Planting a tree from a nursery that is grown in a container is easy to do and will be successful the majority of the time if you follow these simple steps.
This gardening tutorial for planing trees can be applied to most trees purchased from a nursery. It works regardless of the size of the tree. if, however, you buy a tree that is very large and requires special equipment to move, you might be better off if you pay the nursery to plant it for you. Almost all nurseries offer these services.
Before you dig any hole in your yard, contact the local utility companies to see if there are any electrical lines, plumbing, telephone lines or cables where you plan to dig. If there are, locate the tree somewhere else.
The first step is to dig a hole that is twice the diameter of the rootball or pot that the the tree was grown in. The depth of the hole should be the same or slightly less than as the depth of the dirt around the tree roots. If you dig a hole that is too deep, the tree will sink into the ground. If the diameter of the pot is twelve inches, the diameter of the hole should be about twenty-four inches. This gives the roots loose ground that makes it easier for the roots to spread quickly. The sooner the roots spread, the sooner the tree will be able to absorb water and nutrients. Do not carve out a smooth-sided bowl when digging the hole. The sides of the hole should be rough and irregular to allow the roots to penetrate the surrounding ground.
If you are planting a fruit tree, the top of the tree has most likely been grafted to a different rootstock. Local nurseries choose fruit trees with upper portions that are known to being prolific and produce lots of fruit. The rootstock is typically selected based upon the soil in your area and for disease-resistance. The combination of the upper fruit tree variety and the rootstock produces a superior fruit tree. If the upper portion of the tree has been grafted to a different rootstock, you will see a grafting point that looks like a knot near the base of the tree. Do not bury the grafting point. It must remain above the ground. As the tree matures, the grafting point will become less noticeable.
If your geographic area has poor soil that contains a lot of sand or clay, prepare a planting mix for back-filling the hole. The most common mixture is to combine one-third to one-half compost with native soil. Some nurseries sell a special compost mix that contains nutrients that are beneficial to certain trees, such as oranges. Ask your nursery if they recommend adding compost. If the native soil is very humus and contains lots of organic matter, you will not need to add compost.
If the tree was grown in a plastic container, tilt the tree and remove the bottom of the container with a knife. Place the tree in the center of the hole with the surrounding container. This will prevent the soil from falling away from the roots. If the roots are wrapped in a plastic sheet, the plastic must be completely removed. If the rootball is wrapped in burlap, the burlap should be loosened, but can remain in the hole with the tree. Burlap decays easily when underground. We just usually flatten burlap in the bottom of the hole.
Add about six inches of the planting mix to the hole. If the tree came in a plastic container, carefully use a knife to slice vertically up the side of the container and remove the rest of the container. Any roots that are wrapped around the rootball should be loosened and straightened. The roots should not be allowed to dry out, so you must move quickly at this point.
Use a garden hose to dampen the rootball and fill the hole with enough water to cover the planing soil already placed in the hole. This will allow the mix to penetrate and fill air gaps beneath the rootball. Wait a few minutes for the water to be absorbed and then fill the remaining hole. The planting mix should surround the rootball, but not cover the top.
Build a dirt berm about four or 5 inches high and a little larger than the size of the original hole. Flood this area with water and allw it to drain into the soil. You might want to poke the soil with a stick and re-flood the area to make sure that you collapse all air pockets. After the soil settles, you may need to add more native soil or planting mix. Once again, do not cover the rootball with soil. The roots must be allowed to breathe.
Never cover the hole around a newly planted tree with landscaping plastic or a heavy layer of mulch or gravel. The entire area that was dug must be able to absorb water and dry out naturally. Keep the soil around the tree moist for a few weeks and then water the tree as recommended by your nursery. If you live in an area that gets lots of rain, you may not have to water often. We live in the desert where new trees must be saturated twice per week for the first several months.
It is not always a good idea nor is it necessary to add fertilizer to the planting mix for a new tree. That can discourage roots from spreading properly. Check with the nursery where you purchased the tree to see what they recommend for a feeding schedule. Most trees only need fertilization once or twice per year.