roots

Planting Root Bound Trees, Shrubs & Perennials

Planting Root Bound Trees, Shrubs & Perennials

You’ve bought a new plant, you have the supplies to start, but do you know how to properly tend to the roots before planting? A common mistake made by many planters is taking their new plant out of the pot they buy it in and plopping it directly into the ground.

Trees, shrubs and perennials bought at greenhouses and nurseries often sit in the same pot for weeks, if not months. As a result of this they become extremely root bound with nowhere for their roots to grow. A root bound plant means that the roots have filled the entire pot, often creating a tangled mess that forms into a hard clump. Planting this compacted root ball will lead to an insufficient uptake of water and nutrients.

Following these steps before planting will ensure that your plant’s young root system will be able to properly establish itself in its new environment. The success and longevity of your new plant is very much determined by the effort you put into planting them!

Preparing Your Plant

1. Water your tree, shrub or perennial, before you take it out of the pot.

2. Remove the plant from the pot.

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3. Brush away excess soil.

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4. Carefully place the plant on its side.

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5. If the plant is heavily root bound (as pictured), more force is required. Take a sharp, clean tool (like a pruner or knife) to roughen up the outer layer of the root ball. The more root bound the plant, the more force is needed.

Planting

6. Dig a hole that is just a little deeper and three times the width of the root ball.

7. Fill the bottom of the hole with a mixture of 80% potting soil and 20% sea soil, to lift the root ball to the right planting level.

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8. The right planting level for a shrub or perennial is the same depth as it is planted in the pot.

The right planting level for a tree (as pictured) is half an inch above the first major root coming from the trunk. The tree might be planted a bit deep in the pot, so ensure you remove excess soil above that level (refer to step 3).

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9. Place plant in the hole and make sure it is on the right level.

10. Fill with remaining soil mixture and firm to remove air pockets.

11. Mix a solution of 2 tsp (9 g) of earthalive™ Soil Activator and 1 tsp (4.5 g) of Root Rescue for every 7.5 litres of water (average watering can size). Water over surrounding area.

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12. Add a shallow layer of mulch, bark or wood chips to help retain soil moisture.

13. Water thoroughly- both around immediate root zone of plant, but also surrounding area to encourage root extension.

14. To establish newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials, our rule of thumb for watering the first growing season is a schedule of twice a week with a gallon of water per foot of growth in height and width. (Adjust accordingly to the weather and your drainage.)

15. Use Nature’s Source fertilizer once a month, with the last application in the beginning of September.

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16. Large trees need to be staked with one or more tree stakes for the first season to prevent the root ball from moving.

You Plant A Tree For Your Grandchildren

About 10 years ago, my neighbour’s spruce toppled in a windstorm and smashed into our fence. The middle section of the fence was obliterated, but at least our house was spared.

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These past couple of weeks I have visited a number of homes that have trees with structural problems. One was an apple that had a large branch snap during a snowstorm. A couple of weeks ago, an acreage owner had a poplar topple during a windstorm resulting in a severely damaged roof. Finally, a young couple with small children, were asking me about what should be could be done about their neighbour’s large poplar tree that was leaning, precariously towards their house.   

As a certified arborist, I’ve seen a lot of trees with a lot of problems. While many people tend to focus on insect and disease problems on the tree’s foliage, the major of a tree’s problems (about 80%) originate in the root zone. Preventing a tree from becoming ‘hazardous’ is not difficult if the proper steps are taken beginning with something as ‘simple’ as transplanting. Incorrect planting depth, poor soil, improper staking, and inadequate or excessive watering are mistakes that are often made during transplanting that have a huge impact on trees years later.

As the saying goes, ‘You plant a tree for your grandchildren’. It’s important that they have the opportunity to enjoy it…safely!

~Jim Hole