Planting Trees and Shrubs

If you follow a few simple rules when installing trees and shrubs at your home, you will be rewarded with a healthy and thriving landscape planting for years to come.

Start off right by enlisting the help of an established, local nursery, as they will have the most expertise to offer in helping you select species or varieties of plants that will do well in your particular area. While plants can be installed at most any time of the year with proper precautions, spring is when the widest and best selection of plants will be available.

The ultimate success of your planting begins as you choose your plants. Picking out healthy, vigorous specimens with no signs of disease or disfigurement is important. Check the stems or trunk for damage to the bark that may have resulted from rough handling, and reject or select any plant accordingly. If in a pot, it is relatively easy to check for an adequate root system by tipping the plant to the side and gently sliding the plant partially out of the container to reveal the roots. If you are selecting a deciduous plant that has yet to leaf out, check to make sure that the buds are swelling and moist inside. Scratching a tiny bit of the bark off a small twig should also reveal a live, green layer.

Be prepared to protect your new plants from wind and sun while transporting them. Any plant on the outside of a vehicle should be covered with a mesh tarp. Water your purchases as soon as they are unloaded at home, and continue regular watering until installation.

Choose an appropriate location for the plant that you bought. Most plants have specific cultural preferences that should be add-
ressed when locating a place for installation. An example would be broadleaf evergreens, which generally don’t do well in exposed areas where they are subject to damage from winter wind and sun. Therefore, they grow best when planted on the north and east sides of structures. Mature plant size should also be considered so that adequate growing room is allowed between neighboring plants and especially between plants and buildings. Many plants sold have identifying tags with all of this information included.

Excavate a planting pit the depth of the root ball and at least twice its diameter. Continue a foot or two beyond the perimeter of the excavation itself, loosening the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. Spread several inches of peat moss or compost over all of the loosened and excavated soil. Blend soil and organic matter together to create a backfill mix. Once the soil and planting hole are prepared, remove the plant from its growing container and place it in the hole with the top of the root ball an inch or two above the surrounding finished grade.

When removing a container-grown plant, it is advisable to make several vertical cuts on the outside perimeter of the root ball about an inch deep in order insure that new roots will grow in a desirable manner. If the root ball is wrapped in burlap, set the plant in the hole with the wrap still intact. Once the plant is in the correct position, the burlap and twine can be cut away to reveal the root ball itself. If there is a wire basket around the burlap, use bolt cutters or wire-cutting pliers to remove as much of the basket as possible. Never leave any twine or rope around the trunk of the tree.

Backfill the void around the plant one-half to two-thirds of the way up the root ball, and gently compact the soil mix. At this point, use a garden hose to fill the remaining hole with water. Once the water has soaked in, the hole can be filled the rest of the way with soil. Create a well and apply water to the plant once again. At this point, an application of fertilizer is beneficial, whether it is a water-soluble starter solution or a granular tree-and-shrub formula. Follow package directions for rate and method of the particular product you are using.

Mulching after planting will help the soil retain water and provide the decorative element you desire, whether it is 2 to 3 inches of hardwood bark mulch directly over the soil or an attractive stone placed over a layer of weed mat. Be sure to leave a little breathing room between the plant stem and the surrounding mulch.

Continue watering throughout the growing season. Check soil moisture weekly and apply water if necessary. The most effective method for single plants is to simply place an open-ended hose at the base of the plant and turn the water on to a slow stream for as long as needed.

Planting a tree or shrub is a simple procedure. It requires some manual labor, but you can enjoy your new landscape for years to come.

by Del Cronise
Del Cronise, of Cronise Landscape & Design, works throughout the Finger Lakes region. Call him at585-229-4776 or visit his website at

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