By Jeff Hansen, President of Hansen’s Tree Service
The first sign of spring is so refreshing that you may want to bask in the moment, but you’ve got work to do- that is, if you want to plant trees. Early spring is the best time to plant trees because the cool weather allows tree roots to become established before heavy spring rain and humid summer heat. However, since trees’ stress and physiological disorders are often traced to poor planting, there are several pre-planting steps that you must perform to ensure their health and survivability.
Prep Work for Planting Trees
Before you purchase any trees at a nursery, you have to research two things: what species are best suited for your yard, and what tree forms are the most convenient for you to plant. Generally speaking, species that are native to St. Louis have the best chance of survival. Begin by examining your lawn’s site conditions, which include wind and sun exposure, soil conditions, space constraints and drainage. These are the most important factors that influence a tree’s survivability. For additional suggestions, visit the International Society of Arboriculture’s consumer website, treesaregood.com.
You must also consider the advantages and disadvantages of each tree form: bare-root, balled and burlapped (B & B) and containerized. With their exposed root systems, bare-root trees are lightweight, but they must be planted within one week of purchase. B & B trees, which featured burlap wrapping around their root systems, are the most reliable for survival because their root systems are intact. One drawback is that B&B trees are heavy. Containerized trees, whose root systems are inside containers, are lightweight and do not have to be planted immediately. One disadvantage is that containerized trees often contain girdling roots- large roots that circle around other roots- from being restricted by containers.
Now that you know what tree species and forms are perfect for you and your yard, select healthy-looking trees at a local nursery. Make sure to inspect trees’ trunks, branches and leaves for signs of disease and damage. This includes deadwood, broken branches, cracked and loose bark, wet spots and insect exit holes. When selecting bare-root trees, pick ones that have abundant roots that are light in color and avoid trees with soft or dark non-woody roots. While looking at B & B trees, make sure that their balls are solid and that the trunk barely moves. If you have any questions, the garden center or a certified arborist should be able to assist you in your purchasing decision.
Planting Suggestions for Each Form of Tree
Remember that for any tree form, dig a hole whose width is at least three times the diameter of the roots’ spread, the root ball or the container. Since bare-root trees have no soil around their roots, plant them as soon as possible. Before planting, prune any broken or damaged roots while keeping as much of the root structure as possible. As you dig holes for bare-root trees, create small mounds in the center of each hole to spread the root systems on. The roots should not be exposed to the air, and the crown- where the roots and top meet- should be approximately two inches above soil level.
B & B Trees
Always lift B & B trees by the ball and never the trunk. If your tree has synthetic or plastic burlap, remove the entire wrapping. Remove natural burlap from at least the top third of the ball, and cut away all twine or string. After digging a hole, place backfill soil- a combination of peat moss, composted manure, topsoil, etc. – in the hole around the ball. The backfill soil should reach either the top of the ball or slightly below it. Don’t compress the backfill soil because this can prevent water from reaching the roots.
Like B & B trees, you must remove metal or plastic containers from containerized trees. If your tree is in a fiber container, remove the sides before planting. It is very important to loosen the root systems of containerized trees because their roots can have a hard time expanding beyond the container’s dimensions. If the roots are tightly bound, use your fingers or a spade to loosen and spread tiny roots away from the root mass.
Get Started Today!
So this early spring, decide whether you want to plant a tree in your yard. Identify your lawn’s site conditions, and select a tree form that’s easy for you to plant. Examine trees at a nursery before purchasing, and plant trees using proper techniques. If you feel overwhelmed with selecting or planting trees, call your local garden center or a licensed arborist. By correctly selecting and planting your trees, you will be able to enjoy their beauty and shade for decades to come.
Jeff Hansen is a certified arborist and is president of Hansen’s Tree Service, a full-service tree and lawn care company that performs diagnosis, treatment, pruning, tree removal, stump removal and lawn care. Hansen’s is fully accredited by TCIA and ISA, and serves residences and companies throughout the entire St. Louis metro area. With nine fully certified arborists on staff, Hansen’s educates the public on the values of proper tree and lawn care, its maintenance and the importance of environmental responsibility.