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Dallas Morning News - September 11, 2018


Impossible to Plant a Tree Too High


From my column last week on tree planting mistakes, planting mistake #1 - Not establishing the true top and height of the root ball - needs a little more attention. After removing excess soil from the top of the container to determine the actual size of the rootball, there are some other important considerations.

First of all, rootballs are commonly root bound. That means that the roots are jammed together against the wall of the container. When plants are grown in plastic pots the roots grow out and hit the hard plastic walls and start circling round and round forming a solid mass. The longer in the containers, the worse the circling, massing and girdling will be. If this condition is not addressed and fixed, the tree may live for some time after planting, but will never be completely healthy and reach its full potential. The mass of roots can prevent water from entering the rootball and the clumped roots can’t grow out properly into the native soil.

One way to solve the problem is to remove the plant from the container and soak the rootball in water. Soak it for a long time - an hour or two at least. When thoroughly saturated, the roots can be unwound (maybe) and spread to radiate as they should in the properly dug, wide, ugly hole. If that doesn’t work there are two more possible options. Tear the bound-up roots to loosen the mass or toss the worthless tree into the compost pile and buy a better tree. Give the soaking or tearing a try first. I use my favorite hand tool, the Japanese planting knife or hori knife for the loosening.

Once you have a rootball that has a reasonably loose root system and the excess soil has been removed from the top so the true size can be measured, the next critical step is setting the tree at the correct height. Here’s a simple rule to use. Set the tree high. It’s actually impossible to set a tree too high. Don’t believe it?

Try this. Buy a new quality tree, set it on top of the ground, then add soil around the tree to create a berm. Water reasonably and the new tree will be happy and grow well. An especially good technique to use in heavy clay soil areas where drainage is not particularly good.

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