The transitional seasons of spring and fall are prime planting time in temperate regions such as our Midwest. In Ohio, I like the autumn season better for planting trees. Most can be planted safely at this time remembering that notable exceptions such as the magnolias need to be planted in the spring. When garden designers mention “the bones of the garden” some of the structure they refer to are the trees and, secondarily, the shrubs that give form to a landscape. Once you have decided where you want to plant and what you want to plant, here is a how-to guide with a few reasons why to plant a tree.
Here are ten general things to remember when planting your new tree or shrub:
Check where you have underground lines. I severed my telephone lines several times when first planting evergreen trees many years ago- please don’t repeat my mistake! You can call utility protection services – in Ohio the phone number is 1-800-362-2764, as of this writing. Remove weeds, especially perennial ones from the planting area.
Dig a ten dollar hole for a one dollar plant, not much deeper than the plant ball, although you might want to break up the bottom of the hole a bit if it is hard clay subsoil, but you don’t want the root ball sitting in a depression below soil level. The recommended width of the hole is 2 times the size of the root ball diameter. Just don’t be stingy with the work when you have invested in purchasing a beautiful and healthy tree or shrub. The future pleasure you take in such a plant will depend on its being happy and healthy. Nothing waters the beginning plant better than a bit of sweat from your brow. Big hole for small new planting. Many experts suggest you “plant high”, making sure the level of the transplanted tree is at or above where its soil line was originally located.
Nursery plants come with several styles of root ball:
ball and burlapped, wire basket, and twine-tied root balls; you can leave anything that isn’t plastic. Cut and remove plastic after ball is safely in the planting hole, but keep the soil ball intact.
container plants, either peat containers or plastic. Remove plant from plastic containers; make sure to remove top couple of inches from peat biodegradable ones. You don’t want the moisture to wick up through it and dry out the new roots. You can also slice into the pot in a few places
Before planting make sure the root ball is well-watered. Water an hour or so before planting. If you have a bare root plant, soak the roots for that amount of time before planting it in the ground. If roots are circling the plant, tease them out to encourage them to grow into the surrounding soil.
Fill in around the plant with 3 shovels of the removed soil to 1 shovelfuls added organic matter such as compost or peat moss. There are different opinions on this, but having tried them… I always had best results adding some soil amendment at planting time.
Water well. Try to “mud in” your new plant to ride any remaining air pockets. Since the plants, especially larger ones such as trees, suffer some shock from transplanting and their new roots need to grow, keep your new planting watered throughout the new season. In our hot summers, water every seven to ten days, then soak it well before the winter freeze. Plants lose moisture throughout the winter, so a good soak is a good measure. You might want to get a Treegator to keep the new tree optimally watered.
Some experts recommend staking, but I haven’t found much benefit from it.
My best success with new shrubs and trees included adding transplant fertilizer at planting time, but don’t make the mistake of using regular fertilizer. It can burn the new roots. There are root stimulator products and special transplant solutions, and I think those are good… and then there is always the old fashioned manure tea that , while not added right at planting time, you could use later. Since I like to plant trees in the fall more than in the spring, fertilizing isn’t an issue. It isn’t a good idea to fertilize trees and shrubs too late in the season- they need to harden up for their dormancy.