How Should I Plant a Tree or Shrub?

By The Old House Web

How Should I Plant a Tree or Shrub?


Did you ever have a plant die after you planted it? You will have some failures even when you follow recommended procedures, but you increase your chances of success if you protect the roots before planting, set the plant at the proper depth, use a good planting soil, firm the soil around the roots, keep the ground moist and place a mulch on the ground around the plant.

Season to Plant

The most favorable season to plant ornamentals varies from one locality to another, depending largely on climate. For the warmer parts of Michigan, planting can be done successfully from March to November. In sections with early freezes and a long winter, it is usually safer to plant ornamentals from April to October. (See the Landscape Management Calendar).

Other factors that influence the time of planting are the degree of exposure to winds, the hardiness of the ornamental species to be planted and the condition of the soil. When these conditions are unfavorable, or when the plant is known to be difficult to establish, spring planting is usually preferred.

Broadleaf and narrowleaf evergreens handled B & B or B & P can be planted from late spring to early fall. This applies also to container-grown (CG) plants in metal, plastic, wood or fiber containers.

When planting trees and shrubs in the fall, take special care to plant correctly and protect the plants against winter injury by mulching and screening from excessive sun and wind.

Most nurseries now sell and plant ornamentals throughout the summer. If the retail nursery or garden center provides good postharvest care for B & B, B & P or CG plants, (proper nutrition, moisture, light conditions and pest management), the plants should remain in good growing condition until they are planted. With a little extra care during planting and watering, the plants should survive the summer.

The Value of Using Nursery-Grown Plants

Many deciduous and evergreen trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers grown in nurseries grow under optimum cultural conditions that cause a mass of fibrous or feeding roots to develop directly under the plant. This makes digging, packing, transporting and planting much easier, and the plants become established more quickly when they are set out than native trees and shrubs dug from fields and woods. Most nursery plants are also better shaped than collected plants--the tops have been pruned for a desirable head. Many deciduous shrubs and small trees come from the nursery with bare roots wrapped in a moist packing material. Deciduous shrubs that are difficult to move successfully, large trees and evergreens are often delivered with their roots protected by a ball of earth wrapped in burlap or placed in a container.

Planting Procedures

Ornamentals should be planted far enough from buildings and other obstacles to allow for adequate sunshine, rain and air circulation, and room for normal growth and spread of branches. Trees and shrubs planted too close to buildings grow lopsided and crowd the buildings, frequently resulting in damage to both ornamentals and buildings and making home maintenance chores difficult.

Adequate drainage is essential for the survival of newly planted ornamentals, and any hole in soil that will not drain readily should have drainage provided. If clay or hardpan at the bottom of a hole is underlaid by gravel, you can provide adequate drainage by making holes with a soil auger or fissures with compressed air. A landscape professional should be consulted or hired to provide this service.

It is advisable to tile drain holes for large trees. In clay soil, a single 3-or 4-inch standard agricultural tile drain across the bottom of the hole is adequate if the hole is not over 6 feet in diameter. For larger holes and for evergreens, which in general require better drainage than deciduous trees, two lines of tile are recommended. The tile should lead to a suitable free outlet or, if such an outlet is not available, a dry well may be installed. A dry well is a large hole filled with gravel into which the water can flow. In some locations, the drain tiles empty into a storm sewer. Never connect a drain to a sanitary sewer. Do not use stone or gravel in the bottom of the hole--it tends to impede rather than aid drainage.

Bare Root Planting.

Dig the hole for a bare root plant 50 percent wider than the root system so the roots can be fully expanded and arranged in their natural position. Put the topsoil (the top 6-inch layer) in one pile and the subsoil in another. Roots should not be twisted, crowded or arranged in a circle against the wall of the hole or all in one direction. Improperly arranged roots may result in slow growth or even kill a tree or shrub after a few years. Do not allow the roots to dry out during the planting operation. Unwrap the roots from the plastic liner and packing materials and place the root system in a container of water overnight.

Place the roots of bare root plants so that the root collar--the swollen portion of the stem where the roots join the main stem of the plant--is 1 inch below the soil surface. The proper functioning of roots depends on adequate oxygen in the top 6 inches of soil. If plants are placed too deep, the roots will suffocate.

While holding the tree in the proper position--at the center of the hole at the proper depth--add subsoil to the hole, gently working it among the roots and firming with the fingers. After all the subsoil has been put in the hole, water with a half-gallon per square foot for well drained soil (sandy) or 1 quart per square foot for poorly drained soil (clay). Once the water has drained away, settling the soil and eliminating air pockets, the topsoil is added. After filling the hole, do NOT firm the soil with your feet.

Balled and Burlapped or Balled and Potted

Balled plants need a hole 50 percent wider than the soil ball. The porosity of the soil replaced in the hole encourages root growth beyond the ball and into the soil surrounding it. The hole should be just deep enough that the root system is at the same depth it was before it was dug.

Set the plant in the center of the hole with the burlap still around the soil ball. Cut all the twine or wire supports, then peel the burlap off the top and sides of the soil ball and lay it in the bottom of the hole. Leave the burlap under the ball but remove from the hole any wire supports on the sides. (Pulling it out may injure plant roots.) Remove the container from a balled and potted plant before setting the plant in the center of the hole.

To fill the hole, add subsoil by gently working it around the soil ball and firming with the fingers. After all the subsoil has been put in the hole, water with a half gallon per square foot for well drained soil (sandy) or 1 quart per square foot for poorly drained soil (clay). Once the water has drained away, settling the soil and eliminating air pockets, add the topsoil. After filling the hole, do NOT firm the soil with your feet.

Container-grown

The growing medium used for container plants supports, nourishes and protects the root system. Remove the root system from the container. The root system should retain the shape of the container but not be tightly matted or potbound, with roots circling the bottom of the pot. Separate the root system from the growing medium by grasping the roots and pulling them apart into a flattened and more natural pattern.

Set the plant in the center of the hole so that the root collar will be at the soil surface. Water with a half- gallon per square foot for well drained soil (sandy) or 1 quart per square foot for poorly drained soil (clay). When the water has drained away, it should have removed some of the potting mix from the root system. To fill the hole, add subsoil, gently working it around the roots and firming it with the fingers. After all the subsoil has been put in the hole, water again with a half-gallon per square foot for well drained soil (sandy) or 1 quart per square foot for poorly drained soil (clay). Once the water has drained away, settling the soil and eliminating air pockets, add the topsoil. After filling the hole, do NOT put soil over the top of the potting mix or firm the soil with your feet.

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