Tree Tips Tuesday

I am just getting back from my vacation on Pandora and boy, I did not want to return. But, work and duty calls, so I have a Tried and True Tips Tuesday post for you today.

I thought you might like to see a detail that gets put on planting plans when submitted to a landscape contractor. I want you to see what kind of instructions can accompany a planting plan.

How many of you do it this way? I am betting almost no one.

Planting details are part of the planting plans that are produced by architects and engineers to provide the information necessary to aid in construction or installation. The Drawings are included with written specifications further outlining work to be done along with many other directives.

In the case of the Tree Detail shown, it indicates to a contractor how a tree is to be installed in the landscape. This general detail follows good horticultural practice, but does not always take into account all existing conditions on the site, or every kind of tree that is to be planted.

Ideal conditions are seldom encountered. Site construction alone can change conditions of soil, grade and drainage for instance, thereby relocating the previously drawn tree. Note, I said RELOCATE. Since the trees are one of the last items to be installed, utility lines can impact placement. Optimally, the architect has all of this well mapped out in advance and construction proceeds as drawn.

Since most trees arrive to your home or construction site either containerized or balled and burlapped, they can be planted most any time the soil is not frozen. Where summers are hot, it is best to avoid summer heat if possible and hold off on planting. It makes much more work for you and greatly affects the stress level of the tree.

These trees are dug, balled and ready for your landscape. When a tree is dug for transplanting, more than ninety-five percent of the absorbing roots are severed so the feeder roots have to be regrown. The crown is capable of losing water faster than it can be absorbed by the limited root mass.

These trees are heeled in with gravel to keep the roots cool and moist. See what happens if the tree ball is exposed to the air? It gets stressed and prematurely drops its leaves, because I like I mentioned, the canopy is much larger than the newly cut roots can support. Staying moist is very important to a newly balled tree.  A drawing note gives the contractor a specified time limit on how long a tree can sit on site before being planted. They do quickly dry out.  Also note, these trees are shaded.

This image above, shows you how a 2 inch caliper tree is wired and balled. The burlap extends to the crown or flare of the tree. I will show this when I follow the guys around while digging.

Not an Ideal Siting of a Tree

Tip 1

Locate your utility lines, both overhead and underground. Power lines and trees do not mix.  Many trees are improperly planted and quickly outgrow their space overhead or interfere with sewer lines down below. The trees eventually get topped by an electric utility crew when the limbs touch the electric wires, as is shown above. Last year the power authority made a nice little hole through the trees.

And when you dig, you might want to avoid your invisible dog fence, cable line, telephone line, and irrigation runs. I can’t tell you how many of these get cut on jobs. Locate, locate, locate.

Also, do not force a tree in competition with other mature plants or building structures. Always avoid planting trees that will outgrow the space provided because damage to building foundations, water and utility lines and heaved walkways can occur. In most cases, the tree has to be removed and the new tree is always the loser in the end.

Some trees, depending on the species, can suffer if planted in too much shade. Many conifers and hardwood trees have to be in full sunlight most of the day to survive. Select trees that can take shade or partial shade such as hemlock, some birch, some spruce, beech, or dogwood.

See the Furrows Between the Rows?

Tip 2

Do not plant a tree in a low-lying area. Anywhere water ponds and does not immediately drain will be detrimental to a tree’s health. When you determine where you want your tree, begin digging. Save the topsoil and set it aside. When you hit subsoil, easily seen by a different color and texture, put that in a separate pile. Fill your hole with water to test your drainage. If after an hour, you still have a hole filled with water, this may not be the best spot for your tree. You can modify the area with drainage, but do not plant a tree in soil that will not drain.

The Trees are Wrapped

Tip 3

Prune the roots if necessary and make sure that the roots can extend freely into the new soil. Often a container tree has roots encircling the circumference of the pot. Healthy, highly branched root structures allow a tree to more efficiently uptake the water and get the nutrients it so desperately needs. Girdling a tree results in the eventual strangulation of a tree and can be by improper planting, or in the case of overly cautious homeowners, a tree guard that is not regularly inspected.

