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How to Plant a Tree in a Container

Guest Author - Jessica Carson

Once you have selected your tree it should be planted in your container as soon as possible.

CONTAINER PREPARATION
Place your chosen container on bricks, pot feet or a trivet in the location where it will stay in your garden, or place it on top of a container caddy close to where it will be located. Make sure your container will have adequate drainage. Line the bottom of the container with a large mesh plastic or fiberglass screen to keep the soil from washing through. To ensure the best drainage, you can add 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) of gravel or broken pottery on top of the screen, but it’s not absolutely necessary if you’ve made a good, loose, well draining soil mixture and your container has several drain holes.

You will be planting your tree so that the top of the root ball or soil is even with the top of your container soil, or just a little above the container soil (do not plant below the soil level, this will hinder your tree’s growth and health). Add enough of your soil mixture to the bottom of your container so it will reach the bottom of the root ball with the tree at the right height in the container, packing the soil down or watering in every few inches.

Now plant your tree following the steps below for a bare root, burlap ball, or container-grown tree.

PLANTING A BARE-ROOT TREE
Bare-root trees are best planted during the dormant season from late Fall to early Spring. Your tree should be planted as soon as possible after arrival / purchase. If you must store it for a few days, keep it in a shady area and keep the root ball moist but not wet, either loosely planted in the ground or in a bucket of damp loose potting soil or wood chips..

1. Remove as much of the packing material from the tree roots as you can without harming the roots.
2. Place the root ball in a large bucket of water and gently rinse off the remaining packing material. Allow the tree roots to soak in the water for an hour or more, but for no longer than 4 or 5 hours.
3. Add a mound of soil in the middle of your prepared soil to within 5 inches (13cm) of the container top. Gently set the tree on top of this mound and arrange the roots over it, so they loosely fall down the sides of the mound all the way around. If needed, have another person hold the tree in place as you work, or prop the tree up with stakes. Add your soil mixture evenly around the root mound, watering in a little every few inches to make sure the soil gets into the root mass and there are no large air pockets. Continue until you have filled the container to where the roots join the tree trunk.

PLANTING A BURLAP-BALLED TREE
Balled-and-burlapped trees are best planted during the dormant season from late Fall to early Spring. Your tree should be planted as soon as possible after arrival / purchase. If you must store it for a few days, keep it in a shady area and keep the root ball moist and protected with damp mulch.

1. Remove any metal or plastic from around the root ball, leaving only the burlap and the tie around the trunk in place.
2. Gently set your tree on top of your prepared soil in the center of the container, burlap and all. If needed, have another person hold the tree in place or stake from the sides to hold it straight. Add your soil mixture evenly around the root ball, watering in a little every few inches to make sure the soil fills in around the root ball mass, until a few inches from the top of the root ball.
3. Remove the tie holding the burlap around the tree trunk. Use scissors to cut away the extra burlap from the top of the root ball, being careful not to damage the roots or the tree trunk, and tuck any loose ends of burlap down into the soil so they won't wick any of the water away from the roots. Continue adding your soil mixture until you have filled the container up to where the roots join the tree trunk.

PLANTING A CONTAINER-GROWN TREE
Container-grown trees can be planted year-round, but it is best to plant them in the Spring or Fall to avoid the hottest and coldest weather. Transplanting is a shock to container grown trees, and it is best to do it when the weather is mild or when the tree is dormant.

1. Gently lay the tree on its side (careful not to break any branches) and slide the growers' pot off of the roots and soil. If the tree is small you may be able to grasp it around the trunk and gently lift it out of the pot. If the tree is tightly bound, gently press on the pot to bend it an inch or two and let loose, then gently roll the tree 90 degrees and press again. The tree should now slide out of the container. Get help if needed, one person to hold the pot while the other gently pulls. If the pot is metal or peat, you can use tin snips or a knife to gently cut away the pot, being careful not to harm the tree roots.
2. If the roots are bound in a tight circle in the shape of the pot, gently wiggle them to loosen.
3. Gently set your tree on top of your prepared soil in the center of the container. If needed, have another person hold the tree in place or stake from the sides to hold it straight. Add your soil mixture evenly around the root and soil mass, watering in a little every few inches to make sure there are no large air pockets. Continue until you have filled the container up to the level of the soil in which the tree was grown.

CARING FOR YOUR NEWLY PLANTED TREE
Do one final watering in of your tree with a liquid transplant fertilizer solution, such as vitamin B1. This will encourage your tree to grow new roots and will lead to a stronger, healthier tree. For the first year avoid using fertilizers high in nitrogen (the first number in the three given on a fertilizer label). Nitrogen encourages leaf growth at the expense of root growth, and for the first year your tree needs to establish it's root system.

Water regularly, keeping the soil damp but not too wet. When the soil is dry an inch deep or more, water thoroughly. Make sure you water enough that the water seeps to the bottom of the container to encourage deep root growth.

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Containers and Soil for a Container Tree
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Content copyright © 2013 by Jessica Carson. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Jessica Carson. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Lestie Mulholland for details.

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