Community Ag Alliance: Planting a tree is more than digging a hole
July 9, 2015
The Routt County CSU Extension Office often gets calls from clients who are concerned about the health of their trees. People call wanting to know if their tree has insect issues, has fungal problems, has some sort of blight or why, in general, their tree just looks sick. While these issues are sometimes evident, it's amazing how many times the trees are stressed because, quite simply, they weren't planted correctly in the first place. This incorrect planting causes the tree to not establish correctly and can lead to a tree that is susceptible to problems for its entire, shortened life. So, how do you plant a tree?
The depth of your hole is absolutely critical. Structural roots of the tree, which are the top main roots coming from the base of the tree, need to end up 1 to 2 inches above the grade soil. So, if there is dirt on top of the structural roots, you need to account for that in digging your hole. For example, if the root ball is 16 inches tall and the structural roots are two inches deep, your hole should be 14 inches deep.
It is also important to make sure your tree is sitting on firm soil so it doesn't sink after being planted. It's better to have to dig out a little more when you realize the hole is not deep enough; we want to make sure we don't make too deep a hole and then have to fill it in with loose soil that will cause the tree to sink.
The shape and width of the hole is also important. The hole should be three-times the width of the root ball, and saucer shaped with sloping sides.
If you have a tree that was grown in a container, now's the time to take off the container. Wiggle it off gently, then cut any roots that appear to be growing in a circle around the edge. Slit down the outside of the root ball one and a half inches, making sure to cut all roots that could cause a problem. Gently pulling these cut roots out from the root ball to get them growing in an outward manner is beneficial, too.
If you have a balled and burlapped tree, put it into the hole after removing the outer layers of burlap.
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After you've placed your tree in the perfect hole, you want to pack soil around the bottom to stabilize it. If you have a wire cage around the tree, remove it using a bolt cutter or hacksaw. Make sure to remove all wrappings and wire from your tree: Contrary to popular belief, they will not break down and need to be removed now. Backfill the hole with the native soil, making sure not to put soil over the root ball. Mulch only the backfill area with three to four inches of wood mulch, and water the tree well, continuing to water it regularly while it becomes established.
Planting a tree is an investment in the future, so take the time to do it right. For a more detailed guide on how to plant a tree correctly, visit ext.colostate.edu or call your local extension office.
Todd Hagenbuch, is Colorado State University agriculture extension agent