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John Fulton


John Fulton
Former County Extension Director



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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Transplanting Trees

Posted by John Fulton -

Today I'll attempt to give you a brief outline of transplanting trees. The best time is during dormancy, meaning deciduous trees have lost their leaves. Or, get as close to the dormancy period as you can. Evergreens are never really dormant, so early spring or fall (by the end of October to allow for root growth) are the best times as well for them.

The first step is to make sure the tree you have selected is adapted to the site you are wanting to plant in. Drainage, soil type, sun, and space are prime considerations. If you have a sump pump that discharges in a particular area, you don't want a tree there that doesn't like wet conditions. Also, make sure you have adequate room for the mature size of the tree you are planting. One of the most common landscaping mistakes is not allowing enough space. This includes height, since power lines and trees don't get along well together.

There are several different ways trees are sold. They can be bare root, potted in the field, container grown, balled and burlapped, or tree spade dug. Each method has strengths and weaknesses, and a lot of the reason a tree is sold a particular way is due to size. There are some general steps that do apply to all types of trees.

First, you dig a hole. The hole should be at least a foot wider than the size of the root system or container size, with many recommending a hole twice the size of the container. Of course, the direct tree spade planted trees won't have this step. Rough up the sides of the hole as with a shovel, and make sure the top of the hole is at least as wide as the bottom. Don't dig the hole too deep, as filling the hole will then lead to planting too deep due to settling. Many balled and burlap trees are actually set with about a third of the ball above ground level after planting. Soil amendments are OK in small quantities, especially in heavy clay or sandy soils. Organic material and good topsoil are the best amendments. Peat moss can cause problems in clay soils, since it can attract water and make a wet hole for your tree.

Most trees done by homeowners are container grown. To plant these types of trees, you first remove the container at the planting site. If the roots are growing all around the container soil, loosen the roots by rubbing or make a few vertical cuts on the sides to cut the mass of roots and make two cuts on the bottom that form an "x." Plant at least two inches higher than the soil level to allow for settling.

Other types of trees have some slight variations at planting time, with bare root being the most different. Bare root plantings need to have air pockets tamped to begin with, the roots straightened and spread in the hole, then the tree needs to be gently raised and lowered as soil is added to work out air pockets.

After-planting care is very important. Usually five to seven gallons of water is needed each week. Do it once a week. Mulch with a three to six inch layer of mulch such as wood chips, and go out from the trunk for three to six feet. Keep the mulch away from direct contact with the trunk, and don't use plastic under the mulch as it can suffocate roots and hold in too much water. A little fertilizer is OK. Too much, especially in the fall, is bad. Lawn fertility rates are fine, and phosphorus and potassium can be added at any time.

Hopefully these tips will help you as you plant trees this fall. I'll cover winter preparation in a few weeks.



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