlap in place, since it disintegrates in the soil.

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