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Cannon: Avoid common mistakes when planting trees
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Trees, whether evergreen or deciduous (leaf dropping), can add beauty and balance to your landscape. They also create shade and deliver spectacular beauty in the spring and fall.

Whether you are considering planting now or waiting until spring, there are a few pitfalls to avoid.

Planting young trees is not a difficult task. But because trees are usually more expensive than shrubs, consider them a permanent addition to your landscape. Thus, it is very important to plant properly so it thrives well and survives.

Part of planting correctly is selecting the proper location. Whether you begin with the site you want to plant in, or you begin with a tree you like, a properly chosen site is vital. Space, soil and available light are all factors to consider.

Consider the tree's size at maturity, its shape, root system (shallow or deep) and the type of soil it will thrive in. Does the climate we live in fair well to its growth? We live in planting zone 7b, so check the tag to make sure it is suitable for our area. This is important if you are ordering from a catalog.

In residential areas, will overhead utility wires come in contact with the tree? Or will the roots interfere with underground cable and water septic systems? Some trees are better planted 20 to 40 feet from a foundation or septic system, so do your homework.

Trees are normally sold in three different ways:

Ball and burlapped. These trees are usually 3 to 4 years old and commonly sold with roots and soil wrapped in burlap. The burlap holds the soil on the roots and protects them until planting time. These trees are fastened with twine or a wire basket.

Containerized. At most nurseries and garden centers, you will find trees growing in all sizes and types of containers. These trees usually transplant well because the roots have not be disturbed.

Bare root. Trees ordered by mail and arrive as "young whips" with their roots bare of soil. They are usually wrapped in moist sawdust or some medium to keep them from drying out.

To achieve optimal results in the planting process, there are six steps to follow.

• Planting time: Fall is the best time to plant any woody plant, including trees and shrubs. Trees can be planted now in their dormant stage when the soil is free of frost and slightly dried out. The winter has been mild so our ground has not been frozen for quite some time. Spring is also a good time to plant and can be successful, if you keep the plant watered well during the heat of summer.

• Dig the hole: The hole should be dug twice as wide but the same depth as the root ball, so the top of the root ball is flush with the ground. Do not add anything to the hole. Make sure you backfill the hole with the same soil you dug out. Then press firmly with your hands around the soil to compact.

• Make sure you take the burlap, wire, or any other wrapping off of the root ball before planting. If not, it could lead to serious problems. The roots of the tree need to be free of restrictions so they can stretch out and get fully established.

• Whether the tree comes in a container or ball and burlapped, it is a good idea to take away the dirt from the roots, wound the roots with a small shovel or spade and straighten out the curled roots where they can grow more vigorously. Cut away any bad roots before you plant.

• It is best not to add any fertilizer, compost peat moss or any other soil amendment to the hole when first planted. Just backfill with the soil you dug out. Place amendments on the soil surface to work their way down slowly.

• Don't stomp down on the soil as you plant the tree. Firmly use your hands to firm it up around the base. When finished, mulch around the tree keeping it at least 2 feet away from the tree's stem. Do not use more than 4 inches of mulch in thickness. Always keep your trees mulched 24/7 during the year.

Planting trees can be done anytime the soil is not frozen. Do not plant in the middle of the hot summer as well. Evergreen plantings do well in late winter or early spring.

In recent years, techniques for planting trees have been revised by horticulture professionals to reflect some of the changes in modern growing practices, new nursery materials and new understandings of soil requirements and tree growth.

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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