B. Rosie Lerner
Purdue Extension


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Celebrate Arbor Day, April 29

There's no better way to celebrate Arbor Day than to add beauty and value to your home landscape with a new tree. Trees can also provide shade and wind protection for many years to come, if given the proper start. The last Friday in April is both the national and the Indiana Arbor Day, so you have some time to plan.

The first step should be thoughtful selection of an appropriate plant to match the location. Assess your planting location for such factors as light, moisture availability, drainage, amount of space and exposure to wind. Then search for plant species that are best adapted to these conditions. Keep in mind such characteristics as winter hardiness, heat tolerance, plant size at maturity, growth rate, cultural requirements and plant hardiness. Once you have narrowed down a list of desirable plants that are adapted to your location, check local nurseries and garden centers for availability and prices.

Trees can be purchased either as bare-root, containerized or balled and burlapped (B&B). Bare-root stock should be planted while dormant, before leaves break bud. Containerized and B&B stock can be planted any time the soil can be worked, but keep in mind that waiting until hot summer days arrive will put additional stress on young trees.

Prepare the soil where the tree is to be planted well ahead of time, so that the trees roots will not be endangered of drying out before you get them in the ground. If planting must be delayed, be sure to supply moisture to the roots. Dig an area that is larger than the root system. The hole should be at least a foot wider than the root spread or soil ball, and the sides of the hole should be vertical, not sloping. Plant the tree at the same depth it was grown in the nursery. If the hole is too deep, replace some the soil at the bottom, but be sure to firm the soil to prevent the tree from slipping down later.

Refill the planting hole with the same soil you took out of the hole.  Do not amend the backfill with organic materials, such as mulch or peat moss, as it only makes root establishment more difficult once they grow beyond the amended soil, particularly in clay soils. Do not mix dry fertilizer or manure with soil, as young developing roots will be easily burned.

Firm the soil around the roots with your hands, and continue to add soil until it is three-fourths full. Then fill the hole with water to settle the soil around the roots. Straighten the plant, if necessary, and finish filling the hole with soil. For ease in watering the new tree, construct a basin by forming a 2-3 inch high rim of soil around the edge of the planting hole. Then water the tree with several gallons of water. A soluble fertilizer may be applied with the water to get the roots off to a good start. Use about 1-2 tablespoons of 20-20-20 or similar analysis fertilizer per gallon of water. No additional fertilizer will be needed the first year. Applying a 2-3 inch layer of mulch, such as shredded or chipped bark, will help conserve soil moisture and keep weeds to a minimum.

When planting B&B stock, make sure you cut the twine or wire that binds the burlap to the trunk. If left in place, these materials will cut through the trunk as it expands in diameter, cutting the transport of carbohydrates from leaves to roots. The damage may take several years to show up, but, by then, it will be too late to rescue the tree.

Purdue Extension has several publications that can help you select an appropriate species, as well as how to prepare the planting site. Look online at (scroll down through the Landscape Plant and Management section), or contact the Purdue Extension office in your county.


Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Olivia Maddox