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Tips for successfully planting a tree

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Trees are a great addition to any yard, whether you are looking to provide some shade or improve your yard's appearance. Here are some tips for successfully planting a tree.

Selecting the tree
When you are deciding which tree you want to plant, make sure you choose one that will thrive in your environment. Check out the Arbor Day Foundation's tree guide to determine the characteristics of different trees.

Why are you planting the tree in the first place? Is it to add some color or diversity to your yard? This will help you decide if you want a tree that has flowers or one that will provide ample shade. Remember the tree's purpose is to ensure you are satisfied with the results.

Spring and early fall are the best times to plant, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). However, if you live in a warmer climate, you can likely plant through the winter months.

If you want to go with a bare-rooted tree, inspect it carefully before purchase. Make sure the roots are evenly distributed and moist. Once you make your selection, be mindful to take good care of your tree between when you pick it out and when you plant it. You don't want to damage it from the beginning.

Planting the tree
According to the University of Missouri Extension, the main objective when planting a tree should be to make sure the roots will grow rapidly into the soil. This will provide a good base and growth environment for the tree.

You first need to prepare the site for planting. The VDOF says the most common tree planting mistake is digging the wrong size hole. If the hole is too deep, the roots will not get enough oxygen. However, if the hole is too narrow, the roots won't be able to expand properly. If you are transplanting your tree from another location, make sure you do not bury it deeper than it was grown. Part of the trunk should be slightly darker, and this will indicate the previous soil level. As a rule of thumb, the width of the hole should be at least three times the diameter of the root ball (a mass of roots at the bottom of the plant).

If you are digging in poorly drained clay soil, be careful of glazing, which is when the sides of the hole become smooth, which prevents water from passing through. Break up the sides and bottoms with a fork to prevent this from happening.

If you are planting a balled and burlapped tree, be mindful to lift it by the ball rather than the trunk. Cut synthetic or plastic burlap away completely before planting, and remove all string or twine. Place the tree in the hole and fill it either slightly lower than or right at the top of the ball. Make sure not to compress the soil.

Be sure to plant trees with bare roots as soon as possible after purchase. Keep the roots moist the whole time; prune roots that are damaged or broken. Dig a hole that is big enough for the roots to spread out. Check the sides of the hole for glazing. The VDOF advises building a small mound in the middle of the hole. Place the tree on this mound and spread the roots around it. Fill the hole with soil, and then mulch the area around the tree, careful not to get too close to the trunk.

Cornell University's Department of Horticulture warns against using fertilizer on freshly-planted trees. If you used stakes to keep the tree upright, remove them after a year or two.

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