On April 24, tree enthusiasts across the country will celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees. As we approach the spring holiday, it’s important to understand the proper techniques for planting trees. Planting a tree is a long-term investment, and following these instructions, courtesy of the expert arborists at First Choice, will ensure that your tree lasts for years and years.
- When choosing a tree, be sure to consider both your needs and the needs of the tree. Take into account factors like size, shade, color, fruiting, privacy, climate and soil conditions.
- One of the biggest mistakes people make when planting is choosing a tree that won’t fit the space available. Planting too close to the house, over septic drain fields or beneath electric lines is likely to create problems. Remember, planting a tree is a long term commitment, so select a tree that won’t outgrow the location.
- It’s also key to choose a tree that is suitable for the region and climate you are in – it will be easier to care for a tree that is already native to your area and can withstand the climate conditions.
- The health of your tree is closely dependent on the acidity or the alkalinity of the soil. Tree species vary in their need for types of soil – some prefer acidic soil and some do better in alkaline soil. If you aren’t sure of your soil’s pH, have it tested.
Digging the Hole
- Planting trees too deeply is a common mistake.
- A tree is planted at the proper depth when the root collar (where the trunk and roots meet) is planted at the soil line or where the highest structural roots are placed just slightly (1-2 inches) below the soil surface.
- Measure the depth of the root mass. Identify the top structural roots and measure the distance from these roots to the bottom of the root ball or container. Don’t assume that these roots are at the top of the root ball.
- Dig the hole only as deep as necessary to allow the transplanted tree to sit at the proper depth on undisturbed soil (to prevent the tree from settling after transplanting).
- For all trees dig a hole that is 1 to 2 ft. wider than the root system, Slope the sides of the hole to form a shallow bowl.
Planting the Tree
- Handle the tree carefully to minimize damage to the root ball. Using the proper tools (a hand truck helps), lift or move the tree by its root ball or container rather than by its trunk.
- Again check the depth of the hole to make sure it is not too shallow or deep.
- Carefully place the tree in the hole. Avoid breaking the root ball.
- Check to make sure the tree is at the proper depth. If not, adjust the depth of the hole.
- Do not leave any roots exposed.
- Fill the hole half way, making sure to uniformly cover the roots and eliminate any air pockets. Add water to settle the soil. Fill the remainder of the hole to finished grade and again water to settle the soil.
- Place 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch over the planting hole.
Water, water, water!
- Watering the tree after planting is extremely important.
- Either too little or too much water may kill the tree
- The frequency of watering depends on the type of tree, the type of soil, and the weather conditions (hot and dry requires more frequent watering). In most situations, watering slowly, once per week, is advised. Water should be applied so that the root area gets the equivalent of one inch of rainfall per week. Either very sandy soil or extremely hot /dry conditions may warrant more frequent watering.
About First Choice Tree Care
Ken Ottman is a tree care expert with 40 years of industry experience spanning the areas of government, the private sector and education. He currently owns and operates First Choice Tree Care, a full service arboricultural firm, and Ottman Tree Farms, which produces Christmas trees for wholesale and retail sale. Ken is a former City of Milwaukee Forester, and past president of both the 700+ member Wisconsin Arborist Association and the 25,000+ member International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). He has served on the State of Wisconsin Council on Forestry, the DNR – Wisconsin Urban Forestry Council and the Tree Research & Education Endowment fund (TREEfund).