Back to the Basics: How to Plant a Tree

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It’s summertime, and it’s time to add some shade to your favorite outdoor hangout spot. But before you put your hands on a shovel, there are important tree planting strategies to consider. Don’t let all that money, time and effort nurturing a sapling go to waste with an improper installation.

Get Digging

To start, you’re going to need to dig a hole. But don’t go overboard—a tree does not need to be buried any deeper than its root ball (root ball = the clump of roots that accompany the tree in the nursery pot).

If you plant a tree too deep, the trunk can become susceptible to disease and rot with prolonged soil moisture contact. Soil can also compact onto the root ball if the hole is dug too deep.

However, to help the tree get established and promote proper outward and downward root growth, use your shovel to slope the walls around the hole. This helps water flow through the soil, which encourages the fine root hairs that pick up water and nutrients to follow suit.

What to Watch For

The root ball is important to consider, and something you can examine when you are at the nursery selecting your plants. Make sure the roots are not wrapped around themselves in the pot; if they are, the plant is root bound. Once roots are bound, they are nearly impossible to fix.

To check, lightly flick away some of the dirt at the top of the nursery pot. Check for the telltale sign of circular, wrapped roots near the surface or near the edge of the pot. Root bound plants have been a phenomenon of late thanks to the Great Recession because plant material often sits in the nursery for longer periods of time (things just don’t sell as fast as they used to). If these plants are not replanted into bigger pots, the roots just keep on growing inside the pot with nowhere to go but around and around.

Next: Step-by-Step Planting Guide

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