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Putting Down Roots; How To Prepare And Plant A New Tree In Your Yard

Take care to check the root ball of a new tree even before you buy it. This helps ensure you're getting a sturdy tree that will survive and thrive in your yard.

When you decide to plant a tree, you most likely expect it to stay put for a long time. When considering conditions and factors other than sunlight, soil and water, sometimes trees don’t thrive where they’re planted.

Now, there is new information on how to plant trees to give us better options for success. We’ll learn the steps of how to select a tree in a nursery, clean up the roots at home and how to plant it properly so it will survive.

Native trees like oak, birch and maple are good for wildlife, birds and the climate and they are long-lived. So, if you’re thinking of planting a shade tree, a fruit or flower tree on your property, head to the garden center or nursery to take a look.

Firstly, you should go into your tree purchase knowing that 90 percent of the roots on the really large balled and burlapped trees have been destroyed in the transplant process.

These larger trees are stressed out and may suffer transplant shock. Aim to choose a smaller tree to start. This will ensure your tree will be healthier and it will grow faster.

At the garden center or nursery, you likely see all kinds of trees that are balled and burlapped or in containers. Start by choosing the types of trees you like, then use this trick as an indicator of the tree’s health: rock the trunk back and forth. If the trunk moves independently of the burlap or container, choose another tree. This shows that the tree is stressed and won’t be as successful. Also, if the trunk has nicks and dents, look for another tree.

Once you’ve found just the right tree and bring it home, take it out of the container or burlap and take a good look at the root ball.

The root flare, where the roots and shoots and trunk meet, has probably been buried. Dig down into the topsoil and note if there are surrounding roots circling around. Tease or prune those roots away. Choose the spot where your new tree will have full sun and well-drained soil then dig a hole three times the diameter of the root ball and about as deep and plant!

Backfill with the native soil and keep your new tree well watered for the first year and get ready to enjoy your tree for decades.

(Resist the urge to pile a ton of mulch around it! You can add just a few inches of bark mulch away from the trunk for best results).

Q: We've recently fulfilled a long-time dream of getting horses! Now I'd like to be able to use the manure for our gardens. How long does it need to sit before it can be used in vegetable and flower gardens? -— Jack, in Guilford

Horse manure is a great additive to your gardens. You should wait at least three to six months to allow the old manure pile to mature, so you can plan to add it to your garden this fall. One note, if the grasses where your horses forage and eat are sprayed with herbicides, don’t use that manure for gardening.

Q: About five years ago we planted a pale yellow summer-blooming magnolia tree. The tree has struggled since then, dying back and growing from the roots. We'd like to replant it but are not sure where, and would appreciate any suggestions you may have! — Lili, in New Haven

Your tree may be a magnolia grandiflora which means it might not be as hardy here in our region. The good news is that now is a good time to transplant it to a new location.

If you can, find a protected spot on your property, away from north and west winds with full sun and well-drained, slightly acidic soil. 

If your tree died back to the ground and it is now growing from the roots, and it was a grafted variety, it might not be the same variety that grows back.

Talking tomatoes next week, so please send along tomato questions!

All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a messageor get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

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Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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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