A Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Trees on Your Homestead

Trees can supply abundantly for the homestead and should be grown for various reasons. Not only do trees provide food, beauty, and shade, but they can also help improve soil quality, prevent erosion, and provide a habitat for wildlife. First, however, you have to plant your trees. In this article, you’ll get a step-by-step guide to planting trees on your homestead.

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If you wish to be happy for a year, plant a garden. If you wish to be happy for a lifetime, plant a tree.

Jim Morris

When the research is done, the decisions have been made, and the trees have been purchased, it is time for the real work to begin. It is time to put the trees in the ground but before we do let’s consider a couple of things, namely when and how.

The Ideal Time Of The Year To Plant A Tree

When the tree is dormant, but the ground isn’t frozen is always best. Deciduous trees go to sleep every fall and wake up every spring. This sleep, called dormancy, enables trees to survive harsh winter periods. Tree growth above the ground in effect stops during dormancy and doesn’t end until after a cycle of prolonged chilling.

Along with cold temperatures, the shorter day lengths also help to produce dormancy. Growth continues when temperatures get warmer and the days longer in the spring. However, the roots are never completely dormant but go into a resting state called quiescence. When the soil gradually warms up, the roots in the warmed area will begin to grow, even if the air temperature is below freezing.

Planting trees while they are dormant reduces the transplanting shock trees sometimes experience if conditions are not ideal. In most places, with a four-season climate, early spring and late fall are usually the best times to plant a tree.

Trees CAN Be Planted Anytime But Require More Care When Not Dormant.

When you plant a tree that is out of its dormancy, you want to make the transition as easy as possible on the tree to reduce shock. The number one thing you need to do is make sure the tree is adequately watered frequently.

Digging The Hole

You should dig a large hole roughly 2 to 3 times the size of the root ball. It should also be a jagged hole, not round but square or better yet star-shaped. Also, the hole should not be too deep; the root flare of the tree should be exposed when the tree is planted.

Planting Tree

Perform A Perk Test On Your Soil

Having the proper drainage for a tree is important. If water drains (percolates) away from plant roots too quickly, the tree will be parched even if it is getting regular water. And if water doesn’t drain, many trees can drown and rot from the roots up.

Start by digging a smaller hole than you will need for the tree, about 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide. After you have dug the hole, fill the hole with water and let it sit overnight to saturate the soil and give a more accurate test reading. The next day refill the hole with water and measure the water level by laying a straight edge across the top of the hole and then use a yardstick to determine the water level. Measure the water level every hour until the hole is empty and write down how many inches the water level drops per hour.

Ideal soil drainage is around 2 inches per hour, with readings between 1 and 3 inches, which is good enough for most trees that have average drainage needs. If the rate is less than 1 inch per hour, your drainage is too slow for most trees, and you’ll need to improve drainage, if drainage is more than 4 inches per hour, it’s too fast for most trees.

Drainage problems can be addressed by incorporating compost or organic matter into the soil.

Preparing The Root Ball

First, you will want to loosen the soil around the roots, use water if necessary, to get the roots loose and hanging. If the roots are in a circle and root-bound and can’t be straightened, then cut them to prevent girdling. Pull the soil away from the top of the root ball to expose the root flare.

Placing The Tree

Place the tree in the hole at a height that the root flare will be above ground. Then you will want to spread the roots outward, avoiding a circular motion to help the roots not to girdle.

Backfill The Hole

Use only the soil you removed from the hole to put back in the hole. Do not tamp the soil but instead use water to settle the soil. You do not need to add any amendments to the soil at this time unless your soil failed the perk test and has drainage problems.

Mulch The Disturbed Soil

Cover the disturbed soil with about an inch of compost or worm castings. Then add about 3 inches of wood mulch over the top of that. Pull it away from the tree, making sure the root flair is exposed.

This will provide a small amount of slow releasing fertilizer for the tree as well as help with moisture retention and control weeds that will try and compete for nutrients with the young tree.

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Only Stake The Tree If Necessary

If you plant the tree in a windy location or if the native soil is very loose, it may be necessary to stake your trees, but if your tree is able to grow without a support system, it will be a stronger tree as it adapts to its environment.

Watering The Tree

Be diligent in the first few weeks about making sure the tree gets enough water. Water Deep! This means water heavy enough that the water saturates the top 8 inches of soil. Then don’t water again until the top two inches of soil dry out. You can simply determine this by pushing your finger into the soil.

In really hot weather, the soil can dry quicker than you may think so be diligent about checking to see if your young trees need water, as this will be crucial for the first few weeks.

Pruning Or Cutting Back The Tree

Many “experts” will tell you to cut the top of the tree to compensate for root loss. My experience says to leave it alone the first year and wait until the second year to prune the tree. I’ve taken this advice from several experts over the years and have had successes and failures with many trees, and these are the things that have given me the best results.

Of course, everyone’s climate and soil conditions are different, so what works best for me may not be what works best for you. However, this should provide you with some good guidelines for planting your trees.