planting

Fall is a Great Time to Plant Trees

Autumn is an ideal time to plant a tree is as the airtemperatures have cooled but the soil is still warm. Warm soil temperatures encourage root growth while decreasing light and day length signal the plant to stop producing top growth. Roots will continue to grow until the soil freezes and the tree enters dormancy. Growth will pick up again in spring as the plant continues to get established in its new location.

The mechanics of planting a tree are pretty standard: dig a hole, put the tree in the hole (root end down) and backfill the hole. Just how each step is done will determine the long term success of the tree’s survival. New trees may be sold as bare-root, container grown, or balled-and burlapped. Trees purchased through the mail typically arrive as a bare-root stock. Local garden centers and nurseries often sell smaller trees in a plastic container filled with a soilless mix. Balled-and-burlapped trees are larger, field-grown specimens. They are dug and the root-ball is wrapped in burlap, which is then tied around the base of the trunk. Sometimes balled-and burlapped trees also have a metalcage placed around the burlap to make transport easier and hold the root-ball together.

The planting hole should be dug only as deep as the root ball or bottom of container but two to three times as wide. Most trees do not grow taproots, but rather the majority of roots will grow in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil, spreading out in all directions. Planting depth is the most critical part of the planting process. Roots belong below ground and all bark should be above the soil line. Look at the tree to find the point where the bottom of the trunk flares out. This basal flare should always be exposed and not buried in the soil. More trees are killed each year by planting them too deep. Don’t let your new tree become one of them.

Before planting, remove the plant from the container and examine the roots. Loosen the roots slightly by gently pulling them apart. If the roots are circling the inside of the container, coax them apart and give them a trim. This will encourage them to leave the circular shape in which they were growing and enter the new surrounding ground. Bare-root trees should be placed atop a cone of soil mounded on the bottom of the planting hole before spreading out the roots.

Balled-and-burlapped trees must have all of the burlap, caging and twine removed for long-lived success. Today’s burlap is treated with chemicals to keep if from decomposing and lasts much longer in the soil than the old, untreated version. The burlap will restrict the roots from reaching into the surrounding soil. Twine can girdle the tree, eventually killing it. Root cages are made of metal and will take many decades to decompose. Roots can become girdled once they grow through the openings in the cage, effectively choking the tree after a decade or more. There is also the danger of broken and rusty metal poking up when working around the tree. Cut all packing material off, even if this has to be done after the tree is placed into the hole.

Loosen the soil in the hole and water well to prepare the hole for the placement of the tree. Adding compost or other organic matter is not needed. Limestone and phosphorus may be mixed with the backfill soil if determined necessary by a soil test. Set the tree’s basal flare slightly above the soil line to account for any settling. Back fill hole with existing soil. Create a ring or berm of soil about a foot away from the trunk to hold water and let it soak into the root area. Mulch can placed outside of the berm to retain moisture. Never place mulch against the bark or root of the bark can happen. Water again immediately after planting and then weekly, if no natural

precipitation occurs, for at least one year during fall, spring and winter to ensure a well-developed root system. Do not add water if the ground is frozen.

Staking plants is no longer a recommended practice as trees develop stronger trunks and root systems when allowed to sway and move with the wind. Trees can be fertilized once a year in the spring. If the tree is planted within a fertilized lawn, it will usually receive adequate nutrients from lawn fertilizer applications so additional sources of nutrients may not be needed.

– Carol Quish, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Originally published by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center

Don’t Be Too Eager to Work That Soil!

By: Penn State Extension

soilWorking soil that is too wet results in soil compaction. Learn how to test your soil to see whether it is too wet to till or plant.

As I write this, we’ve had some substantial rain lately, with more forecast in the near future.  This time of year, everyone is ready to put winter behind them, and turn the page to another growing season.  One of the first activities in the spring is tilling the soil for spring planting.  However, damage can be done rather quickly by getting into the fields when soil is too wet, causing soil compaction.

Soil compaction occurs when soil aggregates and particles are compressed into a smaller volume.  As soil is compacted, the amount of open pore, or void space, decreases and the density, or weight of the soil increases considerably.  Excessively compacted soil can result in problems such as poor root penetration, reduced internal soil drainage, reduced rainfall infiltration, and lack of soil aeration from larger macropores.  Most soil compaction occurs from machinery being driven over a field when conditions are too wet, and may lead to reduced yields of 10-20%.

To determine whether your soil is dry enough to work, a simple test can be performed.  Using a trowel or a spade, dig a small amount of soil and squeeze it in your hand.  Does the soil stick together in a ball or crumble apart?  Soil that crumbles through your fingers when squeezed is ready to till.  If, however, the soil forms a muddy ball and will not fall apart, give the soil another few days to dry, and sample again later.

If you suspect you may have soil compaction, a tool called a penetrometer may be able to help you determine your depth of soil compaction.  Based on the depth and severity of compaction, you will be able to identify corrective measures.  Some of these measures include deep tillage, and more recently, the use of cover crops.

For more information on soil compaction, see http://extension.psu.edu/agronomy-guide

When to Turn Under Spring Cover Crops?

spring maple buds

I heard the peepers last night for the first time this year. There have already been a couple of sunny, almost warm, spring-like weeks in my neighborhood. Recently the overwintered rye has switched its dull reddish-green color scheme to bright green.

I remember reading a couple of years ago that stands of overwintered rye, if killed early, will provide the most nitrogen value.  Incorporating the young plants when they are just beginning to grow, will give as much as a 30-50 lb N credit. Providing soils are dry enough to drive onto, the best time to kill winter rye is when plants are no more than 6-8 inches tall and shortly after they have greened up.

Usually a light harrowing can kill winter rye when root crowns are small and the young stalks are not yet fibrous.  Allowing rye to continue to grow will put on biomass, however, the early spring nitrogen credit will be lost.  Nitrogen scavenged the previous fall and held in its roots throughout the winter will be utilized to put on rapid spring growth. Additional nitrogen will be required to mineralize it, when incorporated into the soil later in the spring.

If significant biomass is one’s goal, as well as field grown nitrogen, it’s better to seed a legume into one’s fall planted winter rye. Let the green manure cover crops grow to full maturity late into May or early June. Then turn them under and allow them to slowly break down to feed later summer cash crops.

Meanwhile, utilize the extensive root growth of an overwintered cover crop and benefit from the value of its winter carry over of “free” nitrogen. Many overwintering cover crops give the most value if you turn them under quite early.

— Eero Ruuttila,

Sustainable Agriculture Specialist – Scaling Up Program

UConn Extension – Tolland County

Information on early killing of spring cover crops came from the March 2011 Cornell VegEdge newsletter, authored by Thomas Bjorkman