Choose your site. Your tree will have the best chance of survival if you pick the right plant for the right place. Be sure to account for levels of sunlight and water the tree will receive, as well as checking for overhead or underground power and gas lines, and private irrigation lines.
2. Dig a hole. It should be no deeper than the tree sits in its nursery pot, and about twice as wide as the pot. Work the edges of the hole so the soil is loose.
3. Remove your tree from its container. Gently pull the roots free if they’re circling, or slice them with a sharp, clean knife in a few places if they are pot bound. It’s important that the roots are trained to spread outward rather than circling.
4. Place your tree in its hole. Take a minute to make sure it’s sitting straight, with the root flare just above the soil surface.
5. Backfill your hole. We recommend mixing the existing soil from the hole with 50% compost to provide a space for the roots to spread outward and get used to our tough clay soils. Mound the soil up over the root ball (not over the root flare) so when it settles after watering it sinks down level with the ground.
6. Water and fertilize. We apply Bonide Plant Starter to every tree we plant to give it a head start. Mix the product with water, thoroughly soaking the root ball. Check to make sure the soil hasn’t settled too much.
7. Mulch. To help conserve moisture, you can lay mulch up to two inches deep around the base of your tree. Keep it away from the root flare to help prevent fungal issues. This mulch will break down over time and help nourish the soil. It will need to be replenished every year or two.
8. Stake. Whether you use a staking kit or a DIY post and roping, make sure the material used to tie the tree to the stake is loose enough that it won’t girdle the tree as the trunk increases in diameter. When staked, the tree should be able to move with the wind, so make sure the roping gives a little. The staking can be removed from small trees next spring. Larger trees may benefit from an extra year of staking, but make sure the roping used is not rubbing the trunk.
The best way to determine if your tree needs water is to pull the mulch back from around the center of the plant and pick up a handful of soil. Squeeze it in your hand to form a ball. If the soil is sticky and muddy, there is too much water and it needs to dry out for several days. With the proper amount of moisture, the soil will form a ball but won’t feel muddy or sticky. If this is the case, check back in a few days before watering. If the soil doesn’t form a ball at all, it’s dry and needs to be watered. When the tree is ready to be watered, lay a garden hose at the center of the plant and allow water to trickle out for half an hour. Make sure to lay the hose in different places around the base of the tree so the tree is watered evenly. There are also self-watering tree bags available to make this process a little easier!
New trees should be checked for water every seven to ten days during their first year. Extended periods of heat and high winds will dry trees out quickly, but be sure to take into account how much rain we get and irrigation from your sprinklers. We have more problems with people OVER watering than under-watering their plants. Keep in mind that turf grass requires more water than most other plants, so the regular setting on your sprinklers may be too much for new trees. In late fall, deep water new trees to give them enough moisture to get them through the winter.
An application of Plant Starter is all your tree needs this year. The tree will need a balanced fertilizer (like 10-10-10) to start off the next growing season. You can apply it in the fall once the tree has gone dormant, or early in the spring before it leafs out. You can continue to use the fertilizer throughout the growing season as often as directed on the label, but avoid using a high nitrogen (the first of the three numbers on the label) fertilizer later than July. This encourages new growth that will not be hardened off before the first fall frost.