Many individuals are familiar with the Arbor Day tradition of planting a tree, but trees can be planted anytime in the spring, summer, and fall season. Planting a tree is a great way of celebrating a special occasion such as a special birthday, anniversary, or creating a living memorial to a loved one.
How to Plant a Tree
The first step to planting a tree can also be the downfall of the process if not done correctly. First, pick the correct tree for the desired location, not the other way around. Things to consider when shopping for trees include hardiness zone, height and spread of tree once the tree matures, sun exposure of the planned area, and soil conditions.
Once a variety of tree has been decide upon, the next choice the gardener will have to make is whether they want to purchase a bare root tree, balled and burlapped tree, or container-grown tree. A bare root tree needs to be planted shortly after purchasing and needs to have moist and fibrous roots. Deciduous seedlings should have roots about the same length as the stem length. Balled and burlapped trees should have a firm root ball especially near the trunk. The root ball should be a good size compared to the size of the tree. Trees sold in containers should have no circling roots and no roots wider than a finger. The soil and roots in the container should be joined tightly together in the container.
Once the tree has been selected, plan to plant the tree as soon as possible. But before jumping in and digging a hole, the gardener needs to know how to properly dig the hole for the tree.
One mistake that gardeners face when digging the hole is that they make the hole too deep and not wide enough. The hole only needs to be as deep as the container it came in, or only as deep as the roots in the case of bare rooted trees. The diameter of the hole needs to be three times the diameter of the root ball, container, or the spread of the roots on bare rooted trees.
The best approach when it comes to digging the hole is to plan first. Draw an outline of the hole with powdered milk before digging the first shovel of soil. Once the outline is drawn out on the land, start the digging process. Continue the digging process until the hole is completed.
Once the hole has been completed, take a garden rake and scrape the edges of the hole all the way to the bottom. This “raking” will prevent glazing of the sides or the sides becoming smooth as well as prevent the roots from growing outward. Next create a dome area in the center of the hole. This will create a raised area that will keep the tree slightly elevated so that water can disperse instead of pooling around the tree.
Next the tree needs to be removed from its container, but the approach to this depends on the type of tree purchased. A bare rooted tree is fine the way it is purchased. If the tree was placed in a plastic bag, make sure that the tree is removed from the bag before planting. If a balled and burlapped tree is purchased, the twine or wire that is wrapped around the ball will need to be completely removed. Some gardeners slit the sides of the burlap to make it easier for the roots to grow through while others just leave the burlap alone. Regardless of the approach one may choose, never completely remove the burlap from the root ball, unless it is plastic type burlap.
If the tree was purchased in a container, then the tree will have to completely be removed from the container. To remove the tree from its container, cut the sides of the container all the way to the bottom with a sharp knife. Then grab the tree by the trunk as close to the soil as possible and gently pull the tree out of the container. If roots are growing out of the bottom hole in the container, split the container down sides to center drain hole. Avoid cutting the roots in the bottom of the container. Peel away container and prepare to place in hole.
Before placing the tree in the hole, mix compost and soil in a wheelbarrow. This mixture is what will be used to backfill the hole. When placing the tree in the hole, center it on the dome or raised area in the hole and begin to fill in the hole with the soil mixture. Do not fill one side in and then the other, but instead work the soil around the tree uniformly. Once the hole is filled in, lightly push down on the soil and water the tree in thoroughly. If needed, add any additional soil to the hole after the soil has settled from being tapped down and watered.
After the hole has been filled in and the soil has settled, begin to add mulch. Mulch is a very important component when it comes to planting a tree. It adds a touch that makes the planted area look finished and professional. Also it helps to conserve soil moisture, which is very important when establishing a tree in a new area.
To apply the mulch, simply lay out three to four inches of mulch in a circle that encompasses three to 10 feet around depending on the size of the tree. Make the mulch a thickness of three to four inches and avoid touching the trunk with the mulch.
To continue with your living tree legacy, add a commemorative plaque so that every generation remembers the importance of this tree. Information to include on this plaque includes the date the tree was planted, the event, such as an anniversary, and the special person’s name.
Keep in mind though, that when placing the commemorative plaque around the tree, make sure to display it in what will be the front. This will help guide the viewer through the “memory lane.”
Once these entire steps are followed, the living memorial will be ready to grow and enjoy for many years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.