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How to Plant a Tree

The right way to plant a tree.

While spring and fall are the ideal times to plant a tree, it’ll do just fine in the summer, too, if you water, water, water. Plan your watering schedule even before you plant a tree.

Dig a whole about three times the size of the root ball, but no deeper than the root ball. Most of the roots of a new tree develop in the top 12 inches of the soil. Digging a wider hole and loosening the surrounding soil allows the growing roots to push through more easily, spreading around the tree to anchor it better in the soil.

Don’t plant the root ball too deeply. The “flare,” where the roots spread at the base of the trunk, should be just above the soil level. It’s better to plant a little high to allow for settling.

Always lift the tree by the root ball, not by the trunk. If the tree is balled and burlapped, put it in the planting hole and straighten it before you cut and remove any string, wire, and burlap. Look at the tree from all sides to check that it is straight. Only then should you remove from one-third to one-half of the string, wire, and/or burlap. The rest of the supporting material will break down in the soil. Caution: If any of the material is plastic (some of it is made to look like burlap), remove it all.

If a tree has been grown in plastic, remove the plastic pot as close to the hole as possible to minimize disturbing the roots. If your tree is in a fiber container, place the tree in the planting hole, and tear off the upper rim of the container. Then use a utility knife to make slashes at the sides to remove the pot.

Inspect the root. If they are circling around, gently tease them apart so they don’t continue to grow in a circular pattern. If it’s difficult to loosen them by hand, make four cuts into the root mass up the sides from the bottom with a utility knife. This will promote root growth into the surrounding soil.

If the trunk has been wrapped in burlap to protect the tree during transportation, take it off. Burlap on the trunk impedes growth and attracts moisture and rot.

Fill the hole about one-third full, and gently but firmly pack soil around the root ball to eliminate air pockets. Don’t stomp on delicate roots. Water to moisten the soil, and then fill the hole completely.

Water the tree well after planting. (Don’t apply fertilizer until the second growing season.) If you don’t get regular rainfall, continue to water newly planted trees thoroughly (one inch of water once a week) throughout the first season.

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