Spade Transplanting Method

Moving trees with tree spades is the preferred method because it’s safer for the tree. Hydraulically driven machines that are designed and sized for the specific purpose of moving freshly dug trees to their new site within hours gives the customer a choice of the root ball size. Larger balls contain more of the tree’s root system, and therefore contribute to faster recovery from the shock of moving, and faster re-establishment of the tree to the new site.

The process starts with the tree spade digging the “receiving hole”. This is the hole that will contain the root ball of the tree being moved. The spade is centered over the spot chosen for the tree, and the spades are driven into the ground with hydraulic cylinders that are mounted on each spade, digging a “plug” of dirt. The spade is then centered around the tree to be moved, and the process is repeated. The dug tree is then moved to, and placed in the receiving hole. Spade tree root balls are the same size and shape as the “receiving hole” they are put into, since they are both dug by the same machine. This results in a tighter fit of the ball in the hole, which means a lower chance of the tree moving in the hole due to winds etc. The slot between the tree plug and the receiving hole is then filled with compost or black dirt and watered well.

When the tree has been watered well several times, and the slot well filled, all that is left to do is to mulch and stake the tree, and you’re done.

Tree Spacing Tips

The question of “how far apart do I plant my new trees,” can have many answers depending on your desires, and the type of tree being used.

If the reason for planting trees is to develop an “optical fence,” the trees will probably be conifers, and can be planted as close as a few feet apart. This can result in a very dense optical fence, but it will also cause the trees in the row to grow into one another causing damage to the inside branches as the trees get bigger. Other options are to plant the trees in an offset double row, which then looks like a “W” when seen from above, or to plant some distance apart and wait for them to grow.

If the conifers are to be used as specimens, then our recommended spacing is a minimum of 20 feet for Black Hills Spruce and White Pine, to 30 feet for Norway Spruce.

If the planting is deciduous trees for specimen use, our recommended spacing is 20 feet for crab apples, and 30 feet for maples.
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Water Trees Properly

Prior to watering your trees, you need a method of determining the current soil moisture level.

Our recommended method of checking soil moisture is to pull back the mulch to expose the area at about the drip line of the tree, pull out a small handful of dirt and squeeze it in your fist. If it drips water, it is too wet. If it makes a ball that shows the size of your fist, that is the correct moisture. If the soil crumbles after squeezing, it is too dry and needs water. This method works for newly planted trees as well as existing trees.

We receive on average about an inch of rain per week in the upper Midwest, and it takes about four times as much water to keep your lawn green as it takes to keep your trees green. So, if you have a lawn irrigation system, and it covers your trees, they are likely getting more water than they need. Use the moisture checking technique described in the above paragraph, and adjust your sprinklers accordingly. Trees can drown from too much water. If you do not have a lawn irrigation system, you can still use the moisture checking method privously described, and irrigate accordingly.

Putting an inch of water around your new tree takes:
Trunk Diameter Gallons
44” 8.4
65” 15.4
80” 23
90” 30
For watering trees in the winter, there are two situations. The first is for deciduous trees (trees that drop their leaves for the winter). They are dormant when their leaves drop, and do not need water during that period. The second is for conifers. They have green needles during the winter, and are alive and therefore need water. Since frozen ground and snow complicate things for most of the winter, it is important to make sure that your evergreens go into winter with good moisture levels in the rootball. Try to water them heavily just before the ground freezes so the tree has water available for the winter. Additionally, if the ground thaws during the winter, this is a good opportunity to give the tree an additional drink.
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Reasons to Mulch

Mulch is a wonderful tool to help keep your trees healthy. It will help moderate the soil temperature, as well as the soil moisture. Mulch competes well with weeds, helping to give you a weed free area beneath the tree and increases the organic matter in your soil as it decomposes.

The composition of the mulch you use is unimportant. You can use anything from ground up leaves and branches, to the more expensive colored mulches or the ones made out of cedar or cypress that are longer lasting.

The important things are to NEVER use stones or rocks, as they get very hot in the summer and bake the root system. Also do not use plastic film as it keeps the soil too wet. We recommended maintaining the mulch thickness at 3”-4”, and also suggest using the “1 foot rule”. This means keeping the mulch 1 foot away from the trunk to prevent “girdling roots”, and 1 foot outside the dripline of the tree.
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Fertilizing newly planted trees is not recommended. It takes a newly planted tree 2 full growing seasons for the root system to rebuild itself. None of the N,P,or K elements typically found in a fertilizer’s analysis has been shown to help in root growth generation. Element N can actually be harmful in that it encourages green growth(leaves and needles) which then puts more of a load on an already stressed root system.

Another fertilizer component to be avoided is Dicamba. This is a root growth inhibitor sometimes used in lawn fertilizers to help in weed control, but is detrimental to trees at any stage of growth, so be sure your lawn fertilizer does not contain the ingredient Dicamba.
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Tree Staking

Newly planted trees can be susceptible to tipping by high winds under certain circumstances. If you think your tree(s) could be subject to storm winds, you should consider staking them.

This is a relatively simple process where 4 wood or metal stakes are driven into the ground 6’-8’ away from the trunk evenly spaced in a circle around the tree.

The tree is tied to the stakes with rope for support. The important idea here is to cushion the rope from the bark, eliminating wearing on the tree bark. This is done with a piece of garden hose 1.5’-3’ long for each rope. Run the rope through the garden hose placed around the tree and tie it to the stakes. The rope can then move as the tree moves in the wind without damaging the bark.

We have been experiencing an increase in windstorms lately, so we would suggest staking all newly planted trees and leaving the stakes in for 2-3 growing seasons. This will give the tree time to get it’s root system well established in it’s new home.
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