Care for Your New Tree
Your trees will come to you bareroot. If the trees cannot be planted within a few days, heel them in by digging a temporary trench deep enough to hold the roots and located in a protected area. Place the stem of the trees at an angle in the trench and cover the roots with soil. Water thoroughly and keep moist until replanted. Short term storage of 24 hours or so can be provided by placing the roots system in a container of water. If you have had your trees shipped to you, they may be stored in the shipping box in a cool area (an unheated garage can work well), for up to a week or so, after which you'll need to either plant your trees or open the bag enclosing the roots and check moisture levels, re-wetting as needed.
Trees should be planted to the same depth that they were planted in the nursery row. The soil line will show by a color difference on the stem, right around where the rootswell meets the base of the trunk. Trees should be planted so that the graft site, a slightly irregular area on the stem, is above ground level. If the union site is in the ground, the scion will root and a standard size tree will result.
During the planting, do not let the roots dry out. A few minutes of drying wind and sun can severely injure or kill the tree. Also, do not use any fertilizer that will burn the delicate root system at the time of planting. If you would to add compost to the planting hole, you should plan to keep the percentage of compost to native soil at 25% or less. A soil test will tell you if there are any other ammendments to make prior to or during planting; Virginia Tech offers a soil testing and analysis service.
Dig a hole larger than the spread of the roots. This will vary from 12” to 24” or larger. Return the topsoil and sod to the bottom of the planting hole in the shape of a pyramid, put the tree upright over the pyramid and extend the roots outward and downward over the hill of soil. Two people working together make it easier. Backfill with the best soil available, shaking the plant gently up and down and sideways. After the roots are covered with several inches of soil, gently stamp down on it to compress and remove any air pockets. When about two-thirds full, soak with water and add more soil leaving a very shallow bowl-shaped hollow around the plant to trap water. Each tree should be watered in with roughly 5 gallons at the time of planting, and the soil around the tree should not be allowed to completely dry out at any time. After the first 2-3 years, many trees will be able to get most or all of the water they need from natural precipitation (in central VA).
Trees should be staked with one or more stakes at the time of planting. After growth begins, disturbing the soil can damage the root system.
Mulch around the tree may be used to keep down vegetation and conserve moisture. A small circle should be left uncovered to discourage collar rot and mice or vole infestation. If using a trunk guard, the best option is to use hardware wire with a small mesh, to allow airflow and visual inspection.