Unfortunately, the process of properly planting a tree is too often misunderstood. Although there can be slight variances in exactly how to best plant a tree, there are many elements that must be done properly to ensure long term tree survival.
The most common mistake when planting a tree is incorrect planting depth. It is very common that trees are planted 4-10 inches deep, which can lead to variety of issues. Poor soil and root health will lead to poor tree health.
Common Problems That Occur With Trees Planted Too Deep
- Reduced cold hardiness
- Susceptibility to disease and insect problems
- Less soil oxygen and water is available for roots
- Reduced overall root growth
- Increases chance of developing stem girdling roots
The 2 most common types of trees that are planted are container-grown (containerized) and balled and burlap (B&B). While containerized trees can be less expensive and easier to use, the most common problem is the development of encircling roots within the container. Regardless of which type is used, it is crucial to understand how to find a tree’s root flare when planting.
Preparing the Hole
The size of the planting hole should be sufficient to encourage initial root development for the tree’s first year. The planting hole should not minimize or eliminate the ability of the tree to establish healthy roots. When preparing the planting hole, it is better to plant wider, not deeper. The depth of the hole should never be deeper than the size of the root ball. As a common rule, the planting hole should be approximately 2 times wider than the width of the root ball.
- Plant the tree so the root flare is at (or above) the level of the existing soil. It is common that excess soil needs to be removed from containerized and B&B root balls to find the root flare.
- In soils with poor drainage, plant the root flare as much as 4 inches above the grade of soil.
- The planting hole should be wider at the top than the bottom.
- The planting hole should be 2 times wider than the root ball.
- Do not use gravel or other materials in the bottom of a planting hole. It will not improve drainage.
- Only use soil amendments if the soil is poor quality.
- Only use support systems (staking) if needed. If used, removes stakes after 1 year.
- Apply wood mulch around tree to assist with establishment.
- Install trunk protection when needed to protect against animal damage or sunscald.
- For the first 2 years, it is important to keep the soil consistently moist, but not overwatered.
- Do not prune or fertilize until roots are established.