What To Know When Buying a Tree - 27 East

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What To Know When Buying a Tree

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A series of 10 large Bradford pears were planted a number of years ago and for nearly a decade they languished. When they were dug, balled and burlapped during a construction project it became apparent they were planted on top of heavy clay soil that rarely drained when irrigated or after heavy rains. ANDREW MESSINGER

A series of 10 large Bradford pears were planted a number of years ago and for nearly a decade they languished. When they were dug, balled and burlapped during a construction project it became apparent they were planted on top of heavy clay soil that rarely drained when irrigated or after heavy rains. ANDREW MESSINGER

These balled and burlapped maples and junipers look like they’ve been well cared for. There are no signs of browning or tip dieback and the root balls are tight and look firm as the twine and wire cages keep the soil intact. At 20 percent off, they look like good deals but not a planting job for the average homeowner. ANDREW MESSINGER

These balled and burlapped maples and junipers look like they’ve been well cared for. There are no signs of browning or tip dieback and the root balls are tight and look firm as the twine and wire cages keep the soil intact. At 20 percent off, they look like good deals but not a planting job for the average homeowner. ANDREW MESSINGER

Just because they’re 25 percent off does not mean they’re a great buy. Note the trees in the background where there is no foliage on the upper branches. This can be a good indicator that they’ve been in the containers for too long and there’s been root damage. ANDREW MESSINGER

Just because they’re 25 percent off does not mean they’re a great buy. Note the trees in the background where there is no foliage on the upper branches. This can be a good indicator that they’ve been in the containers for too long and there’s been root damage. ANDREW MESSINGER

Just because they’re 25 percent off does not mean they’re a great buy. Note the trees in the background where there is no foliage on the upper branches. This can be a good indicator that they’ve been in the containers for too long and there’s been root damage.   ANDREW MESSINGER

Just because they’re 25 percent off does not mean they’re a great buy. Note the trees in the background where there is no foliage on the upper branches. This can be a good indicator that they’ve been in the containers for too long and there’s been root damage. ANDREW MESSINGER

This is one of the two sugar maples that were planted at my upstate house two years ago. If you look carefully you can see the root collar about 2 inches above the soil. The collar should never be below the soil line, always above it. The entire planting is above the surrounding soil level with a light mulch to help retain moisture. I left one wire from the stake to the trunk for the picture, but it’s not attached to the tree any longer. The stakes were left in place because the phoebes like to perch on them while they spy the insects on the lawn and in the air before they become meals. Three years after planting, the tips of the branches are starting to show new growth, a good sign that the roots are growing well.   ANDREW MESSINGER

This is one of the two sugar maples that were planted at my upstate house two years ago. If you look carefully you can see the root collar about 2 inches above the soil. The collar should never be below the soil line, always above it. The entire planting is above the surrounding soil level with a light mulch to help retain moisture. I left one wire from the stake to the trunk for the picture, but it’s not attached to the tree any longer. The stakes were left in place because the phoebes like to perch on them while they spy the insects on the lawn and in the air before they become meals. Three years after planting, the tips of the branches are starting to show new growth, a good sign that the roots are growing well. ANDREW MESSINGER

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Sep 14, 2023
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

A few years ago I realized that the large maple tree along our driveway at our upstate home had to come down. I relied on that tree for shade, and taking down a living thing that had probably lived over a hundred years was not an easy decision and made me incredibly sad. But the decision was ultimately between the tree falling on the house and being preemptive.

The massive sugar maple also provided me with bushels and bushels of leaves in the fall that ultimately became shredded for mulch or added to the compost where they would eventually become humus and be returned to the earth. It was those thoughts that lifted the veil of sadness.

Once the tree was cut down to a 48-inch-wide stump, it was time to find a replacement. There was no way I was going to do anything other than the shopping because I was looking for a 15-to-20-foot-tall replacement, and that planting job is not one that you nor I should be considering. So, the visits to nurseries began and I was lucky to find two candidates: one for the tree just removed and a second for a tree that will probably come down next year.

On the other hand, because of the ongoing drought on the East End I have advised you for the past several years to try to avoid planting new specimen trees and shrubs. They had undoubtedly been stressed in the nurseries and that presented risks that could be avoided by just waiting and being patient. Not a well-known trait of Hamptonites.

Oh, how things have changed. And with the copious rains that we’ve had in the past several months this is indeed a banner year for planting large specimen trees and shrubs. The ground is moist, it looks like a mild and moist fall is on the way, and the nursery stock is looking pretty good with some excellent bargains. More will be showing up as the nurseries dig and the garden centers begin to discount their existing inventories so they don’t have to hold on to the plants over the winter.

