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FALL HOME IMPROVEMENT TAB Tips for successful tree-planting

From staff and wire reports

Think fall. Think trees. Trees in your home landscape add a lot of value to the property. Depending upon the species, trees also help with heating bills by blocking summer's sun and letting the wimpy winter sun do its best to warm your abode.

Fall is a great time to plant trees. And it is a great time to evaluate your existing trees to make sure they survive the coming winter in good shape.

Planting a tree entails more than digging a hole and dropping the root ball into it. Ask Jacob Ryg, Rochester city forester. Here are some tips on making your plantings and care successful:

Evergreens should be planted early, but deciduous trees can go into the ground as long as you can dig.

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Don't plant or mulch too deeply.

For trees in containers, dig the hole about two or three times as wide as the soil ball. Measure the height of the root ball and dig the hole one or two inches less than that height. Don't dig deeper, or the plant will be too deep once the disturbed soil settles. When digging is completed, roughen up the sides of the hole to help the roots grow.

Remove the plant from the container. If the roots are growing in a circle, make three or four shallow cuts down through the roots and the soil ball. Put the tree in the hole.

Backfill the hole using the original soil from the hole. In most cases, plants will grow best if the original soil is altered as little as possible. Never completely backfill with a soil amendment.

A slow-release, complete fertilizer that is high in phosphorus (the middle number) will aid in the development of a strong and healthy root system. Never put fertilizer directly on the roots of your plant. Instead, the fertilizer should be mixed thoroughly with your original soil before backfilling.

As you fill the hole, backfill evenly around the plant to minimize air pockets. Once your planting hole is approximately three-quarters full of backfill, water the plant thoroughly to further eliminate air pockets. Then, completely fill the hole and water thoroughly once again.

After planting never water automatically without first checking the soil to determine if watering is needed. Test the moisture of your soil about four to eight inches deep. Water the plant only if it is too dry or only slightly damp. Sandy soil generally will need to be watered more frequently than clay soil.

Roots grow where oxygen and water are most available. Watering deeply and thoroughly and only as needed will encourage a deep and healthy root system that will be able to withstand environmental stresses.

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A layer of several inches of mulching material such as wood chips will help retain soil moisture and help to prevent wide fluctuations in soil temperatures throughout the year. It also will inhibit the growth of weeds around the plant But, don't mulch too deeply. Taper mulch away from the stem.

Ryg stresses that planting a tree too deep will lead to disaster. When a tree is planted with its trunk flare (where the roots spread at the base of the tree) below the soil surface, the roots often find a path up toward the soil surface searching for water and oxygen. The roots then enlarge, along with the tree trunk, causing girdling or suffocating the tree (a process that might take many decades.) The flare should be partially visible after the tree has been planted. If the trunk flare is not partially visible, you might have to remove some soil from the top of the root ball.

"In my mind, deep planting is more of a problem than Dutch elm disease or Emerald Ash Borer. It is common in the nursery trade in Rochester to plant trees too deep or at the same level the nursery had grown them ... which in most cases is too deep. I've been working with nursery people on this problem."

For those readers contemplating a new tree this fall, Ryg offers two pamphlets and informational videos you can use to get the tree in the ground properly. His office is at the park office at Mayo Field, 403 East Center Street. His phone number is 287-7191, and his e-mail is JRYG@CI.Rochester.MN.US.

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