A "planting primer" for trees and shrubs (plantman article)

The Plant Man column for publication week of 03/13/05 - 03/18/05 (751 words) ###
The Plant Man by Steve Jones www.landsteward.org
A "planting primer" for trees and shrubs
Right about now, a lot of us are getting ready to plant some new goodies around our landscape.
Perhaps you visit a garden center or look at an online catalog and see various intriguing plants but hesitate to make the buying decision because you're not sure about the correct planting procedure.
Today, we'll look at three ways you can buy plants (from the little guys up to the most majestic of trees) and have a quick primer on how to plant each type. If you still need help, send me an e-mail at snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org
Potted plants Usually, it's the smaller plants that you can buy in pots, but you'll sometimes find larger shrubs sold that way, and the planting procedure is the same for all of them. First of all, dig a hole approximately twice the width and depth of the container, add some organic matter and refill the hole about halfway with some of the soil.
Tap the pot a few times to loosen the plant and it should slide right out. Put it into the hole and gently spread the roots out, being careful not to break them. It's a good tip to seat the plant so it is about an inch higher than it was in the pot to allow for it to settle. If it is sitting too deep, simply lift it out and add a bit more soil underneath it. When it's at the right height, carefully start filling soil in around the plant, adding water every so often to prevent air pockets and to keep the roots nicely moistened. Add a little mulch... stand back and congratulate yourself!
Bare root If you've seen the term "bare root" but aren't quite sure what it is, allow me to explain. Simply, it's a plant, quite often a tree, that comes to you without any soil attached to the roots. Because it has been washed free of soil, there is a greatly reduced chance of carrying soil-bourne diseases to your landscape, and, due to their light weight, they are very easy to handle while planting.
If I have some bare roots that I can't plant right away, I discard all the packing materials, lay them on the ground and loosely pile some damp soil or compost over the root ends to keep them moist but protected from frost. For bare root trees, about 4 to 6 hours before planting, uncover the plants and soak the roots in a bucket of water. Bare root perennials need less of a soak; 30 minutes to an hour should be enough.
As with the potted plants, dig a hole that's a bit wider than seems necessary. This allows the delicate young roots to spread without trying to force their way through compacted soil. Place the plant into the hole and hold upright while you fill some of the soil back in around the base. There's usually no need to add any soil amendments at this stage.
Add the rest of the soil around your little tree and press down firmly but don't pack it too tightly. Add a generous amount of water and once that has soaked in, add mulch to a depth of about two inches and a diameter of three feet. Be sure that the mulch is not touching the trunk! For the first year, make a point of watering it every week to ten days, depending on weather conditions.
Balled and burlapped "B and B" plants can be quite bulky and heavy. Always pick up your B and B by the root ball, not the trunk. When you have dug a hole plenty big enough for the root ball, remove any strappings, string or wire. You can do this after you have placed the root ball into the hole if you prefer. Natural burlap need not be completely removed as it is biodegradable. Some landscapers leave all of it on the root ball, while others trim it back, leaving some of it under the plant.
Thoroughly soak the root ball with water then begin filling in the soil around the root ball, adding more water as you go. Then simply add a layer of mulch just as you would with a bare root.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org
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On 10 Mar 2005 09:13:38 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@greenwoodnursery.com (Earl) wrote:

Around here, you can often find container-grown trees, as well, and this is not how to plant them. All the studies I've seen show that the best results come from diggin a hole three times as wide as the root ball, and as deep as but no deeper. The backfill should be the same soil that came out of the hole, with no amendments.
Trees are very sensitive to having the trunk flares buried, so special care should be taken to determine where they are before planting. Often, each time the tree gets repotted it gets planted a little deeper, until the big containers have a tree with several inches of excess soil at the surface. Adventitious roots in this soil then become girdling roots as the tree grows, exacerbating the problem. It may be necessary to remove several layers of fine root mats from the top of a large container-grown tree before you can locate the original soil level.
One place the above instructions apply to trees is when it says to plant a little high--even after finding the flares and locating them at grade, sometimes we end up with deep trees after soil settles (one big reason not to dig a hole twice as deep as necessary). Once the recommended three-inch layer of mulch is added, the flares are buried quite deeply once again.
One final amendment to the "rules" above: often, container-grown trees stay in the pot too long before getting bumped up to a larger one, and in the interim roots circle around the outside of the pot. A few years later, the roots are nice, thick rings and the trunk has grown to meet them, and the result is one or more girdling roots that, once again, compromise the root flares. It's hard to do anything about this if it happened three pots back, but you can avoid some girdlers by slicing vertically through the outside of the root ball in two or three places (theoretically the same thing is achieved by "gently spread[ing] the roots out," but it can be difficult to untangle them in a severely rootbound tree). This is one good reason to plant smaller trees rather than large ones. Another is that the small trees will establish themselves in the native soil much quicker and eventually overtake the larger ones. The most obvious is that small trees are much, much cheaper and easier to handle.
Otherwise, I agree with the above completely.
Keith Babberney ISA Certified Arborist
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