Plant a Tree

There are many reasons to plant a tree in Iowa besides to celebrate Arbor Day on April 25, 2014. Trees conserve energy, bring beauty to the yard, attract birds and help clean the air, to name just a few. This week Iowa State University Extension and Outreach horticulture specialists share proper tree planting techniques. Gardeners with additional questions can contact the experts by calling or emailing the ISU Extension and Outreach horticulture hotline at 515-294-3108 or hortline@iastate.edu.
 

What is the proper way to plant a bare-root tree? 

Prior to planting, soak the tree’s roots in a bucket of water for one to two hours. Also, prune off damaged or broken roots. 
 
When ready to plant, dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the spread of the tree’s root system. The depth of the hole should be equal to the distance from the tree’s trunk flare to the bottom of its roots. (The trunk flare is the point where the trunk begins to spread out as it meets the roots.) Build a cone-shaped mound of soil in the center of the hole. Place the tree on top of the mound. The trunk flare should be even with the surrounding soil surface. Spread the roots evenly over the mound. Then begin backfilling with the original soil. As you backfill, firm the soil in the hole with your hands. Place soil to the trunk flare. Finally, water the tree thoroughly. 
 
Many shade and fruit trees are propagated by grafting. The graft union is located near the base of the tree’s trunk and is denoted by a bulge or crook in the trunk. The graft union is typically 1 to 3 inches above the trunk flare. When planting bare-root trees, be careful not to confuse the graft union with the trunk flare. 
 

What is the proper way to plant a balled and burlapped tree? 

Dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the diameter of the tree’s rootball. The depth of the hole should be 2 to 3 inches less than the height of the rootball. Slope the sides of the hole so the top of the hole is several inches wider than the bottom.
 
Grasping the tree’s rootball, carefully lower the tree into the hole. The top of the rootball should be 2 to 3 inches above the surrounding soil line. Make sure the trunk is straight. Then, begin backfilling with the original soil. Do not add compost, peat or other organic materials to the soil. Gently firm the backfill soil in the hole with your hands. 
 
When the planting hole is half-full, cut and remove the twine. Also, cut away and remove the burlap on the top one-third to one-half of the rootball. If the rootball is in a wire basket, remove the top one-third to one-half of the basket. Completely fill the remainder of the hole with soil. Place soil up to the top of the rootball and gradually slope it down to the surrounding soil line. Once planted, thoroughly water the tree. 
 
Poorly drained sites are difficult locations for many trees. When selecting trees for these sites, choose trees that can tolerate poorly drained conditions. In poorly drained soils, the depth of the planting hole should be approximately two-thirds of the height of the rootball. When placed in the hole, the top one-third of the rootball should be above the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil. Place soil to the top of the rootball and gradually slope it down to the surrounding soil line. 
 

What is the proper way to plant a container-grown tree? 

When planting a container-grown tree, dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the diameter of the container. The depth of the hole should be 2 to 3 inches less than the height of the soil ball. Slope the sides of the hole so the top is several inches wider than the bottom. In poorly drained soils, the depth of the hole should be approximately two-thirds of the height of the soil ball. 
 
Once the hole has been prepared, carefully lay the tree on its side. Tap the sides of the container to loosen the soil ball from the container, then slide the tree out of its container. All containers should be removed, even purportedly plantable containers. If the sides of the soil ball are a mass of roots, carefully shave off the outer one-half to 1 inch of the soil ball with a sharp spade or saw.  Place the tree in the hole. The top of the soil ball should be 2 to 3 inches above the surrounding soil. In poorly drained sites, the top one-third of the soil ball should stick above the surrounding soil. 
 
Gradually fill the hole with soil. With each new addition of soil, firm it in place with your hands. Place soil to the top of the soil ball and gradually slope it down to the surrounding soil. Once planted, water thoroughly. 
 

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