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Tips for successful tree planting

Students plant an apple tree

Spring planting season is coming, whether it’s fields of soybeans, a few tomato plants, a flower bed or trees. Besides their natural beauty, trees provide clean air, filter our water and help save on home energy bills. It’s no wonder we dedicate the entire month of May as Arbor Month to celebrate the ways trees contribute to our lives and society.

Matt Russell, a University of Minnesota Extension specialist in forest resources, offers some tips to help your spring tree-planting go smoothly.

Before you plant

Choose a tree species that will thrive in your location

Minnesota’s climate and ecology vary from one part of the state to another. Extension’s tree recommendations by region can help you figure out which trees will grow well in your environment. Also consider the specific location of the tree, such as how much shade or sunlight it will receive and if it’s near a street or under power lines.

Plan ahead

Planting a tree is a long-term investment, so it’s important to put some thought into your choice. For woodland owners planting large numbers of trees, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and your local Soil and Water Conservation District sell tree seedlings in bulk. Some of the more popular species often sell out, so order early. Those planting trees on a smaller scale will likely purchase from a local nursery.

Bare-root, containerized or balled and burlapped?

You can buy trees in three different ways. Bare-root trees do not have soil attached to them and are purchased when the trees are dormant, typically in the spring. You will need to plant bare-root trees quickly after getting them. Containerized (potted) trees have their roots in soil and can be planted any time during the growing season. Balled and burlapped trees and shrubs have already grown for a few years and are sold with a ball of soil around the roots. Balled and burlapped trees are commonly planted in yards and community landscapes (and are most expensive), while bare-root trees are commonly planted across large acreages (and are the least expensive).

During and after planting

Plant more than one species

“Increasing the diversity of trees around our homes, communities and woodlands can reduce risks from insects, diseases and other plant pest problems,” says Russell. It also means that if a pest damages some trees, it’s more likely that others will survive.

Don’t plant it and forget it

Newly planted trees require attention and care as they adapt to their new home. Water them weekly until the ground freezes during their first year. Many species, especially pines, oaks and cedars are susceptible to browsing by deer, and should be protected. Some trees might need to staked while their root systems develop. A tree should be staked if its root system is not developed enough to support its weight or if it is planted in a windy area.

Set realistic goals

Make tree planting enjoyable by involving your family members and creating a shared experience that you'll remember. Don’t overwhelm yourself with planting trees. In particular, if you're a woodland owner and you want to plant across several acres, be realistic about your goals.

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