Your Guide to Planting a Tree

The Ancient Greeks were a wise bunch. As Nelson Henderson once paraphrased: "The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit."

It’s a beautiful quote that holds multiple meanings, but the one that we will draw from in this article is an investment; the investment of doing something significant today so that others might enjoy it in the future – such as planting a tree.

Planting a tree is a significant investment and one that will take long before you can fully enjoy the proverbial fruits of your labour. And just how your investment turns out depends on a wide variety of factors, such as:

  • The tree you wish to plant
  • Where you decide to plant it
  • And the care that you take during the planting process – and indeed after it has been planted.

If you have been toying with the idea of planting a tree – for whatever reason – this is the article for you. We’re going to share with you, some information on how to get your sapling off to a healthy start and ensure that it remains healthy through to its maturity – whether you get to sit under it or not.


When Should You Plant a Tree?

Since we’re on the subject of aphorisms and proverbs; “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago”. In other words, there’s never a better time to plant a tree than now…

That said, trees are best planted during the dormant season. So, when we say now, we don’t mean immediately, right this second. Instead, you should wait for the next possible “window of opportunity”, whether that be in the autumn after leaf drop or in the early springtime before the bud break—which will vary depending on where on earth you live (e.g., in tropical and sub-tropical climates where trees grow all year round, any time can be considered a good time to plant a tree – so long as plenty of water is present).

During these dormant seasons, the weather conditions are typically cooler and thus allow the plants to establish healthy roots in the new location before the heavy spring rains start and the summer heat stimulates new top growth.

Yes, healthy “container grown” plants can be planted during the summer season, however, the appropriate care is required. If you are new to this and don’t feel entirely confident, you’re always better off waiting until the dormant season so that the odds are stacked in your and the sapling’s favour.


What Is ‘Planting Stress’ and How Can It Be Avoided?

When most people think of planting a tree they picture themselves burying a seed into the earth and pouring a pretty little watering can over the top. That’s not always the case. Instead, some people use open-grown tree stock (aka bare-rooted or balled-and-burlapped trees) or container-grown nursery trees – both of which can experience what is commonly known as “transplant shock”.

Transplant shock refers to the state of slowed growth and impaired vitality after a tree has been “transplanted” (moved from the nursery to your desired planting location).

The fact is when taking this approach, a portion of the tree’s root system is lost when dug up from the nursery and transplanted and this can be traumatic for a young tree.

To alleviate the damage caused you should consider:

  • Proper planting site prep
  • Careful handling of the tree
  • Excellent follow-up care.

The above tips can help to reduce the level of shock and promote a faster recovery. However, the best way to avoid this altogether is to start from scratch by burying and establishing seedlings of your own.


Plan in Advance

Before going ahead and planting a tree you must ensure that you are planting the right tree in the right place. By doing so you can avoid any costly maintenance requirements and potential damage to your home in the future.

Research your tree’s requirements and pay close attention to the area surrounding your prospective planting site. Are there any neighbouring utilities that may pose trouble in the future? Is it too close to your home? How large is the tree likely to grow? These are all vital questions that you need to consider before making any commitments.

When in doubt, speak to your local, qualified arborist to get the soundest and most accurate advice.


A Step-By-Step Guide to Planting a Tree

If you aren’t plating a seed, but a growing tree sapling, here’s a step-by-step to help you along:

  1. Locate all underground utilities before digging (you wouldn’t want your tree’s roots boring their way through your water pipes down the line).
  2. Identify and account for ‘trunk flare’.
  3. Dig a broad and shallow planting hole (dig a hole that is at least 2 to 3 times wide than the root ball itself – but only as deep as).
  4. Remove the covering (free the roots and straighten/remove any circling roots).
  5. Don’t plant too deep (the deeper you go the harder it will be for new roots to develop).
  6. Straighten the tree (as you fill in the hole and begin backfilling, make sure that the tree is perfectly straight and inspect it from multiple directions).
  7. Fill the hole gently (pack the soil gently, but do so firmly to properly stabilise it, while eliminating air pockets).
  8. Only stake the tree if necessary (offer stake support only if needed. In the same way that a butterfly will die if prematurely pried from its cocoon, trees that are staked unnecessarily take longer to establish and tend not to develop as strong a trunk or root system as those that are left to fend for themselves).
  9. Mulch at the base (use an organic spread throughout the base to hold moisture, moderate temperature, and reduce competition with weeds and grass).
  10. Provide excellent aftercare (always keep the soil nice and moist—though not waterlogged. Feed as necessary. Water at least once a week, etc.).


Final Thoughts: Consult Your arborist

There’s a certain beauty in planting a tree by yourself but if you aren’t entirely sure as to whether you’re doing it right, it’s always worth consulting with a qualified arborist in advance. With a quick site inspection and some advice, you shouldn’t run into too many problems and before long, you and your children (and their children too) will be able to enjoy the fruits of your labour for many years to come!

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