5 Tips for Planting Your New Trees & Shrubs

Newly planted shrubs and trees at Ted Lare

The severe storm that struck central Iowa August 10th has greatly affected our area’s urban tree canopy with many significant tree losses in some areas. We are here to help you select a new tree for your yard, and you don’t need to wait until spring. Fall is an excellent time to plant new trees and shrubs. It gives them a bit of extra time to develop some good roots during fairly mild weather conditions, and then they have all of next spring to establish themselves before facing the hot and dry weather of next summer. 

Here are 5 tips for planting new trees and shrubs in your Des Moines yard.

Tips for new trees and shrubs at Ted Lare

1. Prepare the hole for your new tree or shrub.

The hole for your new tree only needs to be as wide as needed to fit the roots in easily, any wider is not necessary. Important! The depth needed for the new tree is the most crucial thing to consider. To determine how deep it needs to be planted you must locate the largest sized root growing from the tree trunk. Normally it is at least a pencil size in diameter on a typical container tree, ignore roots that are smaller than this. This is called the root flare. Once the root flare is located, level off the top of the root ball so the soil line is the same level and the tree should be planted at that depth. Often times, as much as 3” to 6” of soil needs to be removed from the top of the rootball before planting.

You can check that the height is ok by setting your tree in the hole and laying a shovel across the hole. If the root ball is lower than the shovel handle, add a little more soil under the tree to raise it up a bit. It’s better for the top of the root ball to be a little bit higher that the surrounding soil, than for it to be lower. Soil that’s been dug up for planting will settle in a few weeks, so the tree will end up level with the rest of the ground.

2. Inspect and loosen the roots. 

Another very important area to consider is that when buying trees grown in a container there’s a good chance it’s a bit rootbound and these should be loosened before planting. When you remove it from the pot, you’ll want to have a good look at the roots all the way around. Check for any soft or mushy rotting spots, and cut those out. After you’ve removed any rotting root material, it’s a good idea to loosen the roots around the sides of the root ball and tease some of them out. This will encourage new root growth to go out and down from the root ball, so the tree will develop a stronger root system as quickly as possible.

3. Fill the hole and water well.

Once your tree or shrub is in the hole, start backfilling around the roots while someone holds it straight. Continue to backfill until soil is completely filled making sure the root flare is still showing once complete. Once planted water your new tree in very well so air pocks can be filled, we like to water after mulch is placed so the soil doesn’t wash away as easily.

Mulch around shrubs and trees at Ted Lare

4. Add mulch and stakes.

Now that your tree or shrub is securely in its new home, you’ll want to add a good layer of mulch. A 2-3 inch deep layer of mulch is really beneficial for your new tree or shrub, it helps to retain soil moisture, it regulates soil temperature, and it insulates the root ball. Extreme temperature fluctuations are stressful for newly planted trees. Especially in the spring, when there are periods of freeze and thaw, it can cause quite a bit of damage to the roots of a tree. Mulch is a blanket of insulation to help protect the tree from damage. 

Do not make a volcano of mulch around the base of your tree trunk or shrub because again, the root flare should be showing when planting and mulching is complete. Instead make a donut pattern where the mulch tapers down in thickness until it reaches none around the trunk. Mulch piled up around the trunk will cause the trunk to start rotting as it traps moisture against the bark.

For some trees, especially very tall ones, you’ll need to make sure you stake them to keep them stable and straight. The size of your tree will determine how many stakes you need and how far away they should be. Our landscaping experts can tell you how best to stake your trees when you buy them. Stakes should be left on long enough to allow the tree to root in then taken off since the natural movement of the trunk is helps it become strong, leaving stakes on for too long such as many years interferes with this process.

Water new shrubs and trees at Ted Lare

5. Water and inspect your new tree regularly.

Soaker hoses and timers are your best bet for watering your trees. A soaker hose laid out in a coil around the rootball area of your tree will make sure it gets a deep and even watering. 

It’s important to know what your soil type is. If it’s heavy clay, you’ll have to be careful to make sure your trees don’t get too much water. If it’s sandy and free draining, you may need to water more frequently than you expect. 

A general rule of thumb for watering new trees is:

  • Days 1-14: water daily or every other day if the weather is very hot or windy.
  • Days 15-30: water twice per week
  • Day 30+ start to ease back to watering once per week, and then back to bi-weekly. Water bi-weekly until the ground freezes. 
  • Maintain this bi-weekly watering schedule for the first full yearl your tree or shrub is well established. 

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When you are ready to plant a tree stop by our huge outdoor shopping and see all the different options available for trees and shrubs that are great for our climate. Our tree experts can help you select choices that will suit your landscaping style and the needs of your yard, offer tips and advice, or planting services if you’d rather have it done for you. 


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