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How to Plant Trees

The question I am nearly always  asked when some one buys a tree from me is ‘ Can you tell me how to plant it correctly so that it does well ?’ ; and of course I do ; but there are various forms of tree and they all need a slightly different method of planting.

We will start with  bare -rooted trees of a size up to 2.5-3.00 metres tall. These are generally known as feathered trees – 1.8 – 2.00 meters tall; light standards – 2.0 – 2.5 meters tall and standard trees – 2.5 – 3.0 metres tall . A  Bare Rooted tree is a tree dug up from the open ground with a reasonable amount of roots still attached – say a minimum spread of 60 cm . Although these roots have been chopped off they will still produce new roots once the have been replanted in the soil , in fact it will actually improve the trees root system by making it stronger and more fibrous . A Bare root Tree is probably the easiest tree of all to plant; the first job is to dig a nice accommodating  hole to take the roots, this should be one  third  wider than the root system and  deep enough for the roots to sit on the bottom of the hole with the original soil level some 10-15 cm below what will be the new soil level ; this  is so we can improve the soil on which the roots will eventually sit, this improvement will raise the level of the soil in the hole   One particular circumstance that trees will not tolerate is water logging, and this can occur if the soil beneath the planting position is Panned – this means that the ground is compacted and will not allow water to drain through and so the water will sit there and effectively drown the tree ! To make sure this does not happen push a garden fork down into the soil at the bottom of  the planting hole and loosen it by  forking it over to the depth of the fork; if you still think that the soil is compacted beyond this point then you will have to dig down until you are happy that there is plenty of drainage beneath the planting site . The next job is to work some planting compost or better still some well rotted horse manure into the planting hole – this is where you will raise the level of the bottom of the hole mix it around until you have an inviting bed of loam and organic material to welcome the new inhabitant .

The  next step is locating the tree stake; this is very, very important ! Many a trees suffers a miserable future because of poor staking. The stake should be  pressure treated with a wood preservative, be at least 1.8 metres tall , with  a diameter of not less than  7 centimetres and be pointed at one end.   Locate the stake in the centre of the hole you have prepared and knock it in for at least 50 cm . Give it a wiggle to make sure it is good and firm – if not bang it in a bit further . At last you can offer up the tree to the stake. Make sure that the stem of the tree is right up to the stake , to do this position the roots to fit around the stake . Now it is time to tie the tree to the stake. Tree ties come in two guises;

Buckle and block  or Eight shaped soft Rubber – which I prefer -see illustrations of both . The function of the Tie is not only to secure the tree to the stake , but also to make sure the tree and the stake do not actually touch each other, this  would cause chaffing and damage to the tree. Now the really important bit: Your tree must be planted at the same level as it was in the ground previously- you will be able to see the original soil level on the basal trunk of the tree – to achieve this will mean that you may have to put some more soil and compost into the bottom of the hole to bring-up the planting level. I cannot stress how important it is that the finished planting level of the tree is the same as it was previously; if you plant the tree too deeply – even by just a few centimetres – you can quite easily kill the tree !

The next operation is to gradually work into the roots the soil you excavated from the planting hole. Do this gradually and firm this soil into the roots as you go. It is very important that there is a positive cohesion between the soil and the roots ; it is sometimes a good idea to poke the soil into the roots with blunt stick to make sure you don’t leave any air pockets . Eventually you will  have filled the planting hole and you should then be left with a firmly staked tree whose planting level is pretty much the same as it was. As a final act, go around the tree with you boot sole and press the ground down with your natural weight . Once this is done top-up the surface with a bit more loose soil and rake level. Now you  have Planted A Tree !

There is an old saying that says  ‘A man in his life should have Sons , Plant  Trees , and write a Book’

But then again – it is an Old Saying.

There are still a couple of things which need to be done to the newly planted tree: If at the time of planting the weather is particularly dry then you may need to ’ water the tree in’ Simple enough , about 20 litres of water per tree poured gently around the base   will settle it in nicely and if it continues to be on the dry side then a repeat of this process every 2 weeks will do the trick ( the fact that you are planting a Bare Rooted tree means that it will be either Winter or early Spring, so not a particularly dry time of the year)

We  next look at planting Container Grown trees. The ground preparation is the same , and the planting levels  still apply; the main difference is the staking operation . Clearly with a container grown tree you are not able to position the stake before planting because the root ball will be in the way. What you will have to do is plant the tree without the stake but to get the stake against the stem of the tree you will have to pierce the root-ball with the stake after the tree is planted ! This may sound a bit drastic , and it is not always easy to hammer a stake in when the tree is in the way , but it can be done – it has to be done !

With container grown trees they are often planted during the growing season, and this will mean  having to keep a sharp eye on watering; remember, to begin with the tree will have no root system to go looking for water and will depend on what ever water comes to it ! Make sure it gets all it needs for that first growing season , after the first year it will be able to take care of itself .

Finally I will mention Root Balled Trees. These are trees that have been lifted from the open ground but have had a ball of soil wrapped around their roots and tied in  place with Hessian sacking . These trees are usually Evergreens – both Coniferous and   Broad Leafed –  but sometimes Deciduous – especially trees like Beech and Oak which are notoriously difficult to transplant. However , you may well find yourself purchasing  a Root Balled Tree so I should  like explain the best way to planting them.

The planting Levels still apply and the ground preparation is the same as  the  Bare Root Tree the difference is in the staking and also in finding the original soil level .

There are two schools of thought on Root Balled Trees – Do you remove the root ball and plant the tree as if it were Bare Rooted or do you leave the Ball in position and plant it as a Container Tree ? My preferred method is a bit of both.

If you prepare the planting hole as described previously and then place the  Root Ball in the hole-making sure the  levels are correct.

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