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How to Plant a Tree

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By Charlene McKenzie

Posted in Experts, General, Seasonal, Trees & Shrubs

'Just as we enjoy the presence of trees planted by people in the past, we too should plant for the future generations' 

April and early May is an ideal time to plant a tree. The ground is well-hydrated, temperatures are cooler, and trees are still dormant or have not yet fully leafed out. The weather also tends to be more comfortable for the person digging the hole!

Our Country Basket Nursery staff can help you decide what type of tree is the best choice for the location you want and can advise where and how to plant it. When thinking about a location, consider how tall and wide the tree can get at maturity,  how much sun the spot receives, how well the soil drains after rainfall, and what other trees and structures are nearby. Staff can help ensure you put the right tree in the right spot.

Preparing the area
Supplies you'll need for planting include a shovel, sturdy footwear, gloves, a bag of garden soil and a bag of mulch, bone meal (fertilizer) and, depending on the type of trees, a pair of tree stakes and tree ties. For some trees, especially flowering ones such as crabapple or ornamental cherry, you should buy a plastic spiral tree wrap to protect the bark from rabbits. You may also want to prepare a place to temporarily put the soil you excavate, such as on a tarp, a large sheet of cardboard, or in a wheelbarrow. Having a measuring tape and a boxcutter knife on hand can also be useful.

The hole for your tree should be the same depth as the pot it's in so the tree's root flare can be at the same level as the surrounding earth. Planting too high or low can threaten its survival. The hole should be about twice as wide as the pot to allow the roots to grow laterally and help anchor the tree.

Planting the tree
While it's still in the pot, handle and move the tree by its pot rather than its stem. Water it when you first get home and again before planting if it isn't being planted the same day.

Before digging, make sure the hole is an adequate distance from any solid walls or fences so the tree has room to spread out equally from its centre. Trees planted too close to structures tend to develop a lean and won't get enough light, water and air circulation. The smallest, narrowest trees should be a minimum of 1 metre (3 feet) out but most trees will need to be 2-5 metres (6-15 feet) away from other trees and structures. Check the mature width of your tree - the distance should be half that.

Rather than lifting the tree from its pot, gently tip it on its side at the edge of the hole and slide the pot off the root ball. You may need to first cut any roots protruding from the bottom. Pressing in on the sides of the plastic pot can help separate it, or you can simply slice through the pot, being careful not to cut the lateral roots. Measure the depth of the hole and the depth of the root ball to see if you need to add or remove soil to the hole to bring the root flare at the base of the tree to the surrounding level. If the tree has a knob or graft near the bottom of its trunk, make sure this remains exposed and won't be covered by soil or mulch.

Put a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole and mix it in a bit. If the root ball is surrounded by burlap or netting, cut a large shallow X in the bottom so the wrap can be pulled up after the tree goes in. Gently tip the tree into the hole by holding it near its base. Carefully cut away any burlap or wrap that could constrict the roots and stem. Check that the tree is standing straight, then begin filling in around the edges with a mix of the bagged soil and the excavated soil. This will help the tree's roots adapt to the soil of its new site. Firm the soil by pressing down lightly around the edges of the root ball, so it won't settle later and create a gap.

Mulching your tree
Apply a layer of mulch a couple of inches deep over the soil surrounding the tree but avoid piling it against the stem. Instead, leave three or four inches of bare earth between the tree and the mulch. You should be able to see the root flare, where the trunk widens slightly as it leads down to the roots. This allows the roots to get the air and water they need while retaining soil moisture and suppressing weeds. Piling mulch against the trunk is detrimental for two reasons: Water tends to run off the surface of the mulch and away from the root ball, and in wet weather, it can trap moisture against the trunk and lead to fungal diseases.

Staking your tree
If your tree came with a bamboo or metal stake attached close to the trunk, carefully remove it now. These are temporary stakes for shipping but are too close and tight to leave attached - doing so will eventually cut into the growing tree's bark and stunt its growth. Most leafy trees will need staking for a year but not longer. It's best to use two or three stakes to secure it in changing wind conditions. Their length should be about a half to two-thirds of the young tree's height, and placed a foot or two out from the trunk, not up against it. Use flexible tree ties and tubing or wide straps to protect the trunk from rope or wire digging in. Leave a bit of slack in the line between stakes and trees to allow it to sway slightly but not tip over, strengthening its anchor roots.

Watering your tree
Water your tree deeply after planting and about two or three times a week for the first growing season. This involves letting water trickle from an open hose end at the base of the tree for 20-30 minutes. As a test, use a trowel to dig a hole eight inches deep about eight inches from your tree a couple hours after watering. If it's dry, you need to water longer. Irrigation systems will not provide enough water for a new tree - they're designed to water grass and plants with much shallower root systems and won't deliver enough water deep enough down to keep a tree alive.

You'll need to water your tree by hand (do not rely on rainfall) for its first season and during periods of hot, dry or windy weather in subsequent years. Water weekly or biweekly as needed until it drops its leaves in the fall or, in the case of evergreens, until November. As your tree grows, you can water out to the drip line (directly under the branch tips) to encourage roots to extend away from the trunk.

Ongoing Care of your tree
Your tree will adapt to the climate in your yard and new growth will emerge in spring depending on those conditions. For example, it may have had green buds when you purchased it from the nursery in April, but the following year it may not have green buds until May. This is especially true for Japanese maples and some flowering trees. 

Keep an eye on your tree for signs of pests or disease. Most insects in your garden are neutral or beneficial, but there are some to watch out for. Aphids and mites are tiny soft-bodied insects that suck the juice from new growth at the tips of branches, and can be handled by spraying insecticidal soap. Later in summer, Japanese beetles may munch holes in your leaves. They're best handled with beetle traps. Some pests or diseases are specific to certain types of trees, so nursery staff can advise you on those.

Everything you need to give your tree a healthy start is available at Country Basket Garden Centre, from planting tools to soil, mulch, stakes and fertilizer. With the exception of fruit trees, trees purchased at full price at Country Basket come with a two-year warranty. Be sure to provide your phone number when cashing out so we have a record of your purchase on file.

If you need to have your tree delivered, or if you'd prefer to have us plant it for you, we offer those services as well. We deliver in the Niagara region for fees determined by distance from our garden centre. Planting fees for plants purchased at Country Basket include delivery and are determined by the number of trees and whether they require staking. 

Spring is also the best time for buying and planting a tree because it's when we have the best selection! Come in and visit us and have a look. Our nursery staff would be happy to answer your questions and offer their advice.

Happy planting!

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