Plant a tree this spring

Arbor Day is coming up on April 28th and is a perfect time to promote tree planting and the benefits of trees in our communities.  Trees provide many benefits to our farms, homes, and cities that we often forget about.   They create biodiversity, provide countless ecosystem services, enhance property value, and even improve our quality of life and health.  Planting a tree is a very strategic investment for our future.

It can be very easy to get in a hurry when planting a tree and make mistakes that will not allow a tree to thrive to its full potential.  Here are 5 tips to help you plant your tree correctly and ensure long term success.

Select a tree recommended for Central Kansas

Basswood/Linden trees tolerate our high Central KS soil pH and are loved by pollinators.

Selecting the right tree for the right place is the essential first step in any tree planting.  Kansas climate is diverse and challenging and selecting a tree that will thrive in our soil and climate is essential. Go to the planting site and look up and around. Remember to consider both the mature height and width of any trees you will plant. Choose varieties suited to our area and those that are the most resistant to common insect and disease pests and drought. Choose varieties suited to our Kansas soils that often are very alkaline (high pH).  The Extension office has tree lists that will help narrow down appropriate trees.

Don’t forget that certain native trees are ‘food hubs’ and vital to sustaining the biodiversity (life) around us. Bur oak is a perfect example. This native oak supports hundreds of native insects and caterpillars which in turn support a vast array of song birds. Bur oak acorns also support scores of other wildlife. Choosing to plant a native ‘food hub’ tree is a wise decision.

Remove girdling roots

This 10 year old oak was planted with circling/girdling roots that are now damaging this tree-this damage is irreversible

If the tree is container grown, examine the roots before planting. Often container trees are root-bound and have excessive amounts of circling roots in the container. Circling roots will continue to grow in a circle after planting and need to be cut or straightened in order to prevent future damage to the tree.   Girdling roots that aren’t cut or removed or teased out of their circling shape will eventually grow into the tree trunk and choke off the cambium tissue and the tree will not thrive long term.

Plant to the correct depth

The flare root should be at or slightly above the soil surface after planting

You only plant a tree once, so make sure to provide a correct size planting hole.  Planting trees too deep is a very common mistake that has long term consequences.  Before placing the tree in the planting hole, locate the first root (flare root) coming off of the tree trunk. This flare root should be at or just slightly above the soil surface when planted.   Also dig wide.  Dig a hole that is twice the width of the root ball. By digging a planting hole that is wider than the root ball, you are creating less compacted soil conditions around the tree that allow newly developing roots to establish and grow.

Water correctly

Initially, trees should be watered at planting and again the next day and up to once or twice a week the first month depending on rainfall.  After the first month monitor the soil closely and water regularly as needed. Use a probe such as a screwdriver to check soil moisture around the tree roots weekly.  Be careful not to water too frequently since soils must have some time to dry to allow oxygen to reenter for plant roots.  Some trees can be killed by being planted in a heavily irrigated fescue lawn where too much moisture suffocates the roots.  A happy medium must be found.

Mulching is critical

Research shows that trees that are mulched properly grow and establish much more quickly than trees that aren’t.  This is due to the fact that the tree roots are not in competition with the surrounding turf and enjoy the many other benefits mulch provides (including protection from mowers and trimmers getting too close and wounding the tree trunk).  A proper mulch layer for a new tree is 4 inches deep and spread outward from the trunk several feet or more.  Be careful not to pile the mulch up on the tree trunk itself as this can lead to rots or rodent damage in the lower trunk bark.

Summary of proper tree planting

Step by step instruction

For more information check out this step by step instruction guide on planting trees from K-State Research and Extension.

Click to view this KSU Publication