A Planting Guide for Ball & Burlap Trees
You shipment has arrived and you are looking at the future of your property – trees that will be with you for years to come, growing steadily and adding value to your home, in beauty and also in real terms – properties with trees sell for higher prices.
So you want to give your new trees the best start possible and they will reward you for this small effort by giving you their best for many years. Correct planting is the single most important step you can take and this guide is to help you do that well.
If your tree has its roots wrapped in cloth and tied with string, then this is the guide you need to use. Tree-growers call this ball & burlap or B&B. If your tree is in a plastic pot, or has bare-roots without any soil, you need to use a different planting guide for it, so check our list for the correct one.
In a Nutshell
- Remove all packaging
- Water the tree before planting
- Choose a suitable planting site for the needs of your tree
- Prepare the soil
- Dig a hole the depth of the pot
- Put the tree in its hole and remove most of the covering
- Replace most of the soil
- Water well, let the water drain and put back the rest of the soil
- Put a mulch around your tree and water once a week for the first season
Remove your trees from the box
The very first thing to do is un-wrap your trees. Remove all the wrapping materials, remove the trees from the box and remove any wrapping around the trees themselves, but not any of the cloth and string around the roots.
Handle the plant gently because it is important not to bang or crush the root-ball inside its wrapping. Pick it up by the strings around the roots – do not lift it by the trunk or stem. B&B root-balls can be damaged by rough handling, the soil should remain firm and compact, not fall apart.
If you receive your trees in winter – which is a great planting season as long as the ground is not frozen – they may have no leaves on them. That is of course normal for deciduous trees – as soon as spring comes your tree will send out its fresh, new leaves and begin to grow.
Care Before Planting Time
Your trees have been on a journey and they will be a little stressed, so find a shady part of your garden for your plants to rest. Do not put them in the garage, an outdoor shed or in the house, even if it is cold outside.
Take a hose-pipe or watering-can and gently apply lots of water to the root-ball, so that it is completely soaked with water. As B&B root-balls can dry-out quickly, especially in warm or windy weather, it is a good idea, especially if you are not planting immediately or the next day, to put some soil or mulch or even a plastic sheet over the root-ball, to reduce water loss
If you are not going to be doing the planting for a little while, that is fine, they will be happy left for a few days, but if your tree is a sun-loving tree, after a day or two in the shade, move it to a sunny location. Remember to water every day or every second day, depending on how warm the weather is – do not let your tree become completely dry. The best way to water is to let a hose trickle over the root-ball for a while, until it is thoroughly wet. Do not move the tree around while watering or immediately afterwards.
Choosing a Planting Location
Once your tree has been planted it is best not to try and move it again, so spend some time deciding exactly where to plant it. Look at its needs for sun or shade and choose a suitable spot in your garden for it. Consider how wide it is going to grow and allow enough space from buildings in particular, but also from fences and walls.
If you plant right on your property line your neighbor has a legal right to cut back your tree to the property line, which may not look very nice, so plant well inside your property so that you have control over the growth and pruning of your own trees. If you are planting a screen or hedge, we have special guides for planting hedges, windbreaks and privacy screens.
Preparing the Planting Site
Good soil preparation is the key to the success of your tree. Whatever your soil is like, use it. Do not try to dig a hole and fill it with soil you bought somewhere else. If your soil is poor, just use extra organic material.
You goal is to make a large area of looser soil that the young roots can penetrate easily, getting food as they go and establishing quickly. You need to have an area at least three times the diameter of the pot dug as deep as your spade will go. Add some organic material to the soil as you dig. Almost any kind of organic material is good, among the best are well-rotted cow, sheep, or horse manure (if you can obtain them); garden compost; any ‘top-soil’ from a garden centre; or if you have nothing else, peat-moss. A bucket per tree is about right, but any amount you have is worthwhile. In addition, trees need fertilizer to help develop their roots. This can be rock phosphate or bone-meal or any kind of superphosphate. There are many ‘tree planting’ fertilizers available too and they all work well, so whatever is available will be fine.
