4H youth assist an IFAS Extension agent in planting a tree. July 2008 IFAS Extension Calendar Photo. 4H children planting a small tree. 4H Club, youth groups, planting. UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham.

Florida has celebrated Arbor Day since 1886 and has one of the first Arbor Day celebrations in the nation, on the third Friday in January.  Trees establish a root system quickly when they aren’t expending as much energy on leaf development.  So in Florida that is in the winter months; hence the reason for a January date for Arbor Day.  However, installation anytime between October and March are suitable for most tree species.  Palms are the exception.  They require warm soil in order to root, so it best to plant them from April to August.

Planting and establishing trees is all about managing air and water in the soil.  Three of the most common causes of poor plant establishment or even death include installing too deeply, under watering, and over watering.  By selecting the appropriate species for the site, planting it at the correct depth, and irrigating properly trees should establish successfully.  As simple as that sounds, many trees fail before they ever mature in the landscape.

Here are the ten steps to proper tree planting:

  1. Look up for wires and lights when choosing a site. Make sure that the location is more than 15 feet from a structure. Call 811 for underground utilities spotting at no cost.
  2. Remove any synthetic or metal materials from the top of the root ball.
  3. Find the topmost root (where the trunk meets the roots) and remove root defects, such as encircling roots. Loosed the root ball.
  4. Dig a shallow container-sized hole.
  5. Carefully place the tree in the hole. Don’t damage the trunk or break branches.
  6. Position the topmost root 1-2 inches above the soil grade.
  7. Straighten the tree. Be sure to check from two directions.
  8. Widen the hole to add backfill soil.
  9. Water to check for air pockets and hydrate the root ball. Add 3-4 inch thick layer of mulch at the edge of the root ball, with little to no mulch on top of the root ball.
  10. Prune for structural strength and damage removal. Stake if necessary in windy areas or if required by code.

These are probably not the steps used by previous generations.  Twenty years of research has improved the techniques required for tree survival.  Every year more and more trees are removed from storm damage, pest infestations, and development.  Winter is time to add them back to both the urban and rural environments.  Celebrate Arbor Day.  Plant a tree.  But, install it properly.  Give your grandchildren the opportunity to enjoy it well into their adulthood.