Get growing: How to plant a tree

  • Planting a Tree. Sabrina Fischlin—Getty Images/iStockphoto

For the Gazette
Published: 9/21/2018 11:48:54 AM

 Early fall is an excellent time to plant trees. The weather is moderate, so you’re not dealing with extreme heat or cold, and there’s usually plenty of rain so that only supplemental watering is needed.

 The process of planting a tree isn’t difficult, but it’s important to do it correctly so the new tree has every chance to thrive. The first thing to consider is location. Make sure your site will give the tree the amount of sunlight it will need. Also, depending on the size of the tree at maturity, make sure the tree is planted far enough away from buildings and powerlines. For a tree that will grow to less than 30 feet tall, plan on at least 10 feet of clearance. Larger trees should have at least 15 feet of clearance. Also, before you start digging, make sure you’re not interfering with buried utility lines.

 Once you’ve chosen a spot, mark it with a stake. The secret to success in tree planting is in preparing the hole so that the plant’s roots have access to oxygen and space for the root structure to expand. Measure the diameter of the root ball or planting container and use spray paint to mark a circle three times the diameter of the root ball. If you’re planting a bare rooted tree, make the hole a few inches wider than the spread of the roots.

 Next, dig out and remove the layer of grass or groundcover in the planting area. Don’t use the grass to back-fill. To make planting easier, use a tarp to hold the soil you dig out for back-filling when you’ve placed the tree. The depth of the hole is as important as the width. You do not want to cover the root flare, i.e., the place at the base of the trunk where the roots spread out. Untie the top of the burlap ball, or dig gently at the surface of the container, to locate the root flare. Dig a hole with a flat bottom that’s shallow enough that the root flare will be exposed. If your soil is dense or rocky, use an aerating fork to loosen the soil around the periphery of the hole. The idea is to give the tree’s roots plenty of space to grow.

 Once your hole is ready, unwrap the burlap and cut any wire containing the roots. Gently loosen the roots to expose the many smaller roots that will want to expand. An aerating fork is useful for this.

 For the actual planting of the tree, grab a helper who can hold the tree straight in the hole while you assess which way the tree should face. You want to put your tree’s best face forward, so to speak. This is generally where it will be most visible. Don’t rush this step — the tree is going to be there for a long time. Before you start back-filling, make sure you give the tree a careful 360-degree assessment. I’ve learned this the hard way! You don’t want to disrupt the roots unnecessarily and make more work for yourself by digging it up and repositioning it repeatedly till it looks right.

When you’re satisfied that the tree is exactly where you want it, back fill it firmly but gently. You don’t want to leave air pockets, but you don’t want to overly compact the soil so that the roots can’t get the water and air they need. Add a layer of mulch once the soil is in place.

Newly planted trees need plenty of water. In dry weather, water every 2 or 3 days for 6 to 8 weeks. You might want to use a drip bag to cut down on your watering time, especially if you’re planting more than one tree.

If the tree is small or spindly, as many young trees are, stake it to ensure that it stays straight and tall. Only prune to remove dead or diseased wood. Otherwise, don’t prune for the first 2 or 3 years of the tree’s life. It needs that much time to fully recover from being transplanted.

One of the most valuable lessons gardening has taught me is patience. (This might come as a surprise to people who know me well!) Your fledgling tree will provide much delight through the seasons. If it’s a flowering tree, its first season of blossoms will be thrilling, even if there are only a few. And some day, the tree will seem like it’s been there forever.

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based lawyer turned journalist, has written the Get Growing column since 2016.


First annual pollinator celebration day at Hitchcock Center

On Sept. 23 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst is hosting a day devoted to pollinators. There will be events and activities for the whole family, including a visit with the famous Caterpillar Lab from Keene, NH, so you can observe incredible native caterpillars up close. There will also be a pollinator scavenger hunt, a make-your-own wings pollinator parade, a workshop on creating a pollinator-friendly garden and a demonstration of how to make your own waterproof beeswax food cloth (goodbye plastic wrap!). The event is sponsored by the Western MA Master Gardeners Association. For more information, go to:

Still stinkin’ after all these years!

On Sept. 29 and 30, the 20th Annual North Quabbin Garlic and Arts Festival will be held at Forster’s Farm, 60 Chestnut Hill Rd. in Orange. There is something for everyone at this family-friendly event, held on a beautiful historic farm amidst autumn foliage. This popular annual event attracts lovers of art and alliums from throughout New England to celebrate food, families, farms and community building through art and music. Skeleton Crew Theater, hay rides, kids’ activities tent, demonstrations, food court, parade and more. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. Cost: Adults: $5, kids 12 and under free; weekend pass: $12. Credit cards accepted. For more information, including a detailed map and schedule of events, go to:

Wilder Hill Gardens fall sale

On Oct. 6 and 7 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wilder Hill Gardens in Shelburne Falls will hold a sale on perennials, shrubs and trees. It’s a lovely venue, especially at this time of year, and you’re sure to find good bargains. Overstock plants 50% off. Over 100 trees and shrubs at $10 to $15. Come early for best selection. It’s not too late to plant this year! 351 So. Shirkshire Rd., 413-772-9065.




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