Planting Trees and Shrubs

There are several important points to remember when transplanting a tree or shrub.

  • The hole should be about twice as wide as the plant’s root ball and as deep as the root ball is tall.
  • Make sure the roots of the plant are not growing around the root ball in a circle. If they are, take a clean, sharp knife or tool and cut the circling roots free. Try not to cut the roots off, but instead pull them out straight.
  • Make sure the bark on the trunk of the plant is not covered by dirt or mulch. If the bark is covered, it may start to rot, and the plant will die.

Once the tree is planted in the ground, dig a small mot around the edge of the planting hole to collect extra water for the roots to absorb.

Frequently trees and very large shrubs need to be staked for about the first year to ensure the plant grows straight.

Often nurseries and garden centers will advise customers to add peat moss and other amendments to the soil used to fill the hole when planting a tree or shrub. 

However, unless your soil is very poor, this may actually do more harm than good. On the other hand, if the soil in the hole is ideal, having all the nutrients the plant needs, the roots may not grow out beyond the immediate area of the hole. 

If this happens, the plant will not be securely anchored into the ground and may be blown over by strong winds. The roots may also start growing in a circle around the ball of the plant, eventually strangling the plant to death.

If your soil is very poor and you feel compelled to add amendments such as peat moss, dig the hole as wide as possible and amend all of the soil you place back in the hole. This way, if the roots are inclined not to grow beyond the initial planting hole, they will still spread out somewhat and anchor the plant into the ground. Ideally, if you are starting a new garden area, amend all the soil in the area before you plant anything.

Try to avoid using commercial fertilizers on plants the first year after you plant them. Most commercial fertilizers have a high salt content, which can easily burn the roots of the plants. Being transplanted is a big shock on a plant, and it may not have a lot of reserves to deal with other sources of stress, such as fertilizer salts. If the plant is not doing well and needs additional nourishment, use organic fertilizers and compost. Organic fertilizers are less likely to burn the roots of the plant.

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