How to plant a Tree | Advice from Ashridge Nurseries
How to Plant Bareroot Trees
This guide to planting trees is for those who like words. If you prefer pictures, you may find it helpful to watch video on how to plant a bareroot tree.
All bare rooted trees (fruit or ornamental) need the same basic treatment before, during and after planting. Follow these simple instructions and they will establish well.
Bare root trees cannot stand their roots drying out. Once dry, they will at best struggle and at worst die. Plant roots store nourishment which is used to regenerate themselves when transplanted, fuel growth in spring, survive droughts and fight disease. As the roots dry out, that nourishment is lost and cannot be replaced. So dry roots mean dead trees. At the same time the roots need to breathe and with very few exceptions, putting them in a bucket of water and leaving them there for more than a day will kill them about as quickly as their drying out. So:
On receipt open the packaging carefully and put your hand down inside the bag(s). If the roots feel damp you need to do nothing for the time being. Keep them in the bag and check them daily - if they feel as if they are drying out take the trees out and dunk the roots in a bucket of water for a few minutes and then put them back in the bag.
Until planting, store the trees in their bags in a cool place out of the sun and out of the wind.
On planting day have a bucket of water by you as you plant. Keep the trees in their bags and take them out one at a time as each is planted. Wet the tree roots well immediately before they go into their hole, sprinkle Rootgrow on to them while they are wet and cover with your planting mixture before they have a chance to dry out.
2. Holes, soil and planting depth
Bareroot trees have their roots cut back when they are lifted. This is normal and roots regenerate well (although we recommend Rootgrow to speed the process enormously). To help the new roots grow, the soil around them (your planting mixture) should be as fine as you can make it. Remove stones, weed roots and other unwanted rubbish. Mix the soil from the hole with about 25% of its own volume of good garden compost or well rotted manure. Work it all together making sure any clods are broken up. This is the planting mixture you will return to the hole, around the tree's roots.
The planting hole should be square and wide rather than deep. We recommend a hole that is 1 metre (3 feet) square and 30 cms (12 inches deep). Once it is dug out, roughly break up the floor of the hole to help drainage and root penetration.
Bang in the tree stake off centre in the direction the prevailing wind comes from so the tree is blown away from it rather than pushed (and rubbed) against it. Offer the tree up to the hole to make sure it is deep enough and that the roots are not cramped. Build a mound of planting mix in the centre of the hole to lift the tree up to the point where it is at the same level relative to the surrounding ground as it was before it was lifted. (There is usually a "high water mark" just above the roots which shows where the soil was in the nursery). In the books this is called the "root collar" and it can also be identified by a bulge in the trunk just above the roots.
When the tree is planted the surrounding soil should be at the level of, or slightly lower than the root collar. Planting too shallow is not serious. Planting too deep is. After lack of water, the main cause of failure with bareroot trees is they are planted TOO DEEP in the ground. While bark is designed to withstand animal and insect attack, it rots easily under the soil. Then the flow of sap from the roots to the tree is interrupted and the tree dies.
Use a tree tie to attach the tree to the stake which will help hold it in place - very useful if you are planting single handed. The tie should be low down - we suggest it should be 30-45cms above soil level. If it is too high the trunk of the tree will not strengthen as it grows larger and the head will be in danger of breaking off in the wind. When the tree is upright, dampen the roots again and sprinkle them with Rootgrow. Then carefully return the planting mix to the hole gently firming with the ball of your foot as you go.
3. Firming the plant in the ground
Be firm! Once the planting mix is all back in the hole, firm it down again . Don't stamp, but use your full weight and walk round the top of the planting hole. Roots need to be in contact with the surrounding soil to grow, and they need support from the surrounding soil to prevent the tree above being rocked by the wind. Take a look at our planting films to see how firmly a professional sets his plants.
This one is simple. Keep the weeds away and make sure the roots have enough water. Watering heavily every few days in a dry spring and summer is much better than watering a little every day. Once the ground is soaked, it will stay moist for some time. The trick with watering is to dig down near the roots (about couple of inches) and if the soil is dry it's time to water.
You can see all our native and ornamental trees in standard sizes here.