Preparing a planting site
April 14, 2006
Logan County CSU Cooperative Extension
Improper site preparation is a common reason trees and shrubs don’t grow after planting. It is a particularly big problem in areas where the soil is a heavy clay type, typical of the Rocky Mountain region. Such soils have poor drainage and lack a sufficient amount of air to allow vigorous root growth.
To reduce these problems when planting trees and shrubs, measure the width and height of the root ball of a tree or shrub to be planted. If the soil is sandy and drains well, dig the hole the same depth as the root ball. If the soil is heavy clay and drainage cannot be improved, dig the hole twice as wide or wider as the diameter of the root ball. The depth of the hole should be two to four inches more shallow than the height of the root ball. This ensures that the top of the ball is slightly elevated from ground level so excess water will drain away from the trunk of the tree.
Tree roots grow far beyond the original planting hole. Soil that is not compacted encourages root growth. Loosening ordinary soil with a shovel beyond the tree will help the roots develop. Adding about one part coarse organic materials to two parts soil is also helpful. Do not mix in commercial fertilizers or fresh manure They can damage new roots.
Trees and shrubs should be planted with all metal, plastic or fiber containers, netting, wire mesh, burlap, twine or any other obstruction to the roots or trunk removed. Place the plant in the hole so that the top of the root ball is at or just above ground level. With a utility knife, lightly score the root ball on four sides approximately one-quarter of an inch deep without disturbing the main root ball. Loosen and straighten larger encircling roots.
Fill the hole with loose dirt mixed with compost, but don’t pack the soil. When the hole is three-fourths full of soil, slowly add water and finish filling the hole. Make sure the top of the soil slopes away from the trunk of the tree. Erect a dam around the outside of the hole with soil. Fill the depression inside the dam with water and allow it to seep in thoroughly. Check for any areas that have of the areas that have caved in around the plant and fill those holes with soil. Again, do not pack the soil, especially after it is wet. Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch over the ball, but not all way up to the trunk.
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Small trees do not need staking, but stake tall and large trees, especially evergreens. Place stakes parallel to prevailing winds. Use only tree straps around the tree trunk. Wire through the strap’s eyelets and attach to the stake. The top of the straps should be at the first major branch or trunk crotch, or at about two-thirds the height of the tree. Remove the stakes after the first year.
For additional information on gardening, see http://www.ext.colostate.edu/ptlk.v