It’s been said to dig a $100 hole for a $10 tree. While you probably won’t get a tree for $10, taking time to plant correctly will make all the difference in the health and longevity of your new tree. The roots of your tree will grow horizontally like a pancake around the tree rather than down because roots will grow best where there is moisture and oxygen. Most trees do not have a taproot and the few that do eventually lose it, with rare exceptions. Because the roots will grow away from the tree, it’s important to dig the planting hole 2-3 times the width of the rootball. This will allow the roots to grow more easily into loosened soil and make their start easier. Don’t dig your hole too deep as you want a firm foundation for the tree to sit on. Why? Because one of the biggest problems with new tree planting is that they get planted too deep. A firm foundation will prevent soil from settling and the tree sinking too deep.
One of the most important areas of a tree is the root flare; the area where the roots begin to flare out away from the trunk. This root flare must be visible after you plant the tree. Trees planted too deep have a tendency to develop girdling or circling roots. These roots will eventually strangle the tree and cause it to either die or tip over. This usually doesn’t occur until the tree is about 10-15 years old; just about the time the tree is getting to be a good size.
Unfortunately, that flare is usually buried inside the burlap or the container. How do you find that flare? You can use a probe like a screw driver to feel for the roots and figure out how deep in the ball or container the root flare is located. Once found, measure the depth of the rootball and dig your planting hole accordingly. Move the tree into the hole. Fill the hole half way and remove the twine and remove as much of the burlap as possible, if planting a balled and burlapped tree. If there is a wire cage cut off the top two rings of wire. At this point it’s very important that you carefully removed the soil from the top of the rootball until you find where the roots begin to flare out. Use water to settle the soil in the bottom of the hole and then add the remainder of the soil to the hole. Don’t tamp the soil down using your foot as it compacts the soil too much and interferes with drainage. Using soil, build a moat to direct and hold water around the rootball. Be sure that the entire rootball is moistened. No fertilizer should be used for the first year. If you need to stake your tree, use 2 stakes outside the rootball and a soft flexible material that won’t damage the trunk. The stakes should be removed after 1 year.