Question: I plan to plant several trees and shrubs this spring. I have had no experience planting. Could you give me some suggestions?
Answer: Holes for trees and shrubs should be dug to the depth of the existing container or soil ball. Holes should be 1½ to 2 times the diameter of the container or soil ball.
Roses and fruit trees should have a mound of soil placed high enough to cover the bulge or bend where the graft union is located. That protects the area from winter freezing. You can create basins for watering around individual plants by placing a circle of soil. Newly planted plants should be watered every few days for the first three weeks, gradually increasing the interval as they become established.
Plants in containers sometimes have several layers of roots on the sides and bottom of the soil ball. Loosen roots or slice through them with a knife to redirect growth downward and outward rather than around and around.
If tree roots are wrapped in burlap and tied with twine, cut and remove twine after placing the tree in the hole. Fold the burlap back off the top of the soil ball and cover it with soil.
Tree trunks of large trees are sometimes wrapped to protect them during shipment. This wrap should be removed as soon as the tree is planted.
Do not add compost, bark dust or other amendments to the back fill soil for individual plants. Roots will spread into adjacent soil much faster when surrounding soil is uniform. A large area with multiple plants can be amended with compost, bark dust or similar materials before planting. An area at least 6 feet in diameter can be amended for individual trees. Fertilizer can be added as you fill the soil around the roots. I use a general purpose fertilizer such as 16-16-16. A 1 to 3 inch layer of bark dust or compost can be added on top to act as mulch. Weed barrier fabric or chemical weed preventer can be applied before the mulch if desired.
Keep an area at least 3 feet in diameter around plants free from grass and weeds. This area should be increased in size as the plant grows. Trees and shrubs will grow at twice the rate without grass competing for water and fertilizer. This also protects the tree trunk from damage caused by mowers and trimmers. Trimming grass around young trees with a line trimmer can severely stunt or even kill them.
Tree stakes are needed for the first growing season only and should be removed in one year or less. Flexible ties or plastic chain-link type should be used to avoid bark damage.
Allen Wilson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.