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Tree Planting Breakthrough!

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Published on: Apr. 2, 2005

Last revision: Nov. 17, 2010

tree in the hole and ensure that the trunk is straight. At this point the soil ball is still intact. After positioning the tree correctly, cut away the burlap and wire cage from the ball. Also, remove any twine or wire that is wrapped around the base of the trunk.

Next, use a spade to remove all of the dirt on the root ball above the root flare. At this time it is good to lay your shovel handle flat on the ground across the planting hole and check to see that the root flare is at or 1 to 2 inches above the soil grade of the planting site. If so, then fill soil back in the sides of the hole being sure not to add soil on top of the root flare.

Container trees are lighter than balled-and-burlaped trees, and their soil balls tend to remain intact when disturbed. Therefore, you don't need to use a wire probe to find the root flare. Instead, pull the soil ball out from the container and remove the excess soil off the top of the soil ball until you find and uncover the root flare. Then, measure the depth of the "new" root ball and dig the planting hole to that depth or 1 to 2 inches shallower.

On container-grown trees, roots may have already begun to encircle the trunk. Straighten or loosen any of these roots to keep them from eventually becoming girdling roots.

The root flare on a bare root seedling is much easier to spot since it will not be hidden in soil. Check to see that the roots are not growing in a J-shape or encircling the trunk. Then, plant the tree in a hole as above.

When you finish installing the tree, thoroughly soak the entire planting hole, including the root ball, with water. Then, add mulch 2-3 inches deep and as wide as you like around the tree. Keep the mulch off the trunk. Your mulch ring should end up the shape of a flattened doughnut, rather than a volcano. Stake the tree only if necessary using a soft, loose tie that will not abrade the young bark of the tree.

That's the right way!

This new method for tree planting is no more strenuous than what most of us have been doing all along. The difference is in finding the root flare before digging the hole, uncovering the flare from excess soil, and not planting the tree too deeply. This will help your tree reach its potential much faster and improve its vigor.

For more information on how to plant trees and to obtain a free diagram, contact your local Missouri Department of Conservation forester.

A video titled Preventing Stem Girdling Roots details this method of planting trees. It can be ordered in Spanish or English from the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association. Call 615/633-4986 for ordering information.

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