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Trees are essential to every lawn. They provide oxygen, shade and beauty to the space. Kids and adults enjoy watching the trees grow allowing for shade and a place perhaps to play. The following are some handy steps and tips to follow in order to successfully plant a tree.
The best time of year to plant a tree is in the fall or early spring before it gets too hot. Mark out the spot where you want to dig the hole. Be sure to check if there are local requirements concerning digging deep holes so there will be no underground cables and wires damaged. A little bit of research on the native species will help you pick a tree that grows well in your area.
Digging the Hole
While each tree is different, you will want to give the tree roots enough space and ease to grow. Measure the size of the ball of roots and dig a hole that is 3 times the width. A wide hole and loose dirt around it will provide the tree enough earth for its root structure to establish. A small mound of dirt in the center of the hole is a perfect pedestal for the tree to rest and will prevent the root ball from sitting in a pool of water. Excess water will drain to the deeper areas of the hole allowing the roots to spread out. A very common mistake when planting a tree is digging the hole too deep and narrow. This will not provide enough oxygen and expansion space to the roots.
Removing the Burlap/Container
The next step is to carefully remove the tree roots from the container. Always lift the tree by the ball of roots. Avoid handling it by its trunk and after the container has been taken off. Place the tree on the pedestal of dirt in the hole and carefully cut off the burlap or plastic container. Completely remove the container, burlap and/or any strings. The goal is to keep as much dirt around the roots as possible so the air does not get to the roots and dry them out. However, if they are tightly compressed, use your finger to carefully tease the roots out from the mass to encourage root growth once planted. Loosening the root structure will help the roots expand into the planting zone and anchor into surrounding soil conditions.
Filling in the Hole
Once the container is removed, fill in the hole around the roots. The ‘crown’ (where the roots meet the base of the trunk) should be about two inches above soil level. This will allow for natural settling and keep water from collecting next to the trunk and rotting. Do not cover the crown with dirt or leave any roots exposed. Once the tree is seated in the hole, place backfill soil in the hole surrounding the tree to the height of the root ball. Nutrient-filled backfill soil is a combination of peat moss, composted manure and topsoil. Since the roots cannot spread in deeply compacted soil, do not overly compress the soil by tramping it with you feet. Instead, gently use your hand to compress the soil. This will allow water in and helps the roots expand beyond the root ball.
Compost & Fertilizing
Although many trees survive without additional fertilizer, it definitely is a great idea to include composted organic materials to the backfill. It aids in the recovery from the stress that the tree has suffered from the transportation from the store to the final planting. To give your tree a great start in life, mix in compost or composted manure with the backfill soil. One part compost and two parts soil is a good ratio for trees. This is especially important for fruit and nut trees. Since commercial fertilizers tend to overboost the tree, avoid using them and the tree will be more likely to grow better over the long term. Organic mixtures including mycorrhizae (a beneficial fungi) and rock phosphate (a natural root-growth enhancer) will assist the tree’s uptake of soil nutrients.
After the backfill has been placed, water the newly planted tree. Allow a few minutes for settling, add more backfill if necessary and water again. This will help eliminate air pockets. A common equation for the proper amount of water is one gallon for every six inches of tree height. During the first growing season, the new tree should be watered at least once a week in the absence of rain and more often during the heat of summer. Regular deep soakings are better because they supply more saturation than frequent light wettings. However, be careful not to overwater the roots as this may result in oxygen deprivation. If you are uncertain if the tree needs watering, dig down 8 inches at the edge of the planting hole to test for moisture. If the soil at this depth is crumbly, then the tree needs water. Proper moisture should reach a depth of 12 to 18 inches below the soil surface to encourage ideal root growth.
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In order to conserve moisture and promote air flow, cover the planting hole with 1 to 4 inches of mulch. Shredded hardwood, leaf, bark and wood chips are all appropriate and healthy types of mulch to cover the backfill. To avoid rotting, keep the mulch 2 to 3 inches away from the trunk where it meets the ground.
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If the tree is wobbly, stake the tree for the first year. Loosely tie the tree to the stakes as to avoid digging into the bark or tightening around the tree. The tree should still be able to sway a bit in the wind but not so loose that it rubs against the stakes. The stakes should be buried at least 1 ½ feet underground to provide proper support. This will help keep wind from blowing over the tree. After a while, the roots will be established enough to remove the stakes.
The technique of winding a crepe-type paper around the barks of trees is referred to as wrapping. This prevents the sun from scalding thin-barked trees like soft maples and crabapples. Commercial tree-wrap is sold at garden stores and is beneficial during the first one or two winters after planting. Start at the bottom, wrap upwards to the level of the second branch and fasten with a tack. To prevent disease, insects and moisture build-up, remove the wrapping each spring.
Now it is time to enjoy your tree as it grows over the years. Relish in its shade, adore its fresh leaves and appreciate yourself for adding a new tree to the world. Congratulations on your newly planted tree!
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