Plant a Tree

There is renewed emphasis on tree planting as a way to create a healthier environment. Earth Day and Arbor Day committees in many localities will be distributing trees for school children and others to plant. These efforts depend upon the planted trees surviving, an event more likely to occur if the trees are planted properly. So how do you plant a tree correctly?

The first step is to give the tree the right care until it can be planted. Trees in winter dormancy are still alive. They should be kept out of strong sunlight and wind, and the roots must be kept moist. If the plant will be kept for more than a day or two before planting in its permanent site, it should be heeled-in. Heeling-in means temporary planting. Bundled trees should be untied and heeled-in individually. If the tree has any broken branches or roots, these should be pruned back to clean, live wood with sharp pruning shears.

The final planting hole should be deep and large. A hole eighteen inches deep with a similar diameter is not too large for a bare root seedling only two or three years old. Unless the soil is very good, it should not be used to refill the hole. If the subsoil is mostly clay, the bottom of the hole should be pierced with a crowbar or sharp stick for drainage. The bottom of the hole is then covered with about six inches of good soil or compost.

Place the plant in the hole at a depth where the soil mark on the tree trunk is a couple of inches below ground level. Fill in good soil around the plant to about one half to two thirds the depth of the hole. Firm the soil with your feet or a baseball bat. Water the tree until water in the hole is no longer absorbed quickly, then finish filling the hole until the firmed soil is even with the soil mark on the tree trunk.

The tree will sit in a shallow depression slightly below ground level.This will catch and hold rain water for the transplanted tree. The depression can be filled with peat moss or other mulch to help hold moisture. Until the tree begins to put out new growth, it should be watered frequently so that its roots do not dry out. Even the leaves can be sprinkled if the weather is dry and windy. Occasional deep watering will increase a tree's chance of surviving its first summer in a new location.

For further information about planting trees, contact the local office of the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service (click here to find the office in your state). Careful tree planting will insure that Earth Day bears fruit for years to come.

For some tree activities, visit Dragonfly Magazine's website on trees. See also the ESP Past Activities of the Month page.
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