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Plant a tree for Arbor Day – here’s how
by Dan Gill
by Dan Gill

email: dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu

Dan Gill earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in horticulture from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and is an Associate Professor in Consumer Horticulture with the LSU AgCenter.

He is the spokesperson for the LSU AgCenter’s Get It Growing project, a statewide educational effort in home horticulture utilizing radio, Internet, TV and newsprint. Gardeners throughout Louisiana read his columns in local newspapers, watch his gardening segments on local TV stations and listen to him on local radio. In the New Orleans area, Dan appears weekly on the Channel 4 Morning News, writes a weekly gardening column for The Times-Picayune and hosts the Saturday morning WWWL Garden Show, a live call-in radio program.

Dan is co-author of the Louisiana Gardener’s Guide and author of Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana. His “South Louisiana Region Report” and “Only in Louisiana” columns appear monthly in the Louisiana Gardener Magazine.


January 17, 2016

The third Friday in January is Arbor Day in Louisiana—a day we set aside to appreciate trees and plant them. If you’re thinking about adding some trees to your existing landscape, planting should ideally be done now through early March while weather is cool and plants will have a chance to make root growth before it gets hot.

Trees are sold in one of two forms – container-grown or balled-and-burlapped.

Balled-and-burlapped trees are grown in the ground. When they reach the desired size, they are dug up with a soil ball. The ball is then tightly wrapped with burlap and fastened with nails and wrapped with twine or placed in a wire basket. When they are dug, the plants lose much or most of their root system and are prone to transplant shock, so they are best planted during the cooler months – October through early March.

Container-grown is the most common way people buy trees. These plants have well-developed root systems and suffer less transplant shock when planted. For this reason, you may plant them virtually year-round. Still, it is best to plant them from October to March during the milder weather we have then. Avoid planting in the stressful summer months.

There is not one perfect tree for Louisiana. All trees have advantages and disadvantages depending on the planting location and desired characteristics. Here are some points you need to consider:

– Select a tree that will mature at a size appropriate for your chosen location. I cannot stress this too much. Generally, small trees are those that grow from 15 to 25 feet tall; medium-sized trees grow from 30 to 55 feet tall; and large trees grow to 60 feet or taller.

– Decide if you want a tree that retains its foliage year-round (evergreen) or loses its leaves in the winter (deciduous). Deciduous trees are particularly useful where you want shade in the summer and sun in the winter.

– Choose trees that are well-adapted to Louisiana growing conditions.

– Check the location of overhead power lines, and if you must plant under them, use small, low-growing trees. Also consider underground water lines and septic tanks as well as walks, drives and paved surfaces that may be damaged by the roots of large trees. Locate large trees at least 15 feet away from your house and paved surfaces.

When planting a tree, dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball. Remove a container-grown tree from its container and place the tree gently onto the firm, undisturbed soil in the bottom of the hole. A root ball tightly packed with thick, encircling roots indicates a root bound condition. Try to unwrap or open up the root ball to encourage the roots to spread into the surrounding soil.

Set balled-and-burlapped trees into the hole with the burlap in place. Once the tree is in the hole, remove any nylon twine or wire basket that may have been used, and fold down the burlap from the top of the root ball.

The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is critical that you do not plant the tree too deep.

Thoroughly pulverize the soil you removed from the hole and use this soil, without any additions, to backfill around the tree. Research shows that blending amendments such as peat moss or compost into the soil used to fill the hole slows root establishment. As a tree grows, its roots will grow out well beyond the reach of its branches. Because the roots will spend most of the tree’s life growing in native soil outside of the planting hole, they might as well get used to it from the beginning.

Add soil around the tree until the hole is half full, then firm the soil to eliminate air pockets – but don’t pack it tightly. Finish filling the hole, firm the soil again, and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in.

Adding fertilizer to the planting hole is not recommended, although it is all right to use some slow-release fertilizer in the upper few inches, if you like. The use of a root stimulator solution is optional.

Stake the tree properly if it is tall enough to be unstable, otherwise it’s not necessary. Generally, leave the support in place no more than 9-12 months.

Keep the area 2 feet out from the trunk free from weeds and grass. This encourages the tree to grow faster by eliminating competition from grass roots and also prevents lawn mowers and string trimmers from damaging the bark at the base of the tree.

Water a newly planted tree whenever the weather is dry, particularly during the hot, summer months. This is the single-most important thing you can do to ensure its survival. To properly water a tree its first year, turn a hose on to a trickle and lay the end on top of the ground within 6 inches of the trunk. Let the water trickle for about 30 minutes. This should be done once or twice a week during hot, dry weather.

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