Planting trees, shrubs takes special care in Routt County

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— Denise Hitchcock has a plan. A relative newcomer to Steamboat Springs, she wants to create long-lasting memories for her family by planting a tree in her yard for each member of her family every year.

Purchasing trees and shrubs can be a costly undertaking, however. And since many varieties don't grow well in our windy, dry, high-altitude climate, gardeners like Denise want to make every effort to select the proper plant and then to properly put them in their yard.

Trees and shrubs are usually obtained as either bare-root plants, container plants, balled and burlapped plants, or fabric grow bag plants. Some people get Forest Service permits to harvest trees and shrubs directly from public lands for transplanting on their property.

There are special handling and planting techniques that you can follow to greatly help the survival and healthy growth of your tree or shrub. These tips assume you have prepared your soil properly to nurture your transplants.

Bare-root stock, only available in the spring, should have healthy-looking white or tan roots and be kept moist until planting. Dig your hole wide enough to accommodate the roots without bending them and deep enough so that the place where the trunk and roots meet is 2 to 4 inches above ground level. Shovel the soil into the hole; do not pack down. With the extra soil, form a small dike just beyond the rim of the hole, fill with water and allow it to settle. Check the soil periodically and water as needed.

Container plants and those balled and burlapped or in grow bags need a planting hole three to five times as wide as the ball/container and no deeper than the root ball. The top of the ball should be about 2 inches above the surrounding soil. Remove the container and at least the top two-thirds of the wire basket or twine and fabric before placing in the hole, then fill with soil and water.

In our dry climate and short growing season, coverings on plant roots, such as burlap, do not decompose quickly enough, which limits root growth into the soil. CSU researchers recommend that Routt County gardeners remove as much of these coverings as possible before putting the plant in the ground.

Mulch around the plants (about 6 inches from the trunk) will help hold in moisture and warmth from the daytime sun. Do not fertilize newly planted trees and shrubs until the second growing season.

Brochures and booklets are available from the Routt County Cooperative Extension and the Colorado State Forest Service offices to learn more about which trees and shrubs will grow best in her Steamboat Springs yard. Most of these publications are free to the public; others are available at a very low cost. Stop in or call the Extension Office, 879-0825, or the Forest Service office to obtain copies of helpful brochures.


Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions and topic suggestions for this column may be submitted directly to the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825.

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