Trees – Spring Planting Tips

Spring means that the garden centers are packed with people, and car trunks are packed with plants. Everybody has dirt on their knees, dirt under their nails, and is excited about gardening. To make certain that this excitement yields positive results, let’s discuss the basics in this article of spring planting tips.

Installing new plants and having them grow successfully is not difficult, nor is it as complicated as some would have you think. Is it as easy as just digging a hole and setting the plant in? Yes, it certainly can be. I won’t get into bed preparation, as I have covered that in other articles.

Understanding Wrapped Tree Bulbs

When purchasing balled and burlapped (B&B) plants, it’s crucial to inspect the root ball carefully. If you notice twine wrapped around the ball, it’s essential to remove it to prevent girdling and potential damage to the plant. Pay particular attention to the area where the stem emerges from the root ball, as diggers often secure the twine around the stem.

Nylon twine is a common concern, as it doesn’t decompose and can eventually constrict the stem, leading to plant death. If the twine is indeed nylon, carefully remove it from around the stem to prevent future issues.

In cases where B&B plants are stored for extended periods, nurseries may re-burlap them to address root ball deterioration. If you notice two layers of burlap, inspect the stem thoroughly for any nylon strings between the layers. While nylon strings are harmless around the rest of the root ball, they must be removed from the stem to prevent girdling.

By taking these precautions and removing any nylon twine from around the stem, you can ensure the health and longevity of your B&B plants.


Check Out: What to Look for when Buying a Tree

Is the root ball wrapped in genuine burlap, or imitation burlap made of a non-biodegradable plastic material?

Genuine burlap will rot quickly underground and does not have to be disturbed before planting. If you’re not sure or suspect a poly type burlap, you don’t have to remove it completely, but should loosen it around the stem of the plant and cut some vertical slices around the circumference of the ball.

Consider the Soil Before Planting

When evaluating the type of soil for your planting endeavor, heavy clay soil requires special attention. For optimal results, it is advisable to elevate the planting bed by at least 8 inches using nutrient-rich topsoil. In cases where bed elevation isn’t feasible, plant the specimen with at least 2 inches or more of the root ball above the existing grade, mounding the soil over the root ball. It’s crucial to note that plants installed in this manner may experience drying out during the summer. However, planting them flush with the ground in heavy clay can lead to overly saturated roots during other times of the year.


Check Out: Soil Basics

Some horticultural experts recommend digging wider and deeper holes than the root ball and filling the surrounding and underlying areas with loose organic material when planting in clay soil. While this may sound like a sound idea, it’s worth noting that some experts also propose digging extra-deep holes and incorporating gravel at the bottom for drainage. The question arises: Where do they anticipate the water will “drain” to?

It’s important to recognize that most B&B (balled and burlapped) plants are cultivated in well-drained soil, meaning the soil in the root ball is porous, allowing water to pass through easily. Now, picture a root ball with a diameter of about 15 inches placed in a hole with a diameter of 30 inches. The area around and beneath the root ball is filled with loose organic matter. During a heavy downpour, water is unable to soak into the compacted clay soil, flowing across the surface in search of the lowest point.

As this water encounters a newly planted tree surrounded by loose organic matter, it infiltrates until the planting hole is saturated with water. Unfortunately, this planting technique inadvertently creates a French drain around the plant, restricting oxygen access to its roots for extended periods. Since the bottom of the hole is clay, even with the addition of gravel for drainage, there is no outlet for the water, leading to potential suffering and, ultimately, the demise of the plant.

Check Out: Principles of Landscape Design

If you cannot raise the planting bed with topsoil, and are planting in clay soil, I recommend that you install the root ball at least 2” above grade and backfill around the ball with the soil that you removed when you dug the hole. Backfilling with the clay soil that you removed is actually like building a dam to keep excess water from permeating the root ball of your newly planted tree. The plant is not going to thrive in this poor soil, but at least it will have a chance to survive.

Once again, raising the bed with good rich topsoil is the best thing you can do to keep your plants healthy and happy.

Learn how to grow trees and shrubs from cuttings

Planting Tips for Success

Regardless of your soil type, exercise caution when installing plants to avoid planting them too deep. The critical rule is to ensure that plants are never planted deeper than they were grown in the nursery. Planting at the correct depth is crucial, and many plants face untimely demise due to gardeners underestimating the importance of planting depth.

When it comes to newly planted trees, staking is a wise practice. Continuous rocking in the wind can impede the tree’s ability to establish new roots in the existing soil. To provide stability, use a wooden stake, a fence post, or consider using 1/2” electromagnetic tubing (conduit) for smaller trees, readily available at any hardware store.

Secure the tree to the stake with a single wrap of duct tape, which will naturally fall off in about six months to a year as the sun dries the glue. Regularly check the tape to ensure it has fallen off, preventing any risk of girdling the tree.

For container-grown plants, adhere to the earlier guidelines regarding planting depth. Before delicately removing the plant from the container, inspect the drain holes at the bottom for any roots protruding. If present, carefully cut them off to avoid complications when extracting the plant from the container.

Check Out: Dealing with Barren Trees

Achieving a smooth plant extraction from its container is a straightforward process. Simply cover the container’s top with your hand, flip it entirely upside down, and give it a gentle shake. Employing this method should effortlessly release the plant into your waiting hand.

While holding the plant, take a moment to inspect the root mass. Over time, plants growing in containers may develop roots that adopt a circular pattern around the root mass. This circular growth is not ideal for the plant’s long-term health. To address this, consider disrupting the circular roots before planting. One effective method is to use a knife to make three vertical slices from the top to the bottom of the root mass. This technique stimulates the growth of new roots that extend outward into the garden soil, promoting a healthier root structure. Alternatively, you can manually loosen the roots that are circling the root mass using your fingers, gently guiding them outward before planting.

Now, let’s delve into the topic of fertilizers, bone meal, peat moss, and the myriad of other additives often recommended at garden centers. It’s prudent to focus on the foundational step of raising planting beds with nutrient-rich topsoil and consider bypassing these additives. Fertilizers, if not used cautiously, have the potential to do more harm than good, and their application should be approached with care.

As for bone meal and other soil additives, it’s essential not to become overly fixated on these products. While they may have their place, their impact on plant growth might not be as pronounced as some marketing materials suggest. Keep in mind that, at times, the allure of these additives may overshadow their actual benefits.

Let’s reiterate the fundamental principle: The key to successful gardening lies in planting in good, nutrient-rich topsoil. This foundational approach provides a solid base for your plants to thrive and flourish in their new environment.


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