Tree Care Tips

Don't let these common tree-care myths prevent you from taking proper care of your landscape trees.

| April/May 1993


You may be stunting your favorite tree by giving it the wrong kind of TLC.


In the 1800s, many American citizens became alarmed by the rapid deforestation occurring across the country. Determined and public-spirited people gathered and assisted one another with foresting and reforesting scantily wooded areas and small towns. In 1872, this movement was taken a step further when Julius S. Morton of Nebraska succeeded in convincing his state to set apart one day, April 10, to systematically plant as many trees as possible. When legislature eventually declared this day a national holiday, they decided to hold it on April 22, Morton's Birthday. In honor of Arbor Day, we have asked garden writer Patricia Fletcher and horticulturist Dr. Richard Harris to dispel the top-10 myths regarding proper tree care. And come April 22, we encourage you to plant a tree or two yourself … or at least hug one. 

Myth: A tree that looks lush and full at the nursery will grow and flourish in the landscape.

We often equate good looks with good health. But to choose a tree based solely on appearance is to ignore a possible life-threatening condition of container-grown or balled-and-burlapped plants. Because of the confinement of containers, trees sold at nurseries sometimes have dangerous circling root systems that may literally strangle the plant in later years. Always check the top of the root ball for girdling or kinked roots and straighten them out when planting.

Myth: The planting hole should be twice the depth of the root ball.

Gardeners tend to have deep thoughts about planting. It's an all-too-common practice to dig a planting hole bigger than necessary. However, unless the soil is compacted, the planting hole should be dug as deep-if not less so-than the soil level in the container.

The root ball should be planted high and proud, with its top at least an inch above the surrounding finished grade in all but sandy soils. This is because-after planting and watering-the root ball may settle in the planting hole and then become covered with soil, which creates a barrier to water penetration. "I've seen cases where the soil on top and around the root ball is muddy and the root ball is dusty dry:' says Harris.

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