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How to plant a tree
The key to success when planting a tree is to make sure that it’s well anchored – with shorter trees careful firming of the soil may do, but for trees over 1.5m (5ft), it’s worth using a short stake and tree tie to keep the rootball in place. After planting, it’s also a good idea to cover the soil with mulch to prevent competition from weeds and to help retain moisture around the roots of the tree.
When to plant?
Container-grown trees can be planted at any time of the year, except when the soil is frozen or waterlogged, but autumn is the ideal time for deciduous trees because the soil is still warm enough to encourage some root growth before the onset of winter. This helps the tree establish quickly so it is more able to withstand any hot, dry spells the following summer.
Container-grown conifers and other evergreens can also be planted in early autumn, but in exposed gardens, it’s better if they’re planted in April (May in colder areas). In these areas, it’s also worth putting up a protective barrier of windbreak netting – to help the evergreens settle in.
Trees sold without any soil on their roots, known as bare-rooted, should be planted during the dormant season only (November to March).
Seven steps to success
Dig a hole at least three times as wide and twice as deep as the tree’s container. Mix the soil you’ve removed with well-rotted organic matter (compost) and leave it to one side.
Deciduous trees over 1.5m tall at planting time will establish more quickly if their roots are held firm. The best way to make this happen is to hammer a 1.2m (4ft) stake in at 45 degrees after digging the planting hole.
The tree needs to be planted at the same depth as it was in the pot. Check the hole is at the right depth by laying a cane or piece of straight timber across the hole. If the tree is standing too high or too low you’ll need to remove or add some of the soil to the bottom of the hole.
Give the new tree a thorough soaking by standing it in a bucket of water for a couple of hours before it’s planted. The easiest way to get a tree out of its pot is to gently lay it on its side, tap the rim of the container and then slide it out. Carefully pull out any roots that are circling around the bottom or sides, so they grow away from the rootball and into the surrounding soil. Position the tree in the centre of the hole next to the stake (if used).
Start to fill in the sides of the hole with the soil mixture, gently firming it down as you go. Shake the trunk of bare-rooted trees before firming the first layer to make sure soil trickles down in between the roots. Regularly check the tree is upright. Once the hole has been filled, water really well once again.
Then cover the soil with a generous layer of mulch, such as chipped bark or manure, to help prevent weeds and reduce the amount of water loss from the soil.
After planting, attach the top of the stake nearest the trunk to the tree using a special adjustable tree tie with a protective spacer. This will hold the tree securely while preventing it from rubbing against the stake in windy weather.