To Plant A Tree

OK, so you’ve decided to give your home the many benefits a tree provides.  Great!  You look forward to the shade that will help lower your energy bills, the branches that will provide you with a place to hang a tire swing for the kids, the increased soil holding that will give your property a hedge against erosion courtesy the tree’s root system and, certainly, the pleasant aesthetic enhancement that only a tree can provide for your happy homestead.

The above is all fine and good, but you must keep in mind that getting from a small sapling to a large, great looking tree may take anywhere from ten to twenty years, or more.  In line with that, you must take steps to assure the tree a chance to live long enough to realize all of its many positive qualities.

First Decide on Location

The first step towards growing a strong, healthy tree starts with its planting or “installation,” as the pros call it.  There are definite steps you need to take to insure that your tree makes it into its mature growth stage.  In the following, we’ll go over these steps.  A word of warning, first:  Do not assume that if you hire a tree nursery to do your installation that everything will be done correctly.  I have seen one of the biggest tree nurseries in Austin install trees absolutely the wrong way in both commercial and residential locations. You need to realize that turnover is great, in the tree installation business, and many workers who install trees are not up on the correct procedures involved with doing so.

You need to decide on a location, first.  IMPORTANT:  Have the utility line marking people come out BEFORE you even think about where to put the tree.  This is crucial, along with selecting the species you’re going to plant, as below.  If you plant a tree too close to your water, electric or sewer lines, you can bet that you are going to have trouble in the years to come.  Also, never site a tree too close to your house or fence if you want to avoid problems, later.  Keep in mind that trees planted too close to your property lines may get you in hot water with your neighbors, as well, due to root, branch, leaf and fruit problems.

Second, Decide on the Best Kind of Tree for the Right Spot

Once you’ve chosen your installation spot, select the right tree for the right location.  You need to be very up on the properties of a given tree before you install it.  How tall will it grow?  This is crucial if you’re installing the tree under, or near, power lines or other overhead structures.  It is not in the scope of this article to detail the many tree species available, along with their growth patterns, but you can find lots of information in other online articles about the specific species you choose to go with.  Will the tree be dropping fruit?  Will the fruit have an offensive odor?  Will the tree attract insect pests?  Will the tree be prone to dropping large branches as it matures?  These questions must be asked, along with many others, before you decide on a specific tree.

Third, Decide on the Sapling

Next, you need to decide what type of sapling you’re going to buy.  You can get one with its root ball wrapped in burlap and wire (a so-called “B&B” tree), a bare root tree, or a tree that comes in a pot of a chosen size.  The larger the root ball, the larger the pot, the larger the tree will be, in general.  Bare root trees are usually smaller than the preceding.  A larger B&B tree can be in a huge root ball and you will NOT be able to manage it alone.  In that case, you may want to go with the company selling it to you, but you should still oversee its installation for the reasons covered, above.

Fourth, When Should You Plant It?

You then need to decide when to plant the tree.  In general, you want to plant the tree when it’s in dormancy: no flowers, no fruits and, unless it’s an evergreen, no leaves.  Obviously, cool to colder weather will fit the bill, here.  I prefer mid-Fall planting.

Finally, Plant It

Next, it’s time to dig the hole or oversee the digging of the same.  It is crucial that you measure the size of the root ball being installed, whether it’s in a pot or B&B.  You need to know its diameter and height.  The hole you dig must be 2-3 times the width of the ball and about 2-3 inches shallower than its height.  The sides should be roughed with a shovel so the new roots can get a better hold for penetration, in the future, and those sides should be sloped, as opposed to perfectly vertical. If you’re planting a bare root tree, the hole should be dug using the roots as a guide.  That is, see how long the roots are and count that as your diameter and height.  Where the roots begin coming out of the stem, the root flare, that is the part you want 2-3 inches above grade.

When it’s time to install the tree, in the case of a B&B or potted tree, try to keep as much of the original soil on the roots, as possible.  Once the B&B tree is positioned correctly in the hole, be sure to remove the burlap and twine that it came with, to the extent that is recommended.  Wire and twine left wound and fastened around the top of the root ball will eventually girdle the growing tree and kill it.  While it is still debated, I recommend removing the top third, to half, of the wire basket, if possible. With container trees, simply treat the root and soil mass like the B&B tree.  With bare root trees, gently spread the roots to fan out from the trunk, and then position in the hole.

Fill in the hole with the original dirt.  I don’t recommend adding other “enhanced” dirts or fills.  Tamp the dirt down as you fill it in.  You don’t want to leave large air pockets.  Water the area to settle the dirt and give the tree a drink.  Do not water until the dirt is a muddy mess as you may drown the tree.  When everything is done, check the tree.  See if you can gently rock it.  If it moves too easily, you should stake it with three tree stakes, wire and tree protectors.  Do NOT wrap the wire around the tree, in a loop.  It will girdle the tree, and kill it as it grows.  Put down a 2-3” layer of mulch around the tree in a swale and berm configuration.  Do NOT let the mulch contact the tree’s trunk, stopping it about 4-8” away from the same.  Water the tree weekly if there is no rain for the preceding week.  Remember, overwatering kills more trees than drought. We can advise you on how long to water, based on the size of your new tree.

The preceding is not an exhaustive guide to tree planting but should give you a place to start when you begin thinking about planting a new tree.  At Happy Tree, we would enjoy helping you with your tree planting decisions and installations.  When you start off with all of the right decisions and moves, and we can make sure you do, you help better the odds that your new tree will not only be a happy tree once it’s installed, but it will go on to be a mature, great looking happy tree over the years to come, adding value and enjoyment to your homesite!  Please give us a call at: 512-212-0010.  Thanks!

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