Avoid tree planting mistakes

Richard Bogren, Huffstickler, Kyle, Gill, Daniel J., Owings, Allen D.  |  1/14/2011 8:37:29 PM

News Release Distributed 01/14/11

By LSU AgCenter Horticulturists
Dan Gill, Kyle Huffstickler and Allen Owings

Louisiana Arbor Day is the third Friday in January. But many home gardeners and landscape professionals plant shade trees during the fall and winter months. People are learning that this is the proper time of the year to plant, but improper planting practices sometimes present issues regarding the long-term landscape success of these trees.

We need to be aware of some of the common mistakes made in planting, establishment and follow-up care of trees. Many times poor tree performance in our residential landscapes can be traced to improper planting techniques.

Here are a few common things to consider when adding new trees to your landscape:

– Select a good-quality tree. You would think this would be obvious, but some trees offered for sale aren’t good quality. Make sure the species and variety is recommended for Louisiana. Is the plant overgrown in the container? Inspect the trunk of the young tree for any bark damage.

– Select the right tree for the right place. Be sure the tree you’re considering will work in the environment where it is being planted. Consider mature height and mature spread and allow enough room for the tree to develop to its full mature size without regular pruning. Make sure the characteristics of the site – such as soil pH, soil drainage and sun and shade exposure – fit the tree.

– Don’t plant too deep. 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. And be careful with over-mulching. This has the same detrimental effects as planting too deep. We recommend 3-4 inches of mulch spread evenly underneath a tree’s canopy.

But don’t plant too shallow. If the top of the root ball is exposed to air, the root system will dry out.

– Dig the hole to the proper 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 need to grow out from the planting hole.

– Inspect for root-bound trees. Cut the encircling roots enough to encourage their outward root growth and prevent future circling.

– Avoid modifying backfill soil. Backfill soil is the soil removed from the planting hole. The current recommendation is to return to the planting hole the soil that came from it. Don’t amend this soil with pine bark, compost or similar materials. A change in the soil texture from the planting hole to the surrounding soil will cause water from the surrounding soil to migrate into the planting hole and saturate the root system. This “soup bowl” effect can damage or even kill the tree by holding too much moisture.

– Water appropriately after planting. Newly planted trees need to be sufficiently watered-in. This eliminates from the soil air pockets that dry out the root system. Apply water at the edge of the original root ball and outward. Don’t apply water next to the main stems.

– Avoid radical pruning at planting. The only pruning that should be done at planting is to remove any dead or broken branches or suckers. 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 can also promote additional shoot growth at a time when root growth is is more important.

Visit LaHouse in Baton Rouge to see sustainable landscape practices in action. The home and landscape resource center is near the intersection of Burbank Drive and Nicholson Drive (Louisiana Highway 30) in Baton Rouge, across the street from the LSU baseball stadium. For more information, go to www.lsuagcenter.com/lahouse and www.lsuagcenter.com/lyn.

Rick Bogren

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