University of Illinois Extension
Bruce Spangeberg

These articles are written to apply to the northeastern corner of Illinois. Problems and timing may not apply outside of this area.

Stateline Yard & Garden

Planting Trees Properly This Fall

August 9, 2001

Proper planting is critical to assure the success of trees in the landscape. Whether planting a tree this upcoming fall or next spring, there are a few basic guidelines to follow.

Begin by digging an adequate planting hole that should be wide enough to easily get the root ball inside. Dig the hole so the plant will remain at the same depth it was growing in the nursery. Don't dig a deeper hole and then fill it in, as chances are the soil will settle and then the plant will be too deep. Plants should remain at the same depth as grown in the nursery.

Another area of confusion is what to do with the soil before backfilling into the hole. You often hear or read the suggestion to add peat moss, compost, or other amendments. Some research suggests that this may in fact be detrimental to the growth of the tree. Backfill with the same soil removed when digging the hole. Roughen the sides of the hole to help roots.

For balled and burlapped stock, always handle very carefully so the soil ball is not broken, as many roots could be severed. Always handle the plant by the soil ball or container, not the trunk or stem! Once in the ground, remove rope or twine tied to the trunk. Cut back burlap as far as possible and remove or push down into the hole so it doesn't stick out of the soil.

With container stock, carefully remove the container and inspect visible roots. Cut any severely curled roots, and spread the others. Although containers made of materials that decompose will eventually breakdown if not removed, the plant will take much longer to get established.

After planting and backfilling, water the area thoroughly. After the water has drained away, mulch the planting area. Organic mulches such as bark, wood chips, or pine needles are good choices. Fertilization is not suggested at planting time, although specific packaged, slow-release products for the planting hole would be an exception.


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