Trees are a wonderful addition to our landscape. They provide shading and insulation to moderate the temperature in the house and cut energy bills. They can act as noise (or neighbor!) buffers, as well as improve air quality. Fall is a great time to plant trees — not only is it cooler for the planter, but also the fall temperatures are great for trees to get established in.
When selecting a tree, choose one to fit your area and your specific site conditions. There are trees of all shapes and sizes with striking fall color or beautiful spring blossoms. Choosing the right tree will cut down the amount of care you need to provide the tree. You won’t have to prune as much to keep it contained and may avoid insect or disease problems. Also look up. Is there a power line in the way? Trees planted under power lines cost us millions of dollars in maintenance and repair. In that situation, plant away from the power line or choose a lower-growing tree.
When choosing trees from the nursery, you have a few choices in how trees are sold: container-grown, balled-and-burlaped (B&B), and bare-root.
• Bare-root trees are the most economical; however, the trees are usually quite small. Also, they must be planted in the dormant season (fall through early spring).
• B&B trees can be very large and soil types can be matched. The main disadvantage is that a large amount of the roots may be severed when the tree is dug.
• Container-grown trees are widely available at nurseries and are easy to use. They can be planted at any time, if given proper care. All of the roots are in the container, so there is limited risk of transplant shock. The main disadvantage is root-bound plants that may end up girdling themselves as the tree matures. Be sure to inspect the root system for healthy, white roots and avoid plants that have numerous circling roots.
Dig the planting hole no deeper than the root ball and 2-5 times wider than the diameter of the root ball. Loosen soil several feet from the planting hole to promote rooting and anchorage. Amend the area with a sandy-loam topsoil and add some organic matter in clay or sandy soils. With container-grown plants, use a knife to cut circling roots in four to five places. With B&B plants, remove twine or any nylon strings. Then, remove or fold burlap back into the hole.
When moving the tree to the hole, be sure to carry it by the root ball or container. Do not pick up the tree by its trunk! Place the tree in the hole so that the area where the roots spread out from the trunk, called the trunk flare, is visible and even with the soil. Do not plant too deeply! This will predispose the tree to trunk rot and could kill your tree. In fact, in areas that have poor drainage, consider planting trees a little higher to help avoid water standing in the root zone.
Fill the hole about halfway with backfill and water gently to remove air pockets. Then fill the hole completely and water thoroughly. An earthen dam 4-6 inches high around the dripzone will help to reduce runoff and allow for slow penetration of water to the tree roots. Also, apply 2-4 inches of mulch, making sure to keep mulch from touching the tree trunk.
Once you have your tree planted, keep properly watered for the first year of establishment. From then on, trees and shrubs only need about one inch of water per week.
Properly planting trees will help avoid problems that could be encountered as the tree matures. For more information on planting trees properly, refer to Extension’s Successful Gardener Tree Planting Guide or contact our Center at (919) 775-5624.
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North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County