Proper species selection, proper planting location and proper planting technique are vital to the survival of any trees you plant. Planting a tree correctly involves more than quickly purchasing a tree, digging a hole barely big enough for that tree and walking away. To ensure that a newly planted tree will have a long, healthy life, there are several factors to consider.
One very important thing to think about when planting is the time of year. People often think about planting trees in the spring and summer months when trees are in flower, full of fruit or are covered with beautiful leaves. However, the ideal time to plant is during the tree's dormant season, after leaf drop in the fall and before bud-break in the spring. This time period is the least stressful to the tree because it is not actively trying to grow.
Before purchasing the tree, there is homework to do. One of the most important things to do is to thoroughly research the tree species before the purchase and planting. The end goal is to plant the right tree in the right place. To ensure this, consider the following:
Environmental Factors - Research how your tree will handle the following factors of your potential site: minimum temperature, available moisture, soil type, amount of light, pollution and soil compaction.
Tree's Purpose - Why are you planting this tree? Consider your goal and find the species that suit your purpose best. Such purposes include specimen planting, shade, aesthetics, wildlife, windbreaks and screens.
Size - The potential height and width of your tree is one of the most important factors to consider. All too often, urban trees are cut down because "the tree got too big!" The truth is, the tree didn't get too big, it was planted in the wrong place. Large trees can lift sidewalks, grow into pipes or utility lines, block windows, views and solar panels and shade gardens.
Crown Shape - What form will your tree have? What shape suits you best?
Now that you have thoroughly researched your tree species, it is time to plant the tree correctly. A good planting job will minimize trauma and transplant shock, which could result in slow growth, reduced vigor or death.
Nine Steps for Planting Containerized or Balled and Burlapped Trees
1. Shallow, broad planting hole: The hole should be dug to the depth of the root ball, and three to five times the diameter of the ball. Place the tree into this hole by holding the ball, not the trunk.
2. Position the tree: Balance the tree, making sure that it is straight and at the correct height (tree should be planted at the same depth that it was growing in the nursery).
3. Remove materials: Remove the top portion of wire basket or peel back the top portion of the natural burlap. If there is any plastic string or plastic burlap, remove now. Plastic burlap and twine will not break down in the soil, as will natural burlap, and will actually girdle the tree, causing the tree to eventually die.
4. Fill hole: Fill the hole with about one-third of the soil that you just dug out to make the hole and gently pack around the root ball. Continue to fill the rest of the hole, while adding water to remove air pockets. Do not add fertilizer for the first year.
5. Prune: At this time, prune only dead or broken branches, don't try to prune for shape. Wound paint is not necessary.
6. Tree Wrap: Remove any tree wrap that was used for shipping the tree.
7. Staking: Properly placed and planted trees rarely need to be staked. If staking is necessary, make absolutely certain that the stakes are removed at the end of the first year. At no time should the stakes or the binding twine rub the tree. This situation can cause wounds allowing opportunistic insects to invade.
8. Mulch: Place a 3-inch to 4-inch layer of mulch in a 3-foot to 4-foot diameter circle under the crown of the tree. Pull mulch away from tree trunk so that heat and moisture are not trapped.
9. Watering: Make sure that the newly planted tree gets at least 1 inch of water (either from rain or your garden hose) every week the first year, 1 inch of water every two weeks the second year and 1 inch of water every three weeks the third year.
Planting Bare Root Seedlings
It is best to plant bare-root trees immediately, in order to keep the fragile roots from drying out. If you can't plant because of weather or soil conditions, store the trees in a cool place and keep the roots moist.
1. Unpack tree and soak in water three to six hours. Do not plant with packing materials attached to roots, and do not allow roots to dry out.
2. Dig a hole, wider than necessary, so the roots can spread without crowding. Remove any grass within a 3-foot circular area. To aid root growth, turn soil in an area up to 3 feet in diameter.
3. Plant the tree at the same depth it stood in the nursery, without crowding the roots. Partially fill the hole, firming the soil around the lower roots. Do not add soil amendments (fertilizers or peat moss).
4. Shovel in the remaining soil. It should be firmly, but not tightly, packed with your heel. Construct a water-holding basin around the tree. Give the tree plenty of water.
5. After the water has soaked in, place a 2-inch-deep protective mulch area 3 feet in diameter around the base of the tree (but not touching the trunk).
6. Water the tree generously every week (1 inch of water) during the first year.