6 Common Tree Planting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Date September 09, 2019
We have several new multifamily communities in the Dallas and Fort Worth area. New home construction and closings happen daily, which means planting trees and landscaping are part of this process. Trees are the anchor to most landscapes, add curb appeal and value to the home. Did you know that the best way to ensure your new tree’s long-term health and happiness is with a good start? Our TreeNewal Certified Arborist sees many undesirable trees planted that do not have a chance of survival. Homeowners tell us they do not know anything about tree planting, watering, or maintenance. Unfortunately, the new homeowner will bear the cost of replacing trees in the future. In this article, we’ll explain how to avoid the most common tree planting mistakes.
When it comes to tree planting in North Texas, there is a right way and a wrong way. The optimal time for planting trees is in the fall; however, winter and spring are also good months for planting. The soil environment contributes to 80% of most tree problems. Improper planting methods may set your tree up for weak growth and future structural issues. Following proper planting techniques will contribute to a more sustainable tree and allow it to reach its full potential and maturity.
Are You Making These 7 Common Tree Planting Mistakes?
Tree Planting Mistake #1: Choosing the Wrong Planting Site
A tree’s growing space is one of the most overlooked factors when planting a tree. Trees requiring full sun will not do well in another tree’s shade, or on the north side of a large structure. Poor placement can result in roots or branches too close to structures, driveways or sidewalks. Trees with high water needs may suffer if they are planted on a slope, where water quickly drains off. Conversely, if a tree that does not require an abundance of water is planted in a poor drainage or ponding area the tree will die. All trees have their favorite soil type, and many are sensitive to cold or hot temperatures. Power lines are another consideration when planting trees. Before you plant, it’s important to know the tree’s height at maturity, as well as its crown spread and root space. Trees often require more space than you think.
Tree Planting Mistake #2: Tree Condition & Selection
Many people believe if a tree is green or if they purchase it from a nursery, then it must be an optimal tree and in good shape. In most instances, this is not the case. Here are some things to look for in a high-quality tree:
- Exposed root flare
- Sound roots to support healthy growth
- Single trunk or central leader
- A trunk free from mechanical wounds, or wounds from improper pruning or damage in transportation
- A strong form with well-spaced attached branches
- Leaves with good color and no obvious fungus or insect damage.
A low-quality tree will have:
- A trunk with wounds from mechanical damage, pruning or transportation
- Crushed or circling roots in a small root ball or container
- A week from where branches are squeezed or wrapped around one another
- Dead branches.
Keep in mind you are ultimately paying for the trees and it is ok to refuse an undesirable tree when it is delivered or planted by your landscape company.
Tree Planting Mistake #3: Planting Too Deep
Whether a tree is balled and burlap (B&B) or containerized, there is almost always excess soil on top of the tree root ball that needs to be removed. Once the dirt is removed and the true ball height has been determined, measure it so the planting hole can be dug to the right height.
Planting too deep is a common reason for tree decline. One study found that more than 90 percent of professionally planted trees were planted too deep. We see this happening everyday Burying the tree’s root collar, either by planting it too deep or by volcano mulching, can cause reduced growth, less oxygen, defoliation, leaf yellowing, girdling roots, branch dieback, and even tree death.
Although the tree may seem fine at first, these symptoms can take years to appear. If your tree’s flare is covered it’s buried too deep
Typically, you will plant the tree with the root flare approximately 2” higher than the ground around the tree. Keep the tree’s root flare exposed and keep mulch away from the base of the tree approximately 3”. This will help reduce the risk of disease, fungus, decay, insects and ultimate death of the tree.
Tree Planting Mistake #4: Digging a Hole Too Small
Keep in mind there has been soil compaction around new home construction sites. We see landscape tree installations where the hole is dug the same width of the root ball. The tree roots cannot grow in compacted soil. In clay soils, this will serve as a water bowl with no drainage and ultimately kill your tree. Newly planted trees in small holes are less stable and have a hard time building a robust root system. Trees in this situation are easily blown over in storms
You should dig a shallow hole that is two to three times wider than the root ball. While it may take more time and energy, it’s worth it to create a planting site that will allow your tree’s roots to spread and will result in fewer problems down the road.
Tree Planting Mistake #5: Improper Watering
There is a high percentage of newly planted trees that die from overwatering than not enough water. In clay soils, especially, drainage can suffocate the tree’s roots. Improper watering can drown your young tree or cause it to dry out in the hottest part of the summer.
The rule of thumb for watering trees is slow, deep, and infrequent. In Denton, Tarrant, and Dallas county water trees approximately 5 to 10 gallons per caliper inch 3 times per week depending on the soil. Water more often during the summer and dry spells, and keep in mind your soil type when watering. Clay soil needs longer watering intervals because it absorbs water poorly, while sandy soil needs shorter intervals more often. Don’t forget to water your tree during dry spells in the winter; even though your tree is dormant, it still requires water to survive. The soil should be moist, not saturated.
Tree Planting Mistake No. 6: Staking trees for no reason and/or the wrong way.
Correctly planted trees behave themselves and stay in place without staking of any kind. Staking trees that don’t need it can cause the tree to grow fewer roots and develop a weak tree base. For unsupported and trees in excessively windy places staking can be used temporarily, but should be loose instead of rigid and attached low on the trunk so the tree can still move with the wind helping to build trunk diameter and strength. This occasional staking should never be left on trees more than one growing season.