If the root ball has little soil showing, slice down the sides with a sharp knife, as you would with a pot bound perennial, if not, the roots will keep growing in a circle and girdle the tree to its demise. The three images showing the container tree being planted are taking from this site, You can visit their site and get more information on tree planting.

The trees at the farm are not yet ready to be dug. A good frost has to occur so the trees stay in good health. I will show you the tree digging process in a few weeks. There is a lot of work involved with hand digging, but I will show the use of the tree spade too.

Tip 4

Have at least two people to plant your tree. One person is needed to keep the tree upright and straight, while the other makes sure that the tree flare is at grade level. This is where the roots meet the truck. There is a flare right above the roots. Another reason is to avoid tree abuse via mechanical injury. You are less likely to nick or bruise the tree if you have some help.

Tip 5

Make sure the soil only comes up as high as it did in the container or burlap ball. If the soil line is too far above the root flare, make the adjustment. Planting trees too deeply is one of the worse things you can do to a tree. Place a straight edge across the top of the hole to check the soil line on the tree if you are unsure. Add or remove soil as necessary. Even the professionals make sure this step is done accurately. Sometimes they turn the tree, lift the tree, and dig at the hole numerous times just to get it right. This site shows the process well. You might want to swing by for a look.

Tip 6

Loosen the burlap at the top by 1/3, but do not remove it. The top of burlapped ball can be positioned up to 1/3 above the grade under some conventions but not higher, always have the nursery indicated how deep to plant to be on the safe side. This leads to volcano trees in Tip 7 if you get your tree too high.

After placement, you can start filling the hole. While adding soil you want to add water as well. You want to get the soil evenly distributed and settled but equally as  important, to get rid of all the air pockets. Alternate soil and water until the hole is full to grade. Note the earth saucer on the Tree Detail above. It is an important consideration to maintain the water. This assures that here is no run off when watering and the roots get the needed moisture, especially if the tree is planted with grade sloping away from the tree, like shown.

Tip 7

Do not build the tree up with mulch. Everyone has seen what I call volcano trees. Clients even request them. The mulch is piled so high into a mountain shape until it will no longer support itself. That is considered finished? All over a property you see these erupting volcanos. No volcano trees, please. See how they are planted in the field?

Tip 8

Make sure you remove the stakes after two years, but before that, keep checking that the tree is straight and the guy wires are not too tight. You can always loosen them if you twisted the wire initially at planting time. Staking and guying will anchor a tree in heavy winds and can protect trees that can not support themselves. Understand that some tree species need no staking at all and most trees need only minimal support for a short time.

And a note on tree wrap. If tree protection is needed against sunscald on thin‑barked trees, such as ash, birch, linden or maple, a loose-fitting tree guard in a light-reflective color can be used.

A note on tree guying. Study shows movement of the tree in the wind stimulates plant hormones that in turn stimulate root and trunk growth. Makes sense, huh.  When a tree is staked in a manner that prevents movement of the tree, the tree doesn’t get fully established or grow as strong as it should. So proper staking is really important.

As with tree staking, trunk guards should be inspected periodically to make sure they aren’t restricting the trunk.  Most guards can be removed six to twelve months after the tree is planted.   Wraps protect the bark of a tree during transport, so always remove wraps that come with a new tree after you plant it. See in the Planting Detail, it calls for the trees that need to be wrapped. They will be noted by species. Ask the nursery for the proper staking procedure of your selected tree.

Tip 9

Feed and water your tree to get it off to a good start. If you see small leaves on the tree after a few years, that may indicate that the tree is not receiving enough nutrients or enough water. The root system normally extends far beyond the branch spread, and fine roots that absorb water and nutrients are located very near the soil surface, usually in the top four to ten inches. A natural balance exists between the roots  and the top of the tree. This seems like a common sense tip, but many a tree are lost because people assume that because it rains, that is enough. It will be after a little over a year, but not until the roots get fully established. In some cases, this can take up to three years. More often than not, a tree owner does not realize the tree is in significant trouble until it is too late and the tree either dies or is so ill that it needs to be cut down.

