Avoid These Tree Planting Pitfalls

Avoid These Tree Planting Pitfalls

National Arbor Day is April 30 and although we celebrate Florida Arbor Day in January you may find yourself planting trees right now as Spring Fever sets in. It is a little easier on the tree and the gardener caring for it to plant in the winter, but you can plant year-round if you implement proper care to ensure good establishment.

The most common problems with trees we see at our help desk are related to incorrect installation and establishment. Number one is incorrect planting depth and number two is incorrect watering during establishment. This article will cover a few pitfalls to avoid so that whenever you plant your tree you will increase your likelihood of success!

Planting Depth

It is important that tree roots are not too deep so that they can adequately access both water and oxygen needed for survival and root generation. A good rule of thumb is to plant new trees with 10% of the root ball above the natural grade. Also check to be sure the root flare is exposed in trees that have this feature. This may require removing some soil from the top of the root ball as it came from the nursery.

A few common mistakes that lead to incorrect planting depth are listed below:

  • Leaving burlap and straps on the top of root balls of balled-and-burlap (B&B) trees
  • Piling soil on top of the root ball
  • Adding mulch to the root ball
  • Laying sod on top of root ball
  • Planting on a slope where soil can erode onto the root ball
  • Planting level with grade – trees settle and bark mixtures decompose which cause the tree to become deeper than originally planting
  • Creating a bed with added soil around trees (this is more common on mature trees and should be avoided)

When planting a tree, measure height and width of the corrected root ball. Dig the hole 90% as deep as the height and 125-150% as wide as the root ball. There is no need to add fertilizer or amendments to the hole, simply plant into the native soil and water appropriately.

Watering Until Tree is Established

The establishment period is the time it takes for a plant to create enough functional roots to adequately uptake water and nutrients needed to survive with little to no supplemental irrigation. In general, smaller/younger plants establish more quickly than larger ones so there are benefits to starting small when choosing trees.

Soil texture, rainfall, time of year, and tree species will factor into how long it takes for a tree to become established but there are a few guidelines to help you plan. Irrigate 2-5 gallons of water per inch trunk caliper during establishment period. Hint- your turfgrass irrigation output is not sufficient for optimum tree root growth. The chart below offers a range of irrigation frequency based on size of tree at installation and whether your goal is for fast growth or just enough to survive.

Size of Nursery Stock Irrigation Schedule for Vigor Irrigation Schedule for Survival
Less than 2” trunk caliper Daily: 2 weeks

Every other day: 2 months

Weekly: Until established

Twice weekly for 2-3 months
2-4-inch trunk caliper Daily: 1 month

Every other day: 3 months

Weekly: Until established

Twice weekly for 3-4 months

Gilman and Sadowski. “Planting and Establishing Trees.” This document is ENG 1061, one of the Urban Forest Hurricane Recovery Program series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation and the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date September 2007. Reviewed February https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP31400.pdf

April is Safe Digging Month

April is Safe Digging Month

Call 811 before you dig.  No one wants a weekend project to be the cause of internet, phone and cable outages. Worse yet, what if someone gets hurt from contact with natural gas or electrical lines?  That’s why it is so important to have buried utilities in the yard located and marked before digging.  Sunshine 811 coordinates each individual company to clearly mark where the service lines are located.  Homeowners are required by law to contact 811 three days before any soil removal is done.  The service is free.

Have information prepared before making the request.  Describe the work to be performed (e.g. fence install, landscaping, irrigation install), including the type of equipment that will be used. Specify the exact location on the property and how long the work will continue.  Finally, provide all the contact information (e.g. name, phone number, e-mail), should there be any additional questions.

Call 811 or request a single address ticket online.  Receive a ticket number and wait two full business days, not counting weekends or holidays.  Then contact 811 again.  Make sure that all the utilities have responded in the Positive Response System (PRS).  Sometimes that may mean that the company doesn’t have anything to make in the area.

If there are utility lines running through the yard, they will be marked with specifically colored paints or flags.  Red is used for electrical lines, orange indicates communication lines, yellow means gas, blue is used for potable water, purple is reclaimed water, and green indicates sewer lines.  White lines may be used to outline digging areas and pink are temporary survey marks.  This is the APWA Uniform Color Code.

Every effort is made to locate the lines as accurately as possible.  But, the safest thing to do is hand dig to expose the utility line before using any mechanized equipment.  Lines can vary up to 24” from the marked line and depths can be less than 5”.  Remember there may be access lines running through the property even if that service isn’t utilized at that address.

Keep safe this spring.  Call 811 before digging.

Year ‘Round Interest with Juliet™ Cleyera

Year ‘Round Interest with Juliet™ Cleyera

Plants with variegated foliage are very popular landscape selections.  As flowers fade on other plants, the colors of variegated foliage continue to add interest through multiple seasons.

A very adaptable shrub that has been around for a long time, now has a selection with beautiful variegated foliage.  Juliet™ cleyera offers green and white evergreen foliage that can brighten up a garden year around.  New foliage adds additional interest with a maroon tinge.

Variegated foliage of Juliet™ cleyera. Photo by Beth Bolles, UF IFAS Extension Escambia County

Like other selections of Cleyera, Juliet™ needs to be matched to an appropriate spot to accommodate its mature size.  Shrubs will reach about 8 feet in height with a spread of about 5 feet.  Plants may look best when left to grow in a more natural form with light selective pruning.  This shrub is probably not suited for planting in front of home windows but used as a specimen or as a nice screen plant.

Once established, cleyera is a low maintenance plant and is adapted to grow well without routine irrigation.  My home landscape has very well drained soil and I have not needed to apply supplemental irrigation to two cleyera shrubs in over 20 years.  Consider a spot that receives full sun or partial shade for your plants.

An added advantage of cleyera shrubs in general is that bees are attracted to the flowers so it makes an additional nectar source for pollinators in the spring.

Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

If you plan to purchase a container tree or shrub this cool season, it is important to follow a few important steps during installation. UF IFAS Extension Escambia County shows you how to find the root flare and remove excess soil above the root flare. These are a couple of steps that will help ensure your plant has a good chance at thriving in the landscape. #plantingdepth #treeinstallation

Proper Tree Planting

Proper Tree Planting

A newly planted tree with water retention berm.

A planted tree with water retention berm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Often, Extension agents are tasked with evaluation of unhealthy plants in the landscape.  They diagnose all sorts of plant problems including those caused by disease infection, insect infiltration, or improper culture.

When evaluating trees, one problem that often comes to the surface is improper tree installation.  Although poorly installed trees may survive for 10 or 15 years after planting, they rarely thrive and often experience a slow death.

Fall/winter is an excellent time to plant a tree in Florida.  Here are 11 easy steps to follow for proper tree installation:

  1. Look around and up for wire, light poles, and buildings that may interfere with growth;
  2. Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible;
  3. Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk;
  4. Slide the tree carefully into the planting hole;
  5. Position the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface;
  6. Straighten the tree in the hole;
  7. Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball;
  8. Slice a shovel down in to the back fill;
  9. Cover the exposed sides of the root ball with mulch and create water retention berm;
  10. Stake the tree if necessary;
  11. Come back to remove hardware.
A hole being dug for a tree to be planted.

Digging a properly sized hole for planting a tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Removing synthetic material from the root ball.

Removing synthetic material from the root ball. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height.

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida – Santa Rosa County

For more detailed information on planting trees and shrubs visit this UF/IFAS Website – “Steps to Planting a Tree”.

For more information Nuttall Oaks visit this University of Arkansas Website.