|Plant a tree for life, not for the short term.|
First of all, you need to start thinking about a tree as a many-year (possibly a lifetime) investment. You need to think about the long-term health of it, not just the next five years. There are things you can do when you plant a tree that will determine if it lives to see your kids’ weddings, or perhaps the next owner’s kids’ weddings.
The typical advice about planting containerized or balled and burlapped trees is to disturb the roots as little as possible and plunk it in a very wide but not too deep hole. For balled and burlapped trees this advice often includes leaving all the burlap intact to rot away naturally (which I’ve actually never seen happen), which you pretty much have to do in order to leave on the wire cage that holds the whole thing together.
Here are the problems with that method:
- Once roots start circling, as they are wont to do when grown in containers or spend a lot of time in the balled and burlapped state, they will continue to circle because they have “root memory.” Roots that circle will never properly anchor a tree and are lightly to girdle the whole thing, essentially choking itself off.
- Trees, like almost all plants, do not like leaving familiar territory. Roots are unlikely to stretch out beyond the conditions in which they are accustomed. This is why it is no longer advised to put a “$5 plant in a $25 hole.” Why would roots want to seek water and nutrition and stretch out if they are comfy in their little universe?
- It’s very easy to plant containerized or balled trees too deeply because they’ve been growing that way at the nursery.
|Start with the tree in a wheelbarrow or kiddie pool and allow the bottom to soak in a few inches of water for several hours to help loosen the root ball.|
|Carefully wash all the soil off the roots. In the beginning of the process, above, you’ll be breaking off big chunks. At the end, you have to tease it out through the roots, as shown in the quick video below.|
|Here’s what the roots looked like when I cleaned off the soil. There were two huge roots that had been ripped apart at some point and a few fiberous roots. I would have liked to see a lot more.|
4. Find the root flare. This is where the trunk flares out and the roots begin. That is the level where you want the top of the soil when you plant.
|Firm in the soil by gently pushing with your heel around the tree.|
|Water in well, preferably using water from the root washing process.|
- Because I was planting an espalier tree that will be supported by guide wires on the fireplace facade, I planted the tree quite close to the house, about 14 inches. This is much closer than you should ever plant a tree in any other case.
- I also didn’t stake the tree because of it’s location and the guide wires. There won’t be wind whipping this tree around so I skipped the stake, but it’s an important step in almost any other case.
- I firmed down the soil under the root ball only because I’d recently put that soil in from another spot in the garden. Here’s why I did that.
|The planted tree is looking pretty good in its new home and it has acquired its own bodyguard.|