Horticulture expert shares rules for planting trees

Kansas State University horticulture expert Cynthia Domenghini shares 10 rules for planting trees this spring.



April 1, 2024 - 3:32 PM

Saplings, like the one pictured, start out very small. Consider the mature size of a tree to make sure you have enough room for it to grow. Photo by PIXABAY

MANHATTAN, Kan. — If you’re planning to plant a tree in your yard this spring, there are some steps you can take to make sure your new landscape has its best chance of success.

Kansas State University horticulture expert Cynthia Domenghini shares the following 10 rules for planting trees:

Select the right tree for the site

To avoid serious problems, choose trees that are adapted to your location. Consider whether the tree produces nuisance fruit or if there are disease-resistant varieties available. For example, there are a number of crabapple varieties that are resistant to apple scab and rust diseases.

Also consider the mature size of a tree to be sure you have enough room. Ask a local nurseryman for suggestions for trees adapted to your area.

Keep the tree well watered and in a shady location until planting. When moving the tree, lift it by the root ball or pot and not by the trunk.

Before planting, remove all wires, labels, cords or anything else tied to the plant. If left on, they may eventually girdle the branch to which they are attached. The root flare (point where trunk and roots meet) should be visible when planted. If it isn’t, remove enough soil or media before planting so that it is.

Dig a proper hole

Make the hole deep enough so that the tree sits slightly above soil level. Plant the tree on solid ground, not fill dirt. In other words, don’t dig the hole too deep and then add soil back to the hole before placing the tree.

The width of the planting hole is very important. It should be three times the width of the root ball. Loosening the soil outside the hole so it is five times the diameter of the root ball will allow the tree to spread its roots faster.

Remove all containers from the root ball

Cut away plastic and peat pots; roll burlap and wire baskets back into the hole, cutting as much of the excess away as possible. If you can remove the wire basket without disturbing the root ball, do it. If roots have been circling around in the container, cut them and fluff them out so they do not continue growing in a circle inside the hole becoming girdling roots later in the life of the tree.

Backfill the hole with the same soil that was removed. Amendments such as peat moss likely do more harm than good. Make sure the soil that goes back is loosened – no clods or clumps. Add water as you fill to ensure good root to soil contact and prevent air pockets. There is no need to fertilize at planting.

Don’t cut back the branches of a tree after planting except those that are rubbing or damaged. The leaf buds release a hormone that encourages root growth. If the tree is cut back, the reduced number of leaf buds results in less hormone released and therefore fewer roots being formed.

Water the tree thoroughly. Then, water once a week for the first season if there is insufficient rainfall.