Now that you've selected the plants and trees, you can do some things to ensure that they become re-established in their new homes and flourish for years to come.
Diameter of the planting hole is especially important. The hole should be at least twice the diameter of the soil ball, even wider if the soil is heavy. And never plant the tree or shrub deeper than it previously grew. Poke around soil at the base of the trunk to be sure the soil hasn't been inadvertently piled up at the base of the plant. If the plant is balled and burlapped, use the soil line on the trunk as an indicator of how deeply to plant it.
Although it might be easier on you, never pick up a plant by its trunk because the weight of the soil can put too much strain on roots, causing them to break or tear.
Gently place the plant in the hole at the correct depth. If it's enclosed in natural jute burlap, pull the covering back and remove the twine. It's critical to remove burlap if you believe any plastic might be in this material. Otherwise, it will be like trying to get the plant to grow in a container for the remainder of its life - and this will be a short life.
(If you're not sure what type the burlap is, strike a match and try to burn a piece of the material. Natural burlap will burn, plastic will melt.)
Backfill the hole with soil you removed from it, minus any rocks or other foreign material. Don't add peat moss, compost or other amendments to soil going back into the hole. This is especially important in heavy clay, poor soils. Gently pack soil around the plant ball and water soil halfway through the planting process; then fill the rest of the hole without packing the soil and water again.
Afterwards, put mulch around the shrub or tree to a depth of two to two and one-half inches, but no deeper. Piling mulch around the trunk in a volcano-like fashion will cause bark decay and disease problems. Even a small amount of mulch at the base of the trunk will attract rodents who cause feeding damage; so leave two to three inches of soil exposed at the base of the trunk.
It's generally not necessary to stake trees, unless they were bought as bare-root plants. Unstaked trees grow better because the trunk diameter develops faster and the tree produces a more vigorous root system. If you do stake trees, be sure the stakes don't come into contact with the trunk because this rubbing will create an entry site for diseases and insects.
Water is the most important thing a newly planted shrub or tree will need to become re-established. So, water once a week for the first year. Apply water to a depth of about one inch each time, or enough to wet the soil to a depth of five to six inches.
It's not necessary to fertilize newly transplanted trees and shrubs for the first year or two. Fertilizing too soon causes more vegetative growth than the root system can supply with water and nutrients.
For more information, contact the Boyle County Cooperative Extension Service at (859) 236-4484.
Jerry Little is Boyle County extension agent for agriculture/natural resources.