By Kim Coder
University of Georgia
Step 1: Get a good start.Trees mirror the sites in which they live. Poor sites mean poor trees. Sites baked by the sun and surrounded by buildings, pavements and desolate soil are poor choices. Choose a large space with plenty of room for growth. Look out for underground or overhead obstacles. Give trees plenty of open soil surface area in which to thrive. A tree site must allow for plenty of water drainage. Water must drain away from roots or your new tree will sit in a soil bathtub and drown.
Step 2: Prepare the site.If there are no other trees nearby, the planting area soil should be tilled. If there are trees within 50 feet, cultivate soil carefully just in the area where the new tree will be planted. If there are trees all around, check to make sure the new tree can get at least three hours of full sun every day in the summer, and then do not till or cultivate the soil widely. Any groundcovers or grass should be pulled back many feet from the planting area. If other plants are in full sun, they will compete with the new tree for water and essential soil elements. Keep other plants away from the planting site for many years.
Step 3: Scoop out a planting saucer, not a hole.Many people make a terrible mistake when planting a new tree – they dig a hole. Trees dumped in a hole, buried too deep and drowned will die. Always scoop out a shallow saucer in the soil. A tree-planting saucer should be three to five times wider than the extent of new tree roots. The saucer should be one to two inches shallower than the depth of the actual root ball. Trees should be planted high in the landscape in a wide saucer void of gavel, sand or any other soil amendments. All the soil removed from the saucer should be broken up, crumbled and saved. Only the soil that came out of the saucer should go back into the saucer. Do not mix it with any other materials.
Step 4: Gently place the tree.Remove all plastic, paper, burlap, wires, ties and straps from the new tree. Some of these materials, if left around the tree, will damage the tree. Packaged soil should be gently pulled away from the roots as much as possible, but not rigorously stripped or cleaned off. Place the tree in the middle of the shallow planting saucer. Always lift a tree by the root ball, never by the stem. Keep the stem straight up. Use your hands and fingers to gently push in soil around and under roots. Do not twist, bend or break the roots. After backfilling and gently firming the soil around the roots and over the tree base, add water.
Step 5: Finish strong.Place a thin layer, no more than two inches thick, of a low density, organic mulch well beyond the edge of the saucer. Water the whole area, making sure soil is not washed away, exposing new roots. After the first site-wide watering, water often over the root ball area. Do not prune or fertilize until the tree has adjusted to its site. New trees planted correctly will be low maintenance, healthy, long-term assets to any site. With just a small amount of care and maintenance, they will continue to be a proud investment in any landscape.