It has been more than 140 years since the first Arbor Day was observed in Nebraska. It has since become a national observance that, in most states, takes place on the last Friday in April, and recognizes the importance of trees as well as tree selection, planting, and care. A properly selected and planted tree can add beauty and energy efficiency to your landscape, but doing your homework is imperative, according to the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA).
Before you plant a tree this Arbor Day, follow these best practices:
- Measure the height and diameter of the root ball or root spread. Dig the hole just deep enough to allow the first structural root to be at level grade. The hole’s diameter should be two to three times the diameter of the root ball or root spread.
- Set the tree on undisturbed solid ground in the center of the hole. The tree should be planted so that the root flare, the base of the tree trunk where the roots begin to flare out, is visible and above grade.
- Backfill with soil from the planting hole, using water to pack or settle the soil around the root ball. Do not tamp soil by stepping on it.
- Mulch the planting area with 2-4 inches of an organic mulch, such as wood chips. Do not mulch up to or against the trunk. Start the mulch six inches away from the tree trunk. Fertilizing is not recommended at the time of planting.
- Trees should be pruned after planting to remove only broken, damaged, diseased or dead branches.
- Stake or protect the trunk of the tree if there is a real potential for wind damage or lawn mower injury. Remove the guy wires (string, rope, wire or other used with supports) when the staking is no longer needed or the tree could be injured or even killed from girdling by the wire.
- Prune to develop a good branch structure 1-3 years after planting. Never remove more than 25 percent of total foliage in one year. Depending on the tree and its condition, some arborists advocate capping pruning at even a lower percentage.
If you’re new to purchasing a tree, look for these common forms of packaged trees:
May be sold with the roots tightly packed in a moisture-retaining medium that is wrapped with paper or plastic, or with roots loosely covered by a moist packing medium. Roots must be adequately moistened prior to planting. Roots are spread out evenly in the hole when planting.
Balled and Burlapped (B&B) Trees
B&B trees are moved with a ball of soil protecting their root system. Soil balls are heavy, so professional arborists who have proper equipment should be hired to plant large trees. Smaller B&B trees should be carried with a hand under the ball. Carrying a B&B tree by the stem or branches can result in serious root damage. When planting, carefully remove the top layer of soil down to the first structural root. Set the root ball in the hole, position the tree, then remove twine and nails. Remove or fold back burlap from the upper third of the root ball.
These trees have the advantage of a root system that is relatively undisturbed at planting, but beware of "pot-bound" container trees. Do not buy container trees that have a large amount of roots completely circling the inside of the pot. These trees will take a long time to get established after planting because the roots have difficulty growing beyond the thick ring of circling roots. Immediately before planting container trees, prune any circling roots. Root pruning can cut up to 50 percent of the roots in container trees while still sufficient to permit plant establishment. Always remove the container prior to planting.
It's also important to keep in mind the inherent dangers of attempting tree care or removal on your own. Pruning limbs, felling trees, and especially climbing into trees, can be hazardous activities even for trained professionals. For safe and efficient work, hire a tree care professional with experience, expertise and equipment to safely get the job done.
Happy Arbor Day!!