April 1, 2003
CHOOSING THE PLANTING SITE:
Be sure to plant your new tree or shrub in a site that will allow it to thrive. Different plants have different needs. Make sure the plant you have chosen has ample room to grow (spread & height), proper lighting, correct drainage and soil type to meet its needs. Check with your nursery professional for tips on choosing a site, planting and caring for your plant.
DIGGING THE HOLE:
- Dig the hole approximately 2-3 times as wide as the soil ball
- Measure the height of the root ball. Dig the hole 1-2” less than that height. Do not dig deeper or the plant will be too deep once the disturbed soil settles. The tree’s root collar (the bulge right above the root system) should be just above the top of the soil. Many new tree cultivars are grafted and so that graft knob should be right at ground level or just slightly above. Remember it is better to plant high rather than too deeply.
- When digging is complete, roughen up the sides of the hole. This will help the roots grow into the soil.
PREPARING THE PLANT:
- Remove the container from the root ball. Plastic pots usually will slide off with a gentle tap or may be split with a sharp knife & the root ball will slide out. Make 3-4 shallow vertical cuts down through the roots/soil ball to roughen up any circling roots. Fiber/paper pots need 3 or 4 slices vertically with a sharp knife. Set the plant into the hole and then peel away as much of the fiber pot as possible. Be sure to remove the entire top lip of the pot so that it will not protrude above the final soil line. Fiber pots will decompose, but tearing away most of the pot will allow fast growing plant roots an escape route if the pot has not fully rotted away. Balled and burlapped trees need to have the twine or rope cut and the top of the burlap loosened, opened and cut away after the tree is properly placed in the hole and before backfilling with soil. There should be no nylon rope or other material left around the plant unless it is a type that will decompose (wire baskets are okay as they will rust & degrade over time)
- Backfill the hole using the original soil dug from the hole. Organic amendments may benefit poor soils, but never completely backfill with an amendment. These amendments must be thoroughly mixed with the original soil before backfilling the planting hole. This creates a transition layer to encourage the roots to spread from the good soil mix of the container through the amended soil & out into the surrounding soil. However, in most cases plants will grow best if the original soil is altered as little as possible.
FERTILIZING AND WATERING:
- Fertilizer high in phosphorus (the middle number) helps the development of a strong root system. High phosphorus slow release fertilizer or a liquid starter may assist root growth, lessen transplant shock and help the plant re-establish quicker. Never put fertilizer directly on plant roots. Always mix thoroughly into the soil before backfilling when using dry fertilizer. Always follow the label instructions.
- Backfill soil evenly around the plant to minimize air pockets. When the hole is ? full of backfill, water thoroughly to eliminate air pockets. Finish filling with soil and water again thoroughly.
- Never water automatically without 1st checking the soil to see if watering is really needed. Every 7 to 10 days test the soil moisture about 4” deep by pushing a trowel into the ground and then sticking your finger down into the crack. If it is dry or only slightly damp, then water. Sandy soil needs water more often than clay soils. Deep thorough watering (and only as needed) will encourage a deep & healthy root system. Always check soil moisture before watering! (No water or too much water causes the same result: death!)
- Mulching with a material such as wood chips helps retain soil moisture and prevent fast soil temperature fluctuations during the year. Mulch helps to inhibit weed and grass growth around the plant. This lessens the chances of damage to the plant from mowers and trimmers. Just as you should not plant too deeply, neither should you mulch too deeply. Use a 2-4” layer and taper mulch away from the stem/trunk. Do not pile mulch against the stem/trunk of your plant.
- Most newly planted trees do not need staking. If the tree is unstable or planted in a windy area staking is necessary. Use soft material that will not damage or cut into the tender young bark to secure the tree to the stakes. Pieces of old garden hose cushioned against the trunk with wire or rope threaded through the hose and attached to ground stakes works well. Stakes should be moved each fall and spring to adjust the tension on the trunk. Remove stakes entirely in one to three years when the root system has developed and re-established.
- In our harsh Iowa climate, the trunks of young trees should be wrapped in late fall to prevent damage from frost cracking and animals. Each year apply a paper tree wrap in fall and remove in the spring until the tree develops a thick strong bark. Pay particular attention to maples, crabapples, fruit trees and others that have very tender bark when young.