Q. I am planning on planting a few trees in my landscape this fall. Do I need to do anything special this year because of the drought?
A. We are still experiencing drought conditions in Allen County, though the recent rains have eased the situation somewhat. When I last checked, we were about 6.5 inches below average precipitation for the year. I planted some perennials and shrubs recently, and the soil was still pretty dry at the lower levels.
The same rules for tree planting still apply. Make the hole twice as wide as the planting ball. The sides of the hole should be slanted outwards – not straight up and down. Remove as much wire, wrapping and burlap as you can without damaging the root mass after setting the tree into the hole. Remember to only amend no more than a third of the backfill when filling the planting hole.
A major issue I have seen this year is in regard to planting depth. Before you even set the tree into the planting hole, check to see if you actually see the root flare of the tree. Sometimes soil and media are piled over the flare in the container or burlapped root mass. Excavate the soil around the trunk before planting so that you can definitely see the trunk flare out before reaching the soil line. This step is vital for successful tree establishment.
When you set the tree into the planting hole, absolutely make sure the root flare is at least 4 inches above the soil line. After filling the planting hole with the backfill; water the tree slowly to make sure all air spaces are filled. Do not pile up soil or mulch up against the flare. Keep the mulch or soil at least 6 inches away from where the trunk of the tree meets the ground.
It usually a good idea to stake the tree for the first year to prevent winter winds from blowing the tree over or at an angle.
Watering the tree after planting is always confusing. A good rule of thumb is to apply 5 gallons of water plus 5 gallons per inch of trunk diameter (or caliper) of the tree at any one time. Caliper is the trunk diameter of the tree measured 4 feet above ground level. So if you have a 2 inch caliper tree, one would apply 15 gallons of water to the tree at each watering. You will do more damage by overwatering a tree rather than under watering. Generally plants need about one inch of rainfall or water per week for optimal results, so if it rains that much in any given week – dont water! Otherwise, use the 5 plus 5 rule to water the tree weekly during dry periods. The trees water requirements will decrease with deceasing temperature, so back off as winter approaches; though it is very important to make sure the tree is well watered before the ground freezes.