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How to Plant a Tree, Part 1

Learn how to plant a tree from landscape architect Patrick Weisel in this Howcast video, the first of a three-part series.


In this video we are going to show you how to plant a tree. Not just any tree, but a ball and burlap tree, which is how many of the larger trees come from the nursery. It is a little different than planting a potted plant so you need to be to be careful about some of the steps we are going to show you here. The first this as with planting any plant particularly a tree that is the most important thing is the hole itself. Now, why not just dig any hole in the ground and pop the tree in there?

We don't want to do that because it's critical that the level of the root flare or where the trunk goes out into the roots is equal to the soil that is around you. If you plant that root flare too deep you will encourage something that's called girdling roots. New roots can form out of the tree trunk and circle it because of the soil around it and those roots will develop and in time when the tree is quite mature, when you are most happy with it, it can strangle the tree and cause it to die.

So, it is very important that you dig your hole as wide as possible. Some people say three times the width of the root ball. Most people would probably do it about twice that amount. We generally do that. But no deeper than the root ball itself, so that the root flare sits even with the soil around you. Now, we have already removed a couple of layers from this tree here. This is a little Eastern White Pine(?). A nice native pine. The first thing you are probably going to encounter is the wire cage. Many of the larger plants root come with this around it these days. What this does is that this wire cage goes around the root ball and because it is metal, it holds the root ball very firmly and you can use the wire cage to wrestle the plant, pick it up, haul it, move it, whatever.

This wire cage, though, absolutely has to come off. Some people leave the bottom on. I like to remove the whole wire cage. The reason that is, is that if you leave this cage on and the tree roots begin to go out through this hole as the tree matures and the roots get larger and larger, you can see if my arm got any bigger it would start to be constricted by the metal. So these metal cages can actually strangle roots and after the tree is quite mature and lovely you will see the tree going into decline because the roots are being strangled by the wire cage. These are also, incidentally, very dangerous and sharp so not only do you want to remove it from the tree, you sort of want to fold it up and flatten it and get it out of the way so that you do not trip on it or cut yourself with it.

The next thing you are going to encounter is the burlap. B and B stand for ball and burlap. The ball is the shape of the root ball, the burlap is what goes around the outside to keep the roots from drying out and to enable you to handle the root ball a little easier. Some people like to leave the burlap on. I think that is really wrong. Some burlap is treated and it does not rot very well and I cannot tell you how many trees I have pulled out of the ground that have been in there for years where the roots have not expanded past the burlap because it creates a barrier preventing the roots from moving out of the soil, which is really what you want.

Remove as much as the burlap as you possibly can. I personally like to remove all of it and then again get that out of the way. Now once you have got your hole dug to the proper depth the next thing you are really going to be concerned about is making sure that the soil from the root ball ends up in excellent contact with the soil in your yard. Now, why might that be? Because the soil in the root ball of a lot of nurseries comes from another place. It probably has a higher clay content or sand content. Whatever it is, so when it rains that root ball is shrinking and expanding at a different rate than the soil in the yard.

That is causing the soil in your yard to tear away from the root ball. It inhibits the roots from moving out into your yard. One of the things we like to do with the root ball is particularly after it has been around in the nursery for a while and has that burlap on it, it can get what we call glazing. Which is a smooth soil, which also creates a crust that keeps the roots from moving outside the root ball. We go in with a shovel at this point and it looks a little rough, but what we are doing is we are roughing up the surface of the root ball soil so that we are going to end up with an excellent contact with the soil in our yard. Hal is going to demonstrate that now.

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