By Monte Hampton
Ford County Extension agent, Agriculture
Before you begin spring landscaping here are some tips on planting trees from K-State horticulture specialists.
1. Select the right tree for the site. To avoid many serious problems, choose trees that are adapted to your location. Consider whether the tree produces nuisance fruit or if there are disease-resistant varieties available. For example, there are a number of crabapple varieties that are resistant to apple scab and rust diseases. Ask a local nurseryman for suggestions.
2. Keep the tree well watered and in a shady location. When moving the tree, lift it by the root ball or pot and not by the trunk.
3. Before planting, remove all wires, labels, cords or anything else tied to the plant. If left on, they may eventually girdle the branch to which they are attached.
4. Dig a proper hole. Plant the tree on solid ground, not fill dirt. Make the hole deep enough so that the tree sits slightly above nursery level. The width of the planting hole is very important. It should be three times the width of the root ball. Loosening the soil outside the hole so it is five times the diameter of the root ball will allow the tree to spread its roots faster.
5. Remove all containers from the root ball. Cut away plastic and peat pots; roll burlap and wire baskets back into the hole cutting as much of the excess away as possible. If you can remove the wire basket without disturbing the root ball, do it. If roots have been circling around in the container, cut them and spread them out so they do not continue growing this way inside the hole and become girdling roots later in the life of the tree.
6. Backfill the hole with the same soil that was removed. Amendments such as peat moss likely do more harm than good. Make sure the soil that goes back is loosened--no clods or clumps. Add water as you fill to insure good root/soil contact and prevent air pockets. There is no need to fertilize at planting.
7. Don't cut back the branches of a tree after planting except those that are rubbing or damaged. The leaf buds release a hormone that encourages root growth. If the tree is cut back the reduced number of leaf buds results in less hormone released and therefore fewer roots being formed.
8. Water the tree thoroughly and then once a week for the first season if there is insufficient rainfall.
9. Mulch around the tree. This is important! Mulch should be 2- to 4-inches deep and cover an area two to three times the diameter of the root ball. Mulching reduces competition from other plants, conserves moisture and keeps soil temperature closer to what the plants' roots prefer.
10. Stake only when necessary. Trees will establish more quickly and grow faster if they are not staked. However, larger trees or those in windy locations may need to be staked the first year. Guying materials must be strong enough to provide support but flexible enough to allow some movement of the trunk. Movement is necessary for the trunk to become strong. Horticultural tape or canvas webbing at least one-inch wide makes good staking material. For more information or publications on tree planting, call the Ford County Extension Office at 620-227-4542.