Tips on Planting Trees and Shrubs

Making Your Thumb Greener One Step At A time!

Working in the nursery here at Herbein’s, I am oftentimes asked the questions: “How deep should I plant this tree?” or “How wide should I dig the hole?” Many customers also ask: “I’ve heard I should dig the hole twice as wide/large as the root ball; is this true?” Also, many customers ask about removing the burlap and metal cage on the root ball; this too shall be addressed. To avoid getting into all the scientific mumbo-jumbo that can go into discussing the answer to all these questions (which I may leave for another article for another day) I will give the most simple and concise answers that I can.

Tree Heeled in Slightly Above Existing Soil Level

When it comes to planting depth of any tree or shrub, it is suggested that the root ball be either level with, or even slightly above, the existing soil level. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, it is best for the plant’s health. If a tree sits below the existing natural soil level, it is quite possible when heavy rains come along, or even light rains, for water to puddle up around the trunk of the tree. This can lead to the death of the tree, as the bark around the trunk of the tree may begin to rot. The best way to gauge how deep to dig your hole is to measure the root ball of the tree, or if you have a containerized plant, to just slip the pot into the hole and then pull it back out. As you can see in the picture to the right, some of our trees here in the nursery are heeled in at a level that is perfect with planting conditions.

The next question I will address, or two questions really, is the width of the planting hole and the thought of digging it twice as wide as the existing root ball. Digging the hole twice as wide as the root ball is a great idea in terms of root growth, at least on paper it is. In terms of it being practical for a homeowner; not so much. When it comes to the width of the hole, digging an extra half a foot, or more, around the root ball is sufficient enough. The reason why you want some extra width around your root ball is for the roots to have a nice, loose, soil to grow into. This is why the “twice as wide as the root ball” idea is great on paper, but in terms of the time and effort you have to put forth to dig holes for this to happen, it isn’t practical.

Before you put your tree or shrub into the hole, you may see the burlap and metal cage on your plant and wonder what to do? Both of these things can be left on your plant. It is best to remove any string that may be tied around the trunk of the tree, and pull back the burlap from around the top of the root ball (this allows for more water to get into the soil where most of the roots are located at this point). The “ears” of the metal cage can be bent back from the top of the root ball (especially if they are exposed and an eye-sore) back down to the root ball beneath the soil. The burlap, along with the metal cage, deteriorate over time and don’t affect your plants root growth or health. The burlap actually adds a bit of organic matter to your soil as it decomposes, as does the cage, so no harm is done.

Happy Planting and I Hope Your Thumb Has Grown Greener!

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