by Sharon Morrisey, horticulture agent in Milwaukee County
Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs. Warm soil encourages root growth and the cool air reduces the demand for water. It is said that the planting is the most important 10 minutes of a tree’s life. Years of scientific study have produced improved techniques, so follow these instructions closely.
- Find the root flare first. It’s that place at the base of the trunk where it widens before going into the soil.
- Remove soil from the top of the root ball, if necessary, until the flare can be seen.
- Measure the depth of the root ball after finding the flare.
- Dig the hole no deeper than this, trying not to disturb the dirt at the bottom, so the tree will not settle later and become too deep. Make the hole two to four times wider than the ball and gently sloping.
- Cut off the container, if there is one. Cut away the wire basket if it’s a balled-and-burlapped plant.
- Gently roll it into the hole without holding it by the trunk. Now, cut away as much burlap as possible without letting the root ball fall apart.
- Fill the hole halfway with the same soil that came out of the hole. Do not amend that soil. Otherwise, the roots will stay in that soil, growing around and around, instead of moving out into the surrounding soil.
- Do not stomp on the soil. Instead, fill the hole with water and allow it to settle before continuing to fill the hole.
- Water again.
- Form a rim of soil around the outside edge of the hole to hold the water.
- Cover the rim and root ball with 2 inches of shredded bark or wood chips. Do not allow the mulch to touch the trunk or the bark will rot and kill the tree.
- On slopes or windy sites, use one or two stakes pounded into the undisturbed soil beyond the root ball. Loosely secure the tree trunk to the stakes using webbing with grommets made especially for this purpose. Do not use wire or rubber hose, since these will damage the bark. The tree should be able to sway back and forth because this actually strengthens the trunk.