Contrary to popular belief, the best time to plant most species of trees is the fall not the spring. That, my fellow gardeners, is but one of the many misconceptions that we will dismiss in this column.
Planting trees in the spring can be a gardeners worse nightmare. Planting at that time of the year has to be timed perfectly. The planting hole must be properly prepared, and the tree provided with enough time so that the roots can take hold before the buds on the stems open up. If the buds open before the roots take hold well, you know that scenario.
The fall is much more relaxed. The ground is still relatively easy to penetrate, and the tree has become dormant. The roots are still active, however, and will remain so through most of the winter. Planted properly, the roots will take hold before the spring, and so provide proper nourishment to the re-awakened plant. The roots will also take advantage of the winter thaw, providing water to the tree and dismissing your need to water the plant.
Preparing the plant hole is still another misunderstood process. Most beginners will prepare a hole that is much larger than the ball of the tree, and several times deeper. They will break apart the soil, loosen the sides, than replace some soil and plant the tree at its proper height. Present thinking is that a shallow hole is by far a better procedure. The shallow hole allows the tree to sit on firm soil, so that it doesnt settle with time. Since most of the roots grow horizontally rather than downward, it is best to design the hole so that it is somewhat tapered at the top and largest at the center. The larger opening at the center of the tree ball will allow the roots to quickly establish themselves.
Another popular thought is to place a layer of gravel or some other material on the bottom of the planting hole so that water will drain away from the plant. Actually, the opposite happens. Water accumulates above the gravel and remains there until the top layer is completely saturated.
Adding lots of fertilizer and rich composting material to the planting hole is thought to allow the roots and tree to be established much quicker. Another misconception. When you over-fertilize, the roots actually begin to grow around the ball of the tree as if confined in a pot. Eventually the roots will actually strangle the tree. Its best to place some fertilizer along the surface of the tree or just below the surface. This area has the most biological activity, and is where the feeder roots grow.
Pruning newly planted trees, a very common procedure, should be limited to damaged, diseased or grossly misplaced stems. For the most part, trees are grown in pots, so they lose very few roots during planting. Also, plant hormones produced at the apical meristems stimulate root growth.
Finally, a word about staking newly planted trees: Limit this technique to trees planted in areas where the soil may be loose, or where prevailing winds are a serious problem. Slight movements of trees actually stimulate the development of strong stems. If you must stake a plant, use an elastic material such as rubber, so that the material does not cut into the tree. Remove the stakes as soon as possible for most trees that means within a year.
Questions or comments on gardening and plant care can be addressed to: The Plant Doctor c/o Queens Publishing Co., 41-09 Bell Blvd., Bayside, N.Y. 11361, or by e-mail at Harvey.Goo
©2001 Community News Group
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