Tips for planting trees in the new year

A good rule-of-thumb is to dig the hole two to three times larger than the diameter of the root system.

This new year is a perfect time to plant a tree. Trees can be planted at a resident, a park, a business or along a busy roadway. Trees have that calming effect on most people no matter what the circumstance.

When planting a tree start with digging a $200 hole to put a $100 tree in. Unfortunately planting trees around here is usually in clay or poorly drained soils that can make establishment very difficult. Proper planting is the key to the tree’s survival.

Planting begins with the right selection of trees that are adapted to the site and climate. For example, blue spruce will not grow well here because of our extreme weather. For information on the right species for this area, contact the county OSU Extension center, local nurseries, or observe other areas of the city that have mature trees.

Always choose a fresh quality plant. Try to purchase trees as soon as possible after they arrive at the store. Packaged plants should be dormant or showing new growth. Roots should not be growing out of the container drain holes. Burlap should be tight around the root ball and the ball should move with the plant as it is tilted.

Planting the optimum-sized tree in properly prepared soil is usually the quickest way for success. Start with a properly drained soil. A poorly drained clay soil is either too wet or too dry for all but the toughest trees. There are some inexpensive ways to improve the drainage for trees on the internet.

Most urban soils have been abused during construction or through heavy traffic over the yard. Nice, loamy soil has often been compacted with traffic. Make sure no building debris has been buried in the ground. Probe the area 12 to 18 inches deep for any debris and remove it. Soil drainage, compaction and building debris problems must be solved before planting.

Trees and shrubs must be planted at the same depth at which they were growing in their container. There is a texture and color change between the trunk and the roots. Planting trees too deep or not deep enough is a major cause of plant failure, especially in poorly drained soils.

The easiest way to help a young tree or shrub survive is to dig the hole much wider than is normally done. A good rule-of-thumb is to dig the hole two to three times larger than the diameter of the root system.

Thoroughly water the root ball before planting. A dry root ball may not get thoroughly wet at planting. Keep the roots damp and covered while preparing the planting hole. Never leave the roots exposed to air.

Broken and badly damage roots should be removed. Before placing the root ball in the hole, score the roots with a knife to eliminate the twisting of roots around the hole.

Place the plant in the hole, then backfill to the proper depth with soil taken out of the hole. Place enough soil to fill the hole about three-quarters full and then fill the hole with water. This will settle soil around the roots and eliminate air pockets. After the water has soaked in, finish filling the hole with soil and water again.

At planting, choose a complete fertilizer such as 10-20-10 or 15-15-15 or use one of the organic fertilizers like blood meal and bone meal. Use at a rate of one teaspoon per gallon of water for one-gallon size trees and three to four teaspoons per gallon of water for 5-gallon size trees. Fertilize young trees on the soil surface after the first two growing seasons.

Keep a 4- to 5- feet grass-free circle around young trees the first two or three years. This is especially needed when trees are planted in the lawn area.

Jim Coe lives in Lawton and writes a weekly column for The Lawton Constitution.

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