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Planting Healthy Trees- You Can Grow That-March edition

New gardening initiative for bloggers writing about planting This is my first edition to the new blogging campaign created by C. L. Fornari, Cape Cod Master Gardener. ” You Can Grow That” will be a collection of various garden blog posts on the 4th of every month that can serve to raise awareness of the joy and importance of gardening and planting.

Digging a hole for a tree planting

Spring is almost here and I'm sure we all cannot wait to get our shovels back into the earth and start planting.

Of coarse we all are aware of all of the amazing benefits that plants provide for the rest of us living organisms on the planet, but when you see articles like the following showing up so often in the headlines lately you might start to get a bit concerned.

In Texas’ worst drought on record, trees dying by the millions

Warming blamed for yellow cedar die-off in Southeast Alaska

U.S. Cities Are Losing 4 Million Trees a Year

Study: Nation’s urban forests losing ground

It seems that every few days there is another new story about some new, introduced invasive insect or some other environmental threat destroying trees across this nation and around the globe.

The current health of many of our forests does not seem very promising.

With this in mind I want to encourage everyone that now, more than ever, it is so important that we don’t forget about trees in our garden plans and designs.  With trees dying off at unprecedented rates in recent years, every tree that we plant counts.
Of coarse we want the trees that we plant to survive but did you that almost 80% of trees planted by so called professionals are planted incorrectly? In the coarse of our work we see many tree health problems and many of them can be traced back to the same “root” problem.
PLANTING DEPTH!
The proper planting depth of newly installed trees is such an important aspect to planting, but one of the most often overlooked. Understanding how to determine the correct  planting depth for you new tree can make the difference of your tree surviving  and thriving. A tree that is planted too deep, with it’s root flare buried will most likely develop many serious health problems that will seriously  reduce it’s life span.
LOOK FOR THE ROOT FLARE!
If you know what you are looking for, finding the root flare is a very easy thing to do. the root flare is the area of the trunk that “flares” out at the base before transitioning to the roots below the surface of the soil. This flare will be more pronounced on some species more than others, but it is identifiable on any tree.

The root flare of most trees is easy to identify. If your tree's trunk is growing straight out of the ground with no visible flare then it is most likely planted to deep.

Root flare buried

The root flare of this Spruce tree had been buried by years planting around the tree and excessive mulching. This tree's health was in decline and had some early stages of root rot beginning to set in.

It is very important to understand that many trees that are purchased from your local nursery might well be buried in the ball or the container and might need some excessive soil removed from the top of the ball to get down to the root flare.

Usually due to digging and harvesting techniques, many trees have excessive soil piled up onto their trunks and need to be carefully dug out before planting.

Now that you have identified the  root flare your ready to plant. Make sure that the soil level at the root flare of you tree is level with the grade of the spot your are planting into.
Of coarse there are a few other considerations to planting healthy trees that will thrive for many many years to come that we can discuss in future posts. However, this one overlooked aspect of tree planting shows up so often that we just wanted to help spread the word to any aspiring tree planters ( and the earth needs as many as she can find).
11 Comments
  1. Great post… I can’t tell you how many clients’ properties I’ve been on where the trees are planted wrong. It drives me crazy!

    • Shira, it drives me crazy too!
      Sometimes I see trees planted in which, whoever planted has at least tried to find the flare and excavated down to the graft on the stem, not realizing that the actual flare was just a few inches deeper. Oh well! We just have to keep educating people.

  2. Great post! I’ve had similar experiences in my travels, and don’t get me stared on the mulch volcanoes! I had heard at a few lectures that the new recommendations were against staking trees unless they were in very high wind situations. What were your thoughts?

    • I think that it has to be determined tree by tree. Many times, depending on the quality of the soil the tree was originally grown in or how intact the root ball is when it arrives at your yard, the tree can be pretty loose and liable to fall over even without a windy situation. Other trees are obviously well balanced and can sit in their new planting without any support at all. I’ve seen more than a few newly planted trees tip over unexpectedly though. I tend install three stakes and leave them quite loose to allow for normal trunk movement.
      And yes I’ve seen WAY to many of those mulch volcanoes!

  3. Yes! Keep educating us! This flare which needs to show above ground looks so much like the roots of other plants which definitely need to be underground, it’s not surprising we get it wrong – which is why this is such a useful post!

    • It certainly does seem counter-intuitive to have to remove soil from the top of a root ball before planting it, and yes for most I’m sure seeing the tops of the roots above grade doesn’t seem to make sense. When we start to look around in nature however, we see that pretty much every tree in the forest setting has a very clear root flare at the soil line.
      I’ve learned much in tree care by simply looking and listening to the trees in there most indigenous settings.

  4. We have an arborist our every year to check and to trim our yard trees.. This is so important and people don’t think about trees enough…Michelle

  5. You provide extremely valuable and easy-to-follow information. Great You Can Grow That! post.

  6. This is great, practical information on growing trees correctly. Like many others who have commented, it also drives me nuts when I see a tree inappropriately planted. Thanks for spreading the word on proper planting!

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