After choosing your bare-root tree and its spot in the garden, make the most of November. Gardeners know that the Saint Catherine Feast day (on Nov 25th) is best to succeed your planting. (Editor’s note: it’s possible to plant in spring for specimens purchased in pots or containers.)
A few weeks before the planting, dig a hole out with a spade, preparing different mounds for each different layer of soil you’ll encounter. Depending on the type of soil, the size of your hole will change: 20 inches (50 cm) to all sides if the soil is excellent, but if the soil is poor, dig 32 inches (80 cm) to all sides and 16 inches (40 cm) deep. That way, roots will spread wider out in soil that you’ll have amended to promote root development.
Break the soil up along the bottom of the hole with a spading fork. Sink a sturdy stake in the hole, from a rot-resistant tree such as chestnut or acacia. Skin the bark off the stake first. It must stand up in the hole on its own, because you’ll be tethering your young tree to it.
Good tree planting practices
On planting day, handle the tree carefully to protect its bark and root clump. Snip off damaged or wounded roots with a sharp hand pruner to produce a clean cut. Damage is common to roots because it is pulled out of the ground. Don’t touch the rootlets, which are the tiny roots that feed the tree.
Dab the roots with root dip: a blend of clay, soil mix and water that will protect roots from drying out and will speed recovery.
Place the tree in its hole, alongside the stake, at the right height: the root crown and graft point must never be buried under the ground.
Start backfilling the hole with soil from the bottom-most layer, and proceed with the soil from layers deepest to shallowest.
Cover the roots entirely, checking you haven’t smothered the graft joint with soil. Pull the tree up delicately if need be.
A bit of compost and water when planting
Once the roots are covered, add a couple shovelfuls of compost atop the soil.
- Water abundantly, at least 10 quarts (10 liters) in a single shot, to help the soil trickle down around the roots.
- All this water will chase out air bubbles. Let the water seep away, and then keep filling in with the remaining soil from the topmost layer.
- Press the soil down somewhat with your heel.
- If the weather is very dry, pour another entire watering can on the tree.
- With a cultivator, break the surface of the hole up, and shape it into a large watering bowl, which you’ll be keeping weed-free for the next few years.
- Attach the tree to the stake with a flexible but sturdy tie. Don’t tie it too tight, because the tree will sink down a bit as the soil settles down.
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