Proper planting techniques
Fall is the ideal time of year to plant your maple
tree—or any other tree, for that matter. The cool
weather of fall gives roots a chance to grow,
develop and get established without the stress of
developing new leaves or fruit. Don't be surprised
to find that you'll have to wait for a whole growing
season to see significant growth. In fact, with fruit
trees, it's a good idea to pinch off any blossoms or
fruit the first year so the tree can channel its energy
into establishing its root system instead of
The basic planting techniques are the same for all
trees. For starters, pick a well-drained area (one where
water doesn't pond after rains) in a sunny location so
the tree will get the light it needs to thrive. Keep in
mind the mature size of the species you're planting
and consider whether nearby trees, buildings and power lines could cause problems later.
When you've picked your planting spot, first dig a
1-ft. square, 1-ft.-deep drainage test hole, fill it with
water and go have a cup of coffee. If there's still
water in the hole after about an hour, you have
heavy, poorly drained soil. If so, use the same
directions as for well-drained areas, but dig the hole
only as deep as two-thirds the height of the root ball.
Then heap dirt over the root ball before mulching.
That way, some water is directed away from the hole
so the root ball won't drown in trapped water.
For well-drained areas, dig a hole 1 to 2 ft. wider
than the root ball and as deep as the height of the
root ball of the tree. Your tree will be sold either in
a plastic container or bundled in burlap. Rough up
the sides of the hole with the tip of the shovel,
especially when planting in heavy soil. It'll make it
easier for roots to penetrate the surrounding soil.
Carry the tree by picking up the container or
the burlapped root ball. Never carry the tree
by the trunk; you could damage delicate roots.
If you have a burlapped tree, lower the
burlapped root ball into the hole. Burlapped
trees have a wire basket to hold the root ball
together. You can leave the wire basket in
place; the roots will grow through it and the
rotting burlap. If your tree has synthetic
burlap, you'll have to cut it all away after you
lower it into the hole. If you have a container-grown
tree, cut away the sides of the container
and peel them back to expose the root ball.
Lift the ball from the container and lower it
into the hole.
Hold the tree straight while you fill the hole
with soil. Tamp the soil down around the ball
with the end of a 4x4 until the soil level is
about three-fourths the depth of the hole (but
be careful not to damage roots). Cut away the
exposed burlap in the top one-fourth of the
hole. Fill the hole with water to allow the soil to
settle and to remove trapped air. After the
water drains, finish filling the hole with soil
and lay a 3- to 6-in. bed of mulch around the
base of the trunk to help retain soil moisture.
Always use native soil to fill around the root
ball. Filling with enriched soil will pamper the
roots and they'll refuse to penetrate poorer
surrounding soil to establish a good root base.
Don't fertilize your tree this fall. Instead, apply a
10-10-10 fertilizer next spring and every year
thereafter. Read the instructions on the fertilizer
label to determine how much to use.
How to Dig a Hole
The key to a successful adult tree is properly preparing the hole for the sapling. Setting the tree at the right depth and surrounding it with plenty of loose soil creates a good environment for root growth; water, sun and an annual dose of fertilizer will do the rest.