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Gardening) Tree Planting - Establishment and Care

Gardening) Tree Planting - Establishment and Care

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Published by: Daniel Patrick Gagnon on Sep 16, 2010
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PM 1677 Reviewed & Reprinted March 2004
Tree Planting:
Establishment and Care
Millions of trees are planted on both private and publiclands in Iowa. Purposes for planting trees include timberproduction, fiber production, erosion control, wildlifehabitat improvement, riparian buffer creation, improve-ment of stocking or composition in open woodlands,Christmas tree production, shelterbelt establishment,fuelwood production, watershed protection, energyconservation, and beautification.Successful tree planting involves a series of steps, eachone dependent upon the others. This publication and
Tree Planting: Planning
, Pm-1676, discuss the steps forsuccessful tree planting, including (1) planning, (2) sitepreparation, (3) selecting and ordering planting stock,(4) caring for the nursery stock, (5) planting methods,and (6) plantation maintenance.
Caring for Nursery Stock
In Iowa, the ideal time to plant seedlings is between lateMarch and mid-May, depending on weather. Plant earlyto aid sufficient root system development and to avoidthe stress of hot and dry weather. If soil conditions aresuitable, about 40
F and moist, but not wet, plant thenursery stock as soon as received from the nursery.If possible, inspect for quality before accepting plantmaterial from a nursery. Nursery stock is packaged andshipped in wax coated boxes, in plastic bags in largerpaper bags, or rolled in plastic or moisture-resistantpaper. Examine the containers for damage. Inspect thestock for dry roots, swelled or opened buds, mold onneedles or stems, and physical damage such as brokenstems or stripped roots. If stock is damaged, return it tothe nursery for replacement or refund.Plant the stock as soon as possible; survival rate gener-ally decreases as time between shipping and plantingincreases. If planting must be delayed for a week or less,store the stock in a cool, dark, damp place such as acellar, milk house, or unheated building. Make sure theroot systems of the seedlings remain moist. This mayrequire resetting packing material or turning treespacked in plastic inside paper bags daily. If it is necessaryto hold trees for more than a week, keep them in coldstorage (35 to 40
F) and make sure the root systems of the seedlings remains moist.“Heeling in,” or planting seedlings in shallow soil pitsfor long-term storage, is not recommended. It causessignificant damage to the fragile root system. Do notimmerse seedlings in water for storage. Planting as soonas possible is the best course of action.Root pruning may be beneficial in some cases. Afterplanting, new root initiation often occurs at the site of wounding; clean, fresh wounds may provide a morevigorous root system. If the plants have minimal roots,however, root pruning may result in greater mortality.For root pruning to be beneficial, the plant must have asufficient number of roots at least 1/16 inch in diameter(at least five to six for oak, ash, and walnut); the rootsremaining after pruning must be at least four inches inlength. Seedlings with more roots compared to the shootsurvive better and grow faster than seedlings withinadequate root systems compared to the shoot. When moving seedlings from storage to the planting site,take only the number of seedlings that you can plant inhalf a day or less. Keep roots moist; avoid exposure tohigh temperatures or drying conditions. Soak roots inwater for two to three hours before planting. Carry treesin buckets with roots covered with muddy water or oneof the hydrophilic gels or moisture enhancers. Use waterin the boxes or containers provided on tree planters tokeep the root systems moist until the seedling is in theground. Leave containers in the shade until the seedlingsare removed for planting. Remove only what can beplanted in one to two hours.
Tree Planting Rules
• Plant trees one inch deeper than they grew in the nursery• Make sure hole or slit is large enough for the tree• Avoid J-roots when planting• Plant trees straight• Keep roots cool and moist until in the ground• Arrange roots naturally• Firm the soil around the root system• Plant when soil conditions are right• Plant early rather than late
Planting Methods
There are two basic tree planting methods. Handplanting is appropriate when planting a small number of seedlings or if the site is not conducive to equipmentoperation. Planting 500 seedlings is a good day’s work if using this method. For larger areas that lend themselvesto equipment operation, tree transplanters or plantingmachines facilitate the task. Tree planters can plantfrom 500 to 1,000 or more trees per hour.
