Tree Planting Tips and Techniques
You wouldn’t think there’d be much to know about planting a tree, right? Dig a hole, drop in the tree (branches pointing up), shovel in the dirt, then go have a beer. What’s to know? As it turns out, there’s much more to it, especially if you want the tree to live.
The most common tree-planting mistake is digging the hole either too narrow or too deep. The hole must be two to three times wider than the tree’s root ball. And the hole depth should equal the distance from the bottom of the root ball up to the root flare, minus 2 inches. The root flare is where the lower end of the tree trunk spreads out at the top of the root ball. It’s crucial that you do not bury the root flare because it’ll severely stunt the tree’s growth. Tip: Shovel the excavated soil onto a plastic tarp; that'll make it much easier to get the soil back into the hole after planting.
After digging the hole, sprinkle a handful of super-phosphate into the bottom of the hole. Super-phosphate is phosphate rock that’s been treated with acid and it’ll give the newly forming root system a healthy head start. Set the tree into the hole, then remove all twine and burlap from around the root ball. Rotate the tree so that its best "face" is toward the desired viewing location. Use a three-tine cultivator to scratch up the surface of the root ball. That’ll loosen up the compacted dirt and expose thousands of tiny roots.
Next, add some super-phosphate and 3-4-3 fertilizer to the excavated dirt removed from the hole. Use a rake to thoroughly mix up the dirt, then shovel it back into the hole. Be sure to shovel dirt around the entire root ball, but don’t stomp down the dirt. Compacted soil doesn’t absorb water very well. Saturate the exposed dirt around the tree with a garden hose, then add 2 to 3 in. of bark mulch. Continue to water the tree everyday for the next six to eight weeks. And if the tree is located beyond the reach of your garden hose, use slow-release tree-watering bags, like the ones shown below.