Planting a $5 tree in a $50 hole

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(Host) Everyone knows that spring is planting time, but commentator Henry Homeyer says that Fall is too.

(Homeyer) Fall is finally here, and it’s time to plant – trees and shrubs, that is. I plant them in the fall because it’s cooler and wetter, so newly planted trees are less likely to dehydrate and die. Trees don’t go dormant even after their leaves turn red and cover your lawn. Their root systems are active until the ground is frozen solid, doing much of their annual root growth after the leaves fall. So don’t cozy up to the TV or start a thick novel thinking you can relax after the garden’s been frosted Nope. This is the time to plant trees.

Most trees come in plastic pots these days, and usually they’re planted deeper in their pots than they should go in the ground. Many nurseries buy dormant trees that are shipped to them early in the spring without any dirt. They pot them up, often planting them deep in their pots – so they won’t blow over after they leaf out.

Before planting a tree, go look at one Mother Nature planted. You’ll see that the base of the tree widens, and big roots start above ground. Your little tree should be planted like that, too. You need to expose the area called the ‘trunk flare’, so that it’s not covered with dirt. If it’s buried, it’s prone to rot, killing or injuring your tree in 10 years or so.

Expose the trunk flare by gently removing the dirt until you see it. Then measure the height of the root ball . Dig a hole just as deep as the root ball, and three to five times as wide. If there’s burlap or a wire basket surrounding the roots, remove it before planting. And if the roots circle the edge of the pot, tease them loose before putting your tree in the ground.

You shouldn’t add fertilizer at planting time, as that would encourage fast and tender growth just before winter. In fact, you need not add anything to the hole. Digging a wide hole just loosens up the soil offering tiny roots any easy start to life. They will eventually travel far and wide, extending well beyond the hole you dig, even growing beyond the reach of the branches.

It’s good to build a little ring of dirt around your tree, a dike to catch water. It’s important that the soil not dry out, so plan on watering your tree every week, giving it a good soaking. And be sure to soak it just before the ground freezes, too. Mulch will help keep the soil moist, but don’t mound it up against the trunk, as it could also be a cause for rot. The old adage goes, dig a $50 hole for a $5 tree. It makes sense to expend some extra energy and plant your tree well. My question is, these days, where the heck can you buy a five dollar tree?

This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a garden columnist, author, and gardening consultant.

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