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4 Common DIY Tree Installation Mistakes You Should Avoid

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If you've recently purchased some young trees to add instant curb appeal to your yard, you may have been able to cut down on costs by opting to tackle the installation yourself. However, planting trees is not as simple as placing the roots in the ground and covering them with earth. Many inexperienced homeowners can end up damaged or limiting the lifespan of their trees by making simple installation mistakes.

Mistake #1: Digging the hole too small or too large.

When planting young trees, the hardest part is setting the heavy root ball into the ground without damaging it. Root balls are usually potted or wrapped in burlap with metal netting. When the whole is too small, the exterior portions of the root ball can be damaged, which makes the transplant more difficult for the tree to recover from. When the hole is too large, it is difficult to straighten the tree properly, and you risk setting the ball too low in the ground. Holes should allow just enough wiggle room to maneuver the root ball and should keep the trunk about level with the surrounding ground. 

Mistake #2: Damaging the bark when placing the tree.

Because some tree roots balls can be heavy, it is easier to lower them into place using small machinery like a tractor or a skid-steer if you own, rent or borrow one. Machinery can certainly make the task less daunting, but they can also pose a threat to the tree. When using machinery to move your tree, it's best to wrap the trunk in a protective plastic layer to prevent it from being nicked or scraped by accident. Scrapes along the truck can heal, but they will leave trees with a permanent scar, and they can open the young tree to diseases or infestation from insects. 

Mistake #3: Burying the trunk.

When placing a tree, the top soil should barely cover the top of the root ball and should not bury any length of the trunk. Sometimes, transplanted trees will have trunks that are covered by two or three inches of dirt at the base. This can cause the base of the tree to rot and destroy the protective bark, allowing infection to take hold. If you plan to mulch your trees, keep in mind that mulch also should never directly cover any portion of a tree's trunk.

Mistake #4: Not straightening the tree right away. 

It's important to straighten a tree in its hole before the root ball is covered and fertilized. It is much easier to straighten a tree that is not packed in the ground. Even if a tree is slightly crooked, the growth pattern will be affected, as the tree will "self-correct," growing straight from that point on. In the future, the slight angle will result in a trunk that is permanently crooked with both straight and slanted sections. This is a cosmetic issue, but it can also affect safety. Once the tree has a mature weight of branches and leaves, the crooked base leaves the tree less structurally stable during wind storms or floods. 

If possible, you should stake new trees with two steel tree stakes and durable wire after straightening. This will protect the tree from misalignment if the ground shifts and if the root ball settles after the initial installation. Keep the stakes in place until the tree is fully established in it's new place. Signs of establishment include new branch growth, a thickening truck, and extended height. 

If you avoid these four simple and common mistakes, your tree installation should go smoothly, and your tree will have a greater chance of survival during the first year of life. Contact a tree service in your area for more information or go to this website.


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