Guidance for Hand Planting Trees
Principles: 1) Plant to the correct depth. 2) Plant so the tree is nearly vertical. 3) Strive to eliminate air pockets around the pot or bare roots. 4) Soil should be firm but not overly packed. 5) Watering, if practical, helps eliminate air pockets. 6) Moderate fertilizing is good. Manure is not recommended, especially for evergreens.
Bareroot Trees: Trees less than 3 feet in height can generally be planted with the “slit” method using a dibble bar (smallest trees) or a steel-handled, straight-backed balling spade for trees with more substantial roots. Stringer roots, which extend beyond the main root mass, should be pruned back. With this method, the planting slit is make first (wiggle handle to get width in the slit), the tree roots are inserted in the slit (avoid curling or wadding roots, and poke roots to bottom of slit). Then a second slit is make a few inches behind the planting slit, the handle of the tool is pulled toward yourself first (to close the bottom of the planting slit around the roots), and then the handle is pushed forward toward the tree (which closes the top of the planting slit). Spade the 2nd slit shut, and use boots to firm the soil around the tree and straighten it.
It is important to locate the ground line on the seedling and replant to about the same depth or slightly deeper. Some species such as pecan and hickories tend to be planted too shallow because no lateral roots developed near the surface in the nursery and the planter does not recognize the ground level mark on the tree.
Keeping the trees' roots in water or very wet is important, especially when working in sunny, windy, warm, and low-humidity days.
Larger bareroot stock needs to have holes dug by hand tools or augers to accommodate their root mass. Stringer roots should be pruned back just enough so that the root mass fits the hole. It is better to prune than to wad and curl roots into the hole. Bigger holes result in less root crowding.
Potted trees: If the tree was growing in a plastic pot, remove the pot. Try to keep the soil ball intact if possible. If the tree is in a plantable fiber pot, leave the pot on. When determining how deep a hole is needed, judge that the soil level in the pot should be about even as the ground level outside the pot after planted. When using plantable pots, break the pot lip off above ground after setting the tree in the hole. Also, after the tree is set in the hole, straighten or raise the level of the pot by adjusting the pot or root ball, not by pulling on the tree itself.
A soil birm (pond bank) on the downhill side after planting helps rain water or applied water seep into the root level and not just run away. I recommend Miracid or similar fertilizer (one tablespoon per gallon of water) for evergreens several times during the growing season, 2 to 5 gallon per watering, depending on the size of your trees.
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