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I distribute thousands of container-grown landscape trees a year to homeowners, schools, cities, and park managers.  I have videos, e-mail directions, handouts, and workshops to teach proper planting.  At tree distributions, I talk to most every person purchasing a tree to give them tree planting advice.  The most common response I get is, "I've been planting trees for years, and think I have it down."

Then, when I go to look at trees after they have been planted, they are invariable planted 4" - 8" too deep.  I recently went to a homeowner's association which had planted 50 trees; all of which had been planted in an auger hole - about 12" too deep.  They are in the process of correcting the error now; but what a lot of work that is, when they could have avoided it by planting properly the first time.

What methods do all of you use to help the public, as well as landscapers, understand the vital role planting depth plays in the health and lifespan of the tree?

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  • Check out Paul Johnson's (Texas Forest Service Regional Urban Forester for the San Antonio/Alamo Region) interactive planting technique - tree tai chi - on this video ( the technique starts at ~ 5:20)

  • My biggest concern is to try to figure out how much the soil under the rootball is going to "shrink". I usually amend the soil with peat or some compost and sand which lightens it up quite a bit. Then over time with watering, snow pack and general weathering the ground all sinks somewhat under the tree. Sometimes I seem to get it right but not always. What do you recommend?


  • Great question Laura! Here in Massachusetts, we always do a planting demonstration and recommend organizations do a demo before tree giveaways. (Many require it before a homeowner can leave with a tree.)  A significant portion is a discussion of how tree roots grow including the importance of the flare and how to find it. We show folks that sometimes it may be many inches below the soil line of the container and they may have to make considerable effort to find it. Most folks visualize trees in the woods as having flares and we are working to transfer that image to their yard and to the new tree that may be in front of them in a container. 

    We also cite the research that shows the negative impact of planting a tree even a few inches too deep and emphasize the importance of making sure the flare is at or just above grade. 

    We find that often we have to overcome a few notions: One--residents are surprised to hear that their trees may be arriving in a sub-optimal condition from the nursery. Two: the notion that homeowners can simply score the roots and plant the tree using the soil line in the container as they would a houseplant. They are often reluctant to "disturb" the soil in the container, but we try to emphasize that not only is it okay, but that it is a critical step in the planting. So not only are we educating homeowners, but we are giving them the confidence to disturb, meddle with, and at times nearly break up the soil around the roots to find the flare. 

  •   I am a retired professional. I think that people have different spatial abilities. They need to be educated as to where the tree will be able to form roots,tap roots and feeder roots,handouts would be good.I am often called upon by lay people who consider me an expert. I found myself in a situation of planting a rose.No one in the neighborhood even wanted to attempt that. Now I'm on the hook. I hope I planted it deep enough as all I was sure about was to not plant it below the graft. People also don't know that A LOT of plants are grafted,like fruit trees and some of the formal ornamentals. I do think that a minimal understanding of how a tree will grow is important.More than just sun or shade ,lots of water or less. So just a sticker may not help but a handout with pictures and some explanation of the process of plant growth. I have a dead tree because when the folks brought it,it had NO FEEDER roots.Now I am dealing with pruners and they don't know any basics of how plants grow. I can't hire any of the "professionals" because I have large plantings and if they prune it wrong,it's woe on me for years to come.I would hope the "treekeepers"also understood the pruning principals.I am speaking more for the homeowners because their budgets don't allow for a lot of "do overs".

  • We do have a graphic  (planting guide), but part of the problem is that the trees are sooooooooo deep in the pot; people don't really believe that you have to dig down that far to find the root flare.  I do find that if people watch you do it, then you watch them do it, and correct errors, then they are more likely to plant in the future.  I agree with the tree keepers concept.  We do have similar programs, but we really need them in every neighborhood in every town...

  • The only thing I have seen that works is slowing developing a force of tree keepers that are trained in planting.  It is a train the trainer type concept. And these tree keepers are then the leaders at any planting.  In regards to individual homeowners, maybe develop a graphic that can be placed on all containers (like a sticker) that shows optimal tree planting depth or maybe just a warning that too deep kills trees.  If you develop a graphic let us know!

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