Remove roots of weeds from the area and any stones bigger than your fist. Smaller stones can be left and it is not a good idea to sieve the soil to remove smaller stones they are best left in and can help with drainage.
Turn over the soil, mixing the organic material and fertilizer into it and then level it off and get ready to plant. Save some of the organic material you used to mulch your tree after planting.
Preparing the Tree
The evening before you are going to plant, give your trees a good soaking with water. If the root ball is dry when you plant, it may stay that way and cause your tree to suffer from dryness even if the surrounding soil is damp. Do not do any unwrapping at this stage – that will be done in the hole after you have the tree positioned perfectly.
Digging the Hole
Now dig a hole in the exact spot where you want your tree to be, making it two or three times the diameter of the pot, but only just as deep. If you have dug the soil deeper than that, use your foot to press down the soil in the bottom of the hole, to form a firm base beneath the tree. This is to prevent it from sinking deeper than you want in the hole after you have planted it.
Planting the Tree
Place the tree in the centre of your hole, checking that the top of the root-ball is level with the soil around it. Put back a little soil around the base of the tree so that it is held firmly in place.
Now take a sharp knife and start cutting away the string. Be careful not to cut the bark of your tree! Remove all the string you can without having to move the tree at all.
Now unwrap the cloth from the trunk and spread it out to expose the soil around the roots, again without moving the tree. Using scissors or a knife, trim away extra cloth but don’t worry about any left underneath your tree – it will rot away in time and not prevent healthy root-growth at all.
Replace about three-quarters of the soil in the hole, pressing it down around the roots of your tree. Finish firming down the soil – a gentle foot pressure or firm hand pressure is about right.
Watering the Tree
Now fill the hole with lots of water, letting it soak down into the ground and into the root ball. Use plenty of water and then wait until it has all drained away. This will give plenty of water around the roots, where it is needed.
Finishing the Planting
Now put back the rest of the soil, firming it gently down. Make sure you have only covered the top of the root ball with a very little soil, no more than one inch.. Make sure the soil is not sloping away from the tree, but flat, so that when you water it will stay around the tree, not run away. Some gardeners like to make a low wall of soil around the tree, at a spot about twice the diameter of the pot, to retain water. This is a fine thing to do, but not absolutely necessary. Put a layer of organic material over the root area, about two inches deep and then water the whole area thoroughly.
Planting in Clay and Wet Soils
If you have heavy, clay soil that stays wet for long periods, there is a special trick to planting which will help your tree establish itself better. Rake some of the soil from the edges of your planting area into the centre, to build a slightly-raised mound. Plant your tree on this mound and additionally, leave the top inch of the root-ball above the final surface of the soil after planting. This will help water to drain away around the roots until your tree adapts to the location. You should still use mulch over the roots.
Normally staking is not necessary. Modern arborists prefer to let the wind strengthen the tree, and stakes often cause breakage of the upper part of your tree.
In a very windy location two short stakes, well driven in but showing just a foot or so above the soil, can be used. Place these on opposite sides of the tree, outside the area where the roots are. If the prevailing wind is, for example, the north, then place one stake on the north side and one on the south side. Wrap some cloth around the trunk to protect it and tie a strong rope from each stake to the trunk. Some remaining movement is fine, the tree does not have to be held rigidly, and in fact that is not a good idea. Do not tie a stake high up into the tree.
If you have used a stake, remove it after one growing season, once the roots are well-established.
Follow-up Care of the Tree
Until your tree is established and has spread out its roots, it will need regular watering. How often depends on the weather, but a good, slow soaking once a week is usually best, or twice a week if the weather is hot. Soak the whole area around the tree, not just up against the trunk
So that is it. Your new tree is set for a great life and will reward you with vigorous growth, cooling shade or beautiful flowers. A little care really pays off.