Placement and Related Care

Placing the plant into the planting hole is easy if the plant is lightweight. It becomes more difficult as the size of the plant and the weight of the root ball increase. The labor and related costs can range from minimal to highly significant.

Bare root plants can be lifted without damage by grasping them along their branches or trunk. Plants with soil balls can be damaged if lifted at a point that allows the weight of the root ball to place stress on the crown where the branches or trunk join the root system. They should be lifted by grasping them at the crown, not higher up. If the plants are to be carried any distance, the soil ball should be supported by hand, ball cart, or machine (Figure 10-7).

Before the soil ball is set into the planting pit, the root flare of the plant should be located. The root flare is the place where the first set of large lateral roots is attached to the tree or shrub. In most tree species it is what causes the trunk of the plant to taper outward. The root flare is responsible for the stability of the tree or shrub and needs to be at grade level. If a plant is set too deep, causing the root flare to be buried, the plant can suffocate from too little oxygen reaching the roots. Some plants will develop a set of secondary roots in the soil above the buried

figure 10-7. Balled and burlapped plant carried correctly. (Delmar/Cengage Learning. Photo by Jack Ingels.)

root flare. In time, these roots will girdle and kill the plant. It is not uncommon for the root flare to become buried beneath several inches of soil or mulch in both b & b and containerized plants. This can create a false impression of the correct level for transplanting.

After being placed into the planting hole and positioned for the best display, soil balls need to be stabilized at their base to prevent tipping to the side later. There is a predictable temptation for laborers to twist and turn the plants by lifting them by the branches. As much as possible, the plants should be positioned and adjusted by turning the ball.

Plants that have their soil balls wrapped in burlap should have the burlap untied or unpinned at the top and the top half of the wrap­ping cut away. While some texts recommend tucking the loose burlap down into the hole, it is preferable to cut it away. Large folds of burlap can interfere with proper root development. It is seldom necessary to remove the lower half of the burlap wrapping unless the burlap is made of nonbiodegradable material. It is most important that no burlap be exposed to the air after backfilling. Allowing that would promote rapid water loss through wicking.

If the burlapped soil ball has been placed within a wire basket, it will undoubtedly be a heavy plant and difficult to maneuver. Orientation of the plant should be studied and planned before placement in the hole since there is little opportunity to move it once it is set. After setting the plant, the wire basket needs to be cut away from the top of the ball. Ideally, the entire basket should be removed, but risking the breakage of the soil ball while wrestling away the wire is not recommended. In most field studies, allowing a portion of the wire basket to remain around the soil ball has not retarded establishment and normal development of the transplant.