Transplanting shrubs and trees

Published 7:14 pm Saturday, January 26, 2019

By Terry Rector

Many of us remember an old bit of advice for planting a shrub or tree; “Dig a ten dollar hole for a five dollar plant.” It was simply a way of stating the importance of not skimping on the labor of transplanting.

Over time we kept up the humor about that ten dollar hole as plant prices went up with inflation. My favorite was a guy’s response to my suggestion for fruit tree varieties. After he found where to order them and the price, he said, “Heck, I might could afford the trees but at that price I can’t afford the holes.”

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Now is a great time to transplant woody perennial shrubs and trees. I am aware retail plant nurseries might not yet have a bunch of choices in stock.

Over the years I learned to appreciate why retailers did not base their plant stocking dates on what university horticulturists said was the planting time frame. Simply put, they need to respond to their customers. And if customers want to wait until spring is in the air to plant, then so be it.

It was more or less the same deal on the semi-dwarf apples trees I recommended.  Trees that grow to full size cost less than semi-dwarfs.  And most customers would choose the bigger ones for less money.

The customer is always right.

Some trees are shipped bare root to save on transportation, either directly to the customer on orders by individuals or indirectly when retailers get bare root deliveries and care for them until sold.

This time of year the trees are dormant and can withstand less than ideal conditions for a few days.  But “bare root” and “dormant” do not eliminate the plants’ need for water altogether. So moisten the roots to hold plants until planting time. Dig a shallow hole in a flowerbed or the compost pile to lay the roots and cover up temporarily.

About the time talk of a five dollar hole went obsolete, so did the advice to dig planting holes much deeper than the longest roots.  Modern advice is to dig the hole wider, not a bunch deeper. Obviously it needs to be deep enough for the roots but most of the new root growth will be horizontal and close to the surface.

Another time honored recommendation that gets push back from some advisory folks is the one about mixing in lots of organic matter such as compost or peat with dirt in the planting hole.

They claim  a plant will be better off in the long run starting out in the same native soil it will live in.  The thinking is sooner or later roots are going to grow into the real home dirt without the additives.

Personally, I still mix in some composted free horse stall cleanings with new plantings.

Finally, don’t forget about the bare root Arbor Day free tree seedlings available Friday from 8 a.m. to noon at the USDA building parking lot on Sherman Avenue. Call 601-630-0278 Extension 3 with any questions.


Terry Rector is spokesman for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.