Spring is a great time of year to plant trees and shrubs. The timing enables roots to grow into the surrounding soil before stress due to new foliage growth and high temperatures occurs. Follow these five “best practices” to give your new trees and shrubs the best start possible.

1. Test the soil. For best long-term results, test the soil in the area where you intend to plant and follow the advice in the Soil Report you receive.

2. Purchase smaller plants. Smaller-sized plants adjust to transplanting better than larger ones. They require smaller holes be dug, are less expensive, and it’s fun to watch them grow.

3. Dig a wide hole. Most new roots will grow horizontally from the side of the root ball. Give them plenty of room by digging a hole three times the width of the root ball with the sides of the hole sloping toward the bottom. The depth of the hole need only be as deep as the current root ball. Use the soil you dug to make the hole to fill in around the root ball. If your soil is compacted you may choose to add organic matter, such as compost, to aerate it. If so, keep it to a minimum (less than 20 percent) and be sure to mix the compost thoroughly with the existing garden soil. The idea is to improve, not replace, the existing soil.

4. Loosen the roots. Containers confine plant roots to such a degree that the roots begin to grow in a circle. To help them find their way out of that pattern, make a few vertical cuts around the root ball and gently splay the roots away from the center. Don’t be afraid to use a knife if you need to cut through a larger root system.

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5. Water consistently. Getting a new tree or shrub into the ground does not signal the end of the job! New plantings require more frequent watering than established trees and shrubs. Don’t sabotage your garden’s success by neglecting this important point. For one to two weeks after planting, water daily. For three to 12 weeks after planting, water every two to three days. Thereafter, water weekly until established. Give your plantings extra tender-loving care for one to two years after getting them in the ground.

After you have completed all five steps, be patient. It may not seem like your plants are doing much, but they are. During the first year, the roots will be far more active than the parts of the plant that are visible above ground. If you’ve followed the above advice and given them great soil in which to live plus consistent watering for the first two years, they will be grateful and will reward you by growing strong and healthy for years to come.

For more information about planting trees, visit extension.umn.edu/how/planting-and-transplanting-trees-and-shrubs.

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"You know me, I think there ought to be a big old tree right there. And let's give him a friend. Everybody needs a friend."― Bob Ross

Robin Trott is a horticulture educator with University of Minnesota Extension. Contact her at 320-762-3890, or at trot0053@umn.edu.