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Top 6 Tree Planting Mistakes

You just invested in planting your dream tree. It's beautiful and majestic. You're already dreaming of installing a swing for your children on it. Time passes, and your tree seems sad. It barely grows, the leaves are dull, and branches die. It's very possible that your tree is poorly planted, an issue far more common than one might think. Many people believe that planting a tree is simply digging a hole and putting the tree in it. Unfortunately, this method is more suited for burying a body than for planting a tree. Anyone can plant a tree, but it requires some knowledge and a shovel. Have you hired a professional? I would advise you to check the work and the trees that are used. Professionals often make mistakes like the ones presented below.


#1 The mulch volcano, a common planting mistake.

Voici un arbre avec du paillis en contact avec le tronc, une erreur de plantation qui peut coûter cher.
Volcan de copeaux

In the previous image, can you see what's wrong? It's one of the most common problems in professional plantings. The issue here isn't that the mulch is uneven! We're dealing more with a mountain than a volcano. The problem is that the mulch is in direct contact with the tree trunk.

Mulch is used because it helps retain moisture in the soil and reduces competition between the tree and other grasses. Natural mulch also contributes to the improvement of the soil structure as well as its enrichment. Over time, the mulch decomposes, similar to how in nature, dead leaves or trees break down and nourish the soil.

Despite all these benefits for the tree, when piled up against the trunk, it can cause bacterial or fungal diseases, in addition to rotting the trunk and promoting the development of adventitious roots. The thickness of the mulch is also important. Generally, 5 to 10 cm of thickness is required to obtain the beneficial effects. Beyond 10 cm, the mulch can restrict access to water and oxygen. Yes, I said oxygen: roots breathe. This is an aspect of trees that is often underestimated.

#2 The tree planted too deep

Dans cette image, on peut voir le dégagement du tronc de l'arbre. L'arbre a été planté trop profondément, ce qui nuisait à sa croissance.Dans cette image, on peut voir le dégagement du tronc de l'arbre. L'arbre a été planté trop profondément, ce qui nuisait à sa croissance.Dans cette image, on peut voir le dégagement du tronc de l'arbre. L'arbre a été planté trop profondément, ce qui nuisait à sa croissance.
Découverte du collet de racine.

Another frequent sin in tree planting is probably the most widespread issue. We can encounter it in different situations. First, when planting, the tree, upon leaving the nursery, is already planted too deep. Second, during construction, it's common for builders to cover trees, either with excess material or to level the ground. Third, in landscaping, sometimes fill is added around the tree to beautify the land.

The issue is essentially the same as with mulch on the trunk: soil on the trunk retains moisture and causes trunk rot, in addition to promoting the development of circling roots. Moreover, soil blocks oxygen intended for the roots even more easily. Soil is easily compressible, more so than chips. The more back-and-forth traffic on the site, the more the soil will be compressed, preventing the passage of oxygen.

The problem with girdling roots comes from the fact that the roots try to rise to the surface to seek oxygen. As their name suggests, the roots will circle the trunk and strangle it. Over time, this strangulation harms the passage of sap in the trunk. The tree will not be killed immediately, but its growth will be slowed, and its lifespan will be reduced.

The previous photo shows a planting that was planted too deeply. We performed a pneumatic excavation to remove the soil and allow us to cut the circling roots. Below, you can see the video of the operation and the explanations.

#3 A hole too small

The size of the pit where the tree will be planted is crucial. Often, the hole can be too small. Ideally, the width of the hole should be 2 to 3 times that of the root ball. In clay soils, this can even go up to 5 times. This excavation will allow for soil loosening, thus promoting root growth.

When the tree arrives from the nursery, it's very possible that it's already planted too deep. It's important to remove soil until the roots are found. From that moment, it will be possible to determine the depth of the hole for the tree, because the upper roots should not be below the soil level.

#4 Not having removed the packaging

It's important, when planting, to completely remove anything that confines the roots. Often, trees are transported in wire baskets or in burlap sacks. Therefore, these should be completely removed before planting. Leaving the wire baskets could cause strangulation of the roots. The symptoms might take years to appear and go unnoticed. A burlap sack would prevent the roots from spreading out. Although these sacks are often porous, allowing roots to break through, their subsequent enlargement could strangle them.

#5 The season

The planting season is very important. Generally, the periods of fall and early spring are ideal to allow trees to establish before the extremes of summer or winter. During the fall, the soil is still warm, promoting root growth before the cold of winter stops the process. The natural precipitation of this season also helps to establish the tree. The beginning of spring, just before or as buds start to form, offers another interesting window, allowing the tree to establish before the arrival of the hot summer heat. It is advisable to avoid planting during periods of frost or intense heat, as they can stress the new tree and hinder its establishment. Moreover, municipal regulations are increasingly strict on watering and, even if they are not, it is important to do one's part in water conservation.

#6 A exotic tree

Planting local trees rather than exotic species presents multiple benefits for both the environment and local biodiversity. Firstly, local trees are adapted to the climate and soil of their region, which allows them to better withstand weather conditions, diseases, and local pests. This adaptation ensures healthy and vigorous growth with less maintenance, reducing the need for water, fertilizers, and chemical treatments.

Furthermore, local species play a crucial role in supporting native ecosystems. They provide essential habitats and food resources for pollinating insects, birds, and other local animals, thus promoting biodiversity. In contrast, exotic species may not offer the same ecological benefits and, in some cases, can become invasive, threatening indigenous flora and fauna.

Moreover, planting local trees helps preserve the identity and natural character of landscapes, strengthening the connection between communities and their natural environment. By favoring local species, we help maintain and restore the ecological balance of our region, which is essential for the health of our planet.

The stats

To give a small idea of the extent of the problem, I went for a walk in the park where new plantings had been done. The park was perfect for a small personal study because, firstly, there are many new plantings, secondly, we also have a lot of natural trees, and thirdly, it's within walking distance from home.

 Sur les 68 arbres plantés dans le parc, 68 d'entre eux étaient plantés trop profondément.
68 arbres plantés dans le parc

I took a small sample of trees planted in the park. You can see in the photo that there are 68 new plantings. Of these 68 new trees, 68 were planted too deeply. Well, this isn't a scientific study by any means, but it does demonstrate a certain problem. It's likely that these trees were planted by the same team and came from the same nursery. However, the problem is widespread. I've seen this issue in every city, whether in private or municipal plantings.

The next three images show one of the trees in the park. I took the time to dig up by hand to find where the roots were located. You can see how deep the roots were. There are small roots that started to turn back towards the surface. Some of these could possibly have turned into girdling roots. To get to the roots, some of these roots had to be cut. There is no problem with cutting these roots.

For a healthy tree

In conclusion, every step, from choosing the season to preparing the soil, from removing the packaging to selecting suitable local species, requires attention and care to ensure the health and prosperity of the tree. Planting errors are common, but with the right knowledge and preparation, they are also avoidable. Hiring competent professionals, opting for local trees, and respecting the specific needs of each tree are key elements for achieving healthy trees, which will require less maintenance and be majestic. Let's plant with care and consideration, to achieve the best canopy possible.


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