How To Plant A Bare Root Tree
The best time to plant a tree is either in the autumn or spring, when it is moist and there isn’t too much heat. In the spring a tree is in full growth and will quickly establish new roots, although during this time the act of lifting or planting a tree can cause a lot of damage. This is why I prefer to plant trees in the autumn after the leaves have fallen, when they are at their most dormant and can be handled without disturbing the growth cycle. This makes planting a tree a little like performing an operation under general anaesthetic, as the plant is to all intents and purposes asleep.
At this time of year most trees are available as “bare root stock”, meaning that they have been lifted from the soil and the roots protected to keep them moist.
Before you plant a tree you must establish that the variety is suitable for your soil and local climate, which can be quickly ascertained from the grower or a little research on the internet. Also that the height and width of your tree, when full grown, is suitable for the position in which you intend to plant it.
Once established that you are planting the right tree in the correct position the first step is to dig a hole. Holding the tree upright, mark an area around the root just wide enough that when the hole is dug the roots almost touch the sides. Remove any turf or weeds and discard them, they must not be planted back into the soil, as trees do not like competition and the area around them must be weed-free for their first year.
Then examine your tree to measure the depth of the hole required, it should be planted so that the first roots are only a little below the surface of the soil. In most cases the correct level is easy to find, as you can still see a mark where the earth came up to before the plant was lifted. You should never plant a tree too deeply, as it can cause the lower layers of the bark to rot and spread disease into the trunk.
Dig your hole to the correct depth using your tree as a gauge and with a fork, scrape the inside edges of the hole to loosen the earth and make it easier for the roots to spread. Holding the tree in the hole insert the tree stake and bang it into position. Inserting the stake after the tree has been planted may damage the roots, as you will not be able to see them.
The next step is to slowly fill the hole with loose soil, giving the tree a little shake to allow the soil to penetrate the root system. I do not recommend adding any extra topsoil or compost at this stage, as if the tree is to grow in this spot for many years, it should acclimatise to its new soil conditions from the beginning.
Once the roots are covered firm the soil with your heel, at which time the soil will compress down, then repeat this until you have filled the hole to the right level. Using a suitable tie, secure the tree to the stake or if using string, make a loose loop around the tree and then tie it to the stake. If the ground is dry and there is no immediate threat of frost you can water the tree, which will help it to establish the roots. This is not usually necessary and in most cases you can leave it until the drier summer before you have to worry about any further need of irrigation.
Following these simple steps should ensure that you have a valuable, healthy and attractive asset in your garden for many years to come.