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Our Arborist Answers Some Frequently Asked Questions About Tree Planting

Table of Contents

  1. How should I dig the planting hole?
  2. What are the best soil amendments to use?
  3. Is it okay to lift the tree by it's trunk?
  4. What about mulching?
  5. What kind of fertilizer should I use?
  6. Can I water my new tree too much?

How should I dig the planting hole?

The first step is to locate your tree's root flare. The root flare is where you find the first root protruding from the tree's trunk. DO NOT ASSUME that the root flare is located at the top of the container or the root ball (B&B) - often, they get "covered up" in the nursery or field. Dig down until you find it. You should never dig your hole any deeper than necessary to put that root flare at the same level as the surrounding surface. For best results, you should make the top of your planting hole 2 to 3 times wider than the root ball, sloping to the same diameter as the root ball at the bottom.
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What are the best soil amendments to use?

While some may argue this, all credible research we have ever seen strongly suggests that you are better off using NO soil amendments. For best results, simply use the soil that you removed when you dug the hole; making sure to completely bust up the "clods", etc. Using no amendments is particularly important in heavy clay soils. Some professional arborists will argue this, and for their special circumstances, they'll probably be right... but, for most homeowners that'll be reading these tips; go with NO AMENDMENTS.

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Is it okay to lift the tree by its trunk?

For small trees that most homeowners plant, its probably okay if you are just using your hands. Never, repeat never, tie a rope or chain around your tree's trunk to help yourself lower it into the hole. Doing so will likely cause damage to the cambium layer; a very sensitive layer of meristematic tissue just inside the bark. Damage the cambium and your tree is eventually toast. The best way is to handle the tree by it's root ball.

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What about mulching?

You should definitely mulch your tree; at the very least completely covering the diameter of the root ball after it is planted... preferably, even wider. A depth of 2-4" of organic material (pine straw, chipped bark, etc.) is recommended. Make sure that you "feather it down" as you approach the trunk of the tree and don't "pile" ANY mulch against the tree's trunk.  Mulching does several important things: 1).  It holds in moisture and shades the trees roots.  2). It will help you keep grass and weeds from growing towards your tree... without the use of a WEEDEATER or a lawnmower. Weedeater and lawn mower damage kills many trees! If grass or weeds start growing where they shouldn't, pull 'em by hand or give 'em a shot of Roundup.

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What kind of fertilizer should I use?

For the context of planting, you shouldn't need to use any. Your new tree will come from the nursery with enough fertilizer to feed a South American rainforest :-). 

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Can I water my new tree too much?

Yes. Improper watering is the number 1 cause of tree death in the first year. Some trees are killed by too little water, some are killed by too much water. A tree's root system needs water and it also needs oxygen. On a semi-microscopic scale, soil is made up of little particles of rocks and stuff. Between these tiny little rocks are tiny little pockets of air (arborists call them soil macropores). At the proper moisture level, the tiny rock particles are wet but the little pockets of air still remain. At excessive moisture levels, the little pockets of air are flooded out... and the tree's roots can no longer "breathe". A tree's roots can hold their breath a lot longer than you or I but, eventually, they'll drown; some species faster than others. Ooze Tubes emit water very slowly, never displacing the oxygen from the soil macropores... HOWEVER, if you are getting a lot of rain, it's a good idea to stop filling your Ooze Tube. If you are getting a "Noah's Ark" kind of rain, it might be a good idea to plug the emitters until things dry out. 

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Last modified: 12/07/07