Plant trees now and get them off to a good start
By LEE REICH
For The Associated Press
As the poet Joyce Kilmer wrote, “only God can make a tree.” (“Probably because it’s so hard to figure out how to get the bark on,” added Woody Allen.) But for good growth once a tree is made, it is for us mortals to step in and plant correctly.
Fall is the best time of year to plant most trees. The ground is soft and moist, perfect for digging. Nurseries have freshly dug trees. And roots have time to establish themselves before stems begin growing next spring.
KINDS OF NURSERY STOCK
Nurseries offer trees three ways:
• “Bare root” trees are dug from fields as soon as their leaves drop, then the roots are packed in wet sawdust or other moist material. Transplant shock is minimized if the tree is small, spends minimum time out of the ground, and – of course – is planted correctly. These are the least expensive kinds of nursery trees, and, because they are easily shipped, are available in greatest variety.
• A nursery may dig a tree while keeping the roots happily entombed in a ball of soil, swaddling that root ball in burlap, giving this type of nursery tree the name “balled and burlapped” or, simply, “B&B.” B&B trees are more expensive than bare root trees, less easily transported and, under ideal conditions, suffer less shock in transplanting.
• The third kind of nursery tree has spent its life growing in a pot. “Potted” trees suffer the least root disturbance and can be planted any time of year. Because they are more easily shipped than B&B trees, potted trees are available in greater variety.
HOW TO DIG A HOLE
No need to break your back digging holes for new trees. Once you have selected a tree and a site, use a lawn edger or shovel to cut into the grass the circumference of a circle twice as wide as the spread of the roots. Then use the shovel to strip off the top inch or two of sod inside the circle.
In the circle’s center, dig a hole slightly wider than the spread of the roots. Dig only deep enough so that after planting the tree will be almost as deep in the ground as it was in the nursery. You can tell how deep a bare root tree stood in the nursery by the soil line on the trunk.
Rough up the soil at the bottom and sides of the hole, and, for a bare root tree, use some of the soil that you excavated to build up a cone-shaped mound on which to bed the roots.
Take a last look at the roots before you lower your tree into its hole. Cut back any diseased or broken roots to healthy tissue. Slide a potted tree out of its pot, unravel any large roots circling the root ball, then tease smaller roots from the outside of the root ball with a pointed stick.
Lower your tree into the planting hole, tucking soil underneath the roots or scraping it away, as needed, until the tree is at the correct depth. If the tree is B&B, cut and remove any rope or wire, then peel back the burlap and ease it out of the hole without disturbing the root ball.
Shovel soil back in among the roots, crumbling it, prodding it with a stick, and pressing it with your heel so that no gaping voids remain. Then cover the bare ground with a 3-inch depth of wood chip or straw mulch, almost to the trunk. Finally, give your tree a thorough but gentle soaking, applying at least 1 gallon of water for every square foot spread of the roots.
DON’T IGNORE YOUR NEW TREE
Water it regularly, as long as leaves persist or the soil isn’t frozen. And during your new tree’s first season of growth, lavish it with a thorough soaking once a week, except after heavy rains. As a rule of thumb, each week give the tree 1 gallon of water per square foot area of the planting hole. This computes to about 3 gallons per week for a tree planted in a hole 2 feet across.