How-to / Uncategorized



“If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees. ”

-Hal Borland

Trees affect our  lives in so many ways. They are the branches from which we swing, the shade under which we sit, a source of  food, and the material from which we build so many of the things that make our lives more comfortable. The leaves of some  put on a show in the fall,  while others are brought into houses in December to take part in the traditions of the Christmas season.


As they say, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” This is particularly true in the early fall, as it is a very good time to plant trees. The roots will have time to grow before winter, and since the tree isn’t also trying to grow new leaves, flowers, and branches, it can use most of its energy to get established.

For those of us who have experienced drought this summer, it is important to understand that the trees are feeling it, too, and to give them water, if possible. It’s easy to think that because they are old and so much bigger than we are that they don’t have the needs of smaller plants. So we encourage you to give them as much care as you can, because stressed out trees are weaker and more  susceptible to disease, leading to limbs that are more likely to break under the weight of snow and damage both the tree and whatever is underneath. So a little watering can do a lot of good.


While you are watering, why not plant a new one? It’s a lot more simple than you may think to plant a small tree, and it won’t be long before you will be sitting in its shade or harvesting its fruit. How you plant it depends a little on how it is “packaged”, whether in a container or B&B (Ball and Burlap), but the process is essentially the same:

1) Dig a hole. This needs to be a large hole, roughly three times as wide as the root ball/pot, and twice as deep. Keep the soil that comes out of the hole. The reason for the large size of the hole is to give yourself room to work, but more importantly, to give the roots plenty of loose soil to grow through. If the soil is too compacted, or if the roots reach the edge of the hole too soon, they may turn to the left or the right, instead of growing straight out from the tree. They aren’t stupid, and are much more likely to take the path of least resistance if they come up against more compacted soil. Roots that circle instead of spread out create a tree that isn’t as stable. So spend the extra time now and make that hole as big as it needs to be.

2)Amend and back-fill. Now that you have dug a lovely, deep hole, it’s time to fill it up again! Use some of the soil that came from the hole, mix it with some loam, and add it to the hole so that when you place the tree in the hole the soil level in the pot matches the grade of the soil where you are planting it. (See container vs. B&B for slight differences in this.) Resist the temptation to skip the native soil and only add loam. If there is only good stuff in the hole, the roots won’t feel the need to go any farther than the edge of the hole that you have dug, which creates similar problems to what we described in Step 1.

3) Plant.


IF YOUR TREE IS IN A CONTAINER, follow these steps:

~Water well.

~Remove the tree from the pot, and inspect it for circling roots. If you see any, pull them away from the sides of the root ball. Cut them loose, if necessary.

~Look for the “flare” at the base of the trunk, where the trunk meets the roots. This should not be covered in soil, so brush away any extra so that you can see the beginning of where it starts to get thicker.

~Place the tree  in the hole, and decide which side you want facing which way, and make sure it is straight. Most often, a flat spot will even out over time, but there is no need to look at it while it does!

~Back-fill with the rest of the soil, amended with loam. Don’t stomp on the soil or compact it, other than to press on it firmly enough to keep the tree upright. Fill until the hole is about 2″ from being full, then water.

~ Check to make sure that the tree is still straight, and back-fill the rest of the way. Water again, for good measure.

~Mulch, keeping it away from the base of the trunk. No mulch volcanoes, please! They will kill the tree in time.


~To stake or not to stake? See comment at the end of the B&B instructions.



~Back-fill as you would with a container grown plant, adding amendments, etc. The height of the tree’s root ball should be just slightly above grade, as will be explained in a minute.

~Do not take off the wire cage and burlap until the tree is in the hole, because you run the risk of the soil around the roots falling off. If there is anything else (plastic, for example) you can remove that, but keep the rest on until you have put the tree in the hole and maneuvered  it into position. That is one of the reasons why you dug such a big hole in the first place, to give yourself room to work.

~Once the tree is positioned in the hole the way you like it, remove the wire and burlap. Getting it all off is ideal, but sometimes this is not feasible. If absolutely necessary, some of this can be left on the bottom of the tree, but make sure that the sides are free, because that is where the roots will be growing the most. Failure to do this will most likely result in the tree’s death.


~Back-fill about 1/3-1/2 of the way with the amended original soil, and then water. Make sure that the tree is straight, then fill the rest of the way. The top of the root ball should be about 2″ above grade, with the soil feathering over the edges of the “shoulders”.

~In the process of digging the tree up and preparing it for sale by wrapping the roots in burlap, soil is inevitably mounded up over the place where the roots join the trunk. It’s just part of the process. Long term, however, this is very bad for the tree. So after you have the tree planted, with the root ball placed as in the above step, gently pull back the soil from the base of the trunk until you see the “flare” where the roots join the trunk. Spread this soil over the top of the root ball, keeping it away from the trunk. Water again.

~Mulch, keeping it away from the base of the trunk. No mulch volcanoes, please! They will kill the tree in time.

To stake or not to stake?

There is some controversy on this point. While stakes can be essential if the young tree is very top heavy, for example, there is a school of thought that says that trees will ultimately be stronger if allowed to sway in the wind and develop the roots needed to hold it in place without help. The best thing to do is to assess the situation and decide which approach is right. If the tree is top heavy, or in an especially windy location, then some stakes, loosely tied, may give it the stability that it needs while it is establishing its roots. If the tree seems stable and there aren’t any environmental factors which could make it otherwise, then you are probably able to skip staking.


Simple, right? It will probably take you less time to plant a tree than it took you to read this blog entry, so what are you waiting for? The weekend is coming, all sorts of wonderful trees are waiting for you in nurseries (probably on sale, at this time of year). Happy planting!


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