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How Not to Plant a Tree

December 28, 2010
Tree installed with burlap, string and wire cage intact - wrong!

Tree installed with burlap, string and wire cage intact – wrong!

Do you know how to plant a tree properly?

One of the questions I receive over and over, at on-site consultations and by readers, is “what’s wrong with my tree?” As I begin exploring the tree’s living situation and history, more often than not, the problem comes down to improper planting. And, sadly, the poor planting job likely was performed by a “landscaping professional” who either didn’t know what they were doing or were just plain lazy. To help you avoid these costly mistakes, I wanted to share a few photos and tips illustrating what not to do when planting a tree:

First: Be sure to select a tree that will perform well in your space. Make sure it is a tree that won’t grow too big for the space; chopping the top off to “shape it” will just weaken the tree, make it ugly and never achieve the results you’re after. Also, be sure the tree will grow well in your garden environment. If your garden is boggy, a swamp cypress is a likely better choice than a white pine. If you have hot, baking summer sun, a smoke tree is probably going to serve you well; a white variegated Japanese Maple won’t.

Tree planted with burlap, string & cage intact plus sprinkler spraying trunk - Wrong!

Second: Remove the root wrappings. If your tree comes in a pot, remove the pot and break up the roots. If the tree comes with roots wrapped in burlap, strapped with metal or rope, try to remove everything, carefully. And, do not carry the tree by the trunk without supporting the burlapped root system; you can easily detach the roots from the trunk if you don’t support all areas of the tree. Want more tips on how to properly plant a balled and burlapped tree? Read Arborist Katy’s post detailing techniques here.

Third: Don’t plant the trunk of the tree below the soil surface. I see this all the time, especially when installers don’t remove the burlap. They just bury it, I think to hide all the burlap, string and wire garbage they’re leaving behind in your garden. The trunk of the tree won’t perform well under ground. The tree will likely have stunted growth and may simply give up the ghost.

Fourth: Don’t set a sprinkler or spray head to directly blast the trunk of the tree. This can lead to moisture, rot and fungal problems. Plus, why spray the trunk with water when the roots are what wants the moisture? Conserve water & it where it’s needed — at the roots.

Fifth: Wondering why your tree — planted by you or by a professional — isn’t thriving? Excavate around the trunk and base of the tree to check for containers. If you find it still wrapped and strapped into burlap, dig up the tree and replant it properly this winter or early spring when the soil begins to warm. The younger the tree and more recent the planting, the easier this will be. Left as is, the tree will probably continue slowly fading  (or rapidly crashing) toward death.

Need help evaluating what’s going wrong with trees in your garden? Get in touch to set up a Garden Mentors® consultation session today!

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