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How to prepare and plant your Winter Hill Tree Farm tree

Most Winter Hill trees are grown in pots so they can be planted year-round but taking the time to prepare the site for your new tree/s will help ensure their ongoing health.

The hole

The hole for your tree needs to be twice the diameter of the tree root ball which in the case of a Winter Hill tree can be determined by the pot size of the tree you have purchased.

The hole should also be as deep as the root ball of your tree which will be the same as the height of the pot size less 2-3 inches. (click here for pot sizes & dimensions)

As you dig the hole keep the top layers of soil, which will be richer in nutrients, separate from the subsoil. We recommend discarding the subsoil and instead using a good topsoil mixed with liberal quantities of well rotted manure or compost when refilling.

Drainage

Soil drainage and aeration are critical to achieving the ongoing health of the roots of your tree.

To test the drainage fill your hole with water and leave it for about an hour. If the water has completely disappeared the drainage is good, halfway disappeared the drainage is fair but if the water has fallen less than 25mm drainage is poor and will need to be improved.

Improved drainage can be achieved by digging a slip trench on the lower sloping side of the hole and backfilling it with blue metal.

Preparing the hole

Before setting the tree cover the base of the hole with some compost or manure (bags of these can be purchased from your local nursery). We also advise sprinkling a good handful or two (quantity depends on size of tree planted) of water storage crystals in the bottom of the hole, as this increases the amount of available water to your tree.

If you are planting into heavy clay soil it is also a good idea to distribute plenty of gypsum and dolomite in and around the hole, then water in. This makes your soil more root friendly!

Planting the tree

Before planting your tree you will need to water it thoroughly – do this a couple of hours before planting, this ensures the rootball is moist but not dripping when it goes into the ground. If it is in a polythene bag, cut around the base with a sharp knife then make a single cut up one side. If the container is a rigid pot tap the pot around the lower sides and base whilst holding the trunk at the base.

Once you have removed the tree from the container always hold the tree by the rootball not the trunk as you may seriously injure the tree.

It is also advisable to give your tree a light root-prune before planting. This ensures that any circling roots are cut off, thereby allowing an outward movement of root growth after your tree is planted. If there are no circling roots this need not be done at all. To root-prune you will need either a sharp spade or an old serrated breadknife (no longer used in the kitchen!). Cut approx 1-2 inches off the volume of the rootball all the way round the sides and across the bottom.

Another method to ensure you are placing the tree in the centre of the prepared hole is to leave the tree in its plastic bag until you have it in position over the hole. You do this by lying two planks of timber across the hole. Slide the bag across the planks until it is centred over the hole with the edges of the bag at the outside edge of the planks. Using a sharp knife slit the bag across the bottom and you should be able to slide out the bag. Then using a scissor action pull the planks apart at one end, tilting them slightly inwards so the root ball drops neatly into the planting hole.

Refilling

Once the tree is in position in the centre of the hole refill with the extracted soil mixed with some blood and bone and compost. We also recommend adding a few more water storage crystals.

Fill the hole three-quarters full, firm the soil and then add water. When the water drains finish filling the hole. Build a 5cm saucer around the edge of the rootball, water again and fill the saucer with mulch. Do not pile mulch against the trunk as this can cause collar rot, keep it an inch or two away.

Staking

Where wind can be a problem it is a good idea to stake the tree to prevent excessive swaying which would disturb the new roots and hinder normal development.

Use two or three 2-metre stakes, 50mm square driven into the ground 500mm, being careful to go outside the rootball and not into it. Tie 50mm jute webbing around the trunk and staple both ends to the stake. Alternatively thread a piece of rope through a length of garden hose, loop the hose around the trunk and tie the rope to the stake.

Do not use wire or twine – if the hose disintegrates the wire will cut the trunk. Leave the tree staked for a couple of years to give the root ball time to establish itself.