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Planting a tree with care increases chance of survival
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For gardeners, there is nothing better than putting new plants into a landscape. The end product is eye-appealing and rewards you with the beauty of nature.

Adding trees and shrubs to your landscape allows your house to stay cooler for a longer period of the day, provides a windbreak in the winter and makes your house look more inviting to guests. Gardeners have a feeling of permanence when planting a tree, because we know it will outlive us and be around for others to enjoy.

Most people do not put much thought into how to plant a tree, but it is an important step to ensure the tree’s survival. The trees health and chances of establishing in the soil are closely tied back to how well it is planted.

The first thing to consider when planting a tree is the time of year. Trees in containers can be planted into the spring but may require a little more work and care to keep them healthy.

All trees can be planted in the dormant season of late fall and into the winter. Plus, they have a better chance of survival because they are dormant and the availability of water is greater during this time of year.

Soil temperatures are relatively warm in the South and trees will grow roots during this time. New growth of the roots is relatively slow, but the longer the tree is in the ground before the onset of summer heat, the better off the tree will be. 

When looking at the planting site, consider several factors before putting a shovel in the ground.

The biggest issue is the location. 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 in the future?

If you run into one of these problems, then pick a different location or a different type of tree which would work.

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. You want the top of the root ball to be level to the ground. Take the shovel and rough up the sides of the planting hole. This will prevent the roots from becoming bound inside the hole but will encourage them to explore into the native soil.

Another thing to remember is to lime the hole and the dirt dug from it. This will be the only time you can change the soil pH down deep in the hole, so take advantage.

Do not put fertilizer at the bottom of the hole. It will not encourage the roots to grow.

Do not fertilize the tree during the first year of growth. Since the roots were confined to a container or cut when dug, the tree will need to produce roots to balance the above-ground growth.

With a light coating of lime in the hole and mixed with dirt, you can backfill the hole around the tree. When finished, apply about 2-3 inches of mulch around the area, but keep mulch away from the base. Mulch will not only keep weeds down, but give the tree a better advantage for getting nutrients and water. It also will keep the lawn mower at a good distance away from the trunk of the tree.

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

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