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Wheeler: The art of tree planting

POSTED: October 19, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Putting plants in the ground is something I think we have all done in our lives. Most people get a sense of satisfaction by taking a bare flower bed or yard and adding trees, flowers and shrubs.

Adding trees and shrubs to you landscape allows your house to stay cooler during the day, provides a windbreak in the winter and makes your house look more inviting to guests. There is also a feeling of permanence when you plant a tree, because we know it will outlive us and be around for others to enjoy.

Most do not put much thought into proper tree planting, but this is an important step to insure the tree’s survival. The tree’s health and chances of getting established are closely tied to how well it is planted.

The first thing to consider when planting a tree is the time of year. All trees can be planted in the dormant season of late fall and into the winter. Trees in containers can be planted into the spring, but they may require a little more work and care to keep them healthy.

A tree planted in the fall or winter has a much better chance of surviving because the tree itself is dormant and the availability of water is greater during this time of year.

Also in the South, soil temperatures are relatively warm and trees will grow roots during this time. New growth of roots is relatively slow, but a tree which is given a couple of months or more of establishment will generally be healthier than a tree planted in the spring right before the heat of summer.

The biggest issue you face when planting a tree is where to put it. Will the tree grow where you want it? Is there enough sun? Does the soil drain or does it hold water? Is there enough room for the tree years from now? If not, then either pick a different location or pick a different type of tree.

When digging the hole, it is best to dig it at least two times the size of the root ball or container. The other big issue is not to dig the hole too deeply. The top of the root ball should be level to the ground you are planting.

Also, take the shovel and rough up the sides of the planting hole. This will prevent the roots from becoming bound inside the hole and encourage them to explore into the native soil.

One other practice to consider is to lime the dirt dug out to make the hole. This will be the only time you will be able to change the soil pH down deep in the hole, so take advantage of the opportunity. There is no need to put fertilizer at the bottom of the hole as this will not encourage the roots to grow out and explore for nutrients.

When you are done planting the tree, add 2-to-3 inches of mulch around the planting area. This will not only keep weeds down, but also give the tree a better chance of getting nutrients and water. The area of mulch will also keep the lawn mower a good distance away from the trunk of the tree.

Trees are great investments, but just like anything, they require a little planning and a solid foundation from the beginning to be healthy.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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