Fall is the ideal time to plant a tree or shrub you’ve had your eye on. The cool temperatures and heavier rainfall during the winter months encourage root growth with little to no supplemental watering. It is estimated that most trees grow 85% of their roots during these months.
Winter is also a dormant period for many trees and shrubs. Their leaves have dropped, and they are not focusing their energy on top-growth. In the absence of leaves, the trees focus all of their efforts on root growth, which is crucial to a tree’s health and longevity.
Below is a guide for tree planting. We are getting new shipments of plants and trees in in every day here at Bates Nursery and Garden Center! You can shop our full tree collection here.As always, our helpful staff of horticultural experts are always only a phone call or a visit away.
Dig a Hole
When digging a hole for your container tree, you want to ensure that it is the proper depth and width. The hole should be deep enough so that when the tree is planted, only the root flare (the wider part of the trunk just above the root ball) exposed.
The hole should also be wide—about 3 times the size of the root ball. This creates space for the roots to expand horizontally, creating a sturdy base for the tree as it matures.
Remove the Tree from its Container
Be careful when removing your tree from its container. Loosen the root ball from the container by tapping or massaging the sides. If this proves to be too difficult, you can also cut the plastic container away with a pair of shears. Be very gentle when removing the tree and handling its roots. Keep as much of the original soil with the root ball as you can.
If the tree is root bound, meaning that the roots have started growing in a circular pattern, use a sharp knife to score the root ball. Make an “X” on the bottom of the root ball, and then score the side of the root ball. This will allow the roots to expand horizontally once the tree is planted.
Plant Your Tree!
Here it is—the moment you’ve been waiting for! Gently set the tree in the hole and backfill.
Depending on your soil, you may want to use an amendment like EarthMix® Landscape™ or EarthMix® Garden™ to aid in drainage and soil structure. Many areas in Nashville have dense red clay, and you want to help your tree’s root growth in any way possible. We recommend about a 25% amendment, 75% native soil ratio. We also recommend putting a bit of Biotone soil amendment in the bottom of the hole. The mycorrhizae in this mix will gently stimulate healthy root growth by making nutrients more available. Be careful in adding soil amendments—don’t overdo it! If the soil around the tree roots is too loose and nutrient rich, it will diminish root growth. The roots will want to remain where the soil is richest, and too much soil amendment around the root ball may prevent root expansion into native soils.
You also don’t want to plant your tree too deep, as this could suffocate the roots. Roots need oxygen to grow, and you want to ensure that they are able to breathe. Make sure that the flare above the root ball is still exposed to air, but that the roots themselves are fully covered. Continue backfilling, tamping the soil down as you go to prevent any erosion. It also may help to water the soil as you go to prevent air pockets from forming.
Lastly, create a sort of basin around the tree. Creating a small berm around the planting area will reduce water runoff when you irrigate your tree or shrub.
Water and Mulch
Once the hole is backfilled, give your tree a good, deep watering.Ensure that you are saturating the entire root ball and the surrounding area. This will take about 30 minutes with the hose at a slow trickle.
Once the tree is watered in, layer 2-3 inches of mulch around the tree. The mulch helps in three major ways. It prevents competitors like weeds and grass from growing around the tree. Mulch also insulates the planting area, which regulates the soil temperature. Lastly, mulch helps with water retention, crucial for a large plant like a tree or a shrub. Avoid placing the mulch right on the trunk, as this could cause rot.
You aren’t done when you plant the tree. Continue to water the tree as needed for the first 1-2 years of its life, with supplemental water after that during drought periods.
For the first couple of months, you should water your tree deeply about every other day, slowly tapering the frequency with which you water over time. The mulch around the tree should remain moist, but not saturated. If there is heavy rainfall, you may not have to water as frequently. A rain gauge will help you to determine if your tree is getting sufficient water when it rains.
With proper planting and maintenance techniques, you’ll enjoy your beautiful tree or shrub for years to come. Stop by Bates Nursery and Garden Center and pick out your desired tree or shrub today!