Tree planting has changed over time. Old practices long thought to be essential for successful planting have been set aside in favor of newer ones.

The job of planting trees has gotten easier. Years ago, most trees were sold with their roots encased in heavy balls of earth wrapped in burlap.

Today, almost all trees are grown and sold in plastic pots. This is better for consumers because none of the tree's roots have been cut off in the process of balling and burlapping.

Back in the day, tree planters dug deep holes that were one-and-a-half times the height of the tree's root ball. Now the recommendation is to dig no deeper than necessary to cover the roots with soil.

The goal is to position the top of the tree's root ball at or just above the soil surface. Having it below the surface would bring soil in contact with the tree trunk, an unhealthy situation that may result in growth of girdling roots that wrap around the trunk and slowly strangle it.

A four-inch layer of peat moss was once put in the hole before planting trees. Now the recommendation is to forget the peat moss and fill in around the roots with the same soil that came out of the hole.

Compacting or tamping down the soil to eliminate air pockets as you backfill around the tree roots was once believed to be necessary. The current method is to water heavily after planting to settle the soil and force out the excess air.

Pruning back all the tree's branches at planting time was once routine. Now the preferred approach is to prune only enough to remove broken, dead or diseased branches as well as any branches growing alongside the main trunk and competing with it for dominance.

Bracing new trees with stakes and cord or wire was thought to be necessary, and it is still done widely by landscapers today. Actually, most young trees do not need any such support.

Staking is needed only if the tree has a large canopy of leaves and you plant it in a windy location like the top of a hill. It is time to remove stakes one year after planting, before cords and wires harm the tree trunk.

A protective wrap of burlap, foil or cheesecloth was once applied to tree trunks during the planting process. Most trees are better off with no wrapping, including the paper and fabric products sold as Tree Wrap, because under the wrap, conditions are attractive to insects and decay fungi.

A water soluble fertilizer such as 10-10-10 was added in days gone by. A more modern approach is to put fertilizer in the planting hole only if it contains a slow release form of nitrogen that will not burn roots.

Trees and other plants for your home and garden will be sold at the Festival of Gardening in Riverside Park starting at 8:30 a.m. May 4.

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