Question of the Week – Number One: January 28, 2021

“We recently had a large Shumard red oak (3-foot soil ball) planted in our landscape. What should I do to ensure its success?”

Whoever planted this lovely red oak did everything as I would have with one exception (and that’s just a personal opinion on my part). See if you can spot it.

Several things will help. Some may have been done at the time of planting. First, be certain the tree is planted at the same depth at which it was growing in the nursery. Planting too deeply will be a sure way to kill it slowly as its roots are depleted of oxygen. Do not pile loose soil out of the hole up around its trunk.

You can tell from this tree’s root flare that it’s true – a majority of any tree’s roots will be in the top foot of soil. That’s why you must always plant a tree at the same depth at which it was growing in the nursery or in nature.

Stake and guy the tree so that it cannot tilt. There are rare occasions when that won’t be needed, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Use three cables at 45-degree angles to the trunk, one of them to the south to support the tree against prevailing winds of the summer. The other two should be equally spaced to the northwest and northeast of the trunk.

The guy wires have been left in place too long on this trunk. When the tree grows around them the phloem tissues that carry sugars from the leaves to the roots will be cut off.

Pad the trunk so the cables won’t damage the bark. Do not allow the trunk to grow over them or your tree will be girdled and movement of manufactured sugars from the leaves to the roots will be stopped. Keep the cables taut at all times.

Continued Below

The next step is non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. Wrap the trunk with paper tree wrap from a nursery or hardware store. Wrap it from the ground up to the lowest limbs and leave the wrap in place for one to two years. It will protect the trunk from sunscald and borer invasion. No paper wrap was put around the trunk of the new red oak shown in the photo on the Main page of e-gardens this issue. That’s the thing I challenged you to find missing.

Soak your new tree after you plant it and regularly for the first couple of years. Sprinkler irrigation and even drip irrigation will not be enough.

Soak your new tree deeply on weekly intervals during spring and fall, 5-day intervals in the hottest part of the summer. When I’m planting a new tree I use the extra soil taken out of the hole to build a donut-shaped berm 15 or 18 inches out from the trunk. That gives me a “reservoir” for watering my new tree. After a couple of years I use a hoe or shovel to burst the berm open, scattering the soil over the adjacent ground.

Apply a liquid, high-phosphate root-stimulator fertilizer monthly for the first year or two.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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