Want to give your landscape tree planting the best chance to thrive? Give some thought to these tips from K-State Horticulture Specialist Ward Upham:
Make sure the tree fits the site. That means giving thought to whether the tree produces nuisance fruit, whether it is the right size for the area and has disease tolerance. Check with a trusted nursery or http://hnr.k-state.edu/extension/info-center/recommended-plants/index.html.
A shady location is the best ‘storage’ site until planting. Make sure it stays well watered as well. When moving the tree, lift it by the root ball or pot and not by the trunk.
Any wires, labels, cords or other things tied to the plant need to be removed or they can girdle the branch to which they are attached. Remove enough soil or media to expose the root flare—the point where trunk and roots meet. A proper hole is one that is deep enough so that the tree sits slightly above where it was planted in the nursery. Make sure the tree is planted on solid ground instead of fill dirt. Avoid digging the hole too deep, so you do not have to refill it. Hole width is important as well. Dig it three times the width of the root ball. Then, loosen the soil outside the hole so it is five times the diameter of the root ball. This will allow the tree to spread its roots faster.
Containers need to be removed from the root ball as well. Cut away plastic and peat pots. Roll burlap and wire baskets back into the hole, cutting as much of the excess away as possible. Do your best to remove the wire basket without disturbing the root ball. If roots are circling the interior of the container, cut them, then spread them out. This will reduce the likelihood of them growing in a circle inside the hole and become girdling roots later in the life of the tree.
The hole should be backfilled with the same soil that was removed. Avoid amendments such as peat moss. They will likely do more harm than good and can create a ‘pot’ effect that will result in a limited root structure. Soil should be loose—no clods or clumps. To prevent air pockets and increase good root to soil contact, add water as you fill. Avoid fertilizing at planting. There is no need to fertilize at planting.
Cut back rubbing or damaged branches—but leave the rest. Leaf buds release a hormone that encourages root growth. Cutting the tree back reduces the number of leaf buds resulting in less hormone released and fewer roots being formed. Water the tree thoroughly and then once a week for the first season if there is insufficient rainfall. Be sure and check the tree’s moisture regularly during the growing season.
A two to four-inch deep mulch should cover an area two to three times the diameter of the root ball. This can help reduce competition from other plants while conserving moisture and keeping soil temperatures closer to what the plants’ roots prefer.
Trees will establish more quickly and grow faster if they are not staked, so avoid staking if at all possible. Larger trees or those in windy locations may need to be staked the first year. Movement is necessary for the trunk to become strong. Staking should be designed to limit movement of the root ball rather than immobilize the trunk.