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Best way to plant trees
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This Friday is Arbor Day. At 3:30 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park, three new Dawson County Champion Trees and one new State Champion Tree from Dawson County will be announced.

Also, at the event, River Birch trees will be planted to honor the 2011 Tree Preservationist. The public is welcome.

Since we are on the subject of trees, the American Forestry Association, in cooperation with the National Urban Forest Council, has drawn up guidelines for how to plant a tree. Changes are needed in both the way we think about trees and the way we plant them. You may find some surprising.

Plant trees so roots have a chance to grow into the surrounding soil and produce healthy, vigorous branches, foliage and roots.

Instead of a planting hole, make a large planting area that is wide, but not deep, with soil that is loose for root growth. The larger the area the better.

After selecting a suitable location, mark out a planting area five times the diameter of the planting ball. Use a rototiller or a shovel to loosen and mix the soil in this entire area to a depth of about 12 inches. Organic matter can be added to the loosened soil as long as the material is used uniformly throughout the area.

In the center of the prepared area, dig a shallow hole to set the tree.

The hole should allow the root ball to sit on solid ground rather than loose soil. Once the ball is set in the hole, its upper surface should be level with the existing soil.

After the tree is properly situated, cut and remove the rope, twine or wires holding the burlap in place and circling the trunk.

Position the tree so it is perpendicular to the ground and the main stem is straight up.

Backfill around the root area, and gently pack the soil to prevent major air pockets, but it is a mistake to pack the soil too hard.

Water can be used instead of your foot to help the soil settle and prevent overpacking.

Rake the soil even over the entire area, and cover it with 2-4 inches of mulch - bark, wood chips, old sawdust, pine needles, leaf mold or the like.

Some mulches decompose quickly and will have to be replenished once or twice a year. Maintaining the mulch layer will improve the growth substantially.

Some planting recommendations suggest mounding the soil at the outer edge of the planting ring to form a water-holding berm. The berm will help hold water, but it may also encourage the root growth to remain within the berm, close to the tree.

The American Forestry Association does not recommend berms; mulch should hold the water adequately. The main thing is to check the soil to make sure it does not stay too dry or wet.

It is best not to stake the tree, but if wind is a problem or the tree starts to lean, support it with a flexible stake so the trunk will sway in the wind. Movement is necessary for building the trunk's strength. Remove the stake and wire after one year since leaving wire around the tree can kill it.

Do not wrap the trunk with Tree Wrap. It will slow the tree's ability to adapt to the site and may provide a cozy home for insects. The wrap is often held in place with ties at the top and bottom that will strangle a tree just as wire will.

Tree bark needs air and sunlight in order to build a healthy, protective bark. I admit this method of tree planting is a more involved process. New information requires more thought and more labor, but the result is also very rewarding.

Clark Beusse is the Dawson County extension agent. For more information, call (706)265-2442.