Native Maple trees are generally available from nurseries in one of three forms: container- grown, balled and burlapped (B&B) or bare root trees. Each type of tree has its own advantages and disadvantages. Container grown trees have the advantage of a root system that is relatively undisturbed at the time of planting.
Native Maples are also available as bigger trees, but the weight of the correspondingly larger containers and B&B soil balls requires the use of mechanical equipment to assist with the handling and planting of these trees. For the first time tree planter, planting large trees may be better left to professionals. Click here for information to help you decide what types of tree is best for you.
In general, the smaller the tree, the easier it can be transported, handled and planted.
The following tree planting guide describes the planting of container-grown Native Maple trees 175-250 cm (height) with a stem caliper of 20-40 mm grown in plastic (polyethylene) containers. A crew of two can efficiently handle and plant trees of this size in any of the three forms.
If you haven’t already done so, prepare a Planting Plan that outlines what you would like to achieve and shows where the trees will be planted. Click here for information on preparing a planting plan.
Before you start digging:
Call Ontario One at 1-800-400-2255, anytime, 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, at least 5 days in advance of when you plan to start digging. By making this call, you’ll stay safe and avoid damage to buried lines and utilities. Native maples are classified as Tall Trees. Hydro One specifies a minimum “tall tree setback” of at least 8 meters from the centreline of any overhead powerlines. Maple Leaves Forever recommends a minimum of 10 metres. Click here for information on tree setback.
- Ask someone to help you when you are planting more than a few trees. The work will go much faster.
- Using your planting plan as a guide and a tape measure, locate and mark where each tree will be planted.
- Call the nursery at least a week in advance of when you would like to pick up the trees or to arrange for their delivery. Give the nursery time to prepare your order.
- Do not accept trees that are excessively root-bound. Ask to see the roots of a few sample trees at the nursery. Avoid trees that have a large amount of roots completely circling the inside of the pot.
- When the trees arrive, store them in a shady, wind protected location and keep the root balls moist until it is time to start planting. Always handle the tree by the container or root ball, not by the trunk.
Prepare the planting hole:
The planting hole should be shallow and wide (mimicking the shape of a maple tree’s natural root form).
- Begin by removing the surface vegetation (turf) at the location where the tree will be planted. Clear an area at least one metre in diameter. Discard grass and weeds. Shake any excess soil from the sod clumps.
- Dig a saucer-shaped hole slightly shallower than the root ball is high and at least 3 times the diameter of the root ball. Do this by spading and turning over the soil in the same manner that one prepares the soil in a garden. This breaks up the surrounding soil and allows the newly emerging roots to easily penetrate the softened soil as the tree regenerates new roots.
Planting the tree:
Planting the tree with the roots at the correct depth is very important since the roots will suffocate from lack of oxygen if planted too deep and dry out if they are planted too shallow.
- Digging the actual planting hole will be fairly easy after you have turned over the soil at the planting site.
- Dig a hole at least twice the width of the root ball and the same depth as the root ball in the prepared soil. The tree root ball should rest on undisturbed soil at the centre of the hole so that the tree will not settle excessively after planting. Remove the soil from the hole and set it aside for re-use later when backfilling soil around the root ball.
- Carefully remove the container from the root ball by laying the tree on its side and tapping the sides and bottom of the container. If necessary, cut the sides of the container to remove the tree.
- Before placing the root ball in the hole, prune off and remove any large roots that have been circling within the container. Then gently loosen and spread the roots within the outer soil ball.
- If this isn’t possible, score the root ball by making 4 shallow cuts (no deeper than 2.5 cm) from top to bottom in the root ball and 2 cuts across the bottom to encourage new root growth in all directions.
- Position the tree in the planting hole and identify its best face. Turn it to get the best exposure. Take a step back and view the tree from several directions to confirm it is straight and upright.
- Identify the trunk flare (root collar) on the tree. The trunk flare is the part of the trunk where the roots spread out at the base of the tree. This point should be slightly above the final grade of the surrounding soil so that water does not pool against the trunk. If it’s too high, remove the tree and dig the hole a little deeper. If the trunk flare is too low, add some soil under the roots. The trunk flare should be partially visible after the tree has been planted.
- Remove excess soil from the top of the root ball prior to planting, if the trunk flare is not visible.
