Tree planting: How best to get healthy trees into the ground

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, we discussed selection and pre-plant considerations for trees and shrubs. The following is a detailed recommendation for you to consider as you plant.
RBC I Step 1. Determine depth of the planting hole. To deal with the soil texture interface between the root ball soil and the backfill, the root ball needs to rise slightly above grade with no backfill soil over the top of the root ball.

The depth of the planting hole should be 1 to 2 inches less than the height of the root ball adjusted (as needed) to correct the depth of the tree in the root ball. If the tree is planted too deep, the root ball is starved for oxygen and the trunk-girdling roots end up strangling the trunk.
Step 2. Dig a saucer-shaped planting hole three times the root ball diameter with sloping sides allowing the root system to grow rapidly. The wide planting hole also allows for root ball wrappings to be removed after the tree is situated in the planting hole.
The bottom of the planting hole remains undug as this prevents the tree from sinking and tilting as the soil settles. After digging, measure the depth of the planting hole with a straight rod (like a broom) across the hole and a measuring tape positioned vertically. Is this measurement 1 to 2 inches less than the height of the root ball? If yes, proceed to Step 3.
Step 3. Set tree in place, removing container/wrapping. Based on research, always remove all wrapping materials (burlap, fabric, grow bags, twine, ties, wire basket, container, etc.).
Check depth of the root ball in the planting hole and correct the depth, if necessary. Align vertically. In order to prevent having to stake the tree after planting, stabilize the tree by firming a small ring of backfill soil around the base of the root ball. Then, fill the hole with loose dirt, but don’t pack the soil.
Step 4: Soil Amenities. To the point fertilizer generally is not needed. However, plants like roses, honey locust, lilacs and willows often suffer from iron chlorosis in a few years, so, in this case, adding a chelated iron is wise. Phosphates are also nice to add, but never add nitrogen.
Always add mycorrhizae, which live on hair roots and are responsible for absorption of minerals into the roots. If soil is rocky or sandy, polymers are nice to add. The polymer crystals retain moisture and help alleviate periods of drought.
Step 5. Backfill. In backfilling the planting hole, the best method is to simply return the soil and let water settle it. Avoid compacting the soil by walking or stamping on it.
Caution: Limit backfill soil on top of the root ball (water and air need to move in and out of the root ball)l. With too much soil, the bark rots and the tree dies.
Often, containers have added too much soil over the ball. In this case, simply remove some. It is common to amend the backfill soil by adding organic matter to improve the water-holding capacity of sandy/rocky soils or to increase large-pore space in clay soils. If you need to amend the soil, only use 5 percent organic matter and mix well with backfill soil (no layering or clumps). Never mess with the tree’s rooting area.
Step 6. Staking. In most home landscaping settings, no staking is necessary if the tree is set on undisturbed soil with soil firmed around the base of the root ball before backfilling.
However, protection staking may be necessary if the tree needs protection from human activities, such as passersby, along a street or busy backyard. In an area of high winds, anchor staking may be needed.
When staking, always use flat, grommeted canvas straps rather than ropes, wires or hose segments against the trunk, which girdle the tree, leading to death.

By Vanessa Trout
CSU County Extension
Special to the Herald Times