You’ve heard about the benefits of planting trees in the fall. Prices are lower, the air is cool but the soil is warm, and roots get a jump-start on spring.
Inexperienced tree planters might find the prospect intimidating, but it’s fairly straightforward. This week I got some tips from Jason Beardsley, a certified arborist with Ted Collins Tree and Landscape in Victor.
First, expose the root flare. Nursery-grown trees sometimes will have a “false” root flare.
Beardsley says that this happens — more often in containerized trees than in balled and burlapped ones — when the plant is too deep in soil, so that roots emerge from the growth nodes that are above the natural flare. (Plant propagators take advantage of the fact that nodes can produce either roots or leaves when they make new plants from stem cuttings.)
Dig a hole as deep as the root ball is (to the flare) and two to three times as wide. Then put the tree in the hole, making sure the flare is just above grade.
Next backfill the soil, packing it around the base to make sure the plant is stable. It’s important to get all of the air pockets out.
One way is to fill the hole with water when it’s about halfway full and again when it’s almost full to the top, letting the water drain out completely in between. Another is to poke holes into the soil with a shovel, then water.
Continue to water regularly for another two or three years.
If you’ve done things right, the tree shouldn’t need staking, Beardsley says.
But if you are worried or in a very windy spot, stake the tree a third of the way up, perpendicular to the wind. The wind here tends to come from the west, so you should stake north and south of the plant.
Don’t make the ties too tight, and remove them within a year. You don’t want to be that person who leaves the ties in place for years, ultimately grafting into and girdling the tree.
“Mulch,” Beardsley says, “is the best thing for a tree. Just not too much of it. Rochester is a hotbed of mulch volcanoes.”
Piling mulch up around the trunk can hold moisture, causing decay and girdling roots to form, and allowing an avenue for boring insects and other creatures, like voles.
The mulch bed under the tree should mirror its canopy, increasing in diameter as the years progress.