Tree & Shrub Planting Guidance Notes

By Kevin Jones

When you receive your tree or shrub it is best to plant it as soon as possible. The tree planting season is between autumn and spring while the soil is moist – your order will be sent to you at the right time for planting. Container grown trees or shrubs can be placed somewhere sheltered in the garden until you are ready to plant them; bare-root trees and shrubs should be kept somewhere cool but frost-free until planting.  The plastic packaging will keep bare-root plants alive for a short period (a few weeks) but if planting is heavily delayed it may be best to ‘heel-in’ your plants. This simply means to dig a temporary trench in ordinary garden soil and place the roots inside. Cover the roots with soil, firm in and water well. This will keep your plants alive until you are ready to plant them in their final position. Provided your tree or shrub is hardy they can safely remain heeled-in outside for up to 3 months.
Planting a tree or shrub
It’s important to give your trees or shrubs the best growing conditions possible; this is especially important when planting fruit trees to encourage a good crop. Choose a well-drained site; if you have heavy clay soil add some organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure along with grit to improve drainage. For the first 3 years the area around your tree or shrub will need to be kept weed-free to remove any competition for nutrients and water. Remove any turf or plants to create a 120cm (4ft) diameter circle of bare earth. Dig over the soil with a garden fork and incorporate organic matter such as well-rotted manure, compost or recycled green waste. When planting a tree, hammer in a sturdy stake just off-center inside the planting hole. The top of the stake should be just below the first branches of the tree. However, a new school of thought is to only stake the bottom third of the tree and put the stake in at an angle. Use a stake tie to attach the tree to the stake after planting. Staking after planting may result in damage to the root ball of the tree.
Container grown trees & shrubs
Water the compost thoroughly before removing the container (cut the container away if necessary). Gently tease out the roots to encourage good growth after planting. Trim off any broken roots with secateurs. Dig a planting hole no deeper than the length of the roots and at a comfortable width to accommodate the root ball. Break up the soil in the sides and base of the hole with a garden fork if they are compacted. Place the tree or shrub into the planting hole, aiming to plant at the same depth that the tree or shrub was growing in the nursery. It’s important not to plant your tree or shrub too deeply as this often cause’s death. Laying a bamboo cane or the spade handle across the top of the hole and lining it up next to the stem is a good way to check you have the correct depth. Simply add or remove soil beneath the root ball to adjust the planting depth. Backfill around the roots with the remaining soil and take care not to leave any big air pockets. Gently firm the tree or shrub in and water well. Apply mulch (about 5cm deep/2in) around the planting area to prevent weed growth and retain moisture. Keep a collar of about 10cm (4 inches) free of mulch around the woody stem of your tree or shrub to prevent the bark rotting.
Bare-root trees and shrubs
Planting bare-root trees and shrubs (such as bare root rose plants) should be carried out quickly to prevent dehydration of the roots. The planting instructions are the same as for container-grown trees and shrubs. Make sure the plant is at the same level that it was planted in the nursery if the trees/shrub is planted too deeply the roots may not get enough oxygen and will slow down the growth or even may die, if planted too shallowly it will dry out to quickly and will the with lack of water leaves will fall, this is a sure sign of water shortage. When backfilling, after adding born meal to the backfill soil and firm the soil in stages, taking care not to damage the roots. Water the tree or shrub well and mulch the area around it. Keep a collar of about 10cm (4 inches) free of mulch around the woody stem to prevent the bark rotting.
Kevin Jones MCI Hort