How to Plant a Tree from Containers


Trees are an essential element to any garden, they add height and structure to a garden and planting scheme, as they grow they develop a character and mystic which can shape the environment in which they sit. But trees have more they just the aesthetic; as they grow they take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and convert it into roots, branches, stems and twigs.

Trees also improve our soils as they’re deep roots recycle nutrients lost deep down the soil profile and drops these nutrients back on the soil surface in the form of fallen leaves. They’re roots are constantly exploring, breaking soil clumps into finer crumbs. They’re canopies are home to hundreds of different insect species. A fully grown Birch tree is home to 229 difference insect species, while the Willow and Oak have 266 and 285 dependent species, respectively.

Trees do all this and more and they do it all with the minimum of maintenance. There is little work in a tree once they have established.

The process of planting a tree is similar to planting any medium to large sized shrub

Step 1    Choose your location
This depends on your choice of tree; most trees can live with a certain amount of wind exposure and most will be happy in sun or partial shade. When choosing the position consider where you want to view the tree from; i.e. from a living room window or when you enter the garden.

Step 2     Soak root ball
Always have water close to hand when planting; even if it is raining plants require watering-in after planting. Before planting I always soak my container plants in a bucket of water. Fill a large bucket with water and drop the root ball into the water, leaving it there for 10 minutes.

Step 3    Prepare the planting hole
Assess the size of the tree’s root ball and dig a hole which is 2 foot wider than the root ball and a half a foot deeper. Dig out a square of circular hole by first cutting away the grass layer and then removing the topsoil. Dig straight down to make the hole as wide as possible. Once the hole is wide enough dig down to depth of a half foot deeper than the root ball. Next use a garden fork to loosen the soil below.

At this point I add a shovel load of well rotted farm yard manure. The manure is added to the hole and mixed through some of the back filled soil. Alternatively you can add a handful (35gms) of poultry manure pellets or fish blood and bone.

Step 4    Position the tree
Remove the tree from the bucket of water and stand the tree in the planting hole. Now step back from the tree and assess it by walking all the way around the tree to determine it’s ‘face’ or best side. Always face the trees best side towards where it will be viewed from most. Next, assess the plants root ball. Often container grown plants and trees become ‘pot bound’. This is when the plants roots have outgrown its container and the roots begin to spiral around the outside of the root ball, often making it difficult to remove the plant from it's container.

If a plant is pot bound it is suggested that you tickle the roots and unwind them from their spiralling habit to allows them stretch out into the larger planting hole that you have created. Once done now make sure that the tree is not planted too deep or too shallow. The top of the tree’s root ball should be level with soil level.

Step 5    Tree stake
Please see our ‘How to stake a tree’ section for full details on how to stake a tree. Put simply, a tree stake should be positioned between the tree and oncoming wind. The stake should be buried before the soil has been backfilled to prevent any damage to the tree’s roots. To ensure a neat look keep all stakes straight and all stakes at the same height

Step 6    Back fill soil
Once the tree is positioned, straight and level with soil level and the stake has been positioned the soil can be backfilled. Using a shovel place old soil back around the tree’s roots and compact in with your foot. Continue to do this until the planting hole has been refilled. Using a garden rake level the soil around the tree. I sometimes recommend creating a ‘soil ring’ around the tree. This is a mound of soil that allows you to water the tree and prevents the water from flowing away from the trees root area.

Step 7     After care
Ensure the tree is straight and wrap a tree tie around the tree and fix to the stake, make sure the tree tie is not too tight and continue to monitor into the future. Water the tree in directly after planting. Trees can become stressed in dry conditions in their first two years after planting. Again, monitor plant regularly and water when required. Also during the first two years, young trees benefit from a generally fertilizer such as Poultry manure, 10-10-10 or mulching with farm yard manure.

In time your tree will be standing on its own 2 feet and will require little maintenance.

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