Unless you can time travel, the second best time to plant a tree is now. Trees can be planted throughout much of the year, and spring is a perfect time to plant a tree. Before trees set leaf buds is an optimal time as the tree isn’t under stress. It also satiates the need that at least a few readers have to be puttering outside when most plants can’t yet be out.
Now that the ground has defrosted, adequate holes can be dug without too much character building. Ha! Maybe not, if you’ve got lots of rocks. The depth will depend on the size of the root ball being planted. Dig deep enough so that the soil surface of the root ball is level with new soil surface. Make sure the base of the hole is solid, so that the tree mass will be supported firmly.
If roots are tight and curled from being cooped up in a container, take a few minutes to gently loosen them. This will encourage them to grow out and away from the trunk. Trees that have spent time in hard plastic containers often have curled roots, while balled and burlap packaged trees are usually not as curled.
Keep in mind that once the tree is nestled into the ground, your work really begins! You’ll need to water the tree regularly. Aim for a twice-a-week schedule that alternately wets and then dries the roots. The wet/dry cycle forces the roots to grow deeper. Not watering deeply enough entices the roots to remain shallow. You’ve watered enough if soil is moist 10-12” deep. A spade or long screwdriver is a handy tool to use to check.
Root feeders are an easy way to deliver water several inches below the soil surface, rather than waiting for water to percolate. An alternate method is burying vertical-oriented PVC pipes with holes drilled into the lower part to deliver water below the soil surface.
Tie out trees that are planted in windy areas for the first year. After that, the roots should have established themselves enough to support the tree. Then there is the task of trying to protect the tree from being browsed by deer. It’s a daunting task! A small, low profile cage to protect the truck is a good idea. It’s OK if a few branches are nibbled, but the trunk needs to be protected.
Remember that planting a tree is a commitment to a long-term relationship of care and nurturing. It’s going to be a few years before you don’t have to pamper your trees. In a Master Gardener class, the three-year tree growth cycle in Wyoming was described as; “Sleep, Creep, Leap.” My own experience was much slower: 3 years as a toothpick, then a Qtip, then Dumdum, then a TootsiePop, and then finally a small tree on it’s 7th year. My advice is to plant as large a tree as you can afford. (Yes, I said that even before starting to work at Sprouts!)
If you’re after shade as soon as possible, consider one of the faster growing species: cottonwood, willow, aspen and silver maple. The trade off for fast growth is less sturdy limbs. You’ll need to routinely evaluate the tree and prune it regularly to create as strong a structure as possible. Hardier trees, and hence a bit slower growing, include: ash, linden, honey locust, oaks, evergreens and especially spruce.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, we’ve got a wide variety of trees available for you. Take a look here for catalogs of shade trees, flowering trees, and evergreens. While you’re at it, browse around our newly designed web page! Trees are a great gift for future generations. We in Lander are fortunate that others before us planted so many lovely trees- let’s pay it forward!