There's a lot of new houses being built...

Home construction

…and with new houses come new landscapes. New landscapes mean there’s going to be a lot of new trees being installed, in all sorts of locations too. Unfortunately for the trees, the most common problem I see with young trees is certainly the most important. PLANTING!! Trees are living organisms, like an animal, and they need to be cared for if you want them to survive. Looking after a tree is a simple task, but without proper installation it only brings struggles.

Most trees that are planted by homeowners are still in the relative infancy. Less than 10 years old, these poor trees are sold by stores, nurseries and private growers and left to their own defences. Out in the world, away from the cosy life of daily attention and watering and living where somebody may not have even asked for it! Don’t take a new tree for granted as there has been a lot of love gone into it before it ends up in the ground for one last time.

It always interests me in what people think about planting a tree. Most seem to believe it to be quite inconsequential. Its birth and transplant can’t be more important. It won’t even make it to maturity if it’s not put in the ground correctly, so please make sure when you have a tree planted, make sure the planter is experienced and qualified. A lot of companies hire part time seasonal staff to do such tasks as tree planting, with minimal knowledge of trees and clearly a distinct lack of training or direction. Don’t trust such an important investment like [potentially] a 100 year old tree to students making a quick $$$ for the summer. Check credentials before hiring tree planters from your local gardening store, but an arborist will be your best source for information to the intricate details of tree planting.

The usual way for a tree to make it to its final home is via a plastic container, where it’s been, potentially, for a number of years. Often the tree is at the point where it’s outgrowing it’s container and the roots are beginning to encircle the perimeter of the root ball.

If a planter doesn’t break up the outside of the root ball, the roots could well continue to circle the ball after installation. The owner would be completely unaware until the roots begin to girdle each other as they grow, cutting off the water and nutrient supply to the above ground portion of the tree, causing twig or more significant die back. This is when the arborist gets the call, but it’s too late. Established roots can’t be modified and the tree should be replaced. The roots need to be shown which direction to grow by massaging them off the soil and have them pointing away from the tree when put in the ground. A good watering around the roots at time of installation will encourage them to grow away from the root zone too.

Some larger trees come in a wire basket and wrapped in burlap (the wire basket and burlap must be removed in its entirety before being planted. I can’t count how many dead trees I have seen removed still in their basket from installation. If you see a tree planter using this practice, be prepared to get a new tree.) These trees have to be dug to be planted, and more often than not they have many roots severed. This limits it’s ability to absorb water and essential nutrients from the soil. These trees may satisfy a customers immediate desire for a larger tree, but they are often slow growers as a result from having to regrow a large portion of their root system, before putting on new growth above ground. If the tree isn’t nurtured in this condition it’s development will stutter, and at such a young age it will fall into a rough cycle to get stuck in.

If I was planting a new tree, I would start with a tree no older than 3 or 4 years old. Preferably one that has only had 1 pot its whole life, or one from bare root stock (if you can find them). If a tree is planted with never having had a root severed or chance to girdle it will establish in the new environment much easier, opposed to frantically trying to put on new roots so it can feed itself or strangling itself to death. A starving tree can quickly die back to consolidate in survival mode.

Planting depth is crucial to consider. It’s frightening to hear someone say “I planted my tree good and deep, that tree is never falling over!” Now, depending on how much sarcasm a client can take, it’s fun explaining and educating why that’s actually bad practice.