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Growing Green: Planting Trees

This spring has come in fits and starts, and I wonder if it will ever be warm enough to plant my garden. My early season vegetable planting has been put on hold, and the tomatoes and peppers are little more than 2” seedlings. You want the night time air temperature to beat at least 50º, and the soil temperature to reach 60º-70º to have the best success with these crops. What to do until then?  Plant a tree!

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Trees from your local garden center are usually containerized.  To plant, choose an appropriate location according to the growing requirements listed on the plant tag.  Remember to take mature height and width into consideration.  The biggest mistake many gardeners make is to plant too close to buildings and existing landscaping, or under low hanging eaves and power lines.

Once you have selected a tree, dig a hole as deep as it sets in the pot, and twice the diameter. Fill this hole with water to check for adequate drainage.  If it doesn’t empty within an hour, you should select a different site.  Carefully remove the container by placing your plant on its side and rolling to loosen the soil. If the roots are wound around the soil ball, gently loosen and spread them outward, or make vertical cuts into the root ball.  Place your tree into the hole, and begin to fill with soil.  When the hole is ¾ full, tamp down and water the soil to reduce air pockets that could damage the root system.  Finish filling the hole and water thoroughly. Spread a 3”-6” layer of mulch to form a 3’ -6’ diameter circle around the base of your tree. Keep the mulch material away from the tree trunk to avoid prolonged moisture contact that can encourage rot.

Newly planted trees grow stronger without staking.  The movement of the tree top strengthens the trunk and makes for a resilient, strong, tapered tree.  However, if you plant your tree in an area with sustained heavy winds, you might need to stake. Use 2-3 opposing stakes, and attach tie lines to tree with a soft material such as soft nylon webbing, carpet strips or a section of old garden hose. The most common mistake in staking trees is using a cutting material such as wire, and attaching this tightly to the trunk.  Tight ties can girdle and kill a tree as it grows. Remove stakes when a strong root system has been established, usually after one year.

After planting, make sure to regularly water your tree. Newly planted trees need 5-7 gallons of water per week for the first season.

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.