Husker Hort

A Nebraska View of Horticulture

A Tree-mendous Investment

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Trees grown in root producing containers

Spring is here which means that it’s a wonderful time to plant a tree.  There are lots of choices out there when it comes to selecting a tree.  Find out some tree selecting and planting tips to make sure your tree is a long-term investment.

There are many options when it comes to methods for growing trees.  Bare root, container, root producing containers, balled and burlap, tree spade, the possibilities are endless.  Each method has its pros and cons.  Bare root trees will need to be soaked for a few hours prior to planting.  Inspect container grown nursery stock by removing the pot.  Look to see if there are many circling roots.  If the tree is completely root bound, pass on that tree, it is a lost cause.  Root producing containers are ‘new’ in the industry. The difference between these containers and conventional nursery containers is when a root reaches the edge of the pot, instead of circling around, it stops and branches out.  These types of containers can produce more roots and really decrease the chances of circling roots.  Balled and burlap trees are trees that are cut out of the ground then have burlap and a wire basket placed over the root system.  When planting these types of trees, remember to remove both the wire basket and the burlap from the root ball. Trees moved with a tree spade are popped out of the ground in one location and popped into the ground in another.  Regardless of the method used, bigger is not always better.  A rule of thumb when it comes to trees, for every inch of trunk diameter is approximately the number of years the tree will sit re-growing its root system. So a 3” diameter tree will take about 3 years to reestablish its root system before it begins to actively grow, a 6” diameter will take about 6 years and so on.  Ideally 1” or up to 1.5” diameter tree gives you a big enough tree, yet small enough to begin actively growing quickly.

Having a properly placed tree in a properly dug hole will pay off in the long run.  The location for the tree planting is key.  Select a location where the tree can reach its mature size and not be obstructed by other objects like powerlines or buildings.  Be sure to call the city’s utility department and Diggers Hotline at least 3 days prior to planting to make sure when digging the hole, you won’t cut any underground lines.  If you have an underground sprinkler system, the lines and sprinkler heads are also handy to have marked.  Once you have selected a spot to place the tree. Stand in that spot and look for potential issues.  Look up and down.  Are there any power lines or obstructions up high?  Does the spot drain well or does it pool water?  If you look out the window of the house, will the mature tree block any sight lines that you want to maintain?

The saying is, dig a million dollar hole for a $10 tree.  Not that you have to spend a whole lot on digging the hole, but you do need to take your time and do it right.  Once you have selected the site and done your homework to make sure it is the best location for the tree, the digging can begin.  You don’t have to dig a deep hole to plant a tree.  You want to make the hole as deep as the plant is potted or deep enough that the flare roots, the first set of roots, are near the soil surface.  Make the hole like a shallow dish rather than a deep hole.  Roots need oxygen in order for the tree to grow properly.  If the tree is planted too deep, it is not able to receive enough oxygen and the tree won’t be able to reach its full potential.

Water for newly planted trees is just as important as a properly placed plant.  Aim for the tree to get 1 gallon of water per 1” of diameter every day for two weeks, then every other day for 2 weeks.  A 2” diameter tree would get about 2 gallons of water per watering, a 3” about 3 gallons, and so on.  Throughout the rest of the growing season, try to get around 1” of water per week on the trees.  Some trees, like balled and burlap or those moved with a tree spade, may need more water if they are larger due to the decreased root zone.

The best time to plant a tree was yesterday. The second best time to plant a tree is today.

Elizabeth Killinger is the Horticulture Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension in Hall County. For more information contact Elizabeth at elizabeth.killinger@unl.edu, her blog at https://huskerhort.com/, or HuskerHort on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Elizabeth Killinger

A Nebraska Extension Educator out of Hall County with a focus in horticulture and sustainable landscapes.

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