Planning to plant a tree
Most tree and shrub species can be successfully planted in the fall, from October until the ground freezes, or in the spring. At these times of the year the tree is dormant or going dormant.
Before you select your new tree, be sure you know where you’re going to plant your purchase. Ask yourself the following questions: How much space will the tree have to grow? Look up for power lines. Look in all directions for structures, driveways and sidewalks. What are the soil conditions and soil pH? What is the purpose of the tree? Shade, privacy, to cool your home, attract wildlife?
Besides selecting a tree for size, be sure to select a tree that has three or four seasons of interest – colorful flowers, edible or wildlife-friendly fruit, interesting bark color or texture and good fall color.
After you have selected your new tree and located a spot in your yard for its new home, now it is time to plant. Here are some guidelines to help get your tree off to a good start.
Before digging, call JULIE, 1-800-892-0123, to have utility lines marked. Allow 48 hours or two working days before digging. Why? It’s the law. There is no cost to have your utility lines marked. However you can incur a big expense if you cut a utility line.
The planting hole is critical. Most tree problems are caused by improper planting. The planting hole should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball. The wider the planting hole and the looser the soil, the faster the roots will spread out from the tree. The sides should slope gradually, making the hole bowl-shaped. The depth of the planting hole should be the same or slightly less than the depth of the root ball. The hole should never be deeper than the root ball. Planting a tree too deep can result in death. The trunk flare needs to be visible.
Before placing the tree in the hole, remove packaging material such as strings, plastic pots or wire baskets. Using a sharp pair of pruners, remove damaged, broken or black roots. If the roots of a containerized tree encircle the root ball, using a sharp knife shallowly slit the root ball a half-inch deep in four or five places about halfway up the soil ball.
Center the tree in the hole and make sure that the trunk flare (root collar) is above the soil level. The trunk flare is the swollen part of the trunk directly above the first root. Pull the burlap away from the trunk.
After placing the tree in the hole, put a couple of inches of soil in the hole, wet down, add more soil, wet down, and repeat until the hole is filled. This will create a slurry which will eliminate air pockets in the planting hole.
The first two years after planting are considered the establishment period. During this time the tree will need one inch of water every one to two weeks, depending on your soil conditions.
A three- to four-inch deep layer of organic mulch will help conserve soil moisture and moderate soil temperatures. The mulch should cover an area at least the width of the crown (branches) of the tree, at a minimum a three-foot-across circle. Do not put mulch up to the trunk of the tree; leave the trunk exposed.
Trees with thin bark, such as maples and crabapples, can be damaged by the warm winter sun (sun scald) and should be protected with a tree wrap. Wrap the trunk in the late fall with a standard paper tree wrap. Wrap from the bottom up so that it overlaps. Remove the wrap in the spring to prevent harboring insects and diseases beneath the wrap. If rabbits or mice are a problem, protect the trunk with a wire mesh.
Most newly planted trees should initially grow at least one foot per year. For more specific details on planting a new tree, visit the International Society of Arboriculture website at http://treesaregood.com.
Jennifer Fishburn is unit educator in horticulture for University of Illinois Extension.