April 16, 2007


Reader Larry asks : Can you tell me the correct way to plant a tree or shrub ?

Carolyn replies :

" Don't dig a dime hole for a dollar plant "
is an old saying. the wisdom of which is that you should properly prepare a hole before planting. It may sound simple enough but it never fails that when I work with novice gardeners they barely scratch the surface of the soil and try to make a large plant fit into the tiny excavation.

The correct way to plant is to measure the rootball of the tree or shrub, dig the hole the same depth, and twice its diameter. Remove the plant from its container and check the roots . If it is rootbound ( the roots will be circling around instead of going down ), gently tease them out with your fingers. If the tree or shrub is B & B ( balled and burlaped ) remove all the string and burlap and any wire cages before placing in the planting hole.

Place the plant in the hole. It should be slightly above ground level. More trees die because they are planted too low. If your soil is heavy, plant it even higher. All the soil you've removed
( known as "backfill " ) should be mixed with soil amendments such as compost and then returned to the hole. If you are planting an acid-loving tree or shrub, add peatmoss or Black Forest soil conditioner to the backfill.

There's a new product out called Tree Saver that I use as extra insurance for survival in the urban landscape. It must be used at the time of planting. The urban soil is lacking in essential minerals, especially mycorrhizal fungi, which must be present if a tree or shrub is to survive . Tree Saver was developed by Planthealthcare. Visit their website for more information. Research on it shows that it has improved growth rates up to 300 % in stressed and degraded soils and transplant survival rate improvements of over 90 % increases in root growth of over 1,000 transplanted trees.

Add half the backfill and tamp down. Flood the rootball with water and let it drain. Once drained add the remaining backfill and tamp firmly to eliminate air bubbles. Add an inch or two of mulch, leaving a one inch diameter circle clear around the trunk to prevent crown rot. Water deeply.

To recap :

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