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How to Plant a Large Shade Tree

This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook helps a homeowner select and plant a deciduous shade tree.

In this video, This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook helps a homeowner select and plant a deciduous shade tree.

Steps for Planting a Shade Tree:

  1. Call the local utility company to confirm that there aren't any buried cables or pipes beneath where you want to plant the tree.
  2. Have the nursery deliver the tree and drop it right beside the proposed planting spot.
  3. Drive a wood stake into the center of the planting hole.
  4. Measure the diameter of the tree's root ball. The planting hole must be twice as wide as the root ball.
  5. Wrap a loop of rope around the stake, then tie it off so that its length equals to the radius of the root-ball diameter.
  6. Slip an edging tool into the rope loop, then pull out on the edger to straighten the rope.
  7. Stomp the edger into the ground to cut through the grass. Lift up the edger, move over a few inches and stomp it into the grass again.
  8. Repeat the previous step until you've cut a circular outline of the planting hole all the way around the center stake.
  9. Pull out the stake and rope.
  10. Use a garden mattock and shovel to remove the grass from within the planting-hole outline. Shovel the grass into a wheelbarrow.
  11. Dig the planting hole to a depth equal to the height of the root flare on the tree. Shovel the dirt onto tarps.
  12. Set the tree into the hole, then rotate it until its best-looking side faces the house.
  13. Check the tree to make sure it's perfectly straight and not leaning to one side. If necessary, shovel soil under the low side to straighten out the tree.
  14. Cut the burlap off the root ball.
  15. Scratch the sides of the root ball with a three-tine cultivator to loosen matted roots.
  16. Check the top of the root ball for any girdling roots that are wrapped around the tree trunk. If you find any, cut them away with pruners.
  17. Carefully scrape away the soil from the top of the root ball to expose the root flare.
  18. Mix compost, superphosphate, and starter fertilizer into the excavated soil.
  19. Backfill around the tree with the amended soil.
  20. Water the tree immediately after planting.
  21. Pound into the lawn two metal stakes, one on each side of the tree. Tie the tree to the stakes with plastic chains.
  22. Spread about 2 inches of bark mulch around the tree, but don't pile it up against the trunk.
  23. Tie two drip-irrigation bags to the base of the tree. Fill the bags with water every day for one week, then twice a week after that.

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