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Tree Care Tips

How Not to Plant a Tree

Spring is coming, and many people start thinking about gardens and planting. If you have an empty space you want to fill or are looking for more shade, you may be wondering about how to plant a tree.

It’s a pretty basic tree fact that most trees live a long time. But did you know that the most likely causes of death for urban trees are improper planting and care, and damage, not old age? If a new tree is planted wrong, you could be setting your new tree up for failure too soon. Read on for some tips on what to do to make sure your baby tree grows strong and healthy!

When to Plant a Tree

In southern Ontario, you can generally count on being able to dig into the ground easily from roughly April through October, depending on the year. Does that mean all those months are good times to plant trees? That’s not the case.

Early spring, right after the ground thaws, is typically the best time of year for planting. Soil moisture is high and the tree can establish a root system before the winter. Fall, after leaves have dropped, can also be a good time for planting, as trees reach a dormant stage. This timing can be trickier some years, though, if the ground freezes before or very close to when leaves fall.

Summer may seem like a great time for planting, but it’s not! Hot temperatures and dry weather make it difficult for a tree to establish itself in a new space. Trees planted in summer will need lots and lots of extra water.

How Not to Plant a Nursery Tree

Like newborn babies, nursery trees arrive all bundled up neatly. You may have a burlap sack around the tree’s root ball, perhaps a wire basket over it, and strings around the trunk. Any string or lacing around the trunk may be attached to a stake.

Inexperienced planters may just toss this whole mess into a hole, pack in some dirt, and leave it. We’ve received many calls from homeowners with these trees a year or two later, wondering why their trees are doing poorly. Always remove any nursery material from your tree. Wires and burlap will constrain the roots and keep them from spreading out and growing properly. If your tree can’t establish a healthy root system in its new home, it will never thrive. 

A tree will eventually grow into any material, wire, or strings left around the trunk, called “girdling.” This weakens the tree’s structure. Stakes may be needed to help a new tree establish itself and protect against strong winds before the roots grow deeper, but they should be removed as soon as possible, before the first year after planting.

Where Not to Plant a Tree

Location, location, location! Your new tree wants some prime real estate, and it doesn’t want to compete with your actual real estate. Make sure a tree is planted far enough away from a house, garage, or other structure, so that it has space to grow. This will depend on the species, but should typically be a minimum of a few metres for small trees; the root structure generally extends underground as wide as the tree’s height.

Keep in mind any other work you’re thinking of doing later, too. Planning on putting in a new driveway or patio? Make sure you won’t be paving over the root structure of the tree as it grows (and it won’t be expanding into existing pavement). A tree needs soil space to expand into for healthy growth. Any future construction could also dig into the roots of your growing tree if it’s in the wrong place.

Don’t forget about drainage — planting a tree too close to a downspout can lead to excess moisture. If you plant your tree in a known dry area in your yard, remember it will require extra water.

How Not to Dig the Hole

Digging a hole for a new tree is a fine art. Too shallow, and the tree won’t be able to support its own weight and will struggle to establish roots. Too deep, and the bark will deteriorate at the planting line, risking damage to the whole tree. It may take several years for this to become apparent, but the tree will struggle to thrive.  Dig a hole that’s only as deep as the root ball.

Make sure your hole is wide enough — about two or three times the width of the container or root ball. Narrow holes can mean the tree will have a hard time establishing roots.

Be careful when filling the hole — filling it with gravel will encourage water collection. Putting down non-porous black plastic below or above the hole will also negatively affect water levels. Skip this — it isn’t needed. 

Do add mulch after you’ve planted the tree and loosely filled in the hole with soil. Five to ten centimetres (2-4 inches) is the right amount — too much mulch can lead to rotting bark and attract rodents.

Tree Planting Aftercare

Don’t just plant your tree, water it, and leave it. Giving your new tree the right amount of water will ensure it grows well. In the first week or two, water daily, which can go down to 2-3 times per week in the first three months or until first frost; after that, water weekly. (Don’t forget trees need water during dry periods in the winter, too.)

After the first year or two, an arborist should prune your new tree to encourage healthy growth and a strong form. Proper pruning will give your tree a better shape and help the branches grow in the right directions to keep it strong. This will also protect it from insects and fungi by removing any broken branches.

Are You Ready to Plant a Tree?

Have you gotten a better idea of what not to do when planting a tree? If you’re still unsure about the planting process or need some advice on what the right species for your space is, click here to learn more about Vista Tree’s planting process and contact us to make a request.

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Cheryl Cooke
James responded quickly to my request for a quote and he and his crew did an extremely professional job with perfect cleanup. I would recommend these guys in a heartbeat. James is an excellent communicator and a pleasure to work with. Thanks for giving my garden a great jump on Spring.
Lawrence Tavers
James and Michael have been the best arborists I’ve ever dealt with. First off, they were friendly and professional. They didn’t just throw out a number, they went through the job and what needed to be done and what didn’t and gave me a reasonable price. On the day, the crew came and did a fantastic job. It was a hard one but they made it look easy. And the clean up was perfect, my yard looked better than it did before they came. They’re my go to from now on.
Johnathan Melnick
I got two trees removed for a renovation project, and vista was on it right from the start. Report came through right away, permits right after but then due to some cost over runs I had to delay for 4 months and hold off on the removals until last month. Trees came down so well, crew was really professional. They left the site looking CLEAN and thats saying a lot as it had a lot of builder garbage around .stump grinding happened right away. James and Mike went above and beyond to manage this and help me out when the unexpected happened. Definitely recommend.
Ronald Romick
Very professional work. We are very satisfied with the quality of the work done. We would recommend Vista 100 percent. Great quality, performance and professional.
John Rydzkowski
I had James and his crew cut down and remove my 40'+ blue spruce before the wind blew it over. There was an urgency in getting the work done and they were there for me. They were very professional, worked safely and cleaned up when they were finished. They also showed me proof of insurance and WSIB which is very important as a home owner. I'm happy to recommend them to anyone. Thanks 😊
Marlee Pinsker
Vista Tree Management came to our house and did a wonderful job helping to protect the roof from squirrel damage. James walked around the perimeter of the house with me and pointed out every tree branch that might possibly be the instrument of a squirrel finding its way to the roof. He then set up a time, came over promptly, and in short time cut down many tree limbs and branches. He consulted with me about whether anything else needed to be done, and when I pointed out one last branch, he cut it down. I feel I have finally found a tree service which has the knowledge and expertise to help with my property. My husband and I are more than satisfied! The staff at Vista Tree Management were so very helpful.
Kristian Alexander Kennedy
We had the pleasure of working with Vista recently and we could not have asked for better service. We have a small apple tree and hedge in our front yard that we wanted pruned. As part of the quote, we had also requested that some time be spent with us as the pruning occurred so that we could learn how to properly care for our garden going forward. James was prompt, responsive and incredibly thorough. He completed the tasks exactly as we had discussed and as was quoted. He was patient and spent lots of time teaching us the various pruning methods that he was utilizing. Not only does he have excellent attention to detail while pruning, but he also takes great care in cleaning up all the plant debris once he was finished the job. We can’t thank him enough for the excellent service provided. We will be sure to reach out to Vista for all of our future pruning/landscaping needs. Thanks James.
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