Tip 10

Call in the professional. I guess it is fair to say many of you have never seen a Tree Detail, like was shown above. And a few of you were laughing at the instructions, all along thinking it is not rocket science to plant a tree. Besides being necessary on the Planting Plan, it is good practice to really consider the investment you are making and utilize the points discussed, if you haven’t employed them already.

If you are planting a tree in a greater size than a whip, think about supporting your local grower and hiring a professional. Your tree will thank you for it.  Lots of things can wrong with trees that nature has a hand in, but making sure you are not the problem is good for your new tree.

The truck with the large tree spade is the company we use when the trees are very large and more mature than those I showed you at the farm. Their website can be found here, with many pictures of large tree moving equipment. They also have a certified arborist on staff. I do recommend the professionals when they are needed.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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13 Responses to Tree Tips Tuesday

  1. One says:

    Is that you flying in from Pandora? How do you draw that?
    Can you list down the problems with a mountainous mulch? I would think that the soil will turn acidic, maybe harbour bacteria, rain water cannot reach the roots, not enough oxygen….I have done that before and has stopped since my trees complained.

    • Yup, that is me. Ha ha. I wish. I draw fairly quickly in Photoshop. The avatar took a little more time than me in the spaceship. I also did the avatar when the movie first came out. I just wanted to see if I could do it.

      All your reasons are true on excessive mulch, but another is it is home for rodents. They are very bad in winter because the snack on the trees bark, while cozy in their nest at the base of the tree.

  2. Karen says:

    Excellent post with guidelines we all should follow when planting trees. I have seen many a ‘volcano tree’ planting around our area, and they are not pretty. I also like the fact you mentioned light and space requirements for the mature trees (something we are often guilty of forgetting) and power lines. There definitely is more to planting a tree than digging a hole and plopping a tree in, thank you for a wonderful tutorial!

    • Thanks Karen. Volcano trees are popular here for some reason. I never saw them in Pennsylvania where I am from, but here they seem to multiply. And I was not kidding, people ask for them when the landscaper installs trees. Of course since he warranties them, he will not do that with the mulch.

  3. Great post. I guess the big thing for me is the utility lines. I mean how hard is it to look up and notice that you are directly under the lines.

    • I know what you mean. But you would be surprised at how often it occurs. It sometimes is a case of the wrong tree selected in the first place. When it is planted, people often misjudge the potential spread. A tree is planted that quickly out grows to a spread beyond what was anticipated. Many times, a tree interferes with underground utilities and foundations as well, roots pushing and pulling until somethings is damaged.

  4. georgina says:

    This was a very informative post – there is certainly a lot of work goes into growing trees sucessfully. Flower shows are begining to use a lot of trees in their garden designs, such as the famous Chelsea Flower show in the UK, your post was very interesting.

    • Thanks. I am going to show the hard work in a post later. The guys really sweat when planting or digging a tree. Many people do not realize what goes into tree farms. When the baby trees arrive, I love to see these tiny little trees in their little peat pots. They are so cute and have so much potential for life and longevity.

  5. Excellent information and very well said. My husband is my tree planter and he follows all the rules. My trees thank him. I am fascinated by your comment regarding movement from the wind stimulating growth hormones. Makes perfect sense!

    • Triple gold stars to your husband. I can tell by your property, that the two of you really care for your landscape and gardens. You have many, many happy trees.

      I just took some shots today on the way back from a job of really sad and pathetic trees. Char’s Gardens comment made me realize that I should expand on this misplacement of trees. To see the majesty of these huge trees reduced down to a barely life sustaining plant… Ugh, brings a tear to my eye.

  6. kimberly says:

    Great tips! I especially appreciate the tips about proper staking, tree movement and growth. I work in the construction industry and see so many trees staked too tightly or too long. And the volcano mulching drives me insane!!! Fantastic post!!

    • We have something in common. I am on job sites often and am lucky to have conscientious contractors with whom to work. But in my travels, I find many trees improperly staked. I know many of the gardeners, like you, visiting my site are very well versed in gardening and knowledgeable about all facets of the business, but if I can help even a handful, it makes my day. Thanks for appreciating my post.

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