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Vermont Garden Journal: Keeping Newly Planted Trees Healthy

The traditional way to plant a tree is to pop it out of its container, dig a hole and pour in the compost. These days we've developed a better way.

Everyone should be planting native trees. They're good for the environment and global warming, add beauty and shade to our yards, provide food for wildlife and homes for birds and other creatures. But there's nothing worse than buying a tree, planting it and having it suddenly die a few years later. This happens more than we'd like to admit, so I think we need a tree healthcare plan.

The first step is proper planting. The old idea was to pop the tree out of the plastic container or burlap ball, dig a big hole and pour in soil amendments such as compost. But horticultural researchers, such as Linda Chalker Scott at Washington State University, have found this is the worst way to plant a tree. Here's what you should do.

Inspect the tree roots before planting. Many nursery-grown trees have roots that are circling around the trunk. These roots will eventually strangle and kill your tree. Prune tree roots so they're facing away from the trunk. If you have a potted tree, first remove all the soil to prune, even if the tree has already leafed out. Keep the tree well watered and it should survive and thrive.

The second piece of advise, is the hole. Dig a hole three times as wide as the rootball and as deep. But don't add any soil amendments. Researchers have found heavily amended soils encourage the roots to stay in the hole and not venture into the native soil. Also, select trees adapted to your soil types, such as apples and serviceberries for clay. Backfill with the native soil and water well. Mulch around the tree with wood chips or chopped leaves not piling them deep and keeping them away from the trunk.

Now for this week's tip: if you work with kids and gardens join me at this free Youth Gardening Symposium in Burlington on April 4th from 4-6 pm. We'll highlight ways to organize the garden, work with volunteers and fundraise.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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