- Be sure to keep the tree properly in place (right depth, straight up and down) and shovel the soil evenly around the roots as you backfill. Work the soil around the root ball so that no large soil clods or air pockets remain. Gently, but firmly tamp the soil around the base of the root ball so that the tree stands upright and is adequately supported.
- When the hole is half filled in, tamp the soil moderately to remove gaps. Water the tree slowly to remove air pockets and to create good contact between roots and soil. Finish filling the hole with loose, unamended soil, and gently tamp it again. There should be little or no soil over the root ball. Check that the tree is still straight in the hole and the trunk flare is slightly above the surrounding soil level.
- Construct a small berm or saucer of soil just beyond the outer edge of the root ball to collect water over the root zone. Water thoroughly and slowly to settle soil around the roots and to firm the tree in place. The water infiltrating the backfill soil will eliminate most of the air pockets. Add more backfill as needed.
Most experts agree that you should backfill the hole with native soil without any amendments being added. The decision to amend the backfill with organic material will be determined by the soil characteristics where the trees will be planted. Soil amendments have not proven to be beneficial. Professionals agree that when the soil is very poor – mix in some good topsoil and peat moss (not more than 25% by volume in the area of the planting hole).
Mulch helps tree get established by moderating the soil temperatures, conserving soil moisture and suppressing weed growth. Mulches promote water and air percolation into the back filled soil surrounding newly-planted trees.
A properly installed mulch should have a doughnut shaped appearance.
- Use 7.6 – 10 cm of organic mulch, such as ground bark or wood chips, to cover the soil surface beyond the berm. Mulch should extend at least 60 cm away from the trunk in all directions.
- No more than 2.5 cm of mulch should cover the root ball with no mulch within 10 cm of the trunk.
- The type of mulch material used is a personal choice.
- Choose a mulch that has medium sized particles without colours or dyes.
- Wet the mulch slowly but thoroughly to settle it into place around the tree.
Water your trees:
Until new roots grow into the soil at the planting site, the trees will need frequent and deep watering to wet the root zone. Make a plan for watering the trees. Be prepared for additional watering during drought conditions. Click here for information on how to water your newly planted trees.
Follow up Care:
- Prune only to remove dead, damaged or crossing branches and competing leaders.
- Not all trees need to be staked. Stake only if tree has poor growth structure and exposure to conditions like high winds call for it. Allow for some trunk movement. Remove the stake after the first year.
- Do not wrap the trunk unless cautioned otherwise. There may be some risk of sunscald on the trunk.
- Resist the temptation to fertilize at the time of planting. The root systems of newly planted trees need to re-establish before any benefits of fertilization are realized. Wait until the 2nd or 3rd year after planting. A soil test will determine the need for and formula best suited for your soil.
- Restore the mulch as needed. Maintain an area that is at least 1.2 metre in diameter, free of grass and weeds, around the trunk for 3 – 5 years. This reduces competition for moisture and ensures that water reaches the roots.
- When winter approaches, consider the need to protect your trees from damage caused by rabbits, mice or voles that often gnaw on the bark and inner tissue near the base of the trunk. Google “Protecting Trees from Animal Damage” for assistance, or click here for a government article. Over-winter girdling damage caused by mice, voles and rabbits often leads to the death of young trees.
- Vacille Tree Foundation (2000) How to Plant a Container-Grown Tree [online] Vacille, CA www.phytosphere.com/vtf/treeplanting.htm
- CMG Garden Notes # 633 (rev. 2014) The Science of Planting Trees [online] Colorado Colorado State University Colorado Extension Notes Series www.ext.colostate.edu/mg/gardennotes/633.pdf
- Arbor Day Foundation(2013) Planting Containerized Trees [online] Nebraska, National Arbor Day Foundation, Champaign, Ill USA www.arborday.org/trees/tips/planting.cfm
- Maple Leaves Forever (2016) Watering Young Maple Trees [online] Toronto Maple Leaves Forever
- Maple Leaves Forever (2017) What Type of tree is Best for Me? [online] Toronto Maple Leaves Forever www.maple leavesforever.com/what-type-of-tree-is-best-for-me?/
- Maple Leaves Forever (2017) Planting Around Overhead Powerlines [online] Toronto Maple Leaves Forever www.mapleleavesforever.com/planting-trees-around-powerlines/
- Arbor Day Foundation (2011) Proper Mulching Techniques [online] Nebraska, National Arbor Day Foundation Champaign, Ill USA www.treesaregood.com/treecare/resources/ProperMulching.pdf