Moving and Planting Trees

Transplanting will likely be the most traumatic event in your young tree’s life. Nursery trees are pampered to grow fast. So when you sever 90% of the roots (ball-n-burlap) or allow roots to circle a pot for years, drop it in a tiny hole of compacted clay soil (“drill-n-drop”), and greatly alter the watering cycle, it should come as no surprise when your tree struggles to survive.

To the homeowner, all new installations look great; there is the promise of flowering ornamentals and spreading shade trees. To the landscaper, the market is incredibly competitive and those who do more than necessary risk going out of business.

But it’s the homeowner left holding the sick tree. And it’s our company that gets to claw through wire cages, nylon straps and girdling roots, to correct what should have been done by the landscaper (photos copyright Randy Cyr).

Planting Trees That Thrive Rather Than Survive

Half of all trees “professionally” installed in the Upstate will die or blow over within 5 years! Though not landscapers, of the thousands of thousands of trees we have installed and/or provided planting specifications for, less than 1/2 of 1 percent have died or blown over before becoming established.

If the planting photo above looks strange, it may be due to the fact that few landscapers follow the guidelines of our universities and trade associations. We have benefited from the research of Ed Gilman of the University of Florida, and Sandy Rose of Shade Masters, Arlington, Texas.

Owners/managers: ask your landscaper how much more will it cost to plant properly. If they are real professionals, they should at least offer to plant properly and let you decide. If you want a high survival rate, and for those survivors to thrive, you should be willing to pay what it costs. It will be well worth the cost!

(A) Choosing the right tree for the right place is your most important decision. Before cruising the nurseries, do some homework. Consider choosing from our list: The Upstate Tree Selection Guide

(B) Locate nurseries that have the species you’re looking for. Choose a healthy, single-trunk tree (s), with a visible root flare (F). If possible, gently lift rootball from container. Pass up root-bound trees (N). Gently return to container.

(C) The best time to plant is October through April (this American hornbeam was planted in October).

(D) Plant in well-drained soil away from foundations, walls, drives, parking lots, bedrock, downspouts, drains, plumbing, septic systems, utility lines, billboards & other trees.

(E) Call 811 (The National Call Before You Dig Line).

(F) Moisten rootball. Gently pull from container. With a hand cultivator expose root flare (F) by gently digging to the first sizable root. Lower (shave, dig and/or prune) the rootball to this level.

(G) Measure rootball height. Gently return to container.

(H) If drainage unknown, conduct a percolation test (s). With post hole digger dig down 2 inches less than rootball height. If dry for 4 hours, fill with water. Acceptable drainage is 1 inch to 1 foot per hour. Poor drainage? Test another site.

(I) Remove sod with flat shovel 5 times root-ball width (7 times for compacted soil).

(J) Dig planting hole (non-saucer-shaped) 3 times rootball width (5 times if compacted), and 2 inches less than rootball height deep (G).

(K) Dig hole 2 inches deeper near the sides.

(L) Roughen sides & bottom of hole away from center.

(M) Gently pull rootball from container. Tease circling roots away from moistened rootball. Prune kinked & stubborn roots.

(N) If impractical, carefully shave off or prune outer mat of circling roots (C) with a machete or large knife.

(O) Place rootball on firm ground in center of hole. The root flare (F) must be 2 inches above sides of hole (J). Use board or garden tool handle to compare.

(P) Orient tree so most leaves face south (or towards most sunlight).

(Q) Straighten tree: align trunk with the side of 2 buildings in background. Remove props, twine & ties. Spread out loose roots away from rootball.

(R) B & B tree: remove nylon straps, twine, wire & burlap from top & sides of rootball.

(S) Stake unstable trees against rootball with untreated wood in direction of prevailing winds (southwest & northeast).

(T) For additional support, attach opposing, wide, non-chaffing straps low on the trunk. Guy lines are not recommended.

(U) Place 4 inch ADS/PVC pipe (s) near rootball to monitor drought & flooding. Water or pump out water as needed (manual bilge or battery-powered siphon pump).

(V) Backfill planting hole with same soil broken up & lightly tamped down alongside rootball (do not amend soil). Miracle-Gro may be moderately applied over poor soil.

(W) Apply 1 inch, single-ground, aged, whole-tree, wood-chip mulch over backfill & sod-stripped soil (leave rootball bare).

(X) Drench entire planting hole (J). Repeat when water has drained (monitor pipe). Drench entire rootball (G) once every other day for 2 weeks, twice a week for remainder of growing season (April thru October for deciduous trees). Watering frequency is dependent upon rainfall & temperature. <90% of 1st year tree deaths are due to water mismanagement.>

(Y) Root flares (F) must remain visible for the life of your tree.

(Z) When lower trunk becomes firm (1 year), remove stakes & straps. Remove/cut pipe (s) when no longer needed. After 2 years, mulch-bed can be extended to within 1 foot of trunk, but never closer (for the life of your tree). Weed as necessary. If impractical, spray with organic herbicide:

Start tree training in about 2 years (as needed). Like our children, some trees may require decades of training.

Don’t be surprised if your tree grows amazingly fast, with few, if any pest problems! Now on to the slideshow.

Refresh the page to start the slideshow from the beginning:

Tree Evaluations & Reports

Before you call a tree removal service, let our impartial consulting arborists identify potential hazards and diseases, and recommend proven solutions. Our approach spares our clients needless worry and, often, thousands of dollars in removal and treatment costs.

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