Plant a tree or shrub correctly, and you give it a head start on a healthy and productive life. But before you get the shovel out, look at your intended planting site and choose a species that fits the site and your needs. After you bring the ideal plant home, keep it watered and in a sheltered area until you are ready to plant.
There's an old saying that it's better to put a 10-cent plant in a dollar hole than a dollar plant in a 10-cent hole. In most cases, you should dig a hole that is twice as wide but no deeper than the root ball. One exception: When planting in heavy clay or compacted soil, dig a hole three to four times wider than the root ball to loosen the soil and encourage roots to spread out.
To determine the correct size hole for your plant, lay a shovel handle across the top of the root ball (Photo A). Then measure from the bottom of the root ball to the shovel handle; the measurement is the depth of the hole you should dig.
Carefully lift the plant into the hole, then lay the measuring stick across the top of the root ball to ensure it is at ground level (Photo B). Once the root ball is at the correct depth, position the plant so its most attractive side faces your primary viewpoint.
Some B&B stock will have a metal basket surrounding the root ball. Remove the basket if you can do so without disturbing the root ball. Otherwise, use wire cutters to snip off the top two rungs. Plastic burlap should be removed, but burlap made of natural fibers can be left on the root ball if the sides are pulled down as far as possible (Photo C). This allows the roots to spread without waiting for the burlap to disintegrate and is especially important if you're dealing with treated burlap. In any case, always untie the rope that holds the burlap in place. Don't allow any portion of the burlap to remain above ground, as the fabric will wick moisture out of the planting hole.
When backfilling the hole, use the same soil you removed. Resist the urge to amend the soil, an old practice that is no longer recommended. Amending the backfill encourages the roots to remain in that "comfort" zone rather than seeking moisture and nutrients elsewhere. Amended soil may also collect too much moisture from the surrounding ground.
Fill the hole two-thirds of the way to the top, then add water to settle the soil (Photo D) before you fill the remainder of the hole.
Hold the tree or shrub upright while firming the soil around the base with your foot (Photo E). Leave a saucer-shape basin of soil at the base of the plant to collect water.
Top the soil off with 3-4 inches of seasoned wood chips or shredded bark mulch (Photo F). Cover a wide area around the tree base to reduce competition from weeds and grass and to conserve moisture, but don't allow the mulch to pile up against the trunk. During the first growing season, water the tree or shrub every seven to 10 days if rainfall is lacking.
Continued on page 3: Container-Grown Plants