Planting a Tree the Right Way Nothing too complicated about planting a tree, right? Right, except the way you probably learned to do it won't do the tree any favors. What once seemed to make good sense — digging a deep hole, for instance — doesn't really hold true. Here's what research has taught us.
  1. Begin by digging a hole as deep as the root ball and two to four times its width. (In heavy clay soil, make the hole 1 or 2 inches shallower than the root ball.) Widen the hole near the soil surface and then dig around the bottom of the hole to create a pedestal of undug soil. The solid pedestal supports the tree at the proper depth and keeps it from settling.
  2. Remove the tree from its container and brush the soil off the outer few inches of the root ball. Cut off any circling roots on the outside of the root ball close to the tree base. Tease or pry apart matted roots to encourage them to grow outward. For a balled-and-burlapped tree, remove pinning nails, wire basket, rope and synthetic or treated burlap (leave natural burlap in place).
  3. Set the tree in the hole on the pedestal. Roll back any burlap that's still in place and trim away as much as you can. Backfill the hole halfway with soil excavated from the hole. Don't mix organic matter like peat moss into the backfill soil. Amendments change the soil texture in the planting hole, which inhibits water movement and root growth into the surrounding soil. Water the soil in the partially filled hole thoroughly to rehydrate the soil and root ball and to settle out air pockets that can cause roots to dry out.
  4. Finish backfilling the hole. Don't cover the top of the root ball with soil because this can prevent water from reaching the roots. Water the tree and remove tags and labels from the branches to prevent girdling. Finish off with mulch at the base of the tree, keeping it away from the trunk.
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