proper technique for planting potted trees

The local mega-mart sells 6' tall potted trees. I'd guess the pot is about 2 gallons or so.
When the tree is removed from the pot for planting, should the root ball be left completely undisturbed, or should an attempt be made to gently shake or pull the roots free?
I bought one of these trees, dug a hole about 3 times as wide and twice as deep as the pot, filled the hole with 120 pounds of topsoil, moved some of the topsoil away to make room for the root ball, cut away the plastic pot from the root ball, placed the root ball into the hole, backfilled with topsoil, and watered. Now I'm wondering if I should have done something with the root ball before planting.
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You did it right. Just keep track of the soil's moisture once a week or so. In a perfect world with perfect soil, you grab a handful, squeeze it into a shape, and it should crumble like chocolate cake. Not brownies, but CAKE. If it seems more like modeling clay than cake, lay off the water and check again in a week.
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Ether Jones wrote:

A lot depends on how long the tree has been in the pot, and whether or not it has become root bound. If the roots are very tightly matted & intertwined at the bottom and sides, a bit of loosening is in order. I like using a blunt hand garden fork to carefully work the bottom roots loose a bit, and spread them out somewhat. Then cover them with nice loose amended soil.
If the roots are not matted, no extra detangling is necessary.
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in addition, if the roots are going round and round in the pot they must be loosened and cut off or directed outward or they will keep circling. I like to use a knife and make cuts along the very outside edge of the root ball in 3 places ... this stims root growth outward. many trees grow with an obvious stunting in the flare on one side of the tree. this is where a root is wrapped around and strangling normal growth. where trunk meets soil the trunk comes straight down or even tucks under a bit. the root ball has to be checked for these kind of roots before planting. they are suggesting planting high because trees tend to settle down into the hole over the loosened soil (is good to NOT dig the hole deeper than the planting depth, but dig a bit wider. Ingrid

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ List Manager: Puregold Goldfish List at http://weloveteaching.com/puregold / sign up: http://groups.google.com/groups/dir?hl=en&q=puregold&qt_s=Group+lookup www.drsolo.com Solve the problem, dont waste energy finding who's to blame ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I receive no compensation for running the Puregold list or Puregold website. I do not run nor receive any money from the ads at the old Puregold site. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Zone 5 next to Lake Michigan
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wrote:

Good advice above. Also, make sure the tree is not too deep. Often, the nursery adds soil to the top of the root ball when repotting. Remove this soil if necessary. The trunk flares should be visible at the soil surface. Planting too high is better than too deep.
The area around the trunk should be mulched to a depth of 3 inches. Do not pile three inches of mulch against the base of the tree, though--keep those flares dry! This is another reason it can pay to plant a little high.
In future, save your time and money by skipping the topsoil. Dig the hole as you described and backfill with whatever you remove from the hole. I don't think it would be worth it to undo the process on the tree you've already planted.
When establishing a new tree, the root ball from the pot is often dry much sooner than the native soil. Until the tree can spread new roots into the native soil, the original root ball may need water once or twice a day.
For more info, visit www.treesaregood.com
good luck, Keith Babberney ISA Certified Arborist #TX-0236AT
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<< Also, make sure the tree is not too deep. >>
Two years ago I "rescued" a sick-looking Autumn-Blaze Maple from the local Wal-Mart about mid-summer when it was on clearance.
I dug a deep hole in some really crappy soil (mostly coarse sand and rocks, below an 8 inch thick layer of seemingly impenetrable hardpan about 4 inches below the surface. I had to use a sharp pointed hand tool to pick my way through the hardpan.
I filled most of the hole with organic debris from my tree line and stomped it down: leaves, sticks, dead grass, acorns, hickory nuts, etc etc etc. Then I put a layer of the "soil" I had removed from the hole.
I planted the tree with the root flare about 10 inches below grade, backfilled with the crappy soil to the top of the root flare, threw in a handful of lawn fertilizer, then put down crushed limestone to fill the rest of the 10 inches to make the hole level with the surrounding surface. I planted the tree below grade to give it extra support because I didn't want to bother to stake it. Also, I thought this would be good for the tree since the soil is more moist down there.
I watered it once, then we left on vacation for 2 weeks.
As you can tell from the above, in my ignorance I broke just about all the rules.
When we returned from vacation I couldn't believe my eyes. The tree was going nuts, putting out new growth everywhere.
This spring it is going nuts again; it's the healthiest-looking maple on the property.
So my question is, should I dig this tree up this fall and plant it properly? In other words, is it going to run into trouble as it gets larger and starts to expand its root system? Or did I just get lucky and get a tree with really good genes, and I should leave well enough alone?
By the way, I bought a very healthy-looking Bradford Pear in a 3.5 gallon pot and planted it a week ago following all the rules. It's already wilting and it looks like it's going to die. Doesn't make any sense.
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wrote:

[snip]
No, it doesn't. Not to get defensive, but the guidelines I offered were based on textbooks and scientific research, not what my Uncle Harold told me.
In the first case, I'd say the limestone is so porous as to be not much different from open air (especially with the low watering amounts) and because you planted so deep, it may have taken advantage of the deep moisture to weather the hard times. Or maybe wally has developed a tree that can survive the conditions that will be faced in his stores ;-) And some trees are more tolerant of deep planting than others. But the limestone against the root crown will likely have detrimental effects over time. This critical part of the tree really needs to breathe, generally speaking. It might be extreme to dig up an established tree just to raise it up at this late date, but removing the gravel to create a well is probably a good idea.
In the second case, it sounds like the tree went through some transplant shock, which is common. Even if it drops its leaves, though, keep watering and taking care of it. It will likely come back later in the season or next year (you can be a little more proactive by doing a scratch test on twigs now and then; if they are hard, dry and brown they are dead, but if you scratch down to green tissue they are just dormant). Why do some trees go through more shock than others? Probably a host of factors combine to make this happen (going abruptly from a semi-shaded greenhouse to a sunny lawn comes to mind), but the bottom line is that it's not unusual and you should give it time.
Keith
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two trees is short by about 98 trees for making any kind of valid observation about the effect of X technique on survival of Y trees. Ingrid
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ List Manager: Puregold Goldfish List at http://weloveteaching.com/puregold / sign up: http://groups.google.com/groups/dir?hl=en&q=puregold&qt_s=Group+lookup www.drsolo.com Solve the problem, dont waste energy finding who's to blame ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I receive no compensation for running the Puregold list or Puregold website. I do not run nor receive any money from the ads at the old Puregold site. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Zone 5 next to Lake Michigan
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Hi Keith,
I wasn't challenging the wisdom and factual basis of your advice, just expressing some mild frustration that I tried to do it right this time (with high expectations) and got disappointed.
I won't give up on the Pear until next spring, if it fails to bud. Meanwhile, I've been giving it 5 gallons of water every other day. Is that too much? I all soaks into the ground within 3 minutes or so.
As for the Maple, I removed all the limestone, put a cutaway 2-liter bottle around the trunk, and replaced the limestone. So now there is an air pocket all the way down to the root flare. When I removed the limestone, I noticed that the trunk was damp (darker color) near the bottom. Now it is dry. That's good, right?
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