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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Proper research can prevent common tree-planting mistakes, experts say

The gardening season is in full swing and the nurseries are full of enticing plants. If you have been waiting to add some new trees or replace ones that have outgrown their space, now is the best time to go shopping.

However, “do some research before you buy a tree,” says Tim Kohlhauff, a certified arborist and coordinator for the WSU Spokane County Extension Master Gardener Program. “Some of the biggest problems we see are when people buy a tree on an impulse, and it’s not right for their space.”

If you have your heart set on a particular variety of tree, take the time to study up on its growing requirements. Does it need full sun to flower profusely or can it handle some shade and still produce lots of flowers?

How much water does it need? Many people like paper bark birch or aspen and do not realize that both take a lot of water to do well. In nature, they are found along stream banks where their roots can access extra moisture. When they are planted in our gardens, or more specifically in the middle of the lawn, they often don’t get enough water. “People set their sprinklers to water their lawns but that usually doesn’t get enough water down to the tree roots,” says Kohlhauff. Instead Kohlhauff recommends setting trees on their own system and then running the system so that water gets deep into the soil where the tree roots are. This might mean running them for a couple of hours once a week. If you don’t have a separate system, then lay a hose under the trees and let it run for several hours before moving it to another spot.

Planting a new tree the right way can add years to its life span. Most ornamental trees are sold in pots or wrapped in burlap. When you get your tree home, keep it well-watered until it’s put into the ground.

When you are ready to plant it, dig a dish-shaped hole just a little deeper than the root ball and two to three times its width. If the tree is in a pot, gently remove the tree and set it in the hole. If the tree is wrapped in burlap, set the tree in the hole and gently remove the burlap and any string wrapped around the trunk. Now gently dig into the top of the rootball to find the point where the trunk flares out into the roots.

“Most trees are planted too deep in their pots at the wholesale nursery because they are easier to handle that way,” Kohlhauff said.

Backfill the hole with the soil you dug out so that the soil level is at the root flare point. Don’t add compost or other amendments as they are actually detrimental to the tree. Water the tree well to settle the soil.

During its first year, water it frequently, especially during the hottest part of the summer.

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