Hand Planting 
Hand tools used for tree planting include power augers,hoe dads, planting bars, shovels, spades, tree bars, andany other tools that make a suitable opening for theplanting stock.There are two basic techniques for hand planting: thehole method and the slit method. The hole method maybe the best planting method because the roots arespread over a larger soil area, resulting in greater uptakeof water and nutrients. Also, the soil placed around theroot system is fine, ensuring better soil to root contact.Dig a hole in the soil large enough for the root system.Spread out the roots and pack the soil firmly aroundthem in order to exclude air. The use of power augersmakes hand planting easier. A slight variation uses ashovel, spade, or hoe dad todig a hole with a straightside. Place the tree alongthis side and replace thesoil. If trees are to bewatered, make a disharound the seedling tofacilitate the watering.The slit method is faster than the hole method. Using aplanting bar, shovel, or spade, make a vertical slit in thesoil. Insert the roots of the plant and close the slit atboth the top and bottom. When planting bigger stockwith large root systems, the shovel or spade may bebetter sized for slit planting than the tree planting bar.Do not crowd tree roots. Firmly close the slit around theroot system to prevent drying. The roots should fallstraight down in the opening to avoid J-rooting. J-rootsare roots that bend in the planting hole back towardsthe soil surface.
Exposed roots act like a wick, removingmoisture from the soil surrounding the plant. J-rootsmay not develop properly, causing plant stress.
Slit MethodHole MethodStep 1Step 2Step 3Step 4
Machine Planting 
A tree planter is amachine attached to atractor that makes a slitin the soil. Seedlings,transplants, or cuttingsare placed in the slit.Packer wheels close theslit and firm the soilaround the root system.Tree planters maybe loaned or rentedfrom CountyConservation Boards,DNR Wildlife Units, or forestry service providers. Aplanter commonly available is the “Forester,” which isdesigned to plant pine on level, sandy sites. It is capableof planting on tougher sites, but its maximum depth is10 inches. When planting larger stock (hardwoods) alarger planter must be used. Within the past five years,larger tree planters have become more available inthe state.Mechanical tree planters are only as good as theiroperators. Adjustments may be required for depth andfirmness of packing around the seedlings. On slopes,machines must be leveled to the slope to avoid plowing;always plant on the contour to avoid soil erosion.Correct spacing of trees can usually be achieved byadjusting the speed of the tractor, or by using a measur-ing or marking device to determine when to plant eachtree. It is a good idea to have a person walk behind thetree planter to straighten crooked trees and make surethe slits have been closed.
Plantation Maintenance
Iowa soils and climate provide an ideal environment forintense competition from weeds. Lack of weed control isthe primary reason for planting failure. Effective weedcontrol enhances tree survival and growth, and results infaster conversion of a tree planting to a woodland.Methods for controlling competing vegetation includemowing, mulching, mechanical cultivation, and chemi-cal (herbicide) use. Most plantings require three to fiveyears of weed control. After this period, trees are tallerthan other vegetation and have developed sufficient rootsystems to compete with other plant materials on thesite. The period of weed control may need to be longeron poor sites or when using slower growing species. Weed control should cover the same area as site prepara-tion. An area at least three feet in diameter around eachtree is required. Larger weed control areas (up to five tosix feet in diameter) encourage more rapid root systemoccupation of the site. Weeds either can be controlledaround individual plants or in three- to six-foot-widestrips along the rows of a plantation.
Mowing by itself is the poorest form of weed control. Itstimulates increased root growth of grasses and does notcontrol the roots of competing vegetation. Close mowingaround trees often results in basal damage or main stemwounding. Mowing is often used in combination withother methods to control the height of competingvegetation, identify tree rows, and reduce rodent habitatin fall and winter.
Tree plantedcorrectly“J” roots

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