LSU AgCenter Horticulturist Lists Dos and Donts of Tree Planting

Allen D. Owings  |  10/26/2006 1:02:33 AM

News You Can Use For November 2003

Many landscape trees are planted from fall through the winter in Louisiana. "Homeowners need to be aware of some of the common mistakes made in planting, establishment and follow-up care of trees," says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Allen Owings.

Many times poor tree performance in residential landscapes, commercial landscapes and municipality plantings can be traced to improper planting techniques. Owings offers examples of a few common mistakes to avoid when adding new trees to your landscape.

• Planting root balls too deeply. The top of the root ball should be at the same level or slightly higher than the soil grade. Do not cover the lower trunk with soil.

• Planting root balls too shallow. The top of the root ball is exposed to air and desiccation to the root system occurs.

• Improper planting hole width. The width of the planting hole should be two to three times wider than the tree’s root ball. This allows for lateral root development and expansion. Remember that tree roots desire to grow out from the planting hole.

• Planting root-bound plants. Cut the encircling roots enough to encourage outward root growth and prevent of future circling.

• Excessive mulch or no mulch. Too much or not enough is common. Do not pile mulch around the base of trees. Mulch to a depth of 3 inches to 4 inches. Pine straw, cypress, pine bark and hardwood bark are good mulch materials.

• Excessive amending of backfill soil. Backfill soil is the soil removed from the planting hole. The current recommendation is to return the soil that came from the planting hole back into the planting hole. Do not amend backfill soil with pine bark, compost or similar materials. A change in the soil texture from the planting hole to the surrounding soil will occur, and water from the surrounding soil migrates to the planting hole and saturation of the root system occurs (the "soup bowl" effect).

• Improper watering. Newly planted trees need to be sufficiently watered-in. This eliminates air pockets in the soil that dry out the root system. Apply water at the edge of the original root ball and outward. Do not apply water next to the main stems.

• Pruning at planting. The only pruning of shoot growth that should be done at planting is to remove any dead, broken branches, suckers, etc. Leave some branches on the lower part of the trunk for a year or so. This encourages trunk development. Excessive pruning of shoots at planting also can promote additional shoot growth at a time when root growth is desired.

• Soil pH and nutrient content. How many of us actually have a soil analysis done prior to planting? Knowing your soil pH is important. A soil test also provides status of other nutrients. If potassium and phosphorus readings are "high" on a soil test, fertilizing with 8-24-24 or a similar material probably is not needed;but if these values are "low," fertilization would probably be of value.

"These are just a few items to keep in mind to be more successful with tree plantings, Owings says, adding, "If you need any additional assistance or technical advice, contact a county agent specializing in horticulture or forestry at your parish office of the LSU AgCenter."

In addition, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site:


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

On the Internet:

Source: Allen D. Owings (225) 578-2222, or

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