Planting trees has always been a bane on my existence. I have a hard enough time remembering to feed my kid and he cries when he’s hungry. The needs of a tree are so much harder to discern. However, necessity and the fact that I got tired of throwing money in the ground have caused me to be a better arbornoer harbinger arbitrator, uh, tree-grower-person. I have planted eight trees in my life with only three surviving the year, and these are things that typically grow on their own. Although that kind of success rate would land me the three spot on the Twins, or really any team this year, in the planting world I think they’d call it genocide, or maybe “arboricide.” Luckily, the guys at This Old House have an excellent article outlining eight really simple steps, with great pointers to avoid leafy green carnage.
The advice comes from their landscaping guru, Roger Cook, who looks like he is better built to be a logger than a planter, but that’s just my opinion. Most of the important work here is getting the hole right. The most common problem is the depth of the tree, planting the root ball too deep suffocates the tree. Both Roger and my personal gardening guru Mike McGrath recommend planting the tree so that the root flare is exposed. Wondering what root flare is? Well it’s not sequined and flashy, it’s actually just where the trunk of the tree and roots meet. Here the tree FLARES OUT wide. If you are concerned on depth, plant it more on the shallow side than the deep side.
Also dig the hole at least twice as wide if not three times as wide as the root ball. This helps the growing roots have an easier time as they meander through the soil, which will lead to a stronger rooted adult tree. This will make you and your neighbors happy, assuming you didn’t plant the tree to obstruct your neighbor’s view.
Make sure after you place the tree in position that you loosen the root ball up. This helps the roots grow outward and can stimulate root growth in general. The only differing issue that Mike McGrath and Roger Cook have is their backfill method. Roger suggests a fertilizer and superphosphate that is mixed into the soil. While Mike, an organic gardener, suggests a thick layer of compost on top of the soil. The choice is yours and depends greatly on how you feel about fertilizers and organics.
After backfilling, cover the area in a thin layer of mulch. This will protect the root ball through the winter, not from freezing necessarily, but from the constant ups and downs of a fickle winter. However, whatever you do, do not cover the trunk; allow the mulch to create a crater around the trunk. Mulch retains moisture longer than the soil alone which is great for the roots, but can cause trunk rot if it’s piled against the trunk.
Finally, never go a few days without any water, heaven or man-produced. Roger suggests drip irrigation bags, which slowly release water over the course of several days and can be refilled. The well-reviewed Treegator will set you back only $20 and should help prevent any arboricide guilt. Otherwise, use a drip hose or regular water hose and soak every few days.
For more insight, take a look at Lowe’s version of Kent Brockman as he plants a tree. Just note that he does not create a crater with his mulch shame, shame, shame Kent.