In ths article we cover ball and burlap planting Instructions with our focus on placing the trees. We give specific directions on how to prepare the holes, we also cover how to straighten the trees with digging bars or hay hooks, what the finished root-ball should look like, and also the best use of your planting team members.This is part three of a series on planting ball and burlap trees.
Prepare the Hole
I always like the holes to be dug with a bobcat auger, because it leaves fine dry dirt to re-pack the holes with. Depth of each hole is most important . If your tree has a 28" root-ball, use a 30" auger. Dig the holes to be about as deep as wide with the bobcat. As you prepare to plant each Leyland Cypress tree, look to see if it seems to be the correct depth, then jump down into the hole and pack down the bottom of the hole with your boots . Use a shovel handle to measure the root-ball of the tree you are about to plant by placing the end of the handle on the point of the root-ball, and place your hand at the point where the shovel handle meets the top of the root-ball. Leave your hand on that spot, stick the shovel handle down in the middle of the hole to check for correct depth . The top of the root-ball should be about 3" high. Use a shovel to clear the loose dirt ring away in one spot beside the hole so you can tell where the ground level really is for this measurement.
Straighten with Digging Bars or Hay Hooks
For 7' or 10' tall trees, I use the bobcat or a ball-cart or tree-truck to transport the trees to just beside the holes, and lay them down. There is a knack to it, as you roll the root-ball into the hole, stand it up straight also. Most trees will need a slight adjustment, do this by prying up on the low side of the root-ball with 6' digging bars for 7' or 10' trees. What I call a digging bar is 6' or 7' long, every Lowes store has them, made of steel, they have a round knob or a point on one end and the other end is flattened to about 5" wide. You have to adjust the root-ball until the tree trunk is vertical; do not push on the trunk to straighten the tree. I have also used hay hooks; they are good to hook onto the wire basket also to straighten. I have only found aluminum hay hooks at Tractor Supply, but Augusta co-op in VA has steel hay hooks which are much stronger. For planting 36" root-ball trees, weighing 1,000 lbs and larger, it is better to let the machine place the trees. I hook a 7' chain across about 4 teeth on the bobcat bucket, and then hook the hooks onto the top strand of the wire basket almost straight across from each other. If you hook directly across it will cause the trunk to scrape against the bobcat bucket. If hooked about 3 or 4 inches less than directly across, the tree will travel at a slight angle as you approach the hole. As you lower the bucket and tree into the hole, have a man or two there pushing the tree so it is vertical as it touches down. Do not push on the trunk one the tree is resting in the hole. To straighten trees this size, use the chain on the bobcat bucket and hook to the low side of the wire basket, raise it until the trunk is straight. If you can get a root-ball to with a couple of degrees of straight by straightening , and the tree trunk still needs to be pulled over 3 inches or less, drive one stake opposite of where it is leaning, and pull the tree those few inches to be straight and tie to that stake. You can come back through after all the trees are planted and straight and drive the other stakes in and tie the other directions.
The Finished Root-Ball.
Leave the wire basket and burlap intact, and the white cords that connect the wire basket around the tree trunk. All that will take in water just fine, and will all rot away in 6 months. In that mean time, it will add lots of support to the root-ball to trunk connection. Trees always should be staked; I covered staking in a separate article. If you want to add mulch, wait six months or so before applying it, because after planting and a few weeks has gone by, there will be air pockets next to a some of the root-balls, no matter how hard you try and pack it around the root-balls as you plant them. These are areas where water washes the dirt down into the hole, leaving an air pocket. You should re-pack those wash areas at least once. If you have covered the area with mulch, you will not even know where the air pockets are. The finished look should be like a volcano rim, with burlap showing in the center. That top of the root-ball is burlap and should be between level and about 3" higher than the ground around it. Ask your team not to shovel any dirt on top of that burlap. We recently planted a tractor trailer load of eighty ten foot Leyland Cypress, I came along tying and checking each tree, and I decided we should hook the bobcat to about five trees, lift them out and shovel a little more dirt under those root-balls. A low root-ball will usually drown the tree.
Best Use of the Planting Team.
Tree planters work best in two man teams, and not within talking distance of each other! If you are planting a long 400' or 600' foot row, start two guys at one end, and two guys at the other end. You don't have to tell them they are in a competition, but both teams will be aware they want to meet somewhere near the middle, not where the other team has planted 2/3 of the trees making them look slack. I like to personally be the guy tying the trees to the stakes, that gives me a chance to check that each root-ball is correct height, and also tying is so very important.
David Watterson - tree nursery, about the author: Watterson tree farm is a family business, David, his wife and sons have developed proven techniques that include proper spacing approach, fall planting considerations, tree staking, fertilizer selection based on season, and the effects of shade on evergreen trees. See our website for more info http://wattersontreefarm.tripod.com