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Tips for Growing Shade Trees and Evergreens

Planting Evergreens and Shade Trees

Plant your new evergreens and shade trees in a wide, shallow hole, at least twice the width of the root ball. In the past, gardeners have been advised to plant trees in holes of many different shapes and sizes. But contemporary recommendations reflect new findings in how tree roots grow. Many trees concentrate their feeding roots in the top foot of soil. A wide hole loosens up an open, surface-hugging expanse for the early growth of these roots and will help young trees get established more quickly. There is no need to amend the soil -- trees thrive best when they are established in native soil.

Plant evergreens and shade trees in a wide, shallow hole.
Plant evergreens and shade trees in a wide, shallow hole.

Here are more tips for giving your new trees a healthy start:

  • Inspect trees for any girdling roots. Just as a tight girdle can be oppressive to wear, girdling roots can squeeze a tree trunk and cut off its food supply.

    Girdling roots are common on container-grown plants. It all begins when circling roots reach upward and loop around the bottom of the trunk. As the trunk grows wider, the roots cut into it and can strangle it. In less severe cases, girdling roots may only cut into one side of the tree, causing death of limbs serviced by the damaged wood.

    If you inadvertently buy a tree with girdling roots, use your pruning shears to cut them off where they emerge from the crown before planting.

  • Check trees for deep root collars. The root collar is the junction of roots and trunk, an important place that should be kept level with or above the soil surface when planting.

    Sometimes when nurseries cultivate between rows of field-grown trees and shrubs, extra soil may be thrown up above the roots and around the base of the trunk. When the root ball is dug up and wrapped in burlap, the bottom of the trunk (and the top of the roots) may actually be deep in the ball, with only barren soil above. This leaves the tree shortchanged on roots and the root collar unnaturally deep.

    To test the depth of the root collar, rotate the trunk and see if it shifts deep in the ball, a sure sign of a deep root collar. Or, if the nursery will allow, pull back the burlap and brush back the soil to look for the junction of root and trunk.

  • Skip staking unless you are planting young trees in areas prone to strong winds. Staking can actually do more harm than good for young trees. If staked improperly, with rubbing or tight wires, the bark and trunk can become damaged, sometimes irreparably.

    Staking also interferes with the natural movement of a tree swaying in the wind. Recent research has shown that swaying helps trees develop stronger, tapered trunks that will serve them well and keep them sturdy for decades.

    Where staking is unavoidable, use flexible stakes and ties that have a couple inches of slack so the tree can continue to move. Pad the trunk or slip a section of rubber hose over the supporting wire so it won't damage the tree. Remove the stakes as soon as the tree has rooted enough to become self-supporting.

  • Avoid planting trees that deer especially enjoy eating where deer are abundant. Some of their favorites include yews, arborvitaes, and some pines. Concentrate instead on some of their least favorite trees, including maples, beech, ashes, ginkgo, honey locust, tulip tree, sour gum, spruce, sycamore, oaks, willows, and bald cypress.

Once your new trees are in the ground, they won't need much maintenance. Keep reading for our tips on caring for evergreens and shade trees.

Looking for more gardening tips? Try these links:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.