Fall is for planting - especially trees. Planting a tree is an investment in the future, but, for many families, it goes deeper than that. Trees are planted to commemorate special occasions and special people. Some folks even track the growth of their children and their trees in the same photo albums. Fruit and nut trees provide opportunities for treasured memories of working together to gather and preserve a harvest, not to mention enjoying favorite family recipes. It only makes sense to give your new giant friend the best start possible.
Don't skimp on the hole
Even if you bought a $10 tree, dig a $50 hole.
The width of the hole should be two to three times the width of the container the tree came in. Slant the sides of the hole slightly so the top is a little wider than the bottom.
The final depth should be a little less than the depth of the soil in the container. At the proper depth, the tree roots will sit on UNDISTURBED soil. It seems like a 36-inch deep hole and all that good, soft soil ought to be super for growing tree roots. But, over the coming weeks, the soil will settle as you water and the crown (flare) of the tree ends up too deeply buried.
Check the drainage
Fill the hole with water and time how long it takes to drain. If the hole is still full of muddy water after 12 hours, find another place to plant your tree.
Plant with care
The most important half hour in a tree's life is between when it comes out of the pot and when the planting process is finished. Look for the trunk flare. Don't cover it with soil. The trunk should be a tad wider at the point where it meets the ground.
Use the same soil that came out of the hole to refill it. Don't use just compost or other "good" soil. If you do need to add compost, use 1 part compost to 5 parts original soil.
After the hole is about half full, water the soil to help it settle and eliminate any air pockets. (Roots die if they grow into air pockets.)
Finish filling the hole and water again.
Ensure proper watering
Mound a doughnut-type moat around the outside edge of the planting hole. Slope the soil gently down from the trunk so that water doesn't run to the trunk and puddle there.
Water should soak into the roots from the moat's edge to about 4 inches out from the trunk flare (crown). If water stays around the crown, a disease called Crown Rot is likely to get started. This disease can kill a tree.
Water as often as needed to keep the soil barely moist to at least 6 inches down. Check the soil moisture before and after watering by digging a narrow hole down five or six inches. This hole won't damage roots if you dig just outside of where the root ball is. Remember, the hole is much wider than the roots.
Treat newly planted trees with care. Don't let the soil dry out.
Family trees on a genealogy chart trace wonderful stories. Family trees in a back or front yard become a living chart to follow the yearly growth of your nearest and dearest. Hold a family meeting to choose what tree will come live with you, and plant away!
Joy Bossi and Karen Bastow are the authors of Joy in your Garden: A Seasonal Guide to Gardening and The Incredible Edible Landscape.