How To Plant a Balled and Burlapped Tree

Balled and burlapped (B&B) trees are easy to grow when planted right and in the right spot. 

Here's a breakdown of what you need to know...

With the exception of a few types of trees that can tolerate a boggy soil, such as willows and river birch, most trees will appreciate a well-drained moist soil.

How To Test Soil Drainage  If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant your tree, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you might need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound or bed, or look for a tree that is more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.

Soil pH
When planting trees it's always a good idea to know the soil pH in the planting site. Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, or whether or not it's suitable for growing the type(s) of trees you intend on planting, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe

NOTE:  You do not need to adjust soil pH before planting your tree(s). Go ahead and plant and then take measures to adjust soil pH. If after testing, you find that the soil pH in the planting area is outside the range in which your tree prefers, there are ways to adjust it. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil SulfurAluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.

Light Needs
Know the sunlight needs of your tree. Make sure to plant your tree in a site that will provide it with the amount of sunlight it needs. 

Step-By-Step Planting Instructions 

Step 1
Before digging the planting hole, measure and record the height of the root ball of your tree. Measure from the base of the root ball to the root collar, as shown in the diagram below. This will ensure that the root collar will be at or slightly above ground level when your tree is planted. 

Step 2
Dig a saucer-shaped hole that is at least 2 times as wide as the root ball of your tree, and no deeper than the height of the root ball. The wider the planting hole the better as this will provide more soft soil for the new roots of your tree to grow through. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole.

Step 3
Depending on the type of tree you're planting and it's soil needs it may be beneficial to amend the native soil. When planting a tree that appreciates a fertile, loose soil in dense clay or very poor soils it is beneficial to thoroughly mix in some bagged top soil or a good planting mix at a 25% ratio with the native soil removed from the planting hole. When planting a tree that prefers a moist soil in very sandy, quick-draining soil you might want to consider mixing in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost to help retain moisture. When planting in fertile, well-drained moist soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment.

Step 4
Carefully set your tree in the center of the planting hole so that the top of the root ball is one or two inches above the existing grade, as shown in the diagram below. If the root ball of your field-grown tree is in a wire basket, DO NOT remove this basket or any tie-ropes or burlap until your tree has been set in the hole and back-filled to the halfway point.

Step 5
Once your tree has been positioned, back fill the planting hole to half the height of the root ball. Then cut and remove any rope or tie-material and use wire cutters to cut away the parts of the wire basket that are showing. You can also cut away the burlap. Then finish backfilling the planting hole to the top of the root ball. Do not pile soil against the trunk of your tree. 

Step 6 (Optional)
When planting a tree in a location that is far away and will be difficult to water if necessary, you can use remaining or additional soil to build a water retaining berm around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. This berm will serve as a catch-basin to collect water from rainfall and irrigation. The berm can be removed after a year or so, or when your tree has established itself.

Step 7 
Next, deeply water your newly planted tree to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development, you can water you newly planted tree with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants.

Step 8
Apply a 2" layer of aged, shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the planting area to help conserve moisture and to suppress weed growth. As the mulch decomposes it will add vital nutrients to the soil that your tree will appreciate. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the trunk of your tree as this could cause the bark to rot.

NOTE:  Avoid using freshly chipped or shredded wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. 

Staking a Newly Planted Tree

Single Stake Method
For smaller trees, use one long stake driven firmly into the ground so that it crosses the trunk of the tree at an angle a foot or two above the ground (depending on height of tree). Use a piece of cloth or a section of rubber water hose to tie trunk loosely against the stake. Avoid using metal wire as this couple damage the bark of your tree.

Staking Tree Triple Method
For taller trees, you can drive three 18-inch long stakes at a 45 degree angle into the ground to a point where 4 to 6 inches of the stake remains above ground. Equally space these stakes around the tree in solid ground. Use wire or nylon string to tie from the stake to the tree. Where the wire or string will come into contact with the trunk of your tree, make sure to run the string or wire through rubber hosing to protect the bark. More on that just below.

Tie your wire or string to the trunk of the tree above branch so that it does not slide down the trunk. To prevent damage to the bark of your tree, rubber hosepipe should be used where the wire touches the stem or branches.