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How To Plant A Tree
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How To Plant A Tree
Tree planting 101
Add beauty to your landscape in a few simple steps

Planting a tree is one of the easiest ways to beautify a landscape. Flowers, leaves, bark and fruit change with the seasons, creating a colorful and textured tapestry. Although autumn is also a good time to plant trees, the best selections are available in spring. The tree's growth and progress can be monitored for many months if planted in the spring, and the required watering is much easier during the warm months.

Take these tips into consideration when planting a new tree:

Avoid harsh sun by planting when it is cool and cloudy. The beating sun will dry out and stress a tree both before it is planted and after it is in the ground. If the tree must be planted in the direct sun on a sunny day, take care to shade it while the hole is being prepared and after planting, especially the root area. Use a tarp to cover the tree's roots before planting, and a large cardboard box, slit open on one side, around the root area after planting and watering. Leave this shade around the tree until nightfall, or in to the next day if it promises to be sunny.

Labels attached to the tree by wires can girdle the branch as the tree grows, so remove them before you plant. Either keep the tag, or write down the information on the tag in case there are any questions about the tree in the future.

Water the tree in its pot or ball the day before and the day of planting.

Dig a hole as deep as the trees roots and at least twice as wide to give the roots room to grow. Loosen the soil on the bottom and sides of the hole. If the sides and bottom of the hole are smooth and hard, the tree's roots will not be able to penetrate the soil, and it will die.

Fill the planting hole with water. If it doesn't drain within an hour, choose a new spot. Even if the information says the tree will tolerate wet areas, it will be too wet if it does not drain within an hour.

Don't spoil a tree by enriching the soil with organic matter. A hole full of compost and soft organic matter is a comfortable area for the roots, and they aren't likely to spread into the surrounding soil. If the roots don't anchor themselves firmly by spreading, the tree can be toppled by strong winds.

Remove the tree from its pot and with your fingers gently straighten the root mass so that it's no longer a tight ball. Use a sharp knife to score the roots vertically, in 4 or 6 places around the root mass, if the roots are too tight to work with your fingers. This will allow the roots to grow outward instead of continuing in a circle.

If your tree is balled and burlapped and tied with twine or other natural material, plant the whole thing as is, then untie the twine from the tree trunk and move the burlap away from the trunk before filling the hole completely. If the ball is tied with wire, be sure to cut it away from the trunk before filling the hole. The burlap, twine, and wire are designed to disintegrate and let the tree's roots grow through.

Set the tree in the soil at the same level that it grew in the nursery. Look for a dark mark on the trunk that indicates the depth. Setting it higher may cause the tree to topple, and setting it too deep can kill it.

Check your plant from all angles to see that it is sitting straight before filling the hole.

After filling the hole, create a shallow ridge around the tree to prevent water from flowing away.

Give the tree a good soak, at least 5 gallons of water, right after planting, and again the next day. Water the tree every second or third day if it doesn't rain until the tree is established, especially during the summer months.

To protect the trunk from sunscald, rodents, and lawnmower nicks, use a tree wrap from soil level to the lowest branch.

Add mulch to retain moisture and protect the tree from weeds. Keep mulch about 4" away from the trunk of the tree.

Stake trees planted in a windy, unprotected area, or if you are planting a top-heavy tree. If you use stakes, leave an inch or two of slack in the wire to allow for growth and some gentle movement, and cover the part that encircles the tree with a protective covering such as a section of garden hose.

Water the tree faithfully, especially during the first year. Long, deep waterings are more beneficial than shallow waterings. Don't rely on Mother Nature. If it hasn't rained in two or three days, water the tree. Use a trickle from a garden hose, a large watering can if appropriate, or a root irrigator that attaches to your hose and goes a few feet into the ground to water the root area.

Native favorites
Choose trees native to the United States to prevent introduced species from taking over native woodlands, and to provide winter food for native birds. Native trees are just as beautiful, if not more so, than their non-native counterparts.

The willow oak is a stately tree. The leaves are long and pointed, more like a willow tree than an oak. They have light to bright green leaves in summer, and turn yellow and russet in fall. Relatively fast growing, the willow oak prefers full sun and will tolerate poorly drained soil. It can grow to 60 feet tall and 45 feet wide.

The sugar maple tree is one of America's most loved trees. Its shade and fall beauty are unparalleled in park and home landscapes. Medium to dark-green leaves turn yellow, orange and red in fall. It tolerates shade and likes well drained soil; however, do not plant it in confined areas as it can grow to 75 feet tall with a 45 foot spread.

Of the smaller native trees, the Eastern Redbud is a true harbinger of spring. Clusters of tiny, rose-purple, pea-like flowers bloom profusely on the branches and mature trunks for 2-3 weeks in early spring before the tree leafs out. The dark green leaves turn a glowing yellow in fall, and the seeds provide winter food for birds. It likes full sun or light shade but partial shade is preferred in windy, dry areas. Redbuds grow to 30 feet tall and wide, and the trunk usually divides somewhat close to the ground.

Another smaller native tree, the dogwood has showy white, pink or red flowers in spring, and is an excellent landscape choice for all four seasons. The native dogwood is a good tree for planting near utility lines, next to large buildings, or near patios. It also gives a lovely contrast when planted with larger evergreen backgrounds. Dogwoods like partial shade, and can grow to 25 feet tall and wide. Dogwood leaves turn red-purple in fall. In winter, the gray stems and checkered bark contrast with snow. The seed, fruit, flowers, twigs, bark and leaves are all used as food by at least 36 species of birds.

Treat yourself to a new native tree this spring and enjoy its beauty for a lifetime.

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