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Miri’s “How to Plant a Tree” Video, Condensed and Expanded

Watch how Miri loosens the roots - at 4:02.
Watch how Miri loosens the roots – at 4:02. (see video below post)

Our woody plants buyer Miri Talabac does a bang-up job of demonstrating planting of a tree (a Black Gum) in her new video, now on Youtube – How to Plant a Tree on Youtube. Watch it on Youtube or at the bottom of this blog post, OR read the highlights below. Here you’ll also find times of crucial viewing spots noted, where something is being demonstrated that is best learned by watching it in action.

I’ve also asked Miri a few follow-up questions and included her answers here.

Miri says don’t pick it up like this!

Bullet points:

  • Pick up the tree by the pot, not by the trunk, as she’s demonstrating in the photo right.
  • Dig a hole that’s the right depth to allow plant to be placed at the same depth as it is in the pot.  And make it twice as wide as it was in the pot.
  • If rootbound, which most pot-bound plants are to some degree, what how she loosens the roots before planting.  Starts at 4:02.
  • Also watch how she makes a mound, places the tree in the hole, checks for depth and fills the hole with soil –  the essence of planting. Starts at 4:50.
  • Use Leafgro to mix with backfill dirt.  Recommended proportion: 1/3 Leafgro to 2/3 “native” backfill soil.


She also suggests adding some Bio-tone, which provides beneficial microbes that may be lacking or reduced in most home soils. Miri adds, “Mycorrhizae (the beneficial fungi and bacteria) are common to nearly all plant root systems; while they do steal a bit of sugars from the plant’s roots, in return their growth increases the plant’s root surface area for absorbing water and nutrients. This mutualism greatly helps plants avoid stress and can support lusher, faster growth.

Espoma has recently added Bio-tone to all its organic fertilizers (Holly-tone, etc.) so it’s not necessary to use both.  Miri says that “A person planting with compost might not need it either, per se, but it wouldn’t hurt.”

More about feeding via email:  “I always guide customers to read the bag – the instructions are there to guide you – but generally fertilize spring and fall, and it’s harder to accidentally overdo it with organics like the Espoma “tones” than it is with inorganics, because the former break down with microbial action and the little microbes can only eat it so fast.  The inorganics break down at a certain rate, whether the plants need them or not. That said, any over-application of fertilizer is harmful to both the plants and our watersheds.”

About watering, Miri says: “I guide people to give about as much water as the original pot size (5 gal pot, 10 gal, etc) so they know they’re giving enough water to soak the rootball plus a bit of the surrounding soil. As for frequency, it really, really depends on a lot of factors. Sunny, warm, windy weather will dry things faster than cool, cloudy or still air.  An area with good drainage will dry out faster than areas that hold rain longer.

And of course the plant itself may prefer to be wetter or drier than other things nearby.  I tell people they should get in the habit of physically checking the soil moisture before automatically watering, as over-watering will drown roots and kill a plant faster than just about anything else water-related. Plants that get too dry may drop flowers, fruit or leaves, but if you catch it in time, buds will break to replace leaves that were lost. The root rot that sets in with over-watered plants is usually irreversible.

“I say stick a finger, wooden pencil, screwdriver, bamboo stake – anything you can feel or see moisture on – down amongst or next to the roots at least 3” deep (maybe 2” for perennials or smaller shrubs) and if the soil is moist (and you’ve been watering properly, which is to say, deeply and thoroughly) then you’re fine…wait. If it’s dry or barely moist, then go ahead and water. I tell people ‘If in doubt, let it dry out.’  Don’t go by wilting alone; plants that are overly wet or have tender new growth can wilt but not need water.”For the first full season, check soil moisture regularly.  And when watering, focus the water on the edge of the rootball, not at the trunk.

Mulch 2-3 inches, keeping away from the trunk.

Stake only needed in high-wind areas.  Give the trunk room to sway – that triggers stronger anchoring roots.  Great info! And when asked if stakes should be removed at some point Miri replied:  “Yes, stake only when really windy or on unstable ground (steep slope maybe) for 6-12 months, making sure stakes don’t abrade the truck. Remove after a year (maybe, maybe two if it’s a really unstable spot or root establishment seems poor) because at that point stabilizing anchoring roots should be sufficiently formed.

Compacted soils, planting sites with limited earth (like surrounding by pavement or walls), or plants spaced too closely together that are competing with one another will promote poor root anchoring and may never be as stable as they should be, or will take a lot longer to establish, staking or not. I still see commercial property trees that are staked too stiffly (doesn’t do any good) or for too long (constricts bark).”

Posted by Susan Harris.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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