Yes, we have some of the most expensive nurseries in the country. But they are also some of the best. Expect to pay a premium except when a place like Marders has its fall sale, and Marders does have some pretty spectacular trees and shrubs. Also remember that there are other nurseries on the North Fork and farther west. The better local garden centers have access to East End wholesale nurseries that also grow great material. Try to find trees that have been grown on Long Island as they will tend to do best when compared to material dug and trucked in from nurseries farther south and west.

When you purchase a large specimen you’ll have several planting options. The first is to find the plant of your dreams and plant it yourself. If you do this, and I don’t recommend it, your tree or shrub should come with a one-year warranty. On the other hand if the nursery does the planting they will probably give you a two-year warranty. This is an important consideration when you’re spending a thousand to tens of thousands of dollars for specimen plantings.

Even if you have 100 percent faith in the company doing the planting you should watch and know what to expect. The laborers doing the work may not be able to answer your technical questions, but the planting supervisor should, so hit him or her with your questions and don’t be shy. How deep and wide should the planting hole be? Does the burlap need to be removed? Does the tree need to be staked and how many stakes? Does it need fertilizer? How often does it need to be watered and for how many months or years?

Modern planting methods are very different from 20 and 30 years ago. Back then huge holes were dug that were both deep and wide. Not anymore. Planting holes are now only moderately larger than the root ball of the tree or shrub and in some cases only a foot wider and deeper. Most landscapers and nurseries will use a backfill material that they will bring in on a truck or make it on site. It will consist of a good loam that will hold moisture and should have a biostimulant like Roots or BioTone mixed in with the backfill. These are not fertilizers but root stimulants to encourage new root growth and expansion.

Avoid planting holes where clay shows up. The East End has spots where several feet of clay can show up a few feet below the topsoil, and planting in these spots can result in plantings that drain poorly and result in long and tortuous planting failures.

Ask if the tree has been balled in a synthetic burlap or a natural one. Is the roping or twine that surrounds the root ball natural or synthetic? Natural burlap and twine are always preferred as they degrade once planted and if property sliced and cut won’t inhibit new root growth. The synthetic burlap and twine can last for years and if not removed or cut away properly will cause problems down the road.

Planting depth is critical. Poorly trained or amateur planters tend to plant too deep and this can lead to a planting that will fail slowly over a period of years. The rule is “when in doubt, plant high.” The crew should know where the finished soil line should be in relationship to a point we call the root collar.

When the planting is completed there should be an earthen swale around the planting hole that will allow water to slowly seep down into the root zone. The staking is as much of an art as it is a science. New trees are staked to keep them stable in the planting hole while the roots establish. The object is to keep the tree upright with a little bit of give. We don’t want the tree tied to the stakes so tightly that the trunk will snap when the tree is fully leafed out during a wind event. The staking also ensures that new roots are not ripped and torn during a wind event. Staking should usually remain in place for two years.

Some planters will use wire stays to hold the tree to the staking and others may use rubber devices. When wire is used they’ll run the wire through rubber hose to keep the wire from biting into the tree trunk, and rubber devices should be around the trunk in a manner that avoids friction and rubbing against the bark.

How often you need to water and how much will depend on the size of the tree, rainfall and if it’s in leaf or not. Most should still be watered until the ground is frozen or very cold. We used to think that tree root growth stopped in winter. Out here where the ground rarely freezes very deep you can expect that root growth will continue, though more slowly, through the winter. The installers may use a watering device called a “gator” or similar device that holds several gallons of water that is slowly released over hours or days.

Much of this advice applies to transplanting trees and shrubs on your property. This work can be done by hand digging with an experienced crew. They may ball and burlap the tree while it’s being moved, and this is usually a good idea. The rest of the details are the same as noted above, but don’t expect the tree’s survival to be guaranteed. Also make sure this is the best time of the year for moving the tree or shrub you have in mind. Some require fall transplanting and others prefer spring.

Other options for transplanting larger trees and shrubs include using a tree spade mounted on the back of a truck or trailer. Large triangular blades are pneumatically pushed into the root zone severing the roots and allowing the tree to be easily removed or placed in a large wire basket. Some pros prefer this method and some prefer B&B.

What to expect? A general rule that’s used for transplanting large trees is to allow one year of recovery for every inch of trunk diameter at breast height (DBH). It’s always been a hard concept for some to understand, especially for those who believe that money can make anything happen now. In some cases, maybe. In this case — just won’t happen.

A more recent method is called air spading. This method involves using air to blow all the soil off the roots of the tree allowing it to be moved with all the roots intact but without any soil. It works well and can be used on very large trees allowing them to be moved and replanted with little to no effect on the tree. I don’t know if any of the East End nurseries are using this method but if you’ve got a very large tree, you want moved, seek out a nursery that has done and can do air spading. Keep growing.

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