When to Plant
The best time to plant your seedling is in October or early November. By then, the hot summer days are over but the colder days of winter haven’t yet arrived. This will allow your seedling to establish its root system in the ground without being stressed.
The second best time to plant is from April to May. If you choose to plant in the spring, wait until after the last freeze and the ground has started to warm up. Once you plant, you can continue your once-a-week watering process throughout the year.
However, you should remember to bring your potted seedling indoors in case of freezing weather. The root ball is much more vulnerable to freeze damage while still in the potting container. Once the tree has been planted into the ground, the soil keeps the root ball insulated from freezing temperatures.
By far, the most important decision you make is where your tree will be planted. Just a few things to consider when picking a location:
- Is it close to other trees? Sometimes landscapers plant young trees too close together, which causes their branches to grow into each other as they mature, and can potentially cause other problems.
- Are there any fixed objects nearby? Take into consideration how close your tree will be to buildings, concrete sidewalks and driveways, and other fixed objects like overhead power lines. You'll want to give it plenty of room to grow in the years ahead and avoid future problems.
- Does the ground drain well? Consider the grade (slope) of the ground where you intend to plant. Make sure the ground drains AWAY from the planted tree. Above all, do NOT plant your seedling in a low-lying depression, which becomes a puddle during heavy rains. This will lead to root rot – especially in clay-based soils. It's far better to plant on a mound or slightly-raised incline than in a low spot.
- Where are your sprinklers? Locate and take into consideration underground sprinklers and piping. Try NOT to plant your tree immediately on top of an underground sprinkler pipe or around a sprinkler head. Tree roots and underground PVC piping don’t always play well together.
Know in advance that as your tree grows larger, it will create more shade (which discourages grass growth) as well as compete with a grassy yard for surface moisture – often leading to bare ground areas under the tree.
Choose your planting location wisely – and give your tree plenty of room to grow. Remember how large the Century Tree by the Academic Plaza is, and plan accordingly.
Preparing to Plant Your Tree
After you select your planting location, gather the following tools and materials for planting and have them ready to go before you start the process:
- Sharpshooter drain spade or round-point shovel
- Bag of hardwood mulch (only need ½ bag)
- If you choose to use a tree stake, you will need a taller bamboo or plastic tree stake (recommend 72” tall)
- A modest supply of 4-to-6 inch long wire twists for securing your tree to the stake, if you choose to use one.
- A garden hose attached to a faucet.
- A pair of scissors to cut the laced twine inside the potting container.
At your chosen planting location, dig the planting hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the potting container. (For the one-gallon container, the hole should be roughly 16 inches wide and 16 inches deep.) As the soil is dug up out of the ground, place it to one side of the hole.
If possible – especially in clay-based soils – use the shovel or sharpshooter to cut slices into the soil wall and along the bottom of the hole. This will help the tree roots to gain a foothold and penetrate the walls and bottom of the hole.
Crumble the removed soil from the hole and mix it with an equal part of bagged garden soil to help keep the dirt moist around your seedling's roots. Then, backfill the hole with about 12 inches of soil mixture, leaving the hole only about four inches deep. (Again, you are making it easier for the roots to become established.)
Using scissors, cut the laced twine above your seedling's felt Rootcap and remove the cut pieces of twine. Next, remove the felt Rootcap, exposing the potting soil. Trash the pieces of twine and the Rootcap.
Next comes the moment of truth – and the most delicate part of the planting process. Make sure that you are not rushed to complete this step.
Place your open hand across the top of the potting container with the stem protruding between your third and fourth fingers. Turn the pot upside down and tap the bottom of the potting container with your other hand. (The idea is to dislodge the root ball from the bottom of the container.) Catch the root ball with your open hand as it slides from the container, and set the container to one side so you can use both hands.
Above all, keep the root ball intact and handle it with extreme care. The root system is very sensitive to changes – so please be gentle. Delicately place the root ball into the hole.
Take note where the top of the root ball is located relative to the ground level outside the hole. The top of the root ball should be slightly higher than the ground level. If necessary, gently remove the root ball with both hands and backfill the hole with more crumbled soil to raise the level of the root ball. Replace the root ball back into the hole, and repeat until you are pleased with the placement of the root ball – making sure that it is slightly higher than the ground level outside the hole.
Gently backfill the rest of the soil mixture into the hole around the root ball and press it firmly into place. Use the top of the shovel handle to gently poke the dirt down around the outer edge of the root ball – but NOT directly on top of the root ball, as it will shatter the root ball and cause root damage.
Make sure that the tree stem is in a vertical position, and adjust the position of the root ball as needed to attain this position.
Turn on your faucet slightly, allowing a small flow of water to emerge from the garden hose. Hold the hose over the planted root ball and completely saturate the soil around the root ball – it will help pack the loose soil into place. When finished, turn off the faucet. The planting hole should be muddy and waterlogged.
Complete the planting process by applying a two-inch layer of hardwood mulch in a 16-inch diameter circle around the base of the planted tree stem. This should basically cover the area of the planting hole. (Only half of a bag of mulch will be needed for now, but you may periodically need to add more to the area as the tree grows larger.)