Planting Tips

Here are some planting tips for your interest. These notes can only be a guide because every site and every season will vary. This is what works best for us, but you can adapt the principles to suit your conditions and circumstances. I hope that the diagram below will illustrate the following notes.

We may have used a wire mesh net as well as the hessian to protect the rootball because it gives more protections and makes them easier to move around. Neither the wire mesh or the hessian should be removed. They are both specially designed to break down quickly in the soil. Please do not try to lift the plant by the trunk as this puts tremendous strain on the roots. If it is small enough to pick up, then the best way to do so is with one hand on either side of the rootball. 

We find that the best way of moving a smaller root-balled plant is to tilt it back a little and slide a shovel under the rootball. You can then use that as a "skid" to move it into place. I know it sounds obvious, but make sure that the hole is the right depth before you put the tree into it! If when you dig the hole you dig a "ramp" down into it, that makes it much easier to slide the tree, still on the shovel, down into the hole. You can even rotate it once in place to achieve exactly the right orientation. 

We are tremendous advocates of "mound planting". In this way, a much shallower (but wide) hole is dug, only half to two-thirds the depth of the rootball. We also prefer to backfill with the normal garden soil that was dug from the hole, with minimal organic matter added. The latter point being particularly relevant if you are in an area of high rainfall or heavy soil. It can be valuable with many genera to apply a surface mulch after planting. Generally we would consider this to be a more effective use of organic matter than incorporating it into the planting hole, but be careful not to bank the mulch up against the trunk. Hence the finished planting has something of the profile of an up-turned saucer. We have had brilliant results planting in this manner, and it's a lot less hard work!

I'm not a great fan of digging the actual hole ahead of planting. If it then rains on it, it tends to make a horrid mess, particularly of the ring of spoil dug out of the hole which in turn makes it very difficult to backfill effectively and neatly. If circumstances dictate that it has to be dug in advance, I would advocate pinning down a sheet of plastic over the hole and immediate area to keep it more or less dry. 

It’s not imperative that it is planted immediately on arrival. Perhaps counter-intuitively, these rootballs actually have a longer “shelf-life” out of the ground than the equivalent plant in a pot. That is because the natural soil rootball holds moisture more consistently than artificial commercial potting compost. It is important to “store” it somewhere cool though. A garage, shed or barn is suitable, or simply wrap the rootball in bubble wrap to insulate it and keep the worst of the weather off it – heavy rain can make a mess of the rootball, and although a light frost won’t hurt at all, it’s better if the rootball doesn’t freeze solid for any length of time. It is particularly important that they are not left in the sun.

It can be difficult to know whether it’s best to stake or not. Certainly a great advantage of the open ground plants is that the lovely soil rootball provides a goodly lump of “ballast” to anchor the tree. Personally I dislike staking unless it is absolutely necessary, because it causes as many problems as it solves. If the planting site is particularly exposed, then staking may be worthwhile. However, in most garden situations staking is unlikely to be necessary. In the event that you feel it should be staked, the best method is a short stake, knocked in at a diagonal to avoid the rootball (best done therefore whilst you can still see the rootball, before backfilling the soil over it). Thus it is fixed to the tree only 50cm or so above ground level. This anchors the rootball, but allows the top of the tree to flex in the wind. Care should be taken to ensure the tree is fixed securely to the stake such that no part of it can rub on it as it moves in the wind. The fixing should be monitored as the tree establishes to ensure that it remains secure but never too tight. It is best removed as soon as possible.

One last thing I would add to these notes concerns watering. The concept that too much water is as bad (if not worse!) than too little is really important. As such, it is vital not to give too much water to something newly planted. Whilst almost no deciduous plant will need supplementary watering whilst still dormant, a rootball will need even less water than a pot of artificial compost. So although it can be valuable to give the plant an initial watering-in to settle the soil back around the rootball, it may not need watering again until it comes fully into leaf in the spring, and then only if the weather is extreme. Dependant on the weather, and the natural moisture retention properties of your soil, it is possible therefore that it won't need additional water before June, and quite possibly not even then. There is no standard answer to watering because every garden and season will be different, dependant on the soil, aspect and weather. However, the single most important concept is that additional water will not be needed whilst the tree remains dormant. Spring planted trees may need more help with supplementary water than autumn planted, but all these other factors still need to be considered.

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