Plant conifer trees correctly

CORVALLIS, Ore. - If conifer tree planting is on your late winter or early spring to-do list, there are some things you can do to improve your success.

John Punches, a forester with the Douglas County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service, says when it comes to planting conifers, timing is everything. He suggests planting when the upper 10 inches of soil is moist, the soil is not frozen more than a half-inch deep, the snow cover is less than two inches, and air temperature is between 30 and 65 degrees.

It also helps if the wind velocity is less than 20 miles per hour – and the seedlings are fully dormant.

Among Punches’ other tips:

Keep the roots moist and the trees cool. Dried out roots are dead roots, and bare root seedlings are susceptible to drying. Containerized seedlings are a bit more protected, but need careful treatment nonetheless. To help prevent damage, keep roots covered and moist from the moment seedlings are removed from their shipping bundles until they are planted. Plant in the rain if possible. Carry seedlings in a planting bag or bucket to protect them from sun and wind, and remove just one tree at a time for planting - after the hole has been dug.

Dig a good hole. Many planting errors can be blamed on holes too small for the roots going in them. Holes should be deep enough to hold the root system with ease and allow for broken soil all around the root system to promote root growth. If the roots are nine inches long, dig the hole at least 12 inches deep to provide broken soil under the seedling. Hoedads and planting shovels are both viable hole-digging options – just make the hole big.

Plant at the right depth. Trees should be planted at the same depth they experienced in the nursery or a bit deeper. Planting too shallow leaves upper roots exposed, leading to their death. Planting too deep can be a problem if lower twigs and needles are buried.

Place the roots in a natural position. Be sure the planting hole is large enough in width and depth so the root system will not be crowded or j-rooted.

Firm the soil around each plant. While holding the tree in an upright position at the correct depth, fill the hole with loose, moist soil. Do not let dry soil, rocks or surface litter fall in the hole, or roots in these dry spots could be damaged or killed. When the hole is filled in with moist soil, press it down firmly.

Manage competition. Planting the tree is only part of the battle. Control competing vegetation for at least the next two years to give the tree time to become fully established.

A little extra time spent during planting can yield big dividends in young tree survival, Punches said, so plant your trees correctly for best success.

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John Punches
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