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How to plant a tree

Plant a tree? Sure! If Queen Elizabeth II is out there doing it in her mid-80s, you can too. Of course, HM has a retinue of staffers who do the heavy lifting: digging the hole, finding and positioning the tree, taking care of it afterward. She need only show up, brandish the royal spade, and ceremoniously flick a few scoops of impossibly well-groomed soil onto the spot.

For the rest of us, mere monarchs of a back 40 (be that inches, feet, acres or miles), the job of tree planting can be considerably more work unless we know what to do.

"There's a reason landscaping is a profession,'' said Sean Barry, a spokesman for the Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City, Neb. "It's possible to do it on one's own but there are a lot of steps and the possibility for a lot of mistakes."

Here are steps from the foundation for smart tree planting. Use them, if you like, on Earth Day, April 22. Note: Trees are sold in containers, with bare roots, or with the root ball wrapped in burlap; here is the foundation's advice on how to plant the latter. (Its website (arborday.org) offers information and videos on planting both types.)

Degree of difficulty: Medium-low: Follow planting directions properly and you're all set.

Tools needed: Shovel; work gloves; measuring tape or stick; tarp; wire cutters; utility knife; rake; garden hose; pruners. Optional: rototiller, wheelbarrow.

Choosing a tree: You want the right tree in the right place on your property. Consider the height of the mature tree, how wide it will spread, what sort of shade it will provide. Will it drop fruit or make a mess of any sidewalk? Will it grow successfully in your climate? Talk it through with experts at your local cooperative extension service.

Prepare the site: Dig a saucer-shaped hole two or three times as wide but just as deep as the root ball, placing the soil on a tarp. (Rototilling an area five times the diameter and as deep as the root ball first will make hole digging easier.) The hole should have sloping sides; don't disturb the soil at the bottom of the hole.

Planting: Set the tree in the middle of the hole, handling the tree by the root ball and not the trunk. The tree's root collar, or flare, (where the roots meet the trunk) should be slightly above ground level; add some soil under the root ball, if necessary, to achieve proper height. Cut away any wires, rope or twine from the root ball; remove any nails from the burlap. Pull the burlap back; cut off the loose material. You may leave regular burlap under the root ball; vinyl or treated burlap must be removed.

Standing tall: Is the tree standing straight? Stand back to make sure. Shovel the original soil around the root ball, packing it firmly to eliminate air pockets. Stop filling when the soil is level just below the root collar; rake the soil to create a shallow basin to hold water.

Finishing touches: Water the tree well. Spread mulch 2 to 4 inches deep over the entire area of the filled hole, making sure the mulch is about 4 inches away from the trunk. Keep the mulch and soil around the tree moist but not soggy. Water every 7 to 10 days in dry weather during the tree's first year. Remove any tags or labels from the tree. Prune any broken or dead branches.

wdaley@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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