Tree Planting Breakthrough!

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

up and then in or across, close to the trunk. Sometimes they even grow around the trunk.

For the first few years, these oddly growing roots don't seem to have any effect. As the tree matures, the buried trunk grows into these roots. Usually, about 10 to 20 years after a tree is planted too deeply, these roots girdle the underground trunk like a noose. The results are slowed growth, lost tree vigor, and premature death. In fact, a five-year study by the University of Minnesota shows that more than 80 percent of sugar maples that were in decline had stem girdling roots.

Besides stem girdling roots, trees that are planted too deeply often have problems with below ground trunk rot and root suffocation. Likewise, when a tree's roots are too deep, the tree tries to produce a whole new system of roots at the correct depth. This also slows the tree's growth and reduces vigor.

The Right Way

No matter what form of tree you choose to plant, whether balled-and-burlaped, container-grown or bare-root, the key is to determine where the topmost root (called the root flare) is growing off the trunk. You then have to ensure that the root flare is at (or ideally just above) the soil grade of the planting site.

Balled-and-burlaped trees are more cumbersome to handle than container-grown trees, and their soil balls often fall apart when unwrapped. Therefore, the method for planting differs slightly.

For balled-and-burlaped trees, probe the top of the soil ball close to the trunk to find the first roots. You can do this with a knitting needle, a clothes hanger or a stout wire. Measure the distance from the top of the soil ball to the root flare. Next, subtract that distance from the total depth of the burlaped soil ball. For instance, if you probe down 5 inches before you find the root flare, subtract 5 inches from the total depth of the burlaped soil ball. You should dig a hole to that depth, or even 1 to 2 inches shallower.

The width of the hole should be wider than the root ball. It is also good to break up the hole edges with a shovel so that emerging roots have looser soil to penetrate. However, the bottom of the hole should be firm. By digging the hole after measuring the root ball, you ensure the planted tree will be at the proper level.

Place the balled-and-burlaped

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