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Thursday, Oct. 16, 2003 02:20 pm

Tree planting tips


You've picked your tree or shrub and found a spot for its new home. Now it's time to plant. Most tree species can be successfully planted in the fall (October until the ground freezes) or in the spring.

Here are some guidelines to help get your tree off to a good start:

Before digging call JULIE (800-892-0123) to have utility lines marked. Allow 48 hours (two working days) before digging. Why? It's the law. It doesn't cost anything to have a utility line marked, but it's awfully expensive to cut one.

The hole you dig should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball. The wider the hole and the looser the soil, the faster the roots will spread. The sides should slope gradually, making the hole bowl-shaped. The depth of the planting hole should be the same depth or slightly less than the depth of the root ball. The hole should never be deeper than the root ball; otherwise, the tree is likely to die. The trunk flare (the swollen part of the trunk directly above the first root) needs to be visible.

Before placing the tree in the hole remove packaging material such as strings, plastic pots and 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 in four or five places about halfway up the soil ball. Center the tree in the hole and make sure that the trunk flare is above the soil level. Pull the burlap away from the trunk.

After placing the tree in the hole, put a couple of inches of soil in the hole and wet. Again, add a few more inches of soil and water, repeating the process until the hole is filled. This creates a slurry that eliminates air pockets.

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 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 can be damaged by the warm winter sun (sunscald) 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 of insects and diseases beneath the wrap. If rabbits or mice are a problem protect the trunk with a wire mesh.

Beetle mania

Lady beetles have descended on area homes and businesses, showing up in record numbers this year thanks to an abundance of their favorite food, the soybean aphid.

With the aphids leaving soybean fields, the lady beetles have been on the prowl for food and shelter. Typically, they'll over-winter on cliff faces. In the city, they'll congregate in cliff-like locations, such as the south side of light-colored buildings.

Though they're seen as beneficial insects, lady beetles can pinch skin, causing minor discomfort. Squash them and they'll emit a foul odor and leave a stain.

If lady beetles bug you, caulk or seal cracks and crevices around windows, doors and siding. Don't forget to put screens over vents. Vacuum them up if they get indoors. Using insecticides indoors isn't recommended, but a professional pest control company can treat points of entry on your building's exterior.

Introduced here in 1916, the orange-red Asian insects with dark spots, Harmonia axyridis, succeeded in colonizing the U.S. by 1994.

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