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How to Plant a Tree, Part 3

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


Patrick: What you'll see Howell is doing right now is roughing up the root ball a little more now that it's moist. It was a little hard before. What we're doing here might seem to you to be a little rough, but there's really only a few things that you can do to damage the tree at this stage. One is let the roots dry out. You really don't want to let that happen, so we're using plenty of water. Number two is, we already talked about it, you definitely don't want to plant the tree too deeply. In fact, we've planted a little bit high here, because if you're going to err, it's better to be on the high side. The tree is going to settle a little bit, and then as you saw, we're removing some of the soil to expose the root flare, so the root ball is going to descend a little bit by that, as well. And then the last thing, what most professionals really try to avoid, is you don't want to crack the root ball. So you don't want to be dropping it too much, or being too rough with it as a whole, because that might crack the root ball, and allow air in there and damage some of the roots. So what we're doing is we're really being rough around the outside to let the roots free, and go into the ambient soil.

That's pretty good, do we need to expose that root flare anymore, or are you seeing the roots coming out?

Howell: I see the flare.

Patrick: OK.

Howell: It's [inaudible 0:01:26] surface is fine.

Patrick: Alright, so we've roughed up the root ball, and we're really checking now for gurgling roots, making sure that there is nothing circling the trunk and the root flare. And then the last step is we'll back fill another third of the soil, then we'll add some warm water, and then we'll add the last third and top it off with more water and more mulch, and this tree should be good for another 50, 80 years.

One of things I like to do sometimes is, when we've got the water in the hole, just go in there and rock the tree a little bit, to get any air bubbles out from under the ball, and make sure the bottom of the ball is heeled well to the native soil. You just do this a little bit, not too hard, it's just going to let this water and this soil work in under the root ball, so that they have a really good contact there. I'll say, we've put the second third of soil in there, now he's going to top water it again to try to get that soil to settle down around the root ball, so there's no air bubbles.

Now this is a good time to come and check and make sure your tree is straight. You want to be looking at from probably two distinctly different angles to make sure that it's straight up and down from one side and then the other side. So I'm just going to step back and take a look at it, and make any adjustments here. So the truck is relatively straight now, it's got a little kink in it, but we want to make sure that the top of the tree is going straight up to the sky, and we're comfortable that we have it that way. We have plenty of water in the hole, we have the root flare exposed, no gurgling roots, and the root flare is at least at the level of the native soil, or slightly above, so in case it settles, it won't be too deep. Now we're going to go in and put the remainder of the soil in, put some mulch on top of that, and do our final watering, and we're done.

Now that our tree is in the ground, there's a couple of things that you're going to want to remember. One is, we've already got plenty of water in the hole, so don't over water it. Let it sit for a couple of weeks, and let the water drain out it, and the soil congeal around the root ball. Then you want to make sure that you water the tree regularly, maybe one every two weeks, give it a good deep thorough soaking, so that the root ball gets penetrated by the water. The last thing you want to do is a lot of people think that now is the time to prune the tree and bring the branches sort of in balance with the root collar. That's no longer accepted practice. Leave the tree alone, don't prune it, don't do anything to it, don't fertilize it, just give it a good drink of water say, once every two weeks, and make sure that it's thoroughly wet going into the fall. Then your tree will be happy and come out in the springtime growing new roots, and you should enjoy it for decades to come.

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