A New Way to Plant Trees

A New Way to Plant Trees

Part of Ep. 1402 Secret Gardens & Living Fences

Dane County Horticulture Educator Lisa Johnson says the rules have changed.  There is a new and better way to plant trees.

Premiere date: Jun 28, 2006

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
You're looking at a tree that's been planted wrong.  What's upsetting is I planted it.  I followed the rules when I planted it.  But, the rules have changed.  There is a new and better way to plant trees.  And we're going to learn how.  I'm with Dane County Extension Horticulture Educator, Lisa Johnson.  Lisa, who changed the rules on me? 

Lisa:
(laughs) Well, what we have discovered through research is that squirrels actually plant trees better than trained, professional horticulturists, like myself. 

Shelley:
They're a lot cheaper!

(both laugh)

Lisa:
That's very true. 

Shelley:
What are they doing that we're not? 

Lisa:
This tree has actually been planted too deep.  If you see a tree that goes straight down into the ground like a telephone pole, like this one it's a good indication it's been planted too deep.  What you should see is a flare of trunk tissue that comes out before the tree enters the soil.  And you can see that at any county park where the trees have been planted by squirrels. 

Shelley:
The good employees!  So, the first question anyone's going to ask who's also followed the old rules is can we fix a tree that's already planted too deep? 

Lisa:
You can, to some degree.  You can dig down and attempt to find the root flare which is where the trunk tissue and the root tissue meet. 

Shelley:
It's where there's a real flare. 

Lisa:
Exactly, and that trunk tissue needs to be above ground.  You can try and find that and excavate it to bring it above ground. 

Shelley:
Pull the soil away and be gentle.  Let's assume that we're planting new trees and we haven't made any mistakes.  Let's talk about bare root, potted and balled and burlapped.  Let's find the root flare in each one of those. 

Lisa:
Okay, it's pretty easy on a bare root, because there's no soil and you can very easily identify that root flare.  You don't want to confuse it, though, with a graft union which many of our trees are grafted.  There will be a bump above where the root flare comes out.  So, you take a look at the root system.  Check for broken roots, damaged roots, crossing roots.  Take any of those out.  Then, you spread the roots out, so that they're pointing out in all directions.  And measure between the top of the root flare and the bottom of the root system.  That's how deep you will dig your hole. 

Shelley:
So a lot shallower hole. 

Lisa:
Exactly, [shallower] than we used to dig.  Container plants have typically been in the container a while.  The roots are going around and around.  And you need to untangle that before you can plant it.  You need to find the root flare, again.  I usually do that in a wheel barrow full of water, so the roots don't get desiccated while I'm untangling them.  Because sometimes, it takes a while. 

Shelley:
You're not taking that whole round ball and plopping it in? 

Lisa:
No, no. 

Shelley:
You're treating it like bare root.  You're taking the soil off and spreading the roots out. 

Lisa:
It's very important that the roots get spread out. 

Shelley:
What about balled and burlapped?  That's a completely different issue. 

Lisa:
Again, you're going to need to find the root flare.  It's a little harder.  You need to take off the wires.  You need to remove the ropes.  You need to pull back the burlap.  Then, you need to start to dig, dig, dig to try and find that root flare. 

Shelley:
So, basically, with a trowel or your hands gently pull the soil away until you see the flare. 

Lisa:
Then you use your shovel to measure how deep that is.  And you want the bottom of the root system on the bottom of the hole with any of these three root types.  And you want to not add any extra soil on the bottom. 

Shelley:
So, we're not amending the soil anymore and we're not adding fertilizer.  Those rules haven't changed.  The hole we're describing is now shallower and wider. 

Lisa:
About three times wider than the root mass. 

Shelley:
Except for the balled and burlapped--  For the other two, we're spreading the roots out.  Keep the balled and burlapped root mass together. 

Lisa:
Yeah, trying to keep it somewhat intact although you have done some excavation on the top. 

Shelley:
Let's talk planting. 

Lisa:
Once you've got your measurement of how deep the hole is and you've dug it three times as wide place the plant in the hole with the roots pointing out.  You put in about a third of the soil using the soil you excavated from the hole already. 

Shelley:
I tend to chop a little at the sides of the hole. 

Lisa:
If it's very heavy clay, you definitely want to do that so that the roots are able to penetrate into that clay.  Add some water when you've got about a third of it filled.  Add some more soil and water until it's up to the top.  Then, you add your mulch as a filler over the top to keep the root system cool and moist. 

Shelley:
Mulch is NOT like a volcano wrapped around the tree trunk. 

Lisa:
No, the mulch should not touch the trunk of the tree at all.  Usually, you want it about three to four inches deep and about as far out as the drip line of the tree which is where the branches end. 

Shelley:
And the same rule, about an inch of water a week for at least a year, maybe more for a young tree? 

Lisa:
I'd say two seasons. 

Shelley:
Thanks, Lisa. 

EPISODE SEGMENTS+
EPISODE RESOURCES+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.