Think of the tree you just purchased as a lifetime investment. How well your tree and investment grows depends on the type of tree and location you select for planting, the care you provide when the tree is planted, and follow-up care the tree receives after planting.
Planting the Tree
In tropical and subtropical climates where trees grow year round, any time is a good time to plant a tree, provided that sufficient water is available. Proper handling during planting is essential to ensure a healthy future for new trees and shrubs.
Containerized trees may also experience Transplant Shock, particularly if they have girdling roots that must be cut. Transplant shock is indicated by slow growth and reduced vigour following transplanting.
Proper site preparation before and during planting, coupled with good follow-up care, reduces the amount of time the plant experiences transplant shock and allows the tree to quickly establish in its new location.
Carefully follow nine simple steps, and you can significantly reduce the stress placed on the plant at the time of planting. Remember to check the location of underground utilities before digging any planting holes.
9 Steps to planting a Tree
1. Dig a shallow, broad planting hole.
Make the hole wide, as much as three times the diameter of the root ball but only as deep as the root ball.
It is important to make the hole wide because the roots on the newly establishing tree must push through surrounding soil in order to establish.
On most planting sites in new developments, the existing soils have been compacted and are unsuitable for healthy root growth. Breaking up the soil in a large area around the tree provides the newly emerging roots room to expand into loose soil to hasten establishment.
2. Identify the Trunk Flare.
The trunk flare is where the roots spread at the base of the tree. This point should be partially visible after the tree has been planted. If the trunk flare is not partially visible, you may have to remove some soil from the top of the root ball. Find the trunk flare so you can determine how deep the hole needs to be for proper planting.
3. Remove tree container for Containerized Trees.
Carefully cutting down the sides of the container may make this easier. Inspect the root ball for circling roots and cut or remove them. Expose the trunk flare, if necessary. Never leave the plant in its plastic container in the ground.
4. Place the tree at the proper height.
Before placing the tree in the hole, check to see that the hole has been dug to the proper depth (see step 2) and no more. The majority of the roots of the newly planted tree will develop in the top 30cm of soil. If the tree is planted too deeply, new roots will have difficulty developing because of a lack of oxygen.
It is better to plant the tree a little high, 50-75mm above the base of the trunk flare, than to plant it at or below the original growing level. This planting level will allow for some settling (see diagram below).
To avoid damage when setting the tree in the hole, always lift the tree by the root ball and never by the trunk.
5. Straighten the tree in the hole.
Before you begin backfilling, have someone view the tree from several directions to confirm that the tree is straight. Once you begin backfilling, it is difficult to reposition the tree.
6. Fill the hole gently but firmly.
Fill the hole about one-third full and gently but firmly pack the soil around the base of the root ball. Then, if the root ball is wrapped, cut and remove any fabric, plastic, string, and wire from around the trunk and root ball to facilitate growth (see diagram). Be careful not to damage the trunk or roots in the process.
Fill the remainder of the hole, taking care to firmly pack soil to eliminate air pockets that may cause roots to dry out. To avoid this problem, add the soil a few inches at a time and settle with water. Continue this process until the hole is filled and the tree is firmly planted. It is not recommended to apply fertilizer at the time of planting.
7. Stake the tree, if necessary.
If the tree is grown properly at the nursery, staking for support will not be necessary in most home landscape situations. Studies have shown that trees establish more quickly and develop stronger trunk and root systems if they are not staked at the time of planting.
However, protective staking may be required on sites where lawn mower damage, vandalism, or windy conditions are concerns. If staking is necessary for support, there are three methods to choose from: staking, guying, and root ball stabilizing.
One of the most common methods is staking. With this method, two stakes used in conjunction with a wide, flexible tie material on the lower half of the tree will hold the tree upright, provide flexibility, and minimize injury to the trunk (see diagram). Remove the staking system as soon as the tree has established upright stability.
8. Mulch the base of the tree.
Mulch is simply organic matter applied to the area at the base of the tree. It acts as a blanket to hold moisture, it moderates soil temperature extremes, and it reduces competition from grass and weeds.
Heritage Tree Care recommends aged forest mulch and A 10cm layer is ideal. More than 10cm depth may cause a problem with oxygen and moisture levels.
When placing mulch, be sure that the actual trunk of the tree is not covered. Doing so may cause decay of the living bark at the base of the tree and is commonly seen when grass clippings are piled in a mound around the base of a tree and up the trunk.
A mulch-free area, 3-5cm wide at the base of the tree, is sufficient to avoid moist bark conditions and prevent decay.
9. Provide follow-up care.
Keep the soil moist but not soaked; over watering causes similar symptoms to under watering and is just as harmful to tree health. The amount of water to be applied will depend on location species and time of year.
The important thing is to monitor the soil moisture within the root zone. This can be achieved by using a bamboo cane or pushing your finger into the soil; it should be moist but not wet. Continue monitoring this moisture for 3 months. Following this, periodic monitoring is required depending on the species of tree and soil type.
After you have completed these 9 simple steps, further routine care and favourable weather conditions will ensure that your new tree or shrub will grow and thrive.
A valuable asset to any landscape, trees provide a long-lasting source of beauty and enjoyment for people of all ages.
When questions arise about the care of your tree, be sure to consult your local ISA Certified Arborist or a tree care or garden centre professional for assistance.