ABOVE: A cherry tree in bloom, a sign of spring anticipated around the world. // AMY DISMUKES
ONE, TWO … TREE!
With spring on the way, everyone is itching to get outside and dig in the dirt.
Normally, it is recommended to install trees during the dormant season or in early spring before buds begin to break, when environmental conditions allow plants to establish roots before the summer heat and humidity come along, and stimulate new canopy growth. Healthy B&B (ball and burlap) or containerized trees, however, can be planted throughout the growing season if done properly.
B&B trees lose a good amount of their root systems when dug. Because of this, B&B trees often exhibit “transplant shock”, a state of slow growth and decreased vigor, following transplant. Container trees will also experience transplant shock, especially if roots inside the pot are already circling or beginning to kink and must be cut.
Proper site preparation, careful handling and good follow-up practices reduces the amount of transplant shock experienced and promote faster establishment. If you follow the few simple steps below, you can help your tree become happy in its new home.
1. FIRST AND FOREMOST, before you begin the preparation for planting your new tree, be sure you have contacted 811 and all underground utilities have been flagged, prior to digging.
2. Locate the root flare, the enlarged portion of the trunk at the base of the tree. The root flare should be partially above ground after the tree has been planted; if not, remove the excess.
2. Dig a shallow, broad hole, two to three times wider than the root ball but only as deep. Digging a broad hole will help to break up any compaction or hardpan within the top layers of soil, which will allow for newly emerging roots to expand easily.
3. If B&B, remove all bindings, cut away wire basket and remove all burlap. If container planting, remove the container and inspect for circling roots. If observed, either straighten, cut or remove them, carefully, with a clean tool.
4. Set the tree at the proper height. The hole should only be as deep as the root mass (ball or soil mass). Because the majority of roots develop in the top 12” of soil, new roots will have a hard time developing due to lack of oxygen. Also remember, soil will settle, so if necessary you should plant a little high. Also, when placing the tree in the hole, lift it by the root ball, not the trunk. Mishandling of a tree or plant, can result in an unsuccessful transplant.
5. Straighten the tree. Once planted, it is difficult to reposition.
6. Fill the hole gently, but firmly, with the native soil. Pack loose soil around the base of the root ball to help in stabilization. Continue filling the hole, firmly packing the soil to eliminate any potential air pockets that could, down the road, cause roots to dry. Water every so often, as you continue filling the hole, to reduce additional air pockets. Do NOT add fertilization at install.
7. If necessary, stake the tree. Staking may be required if planting bare root stock or on a windy site. Monitor staking methods throughout the season to ensure no damage has occurred to the trunk. Remove support staking and ties after the first year of growth. DO NOT leave the materials on the tree as they can cause girdling injury to the trunk, exposing it to pest entry.
8. Mulch the base of the tree. Mulch is intended to aid insulate the trees roots, keeping them warm when temperatures drop and cool when they rise. It’s also an excellent tool to reduce grass and weed competition. It is not intended to protect the tree trunk, therefore, only 2-3” of mulch is necessary. Common mulches include pine straw, shredded bark or composted wood chips. Excess mulch may cause a problem with oxygen and moisture levels. Piling mulch right up against the trunk of a tree may cause decay of the living bark. Don’t over-mulch.
9. Continue with follow-up care. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Water trees once a week, barring rain, and more frequently during hot, windy weather. If your soil is dry below the surface of the mulch, it’s time to water. Water bags are great but remember, they must come off of the tree eventually.
Be careful about pruning your newly installed baby. Often, we want to jump ahead, however, leaving the tree alone for the first year will allow good canopy development and decrease the potential for early pest activity. Branches damaged during the installation process should be removed but leave the others. Necessary corrective pruning should be done after a full season of growth in the new location has occurred.
As always, be sure to consult your local extension agent or a tree care professional for assistance when questions arise regarding your tree or landscape. And remember, a happy tree is a healthy tree!
“A Home Grown Tradition” is written by Amy Dismukes, the TSU Nursery Production Specialist at the Otis L. Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville. Amy is a graduate of Auburn University, where she received a Bachelor of Liberal Arts, a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture and a Master of Agriculture in Plant Pathology & Entomology. Amy worked as the Horticulture Extension Agent for Williamson County, Tennessee for almost six years before transferring to Nursery Extension. She provides educational training regarding best management practices and issues with insects, plant diseases, soil and weeds. Amy is a frequent guest speaker for professional, garden and horticultural associations and commercial pesticide workshops/conferences.