Kansas Arbor Day is March 30 the last Friday of the month. In keeping with the spirit and the tradition of the holiday, many families, schools, churches and civic organizations will plant trees on or near this day.
Planting a tree is not only a gesture of good will toward Mother Earth, it is also a generous gift for future generations. So if you are planting a tree this spring, here are some tips that just might mean the difference between success and failure.
Select the right tree for the site. To avoid future problems, choose trees that are well-adapted to the planting location. Consider sun and shade patterns, soil moisture and how much space the tree roots and canopy have to grow.
When at the nursery, select a tree that is strong and healthy. Avoid those that have damaged trunks, broken branches or are loose in the pot or root ball. Likewise, avoid trees that are pot-bound and have large masses of circling roots in a small container.
Back at home, plant the tree on solid ground not fill dirt. Ideally, the planting hole should be three times the width of the root ball and dug to the same depth.
Remove the growing container from the root ball. Cut away plastic and peat pots. If roots are circling in the container, cut through them in three or four places with a sharp knife.
If you can remove the wire basket and burlap without destroying the root ball, do so. If not, roll them back into the hole and cut away as much excess as possible.
Backfill the hole with the same soil that was removed. Amendments such as peat moss and compost can do more harm than good.
Make sure the backfill soil is loose no clods or clumps. Add water as you fill to ensure good root-to-soil contact.
After planting, remove all wires, labels, cords or anything else tied to the plant. If left on, they may eventually girdle the branch to which they are attached.
Do not cut back the branches of a tree after planting, except those that are rubbing or damaged. The leaf buds release a hormone that encourages root growth. If the tree is cut back, the reduced number of leaf buds limit hormones and root formation.
Mulch around the tree. Mulch should be 4 inches deep and cover an area two times the diameter of the root ball. Mulching reduces competition from other plants, conserves moisture and keeps soil temperature closer to what the roots prefer.
Finally, stake the tree only if necessary. Trees will establish more quickly and grow faster if they are not staked. However, larger trees or those in windy locations may need to be staked the first year. Staking materials must be strong enough to provide support but flexible enough to allow some movement of the trunk. Movement is necessary for the trunk to become strong.
The simple act of planting a tree can be difficult and time-consuming.
Additionally, a poor planting job may not be evident for three or four years from now. So use these simple pointers to guide you to success whenever you plant a tree or shrub. Remember, if planted correctly, that tree may flourish and grow for the next 100 years.
Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more gardening information, call the Master Gardener Hotline, 843-7058, from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday or Friday.