Picking a site:
The first thing to do before ever purchasing a tree is to choose a site that is suitable to the tree and its growth habits. Different trees grow faster and slower than others. Some can tolerate partially shaded sites while other require full sun. One of the biggest problems usually encountered is not planning for the trees size. Many varieties such as the Canadian Hemlock can be trimmed and maintain a small size for a relatively long period of time. If you want a natural look in your landscape you should determine how wide the tree will eventually grow before planting. Another thing to consider is whether the little tree that looked great directly in front of your house, will it still look good blocking the view of your house in 10-20 years.
University guidelines suggest digging a hole that is twice as wide as the root ball and the about the same depth as the root ball. They would argue that this loosens the soil and permits the new roots to spread outward without being prohibited. Unless your site is extremely compacted, I am going to argue that it is not necessary to dig such a wide hole. First of all by digging the hole that much bigger, it not only makes it harder to get the soil back in place, i.e. settling will cause a sink hole if you don’t put enough soil back in, and second it will cause the tree to be more unstable in the event of strong winds. We have had great success by digging the hole just 3-4 inches larger around than the tree ball and just as deep as the ball. But you must get the soil filled back in to avoid air pockets or the roots of the tree will dry out.
Planting your tree:
First, make sure your hole is large enough, but not too deep! Unless you have some mechanized way of the lifting the tree out of the hole, it will be very difficult to lift your tree out of the hole to either put more dirt in or dig some out. We recommend planting your tree at the same depth it was growing in the field. Once the tree is in the hole and some dirt has been thrown around the root ball to stabilize it you can now cut the twine of the tree and cut off any excess burlap. You may also want to cut slits in the burlap as deep as you can reach to allow the roots to branch out as quickly as possible. You are now ready to fill in your hole. Two different methods may be used: you can either fill dirt and tamp it in around the tree as you fill or water the dirt as you fill it and let it settle as you go. Watering the dirt around the ball will help carry loose soil down to the bottom of the hole to fill in any air pockets which is absolutely critical for the survival of the tree. However, you do not want to overwater it, because the roots of the tree need to “breathe.” Unless the soil is saturated after a large amount of rain or snow, there is always air in the soil which is necessary for plant health. Plants can handle a large rain event, but if they sit saturated for too long they will drown.
Now that you have your tree planted and looking good what’s next? Well, the whole first year is critical in the life of your tree and perhaps even the second year as well. Let’s give your tree a running start by giving it a good amount of mulch under branches and outward by several inches at least 1-2″ deep. Not only will this help keep moisture in, but it will help keep the roots cool and prevent weeds from competing for water. You may also want to stake your tree by placing three stakes surrounding your tree and tying rope to the tree and stake to support the tree in case of strong winds. Use some garden hose or something similar so that as the tree grows its’ first year the rope doesn’t gouge the tree bark. In the fall after its’ first growing season you can remove the stakes. Remember, the tree used to have a very large root system and now it’s roots are directly beneath it. When watering be very careful to only water as needed. I can’t stress this enough, if you over water your tree it is just as harmful as not watering your tree enough.
Now that you have done all of the above sit back, relax and enjoy your tree(s)!