How to Plant New Trees and Shrubs
The larger growing residents of the garden are your trees and shrubs. The bigger they are, the greater the job. Planting while deciduous plants are dormant or evergreens are semi-dormant is the best time since there will be less stress and any cuts or damage will bleed less. Careful planting can be done for most, however, at any time of the year so long as the soil is not frozen. Here are some tips on how to plant bare-root or potted trees and shrubs.
Before even starting to plant, remember that large shrubs and trees will grow big, so carefully chose the right location for planting. Visualize your tree or bush at full size and plan accordingly. Then you can get to work preparing the site.
With bare-root trees and bushes you will unwrap the root ball, shaking off any sand, sawdust or other material that was used to moisten and cushion the roots. Then place your tree or shrub in a pail of water to soak the roots while you prepare your hole for planting.
Dig a hole so the bottom will easily accommodate the depth of the roots. Do not plant your tree or shrub too deep – check for the soil line on the stem just above the roots. Usually you can see where the previous soil level was. Dig the hole a minimum of twice the width of the spread roots. You are always safe with a wider hole since the loosened ground will encourage the roots to spread into surrounding soil. If you are planting a balled or potted specimen, still dig the hole wide while leaving the bottom the same depth as the root ball so it will sit solidly on the base of the hole and match the top of the soil levels. If you are going to add amendments to your soil, this is a good time to do it.
The question of amendments has no simple answer. If you are planting a local native tree or shrub, leave your soil be: your conditions are exactly what your native will want. If you are trying to adapt a tree or shrub that needs the extra boost of amendments, one school of thought is that you should add your additions by mixing it with your native soil for a two to four foot radius around the center of the hole to help the transplant get established. The other school of thought is that you should avoid amendments altogether and allow your plant to adapt to the native soil since amendments will eventually melt away in time, anyway. The choice is up to you.
If your soil is dry, you may want to water the newly-dug, empty hole before planting. By letting the water sink deep below the roots of your new arrival you are inviting the first growth to continue in a downward direction rather than out to the sides. If there has been recent rain and the soil is already moist at the bottom of the hole, you can probably skip this step.
Place stakes on either side of the new plant before filling the hole when planting small trees that may be vulnerable to strong winds. Set in your new plants and fill in empty areas. Tamp down the soil firmly and sculpt a circular moat that traces around the perimeter of the hole so water fills the trough and seeps down in the hole for a deep, thorough watering. Many trees and shrubs will benefit from a very light pruning after being planted. Clip off any damaged or crossing branches and, especially with fruit trees, trim back the branches four to six inches.
With the tree planted and trimmed, you are now ready to tie your tree to the support stakes if you are using them. Don’t tie branches or trunks directly against the supports where they can rub and become damaged. There are several different styles of tree ties you can buy that will allow for at least a few inches between the tree and the support post. Space not only avoids abrasion damage, but it allows some motion in winds. A little motion will encourage your tree or large shrub to develop strong roots; something you want to encourage to make sure it can resist heavy winds in the future once you remove the supports. Usually a single year of support is all you will need. If the tree is in a particularly windy exposure, two years is fine. Try not to leave supports on for more than two and a half years. You don’t want the root system to become so dependent that it doesn’t develop thoroughly. Also keep an eye on any bindings. If you see the tension become tight on the bark, loosen it so you don’t strangle the tree or shrub.
Keep your new trees and shrubs well watered during the first year or two to make sure roots spread out and grow in a healthy manner. Then the frequency of watering will be determined by the type of tree or shrub. Depth of watering is more important than frequency. A well-rooted woody plant can take a lot more dry if the soil deep down is moist. A plant that has moist topsoil but is dry further down will not develop the strong root system it will need to thrive.
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