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Good Growing

Plant a Tree

April is almost here and the last Friday in April is celebrated as Arbor Day. Arbor Day was first declared by J. Sterling Morton in January of 1872 to be recognized on April 10, 1872. That day it's estimated over 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska. The Governor of Nebraska officially proclaimed Arbor Day in 1874. Other states began to declare Arbor Day's during the 1870's by 1882 it was a tradition in schools nationwide. Today Arbor Day is officially recognized as the last Friday in April.

The saying goes the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the next best time is today. Trees provide us with a multitude of benefits and I will always encourage people to plant more trees. A study was released in 2001 titled Gray to Green: Reversing the National Urban Tree Deficit that stated that in the U.S. we are facing a more than 630 million tree deficit in urban forests and a study from the U.S. Forest Service in 2012 states that we are losing more than 4 million trees per year. If that's not reason to plant a tree, I'm not sure what is.

If you do decide to plant a tree the first step is to select the right tree for the right location. Make sure to give the tree space to grow. If you have space for a small tree one that might not grow bigger than 15 feet don't chose a tree that will grow to 30 feet. Right plant, right place includes choosing a plant that is good for the location based on spacing/size, soil conditions, light availability, etc.

Here are the steps to proper tree planting:

  1. Choose a tree that is right for the location – Right Plant, Right Place.
  1. Contact JULIE to have utilities marked by calling 811 or online at
  1. When ready to dig, dig a hole that is 2-3 times WIDER than the root ball and never deeper than the root ball. Digging a hole deeper and then filling it back in will only cause the soil to settle and then you have a tree that's been planted too deeply. On heavy clay soils or heavily compacted soils you can plant the tree higher to help with drainage and dig the hole 3-4 times wider than the root ball.
  1. Remove materials surrounding the root ball. If in a container score the root ball which is especially important if the roots are circling the container. If you're planting a ball and burlapped tree, place the tree in the planting hole and remove all twine from the tree and remove the wire basket and burlap as far down as possible.
  1. When backfilling only use the soil that you dug out from the surrounding area. If there is a high clay content mix in organic matter. Gentle tamp down the soil to get rid of air pockets but don't overly compact the soil.
  1. Mulch. Only use organic based mulches. Rock mulch and trees don't get along what so ever and rock mulch doesn't provide the same level of benefits as organic based mulches. Mulch your trees 2-4 inches deep, keeping the mulch away from being directly on the trunk of the tree. You can even create a "donut" mulch ring to help direct water to the root ball after planting. Organic based mulches help to retain moisture, insulate the soil from temperature extremes, prevent mechanical damage from lawn mowers and weed whips by eliminating the need to use them near the trunk of the tree, and adds organic matter back over time.
  1. Water. Trees need water during establishment and even after during dry conditions. The first three years after planting are critical for watering newly planted trees. Assume 1.5 –3 gallons of water per inch diameter of trunk every 5-7 days unless it's hot and dry. Make sure to check the soil as well in between watering. Surround soil can steal moisture away from the root ball. If the top few inches of the root ball are dry, go ahead and water.
  1. Staking. Only stake your tree if it's in a windy area. All too often we stake trees unnecessarily or improperly, often times we stake trees to rigidly.

You can find out more information about tree planting by contacting your local Extension office or visiting, a website developed by the International Society of Arboriculture.