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Show #27/1701: The Crown Jewel of St. Louis

The Proper Depth for Planting a Tree

One of the major concerns in the industry right now is tree depth. In the past 10 years or so people have been planting trees too deep. When planting a tree make sure to look for the foot flare. On the tree they're examining one sees the discoloration. That was the soil line when the tree came to this site. It was literally about 5 inches too deep in the ball. When found in the nursery the ball ends up with extra soil on it, from either balling or burlapping or from weed control or they'll till through the beds adjacent to the trees. So when one plants the tree look first for the root flare. That is the height it should be planted. And when planting the tree it's better to plant it slightly high rather than slightly low because planting it low is one of the quickest ways to kill a tree. Another point involves staking. There was a time when we thought to stake a tree meant to stake it so tightly that there was no give whatsoever. We know now through scientific research that it's better for there to be give in the staking because it allows the tree to establish a lot more quickly in the ground. Joe points out the cable on this tree, it's rather loose. That allows for the give but it also relieves the pressure on the bark layer. Too much pressure will girdle the tree and could kill the tree. Once the tree is established in the ground, which is usually no more than one growing season, 3 or 4 months, if you want to remove the staking it should be OK. Another point is the hole itself. A lot of people tend to put amendments or a compost of many type of things in the hole thinking they're fertilizing the tree, giving it a better chance. What actually happens is that tree roots break out of the ball, find the rich soil, stay there and don't break out into the surrounding soil. So just fill in the hole with the native soil that came out of the hole, the tree tends to establish better and breaks out into the surrounding soil. Break up the big clumps, but otherwise backfill with native soil. And, for the final tip - mulch. Mulch is important in the garden but especially when planting a new tree or shrub. The correct depth for mulch in this setting is 2 to 4 inches but it should not contact the bark. If that happens it becomes a highway for pests and diseases. As well, keeping it away from the bark allows for better air circulation which is a good thing. So when planting a tree or shrub make sure that you use mulch but also make sure to leave some space which will help keep pests and disease away from the bark.

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